Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Cannonball List

I finally stopped to think about what a hot mess my right hand navigation would be by the time I hit 100 books, so I'm going to stick the reading list here. Questions or suggestions, please feel free to post in the comments!
  1. Future Jihad, by Walid Phares
  2. La Bella Figura, by Beppe Severgnini
  3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  4. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
  5. Parliament of Whores, by PJ O'Rourke
  6. City of Falling Angels, by John Berendt
  7. The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
  8. A Lion Among Men, by Gregory Maguire
  9. Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman
  10. A Wolf at the Table, by Augusten Burroughs
  11. The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke
  12. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
  13. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon
  14. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
  15. Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov
  16. Fall On Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald
  17. People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks
  18. The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
  19. Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon
  20. I Am America (And So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert
  21. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
  22. The Club Dumas, by Arturo Perez-Reverte
  23. The Stranger, by Albert Camus/The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy
  24. The Custom of the Country, by Edith Wharton
  25. Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty, by Isaiah Berlin
  26. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
  27. Gladiator, by Dan Clark a.k.a. Nitro
  28. Diplomacy, by Henry Kissinger
  29. The Future of Freedom, by Fareed Zakaria
  30. Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt
  31. Blinded by the Right, by David Brock
  32. Grand Avenues, by Scott W. Berg
  33. The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pullman
  34. The Culture of Fashion, by Christopher Breward
  35. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
  36. The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker
  37. The Vile Village, by Lemony Snicket
  38. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Rashid
  39. The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, by Susan Vreeland
  40. Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  41. The Gunslinger (Dark Tower series), by Stephen King
  42. Only Say The Word, by Niall Williams
  43. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
  44. Empire Falls, by Richard Russo
  45. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
  46. The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan
  47. The Flanders Panel, by Arturo Perez-Reverte
  48. Sweet and Low, by Rich Cohen
  49. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Ann Barrows
  50. The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cannonball Read #13: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon

After I put down The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I stopped reading for three days. I needed time not only to process the huge expanse of intricate detail that I'd finished, but also to recover from the emotional strain of the story.

We talk a lot about heroes and heroism in our society, and normally, we divide these topics into small packets of specificity. Heroes like firemen are kept separate from Superman and Batman, and both are in turn are split off from the single mom making it work on one paycheck types of heroes. Still, the same kinds of things lead us to identify certain people as heroes, whether they are the rubber, spandex or sweatpant wearing kind...honor, valor, empathy, morality. In literature, you often find adherence to one type or the other, with the occasional nod towards a blending of type in the form of stories about the Everyday Lives of Superheroes. In my experience, it's fairly unusual to find multiple types of heroism tackled successfully with true depth in the same work, but in Kavalier & Clay, Chabon somewhat miraculously pulls this off. To a certain extent, the entire book is comprised of tiny moments of heroism, be they personal or selfless, appearing from all corners of the rich, golden New York that serves as the stage. It's a little bit like cracking open a pomegranate for the first time; from the somewhat grotty exterior, you'd never guess that you would find so many tiny, luminous pips inside, each one catching the sun and holding the opportunity for growth. The story of Kavalier and Clay is not always cheerful - in retrospect, the bare bones of the plot are generally fairly depressing - but the moments that Chabon describes to tell it are what buoys it all up, full of light and good. This is a story about all kinds of heroes, even the grubby ones who fuck up sometimes.

I wish I had the vocabulary to describe the plot in enough detail you to see how wonderful it is without giving it all away, but I don't, so I'm not going to try. I'll throw out a brief overview, but seriously...you have to read this book. Make it your one giant book of 2009. Make it your holiday reading. Take it on a trip. Just don't pass it by. I promise it will be worth it.

The story follows two young boys as they grow up...American Sammy Clay, and his immigrant Jewish cousin, Joe Kavalier. Joe has escaped Nazi forces by the skin of his teeth, and the two boys forge an immediate bond. Joe's artistic skills are exceptional, and thanks to Sammy's boldness and storytelling skills, the two wind up drawing comic books for a sort of benignly unsavory businessman. Their work in comic books ushers them into a fantastic life more or less by chance, and from there, they meet all sorts of people, including the future loves of their lives. A number of threads wrap and weave around the core of Joe and Sammy's maturation...Joe's dedication to bringing his family to the US, Sammy's social anxiety, Joe's violent internal struggle against the German enemy, the genesis of the comic book industry and the boys' part in it. Eventually, the boys begin to grow apart, until a horrible accident cuts their ties entirely, and Joe more or less falls off the face of the Earth. Thanks to Chabon's skill, the reader is able to follow both sections of the story after this split, never losing track of either one. After this separation, the growth of the two men continues, seemingly separate but never too far apart. The ending is...frustratingly perfect. There is no perfect ending for this story. Just like all of our lives, there's simply too much going on for any pat ending to make any kind of sense at all. But the ending that is written is exactly as happy and exactly as fitting as reality could ever allow, and it is simply stunning.

