Monday, April 30, 2007

The End.

You should be able to hear my sigh of relief and contentment all the way from here.

Because I have, ten months after beginning it, finally finished War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I have chatted in the salons of Petersburg, marched with the army in long columns of men, horses, and wagons, danced in Moscow, hunted in the countryside, wandered bewildered across the battlefield of Borodino, watched Moscow burn and generals fumble. I have puzzled over battle plans, watched friends and enemies die from bloody wounds, wondered who and what Napoleon really was, and chuckled philosophically by the fireside, while the children played in the next room. I have found meaning where I never expected to find it; I have blushed and wept and whispered. I have taxed my mind, trying to understand why. I have lived what Tolstoy wrote.

It's that kind of book.

War and Peace isn't considered a classic just because it's a long book, and sometimes difficult to read. War and Peace is a classic because it is a real book, seething with the lives of men and women, and throbbing with ideas that are still relevant in 2007. It took me a long time to read this book, and I sometimes neglected it for weeks at a time, in favor of lighter reading, but I never once thought of abandoning it (as I did The History of Henry Esmond).

Tolstoy adds a lot of philosophy to his novel, and sometimes it seems that he spreads it pretty thick. It's possible to find the progression of the story interrupted by chapters and chapters of philosophizing. But Tolstoy is laying out his historical story as a grand illustration of his primary belief about history itself, which hinges on the relationship between power, causes, actions, free will, and necessity, all of which he methodically explains in the last chapters of the book, after all the interesting characters have been thoughtfully disposed of, happily ever after. (I never did figure out what became of Boris.)

Pierre remained my favorite character throughout, even when he plunged into Masonry and when he behaved like an idiot, "disguising" himself with a peasant's coat and plotting to murder Napoleon. When everything was stripped away from him, he finally finds the meaning that he has been looking for.
He could have no aim, for he now had faith--not faith in any sort of rule, or words, or ideas, but faith in a living, perpetually manifest God; formerly he had sought Him in aims he had set himself. That search for an aim had been simply a search for God, and suddenly, in his captivity, he had learned, not by words or reasoning, but by direct feeling, what his nurse had told him long ago: that God is here and everywhere. In his captivity he had learned that in Karatayev God was greater, more infinite and unfathomable, than in the Architect of the Universe that the Freemasons acknowledged. He felt like a man who, after straining his eyes to peer into the remote distance, find what he was seeking at his very feet. All his life he had been looking over the heads of those around him, while he had only to look before him without straining his eyes.

Throughout War and Peace, Tolstoy continually emphasizes that neither Napoleon nor Aleksander are "great men" or "geniuses," though they have both been so called. He points out over and over that they had no great plans, and that the greater number of the plans they had and orders they gave were never carried out. He tells this whole story in part simply to illustrate that some force, other than the free will of men, determines what happens in history, while at the same time, emphatically rejecting the idea that any Deity is responsible.

Which brings us to the last chapters, which I have found both tedious and fascinating at the same time. I'm not going to pretend I understand all his arguments, and I don't by any means think that I agree with him on all points. However, as he postulates the understanding of history according to certain principles about why things happen and what causes move history, using Napoleon as a recent (for him) example, and comparing how he is judged to how historical figures from which time has given us more distance, and therefore perspective, are judged, I found myself reflecting on the manner in which we judge Hitler and Stalin, as compared to the way we judge Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

Tolstoy's contention is that current or recent history appears to be caused by the will, command, and power of key figures, but the better perspective of time and distance, which show us the results of actions as well as bring to light a better understanding of the conditions under which men were acting, reveal that actions were not the will of any capricious leader, but the more inevitable actions, necessary at the time. For example, if you saw a man pull out a gun and shoot another man, your judgment at close range would be that the man is a murderer and deserves the punishment of a murderer. Later, you may learn that the dead man was in fact a hunted criminal who had injured many, and the man who shot him was a policeman under orders to "shoot to kill." Tolstoy's point is that at close range, we are more likely to assume men are acting or their own volition, and time is required to understand "the big picture," which often (if not always) reveals that there was a necessity driving them which was not understood at the time.

