Saturday, July 28, 2012

"When I waked, I cried to dream again"

Currently Reading: Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier and Inishmurray: Island Voices by Joe McGowan

So who else loved the ode to children’s literature that appeared in the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics last night?

Besides the opening montage of scenes and vistas from England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, the literature segment was by far my favorite. What can be better than a performance that starts with J.K. Rowling reading a passage from Peter Pan? Clip here: 

As she reads, literary villains including Captain Hook and Lord Voldemort (as a terrifyingly huge statue, complete with wand that shoots sparks) come to life to frighten the young girl reading in bed. She and the other children are finally saved by the appearance of a slew of Mary Poppins’ flying down with their umbrellas to chase the baddies away. (To dance with Mary Poppins is every kid’s dream, I should think.) The only thing that would have made it better was if Aslan the Lion appeared with Mary Poppins, and the kids fell back asleep clutching stuffed Winnie the Pooh bears.

I just love that at a ceremony celebrating the start of the world’s biggest athletic competitions, tribute is paid to England’s cultural contributions in history, music, film… and literature. By doing so, it emphasized the importance of the arts alongside the focus on athleticism, which is a crucial message to today’s society, in my opinion. In a world where education budgets are tight, and music and theater programs are usually cut in favor of athletic programs, this was a subtle reminder of the importance of all areas in a child’s education. I also find it interesting that children’s literature was emphasized. From a country whose literary heritage includes works of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and so many others, the Ceremonies focused instead on England’s contributions to children’s literature. Perhaps I am reading too much into this (catch the pun?), but I see it as a reflection of the idea that children’s literature is the most important kind of all, for that is where a person’s future begins. I am passionate about the importance of books in a child’s life, for I know how reading influenced who I am today and I have seen the difference between children who are encouraged to read and those who are not. So of course I watched this highlight of some of England’s most beloved children’s books (although really, where was Narnia?) with delight and have been mulling it over ever since.

I think the message inherent in this segment was that these beloved children’s books, like many others, are timeless. They endure because they are real to the children who read them and because they continue to exist for us when we are older. The power inside books like these triumph over the dark things in life and provide children with worlds never before imagined. It is children who grow up to inherit our world and exposure to great children’s literature does nothing but benefit them as they grow and learn. We were once children too. We once fell in love with Neverland, Narnia, and Mr. McGregor’s garden. Each generation will continue to do so, just as the one before them did. Whatever the future may hold, this alone will endure. And that is a comforting thought.

So those are my musings on the Opening Ceremonies. Final thoughts: bravo to Rowan Atkinson for bringing back Mr. Bean so flawlessly, and thank you Kenneth Branagh for giving life to a great passage from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” His performance was so moving that I did not even recognize it as Shakespeare until he was finished because he performed it in such a way that it seemed as if the words had never been spoken before, that they just materialized out of air in the seconds before he spoke them. I tried posting a clip of the performance, but it didn't work. Try Googling it, if you can! It always gives me chills! (The background hymn "Jerusalem" doesn't hurt the effect either.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ireland, Vampires, and Grad School

Currently Reading: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness and Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier

It seems that I am unintentionally on a fantasy genre kick right now... and as you can tell from my lack of posts this month, I am enjoying every minute of it. In high school, I read fantasy books voraciously, and although I have scaled back on them in this stage of my life, I still get a thrill out of well-written, clever, and thought-provoking fantasy. Child of the Prophecy is the final installment in the beautiful Sevenwaters trilogy, which takes place in the forests of Ireland during the 10th century. It is the perfect mix of mythology and history, which is what any fantasy book I read needs to have in it. I have read this series several times since my high school days and love it more each time. It was the Sevenwaters Trilogy that actually caused me to fall in love with Ireland, its rich mythology and deep history. Without this series, who knows how my life would have been different.


Deborah Harkness's newest book takes the cake on mixing fantasy with history; I get a little glow of pleasure every time I pick it up. Her first book in the series, A Discovery of Witches, came out last February and was phenomenal; I have been waiting impatiently for this new installment for months. I like to call it: Twilight for grownups. Unlike many other women I know, I do not have a lingering love affair with fanged glittering men who rescue the mortal damsel in distress. I find it highly derogatory in one sense and very disturbing in another. (In one scene, Shadow of Night actually pokes fun at this bizarre craze that has recently taken over the literary world and the disturbing female infatuation with manly, domineering vampires that has caused it... it made me giggle.) Harkness's series is entirely different. First of all, her main character is an adult witch who has determined to deny her magical side and devote herself entirely to her work (she is a professor at Oxford who specializes in the history of alchemy). That alone sets her apart, for she is a strong, determined, and intelligent woman- a character I can actually like and respect. The plot centers around a medieval manuscript that Diana unwittingly calls up from the Bodleian Library that supposedly contains answers about the creation and future of the four races of the world: humans, witches, vampires, and daemons. The book is riddled with historical references and deep philosophical and scientific debates. (The author is a history professor... enough said.) A book has to be amazing when it can switch from quoting Herodotus to discussing the implications of Darwinian theory in ten seconds flat. And while Diana does end up falling in love with a vampire, he is as different from the pretty-boy vampires as I am from the old guy who lives several apartments down. Their relationship is one of equals, which is refreshing and gives the book some good tension. Matthew is not a harmless, glittering boy but a dangerous, intelligent man- one who has had many lives and hundreds of years to live through. Matthew's back stories give the novel a complexity and depth that many others lack. Especially fascinating is the constant references to the other lives, careers, and historical figures Matthew has known and worked with throughout the many centuries of his life. As a historian, I really enjoyed this, although there were some references I had to ask my husband about- he's the medieval scholar, not me. Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Harriot, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Gerbert d'Aurillac, and many more make appearances, in some way or another. I suppose I especially like Shadow of Night and its predecessor because I'm drawn to books that focus on academia. Perhaps it's my scholarly side, the part of me that loves rummaging through the library stacks or sitting at a table, surrounded by old books and their musty smell, digging for clues as the hours of research tick by. Diana's research, and their search for the mystery Ashmole 782, is enough to make me want to either make cup after cup of tea or sit down to my own research projects. Ultimately, while I do have criticisms of the book, I love the feeling it gives me as I immerse myself into its world.