You can't really discuss this without talking about the author's prodigious skill. There is a lot of crap out there, and there's even a lot of very absorbing crap. I think this pares down our hunger for complex, well-written literature, and encourages us to settle for less. Michael Chabon is quite simply not having any part of that. Not only is his style wildly expressive and tonally impeccable, but his vocabulary and mastery of the English language is a cut above almost every piece of modern literature in recent memory. The writing is everything at once - stately, exuberant, mournful, precise - and it is an absolute goddamn joy to read. This book is so many different things that it's useless to even try picking one. It's at least five different kinds of love story, a sweeping history of the Golden Age of comic books, an account of the impact of Hitler's Germany on expatriates before, during and after World War I, an examination of the social pressure on homosexuals in the 1940s (ugh, in a word), a story about the weirdness and discomfort of war, a book about children, art, music, religion. The real magic is in the way Chabon manages to juggle all of these topics, each of which has had reams of paper printed up on it in its own right, and interweave them so skillfully. I found it truly exciting to find small threads of previous pages picked up carefully throughout the work, used as little emotional indicators to ping the reader and emphasize a moment. This is truly the product of a brilliant mind. I would give anything to be able to write like Michael Chabon.

636 pages

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Boy, I Sure Do Love THINGS!

Okay SO the power is back on, yay! It came on Thursday night or Friday morning (I was not at home so it's a little foggy in my memory), and all is...mostly well. The house no longer smells like fireplace, and the cats have been restored to their normal habitat which naturally made them freak out extravagantly, because if there is anything that makes me panic, it's being in a place I recognize. High five, cats.
I have been trying to get more serious about finding good body products that do what I want them to, and to that end I have a couple items I would like to share the love and tell you about. There will also be a section on why my boss and immediate coworker are awesome.

Okay, first group of things that are excellent comes from the Body Shop. I had a Body Shop party at my house a little while ago, and wound up with a bunch of cool stuff...you may also remember that I have waxed poetic about Body Shop items before. Every semester, I play this hilarious game with myself, during which I decide I Am Not Going To Drink So Much Coffee This Time. Then, about four days after the start of the semester, I'm asking Awesome Patti at Charlie's to inject a cafe Americano directly into my veins. I've kind of embraced this cycle of denial and eventual willpower collapse, so I continue to look for supposedly energy-producing stuff in the feigned effort to get off the coffee. Item number one up there is a collection of "Total Energy" well being products, which are full of good stuff like guarana and bergamot, which do in fact perk me right up. Are they equivalent to a stiff cup of coffee? No. But they do make the morning shower and prep time more revitalizing, and they smell good. The body wash is a great exfoliator, which I always need, and the body gel is fantastic. It's not like a lotion or a body butter, which I tend towards normally, but it's a more fluid gel that feels...not unlike aloe going on a very light sunburn (i.e., cooling and soothing, not that "ohmigodohmigod please make it stop" shock of putting aloe on a burn you got from falling asleep for four hours at high noon. Not that I have done this). The smallest container there is a pulse point balm, which is a nice pick-me-up in the middle of the day. There is a certain citrusy aspect to it, and again, it's not a Red Bull, but it does perk me up. Would that I could have had this during my 2.5 hour Ideology and Revolution class.

Item number two is a Deep Sleep pillow spray, which I totally love. Rich loves shopping at places like CVS when he's sick, and is much more willing to medicate himself than I am, for all manner of things. When I do give in and turn to drugs, I prefer to go for a more organic approach, and for this reason I decided to try this sleep spray out. It really does knock you out faster, and I find it helps me to better sleep through the night - I am the locus for a lot of cat activity (they like to be with me, sometimes under the covers...I kneed poor Flyboy in the head this morning because I didn't realize he'd wormed his way under there), and this means that I often am woken up and thus look like death the next morning. The active ingredients in the spray are jujube date, geranium, juniper and patchouli oils, and I'm not sure why it works so well, but it does.