Well, it has been a long time and an ambitious project. I would love to bask in the glow of accomplishment, having finished such a considerable book. But I'm not. Just wait until I share what I'm reading next!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A busy week!

I mentioned some time ago that I had five events to manage in the course of a month. Three of them are finished (two birthdays and Easter), and now I'm down to the last two, which are only a few days apart.

This Friday, we'll be having one of our Ladies' Teas. The picture here is from the last one, hosted at my house, while this one will be at my co-worker's home. I post it because anyone who has ever planned such an event can see by the table how much work goes into this--not all mine, of course!
Doesn't it all look scrumptious? There is one lady who comes to every tea and never fails to tell us that we've prepared a "feast for the eyes," as well as the palate, so it is all very rewarding. This is actually one of my favorite things to do in spite of the work involved.

We plan a theme for each tea, and I make pretty invitations, so that each tea feels like an "event" or a party. We sometimes include theme decorations on the table if it's not too complicated. I plan a short devotional on the theme, and we send each lady home with a small themed gift--we've given pins, bookmarks, homemade jelly (I didn't make it!), and things like that--nothing expensive or cumbersome!

For this tea, the theme is "seeds," and we are giving packets of seeds--nothing too complicated about that!

For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give her dew. Zechariah 8:12

Don't ask me why, but it sounds much more poetic in Polish.

In any case, I'm baking goodies this week--butter tarts, pumpkin bread, cream-cheese mints and probably something with fresh fruit that I haven't figured out yet. (We often use these events as an occasion to experiment.)

And next week, about five American families will be getting together, for a total of some 25 or more people, and that will be happening at my home. We're planning a much simpler menu for that--your basic backyard picnic with grilled food, salads, chips, and drinks. I'm enlisting 13yo E. to bake a few batches of brownies, and it will all be good. I'm planning to set up the kid-sized tents in the backyard, and get out scooters, balls, hula-hoops, jump-ropes, as well as the mini trampoline and rocking horse. That should keep the majority of the 10-and-under crowd busy. My teenagers tell me emphatically that kids their age don't want planned games, so I'm planning to leave them and their friends to entertain themselves. In the event of rain (please, God, not), we have a miniature billiard table, movies, and the rocking horse and tents can be set up inside. But I do hope the sun is shining that day, or at the very least, it isn't raining.

And when these two things are done, I'm going to breathe!

If the blog seems a little quiet for the next week or so, now you'll know why.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Let Down

Not long ago, I read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Hoping for more cheerful humor, I borrowed The Charmers by the same author.

I can't say the book didn't have its merits, but it wasn't written in at all the same vein--very little humor, much darker and less optimistic. I'm not sure when the first book was written, but this one was written in 1965 and set in post-war London. The most negative thing about the book was a huge glaring case of racism that was too revolting to overlook, and cast a shadow over the book that renders it unfit to recommend. So I'm not recommending it. When I run across elements of racist thinking in Victorian novels, I tend to be a shade more forgiving, as I know they are the product of their time, and Darwinist thinking colored their views.

But 1965?? I'm not sure exactly when the story is supposed to be taking place, but Noel Coward is mentioned as a living and producing playwright in London. And please understand--I could forgive the racism of characters in the book if they functioned as examples of "how not to behave" or if the black man in the book was portrayed as dignified in the face of their patronizing. But such is not the case. The characters have a hideous paternalistic attitude toward their fellow human beings, and the black house cleaner is "typically" lazy, uneducated, sly, and untrustworthy. You may well shudder.

