Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber

Angela Carter kept me up at night.

Reading until the wee hours and I think I even dreamed about a werewolf. These tales are dark, sensual retellings of stories that we are all familiar with. I loved her imagery and her twists on tales like Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Puss in Boots. The Bloody Chamber is a retelling of Bluebeard which I was not familiar with. But these stories are definitely not for children, but are more reminiscent of the original Grimm Brothers.

You won’t find the female role as conventionally displayed in fairy tales here. These women are edgy and do not exhibit the passiveness of our everyday princess. Each story has a message. I like it when books make me think.

    The Marquis stood transfixed, utterly dazed, at a loss. It must have been as if he had been watching his beloved Tristan for the twelfth, thirteenth time and Tristan stirred, then leapt from his bier in the last act, announce in a januty aria interposed from Verdi that bygones were bygones, crying over spilt milk did nobody any good and, as for himself, he proposed to live happily ever after. The puppet master, open mouthed, wide eyed, impotent at the last, saw his dolls break free of their strings, abandon the rituals that he had ordained for them since he began and start to live for themselves; the king, aghast, witnesses the revolt of his pawns.

-From The Bloody Chamber

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Anna Akhmatova

It had to be during the middle school years. I was sitting in a state proctored test-you know, the kind where you get a stapled booklet, a bubble sheet, a number 2 pencil, a flimsy plastic ruler (like I need that for a language arts test), and a few sheets of scratch paper. I don’t remember much about the tests besides they let you get out of class a whole day to take them and you had to pass them at the end of the year. They were never very eventful-the passages easy, the main idea, tone, responding to prompts-not eventful. Until I got a passage by Anna Akhmatova.

    You thought I was that type:
    That you could forget me,
    And that I’d plead and weep
    And throw myself under the hooves of a bay mare,

    Or that I’d ask the sorcerers
    For some magic potion made from roots and send you a terrible gift:
    My precious perfumed handkerchief.

    Damn you! I will not grant your cursed soul
    Vicarious tears or a single glance.

    And I swear to you by the garden of the angels,
    I swear by the miracle-working icon,
    And by the fire and smoke of our nights:
    I will never come back to you.

There must have been something brewing in the young me. I was smitten. I quickly scratched the poem onto my blank paper and folded it up small so that I could savor it when I got home. I kept that scrap of paper for years. I’d read it, it made me feel stormy…I loved it and still do.

I had not thought about Anna Akhmatova for years until I came across a book of her poetry in a used bookshop. The name was familiar but I didn’t know why. I thought hard but couldn’t place her so I put the book back on the shelf. The next day I remembered and went back to the shop to search for my stormy poem. It wasn’t even in there but I took the book home.


Some Flowers by Vita Sackville-West

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I have The Edwardians and No Signposts in the Sea on order but in the meantime I figured I’d browse through Some Flowers. I was looking for any of Sackville-West’s other books that the library might have. I was not aware that she was a gardener or had written a book on flowers and gardening, apparently she was quite the gardener and enjoyed writing on the topic. This book inlcudes her favorite flowers and her musings on them. She says in the Foreword:

    “This short book is very personal and therfore very arbitrary. It represents nothing more than a couple of dozen among the plants I like to grow in my own garden and at first sight it may seem that there are no connecting links in this choice of plants at all.”

I was surprised to find that in my garden this year were some of the flowers Vita mentioned in her book. Particularly gerbera daises and dianthus that “while they are blooming and giving off that special, incomparable smell which makes people sniff inquiringly as they wander about your garden.” The daises have since departed but the dianthus are hanging on through the cooler weather. I also found flowers that I’d like to try. Though the book is written with those gardening in England in mind, I think a lot of the advice is relevant to most climates. Some I’d heard before and some were new tricks to try this spring. I think even those that don’t garden would enjoy this book as Vita incorporates stories of how she came to know these flowers and her adventures in the garden.

    The Velvet Rose. What a combination of words! One almost suffocates in their soft depths, as though one sank into a bed of rose-petals, all thorns ideally stripped away. We cannot lie on a bed of roses, unless we are very decadent and also very rich, but metaphorically we can imagine ourselves doing so when we hold a single rose close to our eyes and absorb it in an intimate way into our private heart. This sounds a fanciful way of writing, the sort of way which makes me shut up most gardening books with a bang, but in this case I am trying to get as close to my true meaning as possible.

And lucky me, I just happened to have some lilies on hand to pose with the beautiful illustrations. Illustrations of each flower are done in watercolor by Graham Rust.

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Persephone secret santa

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Forget a white Christmas (those of us in the south don’t have them anyway) Book Psmith is dreaming of a grey Christmas this year and is hosting a Persephone Secret Santa.

Making my list and checking it twice…


Some late clippings and fall prep

The days are shorter and I’ve stopped fertilizing but I’ve had my jade and spider plants continue to take off. The jade and other succulents in my mini succulent garden are leaning and so aren’t getting enough sun. They might also be getting too tall and need support or cutting back. I’m thinking of placing them under a light.
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I’ve also cut back the basil and upon closer look I found that the thyme that was next to the basil has died. The oregano is still holding on but gets more and more sparse. Next spring I won’t plant these three together. I do know that basil and tomatoes do well next to each other. And I decided to take clippings from the spider plant so that I could get roots and a start on a new plant. This one I will give to my mother as she’s been stalking my all-green spider. Any how, after sunning near a window the clippings put out roots and so were ready to be planted.