Number three is Hemp Hand Protector. I have skin that's prone to occasionally ejecting every drop of moisture for no apparent reason; my feet get calloused very quickly, my elbows sometimes could be used for Brillo pads, and my hands do this thing that LOOKS like leprosy but as far as I can tell is not. Now, I'm also extremely judgy about people's handshakes, so as a result, I assume everyone is like this, and this turns into extreme neurosis about the whole pseudoleprosy thing, which means I'm always looking for really intense moisturizers. The Hemp Hand Protector fits the bill, not only by moisturizing extremely well, but it also seals in its work, so the moisture STAYS there. The smell...is not my favorite. It's very earthy and planty, but it's not aggressively so, which for me makes it well worth the benefits.

Number four is Monoi Miracle Oil, which I use for...everything. I put it on my feet, I put it on my hands, and I use it to finish my hair, which tells you everything you need to know about the lightness of it. It has this wonderful, super-light floral fragrance, and it makes your hair really shiny and soft, as well as moisturizing everything you put it on. I am particularly loving its addition to my Morning Hair Extravaganza, because I am fairly rough on my hair, and it rights all the wrongs I perpetrate on it. I usually throw some Humectress conditioner in, then some mousse (whatever I have, currently something from Garnier), and blow dry it upside down a little. I then set it in thermal rollers, and blow dry some more. Previously, that was it...I'd take the rollers out and gave it a little run through with a brush, etc., but now I put some of the oil on my hands, rub it around, then run my hands through my hair, and it makes it all shiny and stuff, and I usually finish by going in and harassing Rich to touch my hair. I am kind of an annoying fiancee.

Finally, we have a Moringa body scrub. One of the many things I like about Body Shop stuff is that they tend to last a really long time. I tend to find that a lot of scrubs and exfoliants require giant dollops of the stuff to really work, but with this one, it takes the teeniest scoop. The scent is really pretty and floral, and has some staying power, which I like. I tend to choose products on scent fairly often, but with shower stuff, I frequently find that the scent is going to wear off as soon as my foot hits the bathmat, and that's always disappointing. Not the case here, plus the exfoliating particles are hardcore without being excessive.

My Aunt also gave me body stuff for Christmas (YAY CHRISTMAS!), and it is fabulous. Origins does such a great job with their scents and quality of products, but there isn't one immediately convenient to me like there used to be in DC, so I tend to forget the extent of their awesomeness. I had never smelled this particular scent before, but I am stoked about it. It's a very light floral, and according to Origins, it's comprised of Tahitian tiare, jasmine, petitgrain mandarin, bergamot and basil. It's really lovely and unusual, and the specific items are fantastic as well. The body cream is moisturizing without being oily or pasty, the bubbly bath syrup (NB: Is "bubble bath" too low-tech?), and the perfume comes in a ROLLERBALL, YAY, which makes it nice and portable without risk of damage. Fabulouso!

So let's talk about my awesome coworkers. We've had a lot of shifting around over the past year or so, and now that things have settled, I am sharing a desk with the woman I work opposite days from. I have a fairly strong nesting instinct, so I put up a bunch of pictures and such on my side of the desk, one of which was a print of Alphonse Mucha's Princezna Hyacinta lithograph. Upon seeing that print, my coworker a.) recognized it as a Mucha work, and thus that b.) there were more of them, and proceeded to c.) find a stunning Mucha pendant for me for Christmas! How freaking cool is that? I love my coworkers. She picked the print above, which is one of Mucha's "Summer" works, and the photo above does no justice to the vibrant color of the print. Plus, the backing is a MIRROR, so you can check your lipstick, blind your enemies with reflected light, whatever. Awesome. It appears to be from Etsy Person Oliviamoon, who has a ton of different patterns and shapes.

In other awesome coworker news, my boss also gave me jewelry, in the form of a beautiful glass pendant on a steel cord, both from Happy Owl Glassworks. The above is just a sample of what they do. Mine is a rectangular bead that's white, with a sparkly, swirly green over the bottom two thirds or so, with a little spray of black on the edge of the green...it's an abstracted horizon line with the outline of a tree! It's so fly. Plus, as we all know, my desire to have things other people do not is extremely strong, and this is a one-of-a-kind item, per the Happy Owl folks.