The main story line of The Charmers is not bad, and I enjoyed the story of Christine, an unmarried woman in her fifties who has devoted her life to providing for her (shallow, materialistic) parents and is now exploring her freedom for the first time in her life. The story doesn't just marry her off to a nice widower, either (although one is conveniently hovering nearby for a while), but allows her to see a different kind of life from that which she has always known, so that when she chooses what she wants for herself, she finds she can be happy even in a situation not unlike the one she suffered so long. She has awoken to the wider world, and still found it good to live a life serving others, and that happiness is not based upon selfishness after all.

So the book wasn't a total loss, but it was a nasty shock to find, instead of the quirky humor I expected, racism in one of its most putrid forms. I know I sound harsh, but truly, I could not even copy some of the sentences from this book onto my blog to show you what I mean. It is that revolting.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reading Challenges

I've been thinking over my reading habits and my blogging habits. I've been mulling over the influence of the blogosphere (so-called) on my reading selections, and wondering where it's going, and where it all might end. Of wait, there is no end. Solomon said, "of the making of books there is no end" some few millennia ago, and if he were writing today, he'd doubtless amend, "and the reading of blogs hath no conclusion."

One of the benefits/dangers of reading litblogs (and oh, how I enjoy reading litblogs) is the constant exposure to new-to-me books. The "to be read" pile is already so full I could keep reading happily for the rest of year. Also, I truly enjoy rereading books, and that's one reason I have so many books around--so I can read them again.

But I am so easily distracted! During this past year of blogging and reading litblogs, I have "taken on" some of the reading challenges floating around out there--the "From the Stacks" challenge (to read five books from your already overloaded shelves) and the "Chunkster Challenge" (to read selected titles of 400 pages or more). I chose books that were already on my "to be read" stack because they fit these challenges anyway. I have toyed with a number of other challenges, such as the "RIP Challenge" (to read a set number of "atmospheric" books) and the "Classics Challenge" (to read classic literature). Most recently, I even considered the "Once Upon a Time Challenge" (to read fairy tale and fantasy literature), and I don't even like fantasy literature very much (although I have read a great deal of it in another season of life).

Looking over that last challenge and wondering what books I might choose so I could participate was the last straw. I've already read plenty of books in that category (most recently, I did reread The Lord of the Rings trilogy), and I don't really want to read anymore. ( I nearly killed myself reading Inkspell last year to preview it for my kids.) So why am I drawn to these challenges at all? "Books, books, is an excuse to read books."

I don't need an occasion to read books. I read thick books (War and Peace or North and South), classic books (same books), atmospheric books (Dracula), non-fiction books (From Dawn to Decadence or Lost in Translation), and even the occasional fantasy book all the time. Also novels, mysteries, the occasional spy novel or psychological thriller, science fiction titles, philosophy, history, and literary essays. I don't need these challenge, and here is my declaration: I am not joining any more of them, because I can't figure out how to get those cute little avatars on my side bar. No, no, that's not right. I am not joining any more of them because they distract me from my personal reading plans and leave me feeling dissatisfied if I don't finish them. I will not participate in any more reading challenges except my own self-imposed challenges (such as reading books in Polish, finishing War and Peace, and reading From Dawn to Decadence in 2007).

However, I most sincerely hope that others continue offering and joining these challenges, because I love to see the suggestions that everyone else makes for each challenge. I will happily add new titles to my "to be read" list from these challenges, even if I don't get to read the book for a year or two, long after the irksome (to me) challenge deadlines have come and gone.

I even made note of a fantasy author from that "Once Upon a Time Challenge," and I'm keeping my eyes open for his books. Because you never know. I might like it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman

I have taken my time with this autobiography of Eva Hoffman, not really wanted to finish it. Lost in Translation is a multi-layered story of one woman and three countries. In some ways, I understand her story in reverse. She was born and grew up in Poland until her family emigrated to Canada when she was 13 years old. Later, she studied in the United States, and made that country her home. She was very successful in her field, working as a literary editor for The New York Times, and publishing several books. (I read The Secret earlier this year.)