Teaser Tuesdays

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From your current read, share a few spoiler-free sentences to tempt others.

This leonine apparition shook Beauty’s father until his teeth rattled and then dropped him sprawling on his knees while the spaniel, darting from the open door, danced round them, yapping distractedly, like a lady at whose dinner party blows have been exchanged.

    “The Courtship of Mr Lyon” From The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart

In The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey the kids are back together after a year off. When we last left them, they had just thwarted Ledropthra Curatin’s (Mr. Benedict’s evil twin) plan to rule the world. Of course curtain escaped and is back for villainous mischief. Constance, Kate, Reynie, and Sticky are summoned to Mr. Benedict’s only to find that he and his assistant Number Two have been kidnapped. Just before being kidnapped, Mr. Benedict planned a surprise for the children to include following a series of riddles and clues. Now they must use these clues to find and rescue Mr. Benedict and Number Two. Their journey takes them to foreign lands across the ocean and through the sky and into the grips of very dangerous men in black suits, dangling from alarmingly high mountain peaks, and escaping from various scrapes and misfortunes.

I didn’t find this one nearly as exciting as the first book. I read the first recently and generally enjoyed the story and getting to know the characters. In the Perilous Journey we already know the kids so the thrill of meeting them and learning about their strengths is of course not there. New characters were introduced but not much time is spent developing their characters for the reader. The kids are back to solving clues and riddles. Generally, things seem to just come to them without any explanation instead of them actually solving any real problems or riddles. This for me lead to a bit of boredom because you know that if the kids just wait long enough or stare at it long enough the clue will be solved or someone would come to rescue them. They are however, very brave and adventurous children, to the point of blurring what might truly be possible, but it is a kid’s story.

The characters begin to become predictable-we know who they are, their faults and how they will respond to situations. Generally I saw no changes in Kate from the first book-she is still wielding her bucket of useful things (though she has made it more user-friendly), she’s feisty, athletic, and more gutsy than the others (she was previously a member of the circus). Sticky who has a magnet memory seems to grapple with some inner issues. He realizes that he is indeed smart and wants to be recognized for his talents. He also struggles with issues of pride and feeling shameful because of his desires for recognition. Constance (being that she is only 3 but obviously advanced for her age) had seen the most development. She is slowly discovering the gift of foresight, she knows things but does not really understand how she knows them. We see her trying to harness this ability to solve puzzles for the group. Her foul attitude is still very much there but I suppose it isn’t as horrible as it was a year ago. She is also more sentimental since being adopted by Mr. Benedict.

And then there is Reynie who is the unwilling leader and maybe the most intelligent of the group. He is also dealing with interpersonal issues and with issues pertaining to humanity. Reynie is starting to understand human beings, he is starting to see that not all are out to do the right things. He can see faults and begins to mistrust (we especially see this with the captain of the ship). Where Reynie struggles most with this is when he realizes that even if people are not always trustworthy or have faults it is still necessary to learn how to trust and function alongside them. What Reynie seems to be experiencing is an important lesson: we cannot let a few bad apples negatively color our views of the world.

    “To a certain degree they all faced the same difficulty-that conflict between heart and brain that arose from being gifted beyond their years-and in sensitive moments such as this one, they felt keenly what it meant to be children in a world of grown-ups.”

As with the first book, some parts were exciting and others didn’t hold my attention very well. What I did notice in this book was a general message of do no harm to others even if harm has been done to you. Instead of fighting there’s dodging and trickery. Even when characters desperately want to throttle their opponents they are able to rationalize that it is not the nicest thing to do.

Maybe the next book- The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma will be a bit more stimulating and perhaps comment more on the growth of the children and the humanity dilemma. It is also completely possible that I am asking too much from a children’s story…
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey


Frost

After a couple of frost warnings, we are back to comfy weather. The leaves are turning and mid 70s feels so much better. This means that all the plants can return to sunning on the balcony (though it’s supposed to be rainy this weekend).

We look to gardening for an enduring logic, a reasonableness, an overarching harmony, amid the random assaults and discordances of being alive.
-Janet Lembke


Mythmaker by Natasha Trethewey

We lived by the words
of gods, mythologies

you’d mold our history to.
How many nights, you,

a young father, squint-eyed
from books and lamplight,

weaving lessons into bedtime-
the story of Icarus warning

to soar, (like me on my swing set)
not heeding a father’s words,

his fall likened to mine.
I’d carry his doom to sleep,

and that of Narcissus too,
his watered face floating

beautiful and tragic above
my head. My own face

a mirrored comfort
you’d pull me from. Late,

when my dreams turned
to nightmare, you were there-

Beowulf to slay Grendel
at my door. The blood on your hands

you’d anoint my head with.
You would have me bold, fearless-

these were things you needed
to teach me. Warning and wisdom.

You couldn’t have known
how I’d take your words and shape

them in creation, reinvent you
a thousand times, making you

forever young and invincible.
Not like now. Not like now.

Domestic Work
from domestic work


Happy (belated) Birthday Ursula LeGuin

Brigindo over at Dirt and Rocks posted this set of Ursula-isms in celebration of Ursula LeGuin’s 80th birthday.

I’ve only recently discovered LeGuin (thanks to Brigindo) and have enjoyed her work thus far.