More posting soon...Christmas, ice storm and follow-up snow storms threw me off big time, but I promise, more to come. Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cold, Snowy, Examy.

Fact rundown:
  • Still no power.

  • The cats and I are firmly ensconced at my parents' house, which has had power throughout. It sucks a ton.
  • Rich has been bouncing back and forth between my parents (all clear), his parents (lost power for a while but have it back now and are hosting the fish), and our house, to watch out for looters, scam artists, freezing pipes and falling limbs - so far none of any of that.

  • The town of Holden has been BLOWING UP my email with updates, for which I commend them. Last estimate was that 55% of the town was up, and our neighborhood was very hard hit...so badly so that the Governor came to visit and the National Guard has been out and about there.

  • This week's forecast includes freezing rain and snow. It snowed today.
That's my hand, holding a piece of the branch that came down in the driveway. I have small hands but that's ridiculous. Part of why there is only 55% power right now is the way the electrical infrastructure grabbed its ankles for this storm. We heard at one point that 80% of the infrastructure was damaged, and even MORE of a problem is this kind of stuff...if you can't see what's going on here, the electric meter has been ripped off of this house. You probably have not considered this, but if this happens to you? It's YOUR job to fix it. So the whole street could be lit up, but you'd be shit out of luck because your damn meter's sitting on your driveway.
Aaaaaaand here's the larger problem. It's like this EVERYWHERE. Some brave/stupid souls tied plastic bags and stuff on downed lines that were overhanging the roads so you could see them as you drove past. While I roll my eyes in the direction of their potential electrocution, I also appreciate not being garrotted as I drive through the streets in the dark.
You can see some of the damage to the treeline here. Once everything stopped being so horrid it was all quite beautiful. You can see how quickly this came up; there are still some leaves I would have expected to have fallen off. NB: I went to Frankercize at 5:30 on Thursday, and it was deserted...making fun of the dumb reasons people call out (fog, drizzle, dog ate homework, etc.) is something of a pasttime at Frankercize, and at that time, it was doing NOTHING but raining, so we spent some time making fun of the call-out folks. I left Frank's at 6:45 or so. At 12:15, our power was out.
This is looking up the main street that OUR street is off of. Lots of stuff down.

This is a really beautiful tree on the corner of our street and Hemlock. It actually sprang back pretty well once the ice melted, but there is another stunning tree behind it that just got decimated. Really sad, but so pretty, no?
This was the worst hit house we saw...it's around the corner from us. This giant tree split in three, then fell on their house and across the road.
Looking down our street before it meets up with Lovell. Pretty bad, and almost impassable towards the intersection.Looking at our house (second house from the right) from the Oakridge/Hemlock fork. Our immediate neighbors have a lot of trees in their front yard and as a result got hit badly.
This was our most problematic damage, thank goodness. We had branches down in the back yard, but they aren't obstructing or breaking anything so it's not a huge deal. Some more came down after we took this picture.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Did You Know?

I am usually a couple weeks behind on web-trivia like this, but School Friend Cindy sent me this clip a week or so ago, and I have really enjoyed watching it and kind of mulling it over. Check it out and see what you think.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Smash Smash Smash Bang Whomp

Some of you may have heard that a really weirdly specific area of Massachusetts got nailed with a big ole ice storm this weekend. It was bad enough that Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency, as have many individual towns, including Holden, and at the highest point, an estimated 1.5 million people were out of power. Bad news. They are doing a kickass job of getting things back on track but our power is still out and there's lots of damage. Rich and I went for a walk yesterday and took pictures but have not put them on the computer yet. More to come. Though these pics show our damage, we were not too badly hit.

This is the road between us and Route 31, which was impassable for most of Friday and Saturday. This road got hit really hard (I actually had just passed some National Guardsmen when I took this picture.) but this picture shows less of that and more of the damaged treeline.
This is the view out of our front door. Our neighbors to the left got hit really hard. This picture was actually taken before the biggest chunk of tree came down across the street; you now have to drive under it like an alarming, creepy, potentially electrified overpass.
More front yard.
Here's some of the damage in the back yard. Tons of stuff down in the woods behind our house, but not too bad actually within the yard. More came down from this tree later on.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

End-of-Year Miscellany

First of all, I apologize for the dearth of Cannonball Read updates...I've been so busy with school that while the actual reading is possible ("Study break!"), it's been hard to find time to write about them. I want this project to be productive and informative, so I don't want to just throw something up all "Neat book. High five."...I want to examine them and let you know why they are good or bad or interesting or what. Now, at this point, I'm about six books ahead of my blogging, so I'm probably going to regret having to catch up, but I just wanted to note that I have not yet begun to fight, etc., etc., etc., oh except finals and yluuuurgh. So. Back to your regularly scheduled nerdery in a week or two. I plan to really read my ass off over break, that is UNTIL I GO DOWN TO DC FOR THE INAUGURATION in which case I will probably be too drunk and/or hopped up (on life, God, get your mind out of the rehab center) to focus on things like books.