And yet, for her, there was a lifelong struggle to translate the Polish self that felt was her true, fundamental "self," into an American self, comfortable in an entirely different environment with different values, different cultural clues, and most of all, a different language. I cannot imagine writing anything entirely coherent and without error in Polish, let alone beautiful, forceful and evocative. Yet Eva Hoffman has made English her own--her vocabulary is far from ordinary, and she crafts complex sentences that probe into the spiritual, non-concrete aspects of human experience. I envy her that true embracing of a different language, because I know that my Polish will never reach that level.

The first part of the book, which describes her life in Krakow during the post-war era, is probably the most interesting to me. I love to know more about this city where I live. When she describes the library that she visited, I wonder if it is the same one that I use?
The library is located in a narrow, old street, in an ancient building, which one enters through a heavy wooden door. The interior is Plato's cave, Egyptian temple, the space of mystery and magic, on whose threshold I stand a humble acolyte.
I rather think it is the same, except that the wooden door has been replaced by a modern glass one.

Eva Hoffman's early love of words is part of what makes the transition to another language so hard for her. The second language lacks the depth of connotations that the first language has. She complains that "river" in English does not evoke for her the images that the Polish rzeka does, and I sympathize in reverse. River means something to me--I grew up near a river, and the word evokes images for me that rzeka never can. A great deal of this book is devoted to Ms. Hoffman's transition, and that this book exists at all, and was written in English, is a testament to her ultimate success.

But I think even without the personal connection that I feel for this story, it is a worthwhile book to read. The fundamental question of personal identity--who we are, and how we define our "self" in relation to our families, our culture, and our experience is a common question for all of us. On a smaller scale, the wrenching change from one location to another, from one job to another, or from one stage of life to another is always an occasion to adjust our perceptions of ourselves. No one can escape these transitions entirely, as life is not homogenous from birth to the grave, although most of us do not have to undergo the life-changing shift of moving into an alien culture and country.

I'm going to make a point of reading more of Eva Hoffman's books, and I do hope she keeps writing.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Three Candles and a Tricycle

It didn't seem quite fair to post all those exciting pictures of K's 10th birthday, which actually isn't until the 17th, and neglect to mention that we celebrated C's 3rd birthday on the 10th of April. My two youngest children, born seven years apart, and their birthdays fall exactly one week apart. K. though it was quite a nice "birthday present" to get a baby sister the year she turned seven, but, as I suspected, having her baby sister get to celebrate her birthday first isn't so much fun anymore. She used to take the whole month of April to celebrate!

Doesn't she look lady-like blowing out those candles? Too bad she needed help from her big brother and sister to actually get them out. It's okay, as I'm pretty sure she has everything she could wish for.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Redwall Birthday Adventures

No one should be surprised that 10yo (as of next Tuesday) K. wanted a book-themed party, right? My older kids began reading the Redwall series by Brian Jacques about the same age, and we have every single book (some 18 or 19 to date, with a new one coming out in October or November this year), and J. and E. have read them all. K. is working her way through them as fast as she can, having read five or six so far, in spite of my suggestions that she should read them more slowly because they won't last forever. She doesn't seem to be paying any attention.

We handed out Redwall-themed invitations to a group of K.'s friends, and prepared to transform our home into Redwall Abbey and its environs. These flags adorned our gate today, to indicate that passing into the gate meant entering the world of Redwall.

Last week, K., E., and I painted and decorated swords and shields so that we could transform our small and humble dining room into a banquet hall.

In addition to cake (pictured below), I found a couple of Redwall-themed recipes on the internest, and we served strawberry scones and Gonff's Cordial, which I understand are popular with the small creatures populating Redwall.

By way of entertainment, we dressed everyone up in costumes made of brown parcel paper, twine belt, cardboard daggers, and small money pouches to hold the glossy marbles and jewels they acquired throughout the day. J. designed and laid out a maze that covered our entire driveway and featured a large crawl-through box. The maze represented Mossflower forest (for those familiar with Redwall and its environs), and we painted trees on the outside of the box.

We had a rowdy, raucous treasure hunt which took the crew up and down the three floors of our home, and out into the yard for the finish. The treasure was very glittery and jewel-ish, perfect for little girls. We also played a guessing game and gave away two copies of Bitwa O Redwall, the Polish translation of the first book in the series. Only the first two books have been translated, by K. is eager for her friends to learn more about Redwall.

After the treasure hunt, we had refreshments in the banquet hall and the birthday creature (er, girl) opened her presents. (I may not recover from the large stuffed chicken with long dangly legs.) After a bit of free play, most of the girls camped out in the living room to play card games (go-fish and old-maid types of games) with this one-of-a-kind deck of Redwall cards. All the images were drawn by E. using a computer drawing program.

Surprisingly, one of the biggest hits of the day was the very large maze. The girls returned to it again and again, timing themselves and racing each other. It was fun for us to watch, as we could look straight down on the maze from our front balcony.

All in all, it was a very good day. I'm glad we did it. I'm glad it's over. Happy Birthday, K. I'm glad you're my daughter!

But there's not much of that cake left.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Gone fishing...

Not really, but the sentiment is pretty close. I'm unavailable and indulging in what might be supposed to be entertainment, but I am the mom hosting a Redwall theme party for a bunch of 7-10-year-old girls, and so the entertainment is theirs, not mine. What I'm doing looks a lot more like work.

Which makes me feel bad about wasting time asking for book suggestions because I haven't had time to read anyway. And then I slipped off to the library yesterday (the books I needed to return were overdue because I didn't realize they were closed on Good Friday), and checked out some light reading of an entirely different nature. I was delighted to find that they had changed their policy, and instead of allowing patrons to borrow only two books, we can now borrow three.

Two mysteries and another book by Stella Gibbon. Yeah. I'm to soak in the tub and read a mystery right now, before collapsing in bed to rest before the Big Birthday Event tomorrow.

Pictures will be forthcoming...

P.S. I got recommendations for all three of the books I mentioned! I'm planning to read all of them sooner or later, you understand...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What would you read?

I need a piece of semi-contemporary fiction to take the edge off of War and Peace. I've nothing underway at the moment, but three books that might suit the purpose are within arm's reach.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is one of those books I purchased in 2005 and "saved" to read after returning to Poland. I've been here over a year but haven't cracked the cover. I have read Atlas Shrugged twice, as well as We the Living (a much shorter book). As I understand it, The Fountainhead is a sort of prequel, not to the novel, but to the ideas in Atlas Shrugged. It is nearly 700 pages long, and it is a toss of the coin whether I will become entirely engrossed and read it one huge gulp (as happened with her other fiction), or whether I will get bored and lay it aside to continue waiting.

Some time ago, a friend suggested I might enjoy The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I have never read anything by this author, except the first few pages of this book, just to get a taste of the writing style. It's another hefty book, over 600 pages long, and one I actually declared I would read for the Chunkster Challenge. The big question is...will this book demand my attention until I reach the last page or will I be able to pace the reading alongside my ever-present Tolstoy?

Finally, there is Remembering by Wendell Berry. A lot of people I know are reading, admiring, and recommending Wendell Berry this year, and I picked up a book of "Three Short Novels" at the used bookstore here in Krakow, pleased that they had something by this author. I was more than a little overwhelmed by the death theme of the first short novel, Nathan Coulter, and I have been a bit skittish about reading further. Nevertheless, Remembering is only 100 pages long and can't demand too much of my time and attention. The first word/sentence of Nathan Coulter is, "Dark." The first sentence of Remembering is, "It is dark." I don't know...

I know what I'm going to do tonight. I'm going to walk away from my desk, grab something comfortable and familiar, and reread something I know I will like.

But what would you read next?