Secondly, I sang my first Lessons & Carols concert with the Assumption College Chapel Choir last night and it was freaking great. It's an advent service, which means that...anyone? Anyone? That's right, it means you get to sing the AWESOME music, like my personal favorite, the Hallelujah Chorus. I wore my pretty green dress with a white bow at the waist with tails that go all the way down to the floor, and a white pashmina over it. I am such a dork about getting dressed up, so I totally loved all of this. We processed in singing O Come O Come Emmanuel, and then we alternated readings about Jesus' birth with songs. It was very nice, and we sounded GREAT. We closed with O Come All Ye Faithful, and man, that sounds so great, particularly at the end when you get the organ all let out of its cage like WHOMMMMM WHOMMM WHOMMMM with the floor shaking and everyone rocking it out. It has been so good getting back into singing, and without blowing smoke, the director of Chapel Choir and my new voice coach, Jane, is freaking phenomenal. Even after just my short time with her, I see more potential in my voice than I ever have, and lest we forget - I'm pretty full of myself generally, and was even more so in connection to my singing in high school. I have always had a good voice but with Jane's help I think it could be great. Cool as hell.

Finally, my last day of classes was yesterday, so now I'm all depressed and shit. I am particularly sad about Terrorism being over...I realize that sounds kind of creepy and alarming, but that class was so good and I kind of wish it would just go on forever. Luckily, I have Nationalism & Fascism to look forward to! (Do not let your children be political science majors.) The professor was really sweet on the last day, saying that if and when he taught the course again, he wouldn't change the format much (which is unusual for a new course), but regardless of any changes, it would be unlikely that he would "get a group of thirty students like you guys." Awww. I HATE the last day of classes. UGH. Just a couple exams left to go...Philosophy of Nature tomorrow, followed by Italian on SATURDAY which should be ILLEGAL. I also have a paper due on Saturday, then another one on Wednesday, and the Terrorism exam on Monday. Then, six whole weeks of no class. Bleargh!

Back to more posting soon.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lest We Think the Neighbors Have a Monopoly on Weird

On Thursdays, I work reception instead of enjoying sweet, sweet freedom upstairs where at least the people calling me are known quantities of weird, as opposed to the hellmouth that is the main phone. I got in this morning and went to put postage on something, and was confronted with this:

Just a pile of random mailing crap, you say? Shows what an ignoramus YOU are, you damnable philistine! That is a work of PUBLIC FUCKING ART, and don't you forget it. You know how I know it's art? Because it's an epic portrayal of the dignity of the human spirit and its imprisonment in the drudgeries of the capitalist society. The air in the packyfilla symbolizes the childlike wonder we so frequently are forced to constrain to meet societal norms, and the broken UPS box stands rigid but not triumphant as the sheer force of human will struggles against the workplace's attempts at domination. THAT'S how I know it's art.

Actually, it's because it's labelled.

"Ice Sculpture," Artist Unknown. Mixed media. 2008.

I think maybe people are not busy enough.

And the Glory, the Glory of the Looooooooooord!

Remember a couple days ago when I was all "oh people who upgraded from magenta gorilla to giant lighted cross, you so crazy"? I took a picture.

Now, I took said picture because I attempted to take one last night on my way home, but when you look at it through the lens of your modern cell phone, all you can see is A BLAZE OF ETERNAL GLORY SPEAKING TRUTH TO MAN WITH TONGUES OF FLAME!!!!That right there is the electric bill from hell.

In other Weird Neighborhood Decor News, which appears to be the theme of the week, on the same street, one household has erected a full size, authentic-looking tepee. In their yard. In suburbia. As one of my coworkers said, "I guess they have family coming for Christmas?"

This Is What Christmas Is All About, Y/Y?

This house is between me and my singing lessons. I am sure I don't need to mention that this extravaganza also flashes and moves. It is glorious.