This is good

At least, I think it is. Surely anyone who stops by here is mildly interested in either literature and/or its role in education. And if you are, I think you will enjoy these audio files. Clive James and Peter Porter, neither of whom I have ever heard of, discuss education, books, classical education (or the lack thereof) with all the gusto of genuine, life-long readers. I will not venture to guess at their ages, but one of them mentions being at school during World War II, and these programs were recorded in 2000, so they aren't exactly youngsters.

Nevertheless, these self-proclaimed autodidacts share their childhood reading experiences and their adult efforts at self-education. And yes, they consider themselves still to be in the process of learning and growing. I enjoyed every minute of the first program, "On Not Having a Classical Education," and I can't wait to listen to the next five. Please, do have a listen.

Hat tip to Booklad for the link and a much better introduction to what he calls "A Feast for the Mind."

And Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, take note of the beginning of the discussion, where they discuss the role of memory, or what is retained from a book, and see if you don't think narration dovetails with it nicely.

Wow. I'm overwhelmed.

I have decided that I am an intentional blogger. What that means is, I intend to blog about a lot of things, but I don't always find the time and energy to actually write the posts, link to the links, and get everything published. I intend to do these things, but sometimes too much time passes, and I have to let things go so I can post about other, more timely things.

Today, I'm not TOO far behind in letting you know that I am pleased and humbled to have been nominated for two things. First, I was nominated by both the Deputy Headmistress at the Common Room and Mother Auma of CM, Children, and Lots of Grace for a Thinking Blogger Award. I think they were both very kind to me, and included my name on this list based on things I have written and posted elsewhere, not just on this blog, but I am honored and humbled just the same.

Here are the rules:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (there is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

Many of the bloggers I read regularly, and whom I would nominate for this award, have already been nominated. Thus, I am reserving my right to nominate five bloggers for the moment, with hopeful (intentional) plans to name five some time in the future.

In addition to this Thinking Blogger Award, I was surprised and pleased to be further nominated for the 2006 Homeschool Blog Awards, in the Geographical Blog category. Now, I am a homeschooler, and I homeschool every day, and I have at times written a great deal about homeschooling in other venues. However, I am diffident about this nomination, as I am not sure the occasional mention of homeschooling on my blog qualifies my blog as a "Homeschooling Blog." Nevertheless, if you want to vote for U Krakovianki in this category, you can vote here.

You can view all the categories and vote for your favorites here, but there isn't a great deal of time for voting, as all voting must be complete by Friday.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Tidbits from Dawn to Decadance

Such time as I'm finding to read right now is being divided between War and Peace and Dawn to Decadance. Tolstoy was moving along quickly for a good while, in spite of the death of a major character, until I got to the question of how and why the Russians defeated the French after the capture of Moscow. Tolstoy's one-line answer is pretty much summed up by "it was inevitable" (shades of The Matrix!), but he takes a good many chapters to explain all the causes that are not the reason that the French were put to retreat rather than just saying "it was inevitable" and getting on with the story. I know War and Peace is a novel--supposedly one of the grandest ever written--but sometimes it feels more like a treatise on history than Dawn to Decadance, which is a treatise on history.

I am incapable of summarizing or encapsulating Barzun's book into a few all-encompassing sentences. There is just so much in there. There is a reason I decided to make reading this book a year-long project. I'll content myself with sharing a few random thoughts from this week's reading.

In the prologue, Barzun explains that he chose to use the brief form "16C" or "18C" to name his time periods, rather than "16th century" or "18th century" or even "sixteenth century," because he uses the words so often that across 800 pages it take a lot of space. He uses some of the space saved by the cryptic "16C" to describe Queen Elizabeth I's physical appearance, which included painting her face chalk white and plucking her eyebrows out of existence, as well as throwing in the occasional editorial comment.

For example, at the end of a lengthy discussion of Utopian literature (which he spells Eutopian, for reasons I cannot elaborate right now), he says
Eutopian models show how mistaken are the critics who keep complaining that science has made great progress in improving material life but has lagged in doing the same for the the ethical. There was no progress to make. Men have known the principles of justice, decency, tolerance, magnanimity from an early date. Acting on them is another matter--nor does it seem easier for us to act on our best scientific conclusions when we deal with bodily matters: an age that has made war on smoking and given up the use of the common towel and the common cup should prohibit shaking hands.

Throughout the text of Dawn to Decadance, Barzun inserts parenthetical suggestions for further reading. Sometimes he says, "The book to read is...," and sometimes only "The book to peruse is...," meaning that it isn't worth a close, detailed reading, but might be worth looking into. So far, I have added six or eight things to my to-be-read-sometime list because of these notes, and I do not think I have run across any suggestions for books that I have already read. Until this week. (Finally!) Concerning the inaccuracy of Thomas More's historical record of Richard III, Barzun notes that the "book to read" is Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. And I have already read that one! I wonder how many more "already read" books I'm going to encounter before the end? Not too many, I suspect.

In a weird synthesis of unplanned connections, Barzun mentioned War and Peace in my reading this week, citing Pierre as an example of literary picaresque, a sub-genre initiated by the anonymous Spanish author of La Vida de Lazarillo de Trmes. I have actually been surprised by the amount of literary criticism Barzun includes in this discussion of history, but of course, literature has been closely entwined with history from the beginning. Literature both reflects the time in which it was written, and sometimes influences the thinking of readers.

Let the record show that I've read all the way up to page 130. I'm in the midst of a discussion about Rabelais, an author I once made a feeble attempt at reading. All the praise for drinking and drunkenness wasn't at all to my taste, so I set it aside after probably no more than a few pages. Barzun tells me that Rabelais's bottle is like Pandora's box, so perhaps it is intended to have some kind of meaning, but I don't know if I'll be convinced enough to add Rabelais to my "to be read" list. Even if I did, I know it would be way, way down at the bottom.

I'm running out of time, or I would share what Jacques Barzun has to say about the "spirit of inquisition," which he assures us is alive and well and always has been, but you know I'm not telling you everything. I would suggest every thinking adult make a point of reading this book sometime.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Palm Sunday...

I seem to remember that last year I didn't share any of the Polish Easter traditions, probably because it was so cold and icy, spring rituals were unthinkable. I made a mental note to talk a bit about Easter this year, and by some miraculous twist of memory, I remembered in time to share a few things.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, Polish palms are like nothing I ever saw before. The are made of wheat stalks, sometimes dyed in bright colors, and sometimes woven together with dry flowers. You can find palms only a few inches long, or several feet long. Each year, a Catholic family carries a palm to church on Palm Sunday (we saw lots of folks walking around with them last week), and it is blessed by a priest. The palm is then kept in the home for the next year, and is superstitiously supposed (by some folks) to be a talisman for luck and health.

Of course, along with this general tradition, there always people who ambitiously make taller and taller palms every year, like this one, that takes a good number of folks to raise upright.

Of course, they don't bear much resemblance to the palm leaves that come from real palm trees, or the palm leaves that were strewn in Jesus' path as he entered Jerusalem for the Passover, hailed as the King. But authenticity isn't always possible. There are no palms in Poland, but there has always been a lot of wheat.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Who would have thought?

Last term, as part of her homeschool work, I assigned Beowulf to 13yo E. She listened to it on Librivox, and became quite enamored of Librivox itself. On her own, she listened to Jane Austen's Emma and Gene Stratton-Porter's Girl of the Limberlost.

Not long ago, she came into the room while I was listening to a chapter of Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers, and exclaimed enthusiastically, "That's Kara Schallenburg! She must really like to read for Librivox!" She had recognized the reader's voice, and I realized that she was right, and I had heard the same reader on two or three books myself.

I tend to take all of this enthusiasm in stride, but E. really caught me off guard today when she bounded down the steps, exulting, "They have Thomas More's Utopia on Librivox!"

If you aren't familiar with the free audiobooks at Librivox, you should take a look. I am beginning to think I ought to volunteer to read a chapter or send them some money or something. I've listened to at least five books in full, and E. obviously has no plans to reduce her Librivox usage. I wish the good folks who donated their time to read Utopia (I wonder if it was Kara Schallenburg again?) could have seen her.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Reading Log, March 2007

I got a lot of reading in during March, but this heavy reading load may be coming to an end. We shall see. The weather is warming up and I want to be outside. But I may just end up taking the books out there with me.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler--This book was short-listed for the Orange Prize, and I've actually read it (the only one on the list that I have, by the way.) I haven't taken the time to blog about it particularly, but there was one character I really identified with. She had emigrated to America and lived there for 25 years or more, and yet she still felt like an "outsider"--not really part of the culture. Having lived nearly 10 years in Poland, I could empathize with her.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro--I want to read more books by this author, but I am holding myself back. No need to buy more books when the to-be-read shelves are sagging under the weight of books already in line, and gathering dust at the same time.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell--My Victorian lit fix for the month. I want to read more of this author as well, but I recently learned she left one book unfinished, so it stops abruptly mid-story. I've got to remember which book that was, so I can avoid it. (It might have been Wives and Daughters, but I'm not sure.)

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons--This was a light, fun read which lent some balance to the heavier books. I checked this book out of the library here in Krakow. They have a lot of older books like this, but not so many newer books, and they are useless as a source for anything recently printed.

Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman--I haven't quite finished this autobiography yet, but I will probably write more about it when I do. This is another author on my must-read-more-of-her-books list.

Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun--According to The Plan, I should be up to page 180. Alas, my bookmark is at page 105. This just isn't a quick book to read, and I find that I can't read it in the evening. My brain doesn't work very efficiently past 8:00pm. I don't have that much daytime time to read, so progress has been slow. I may try to devote more time to this in April, in hopes of catching up.

W Pustyni i w puszczy by Henryk Sienkiewicz--I did make some progress on my Polish book this month, although not as much as I'd hoped. Next time I choose a Polish book to read, I am going to get something modern, so the language will be the language I hear and know.

The Two Towers and The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien--After my gluttony in reading so many new books, I switched to rereading, and these are rereads. I was trying to superimpose Tolkien over Peter Jackson in my head, and I have not been as successful as I had hoped to be.

Year In, Year Out by A.A. Milne--This light reading is divided according to the months of the year, so now I can started the April section. I'm definitely getting to see a different side of the author of Winnie the Pooh.

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler--Another reread. It seems a bit odd to read about people reading about Jane Austen, but I had Jane Austen on my mind, so it fit my mood.

Lady Susan by Jane Austen--I read this short work with a group, and discussion is just getting underway. It was so short, I actually read it through twice.

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers--I never feel entirely comfortable with saying I've "read" books that I actually "listened to," but this is the book I crocheted to during March, thank to Librivox. I'm almost finished with a small interlude project (not the big one), and I need to choose another audio book to start.

And last, but most emphatically not least,

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy--I wish I could say I finished this book in March, but I didn't. I read through more than a hundred pages, though, and have only 300 (out of over 1400) to go. I'm not usually a page counter, but this book has been daunting. I realized that part of the reason I've been neglecting it is that I did not want to reading about Napolean taking and burning Moscow. Once I realized that was going to happen (my recall of the history on that point was fuzzy or nonexistent), I was reluctant to move forward. I'm in the middle of that section now, and hoping to march through to the end of the book at least before I reach the one year since I began mark!

I'm also reading aloud Madame How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley (to K.), and I read bits of several other books not listed here. I'm going to try to focus more of April on my non-fiction reading and limit myself to just a few novels. I love to read fiction, but I'm not getting to the other things I want to read and they are piling up.

The tallies for March look like this:

Total books read (in whole or part): 15

Completed: 9

Not yet finished: 6

Fiction: 11

Nonfiction: 4

Rereads: 3

Polish: 1