Obviously, I have been spending all of my extra moments lately with my nose in a book. Other things, such as this blog, have taken second priority to my deep desire to read as much as I can before the summer ends. A slight panic has set in recently, as I count down the days until graduate school starts and my life of relaxing evenings full of blogging, baking, and reading comes to a close. This has actually been bothering me more than one would think. While I love school and am so excited for starting my program, I still can't help but hope that it won't take over my entire life. Having been in college before, however, I know that this is wishful thinking. My blog posts will be fewer and farther between, the only books I'm likely to finish are audiobooks while I commute to school, and I may only get the chance to bake once every couple of weeks. For someone who finds comfort in routine, this monumental change is no doubt going to rock my world for a while. But with change comes new potential, new adventures, and new opportunities. Life can't only be lived in books.

In the meantime, after weeks of drought and blistering heat, I am enjoying the lullaby of thunder and raindrops that is enveloping the evening. A perfect night to stretch out with some lemonade and a good book. If you'll excuse me......

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

21 Questions

Currently Reading: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier and Lady Almina & the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon

Let me start this post with saying:

Nate and I are BIG "Downton Abbey" fans.


If you're not familiar with this amazing PBS series, I won't describe it here. Wikipedia can do that for me. Let me just say, it is one of the best TV shows I have seen in a long time- a perfect mix of drama, humor, suspense, and history. Due to the great interest I now have in Edwardian England thanks to this show, as well as the need to immerse myself in that world while waiting desperately for the third season, I am now listening to an audiobook written by the Countess of Carnarvon, whose home, Highclere Castle, is the setting for the show. The book is a history of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon's wife, Lady Almina, whose life provided inspiration for the plot of the show. So far, it is a fascinating read and I look forward to learning more about her and the times she lived in.

For a change of pace today, I have decided to fill out a "Get to Know You" survey, mostly concerning literature, created by my friend Jillian at A Room of One's Own for her blog readers. Here we go!
  1. Sum yourself up in twenty-five words or less. Passionate, obstinate, dreamy, a Christian, a reader, a writer, a wife, daughter, sister, a friend, compassionate, helpful, smart, hopeful, inspired, determined, stubborn, funny, emotional, dramatic, and a seeker of beauty. (Oops, that was more than 25!)
  2. Do you read? If so, why, what, and how often? Absolutely! I also breathe, eat, and sleep, which are also necessary parts of keeping me alive. Without a book, I am lost, a ship without a rudder. I read anything I can, though I'm drawn to history, the classics, some fantasy, some contemporary, and some memoirs. I am not really interested in slasher/horror/thriller books, and have never been captivated by the Western or Mystery genres. How often do I read? Every day. I have a purse that is big enough for most normal-sized books and I usually pack one with me wherever I go.
  3. Do you blog? If so, your blog’s name & focus (classic books? YA? art? college? writing? movies? miscellaneous? etc?) – if you don’t have a blog, what would most likely be your focus if you did have one)? I do blog, and you are reading it right now. While I blog about what I read, it is not a book review blog, for I like to write about my perceptions in my reading journey. I also use my blog as a way to write about my life and my thoughts outside of books as well.
  4. Your favorite adult book(s) &/or children’s book(s)? My favorite adult book is Jane Eyre, while my favorite children's book has to be either the Laura Ingalls Wilder series (although I argue that counts as adult fiction too) and Caddie Woodlawn. Maybe those count as Young Adult fiction?
  5. Your favorite movie(s)? Little Women, the 1994 version. I love it not only because of the acting, the plot, the beautiful way in which it was made and kept true to the story, but also because it is something I share with my sister, and watching it with her is a beautiful tradition that I cherish immensely.
  6. Your favorite quote(s) from literature? I have a quote book filled with quotes that move me or inspire me, but my favorite is from Jane Eyre: "I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils." Inspiring, isn't it? It always gives me chills.
  7. Most challenging book you’ve read in your life? A book I read for one of Dr. Byman's classes, whose title I cannot remember but which I never enjoyed the entire time we read it. I wish I could remember the name! I'm sure it will come to me while I'm sleeping tonight. Mary, Jenn? Help me out here...what was it called?!
  8. Book(s) you’re currently reading, if any? Daughter of the Forest, which is one of my favorite fantasy reads, part of a trilogy, set in Ireland. (Reading it at the age of 14 actually sparked my initial interest in Irish mythology). And the Lady Almina audiobook, which I have already described above.
  9. Book(s) you’re most looking forward to reading? I am looking forward to all of the books on my current list, but I am really excited for a new one I just found and ordered called Inishmurray Voices. It is a history of Inishmurray Island, which was the most sacred and amazing spot we visited in Ireland. I can't wait to learn more about it and the people who lived there.
  10. Author whose works you’re curious to explore soon? Maybe Charlotte Bronte- I have never read a work of hers beside Jane Eyre, so I'm curious to read more of her writings. However, I have also put it off, because I am scared of being disappointed in her other works, since I love Jane Eyre so profusely.
  11. Book you’re most scared to read but might read eventually, anyway? War and Peace. My dad and sister loved it and want me to read it, but so far I have never had good luck with Russian writers. Eventually though, I would love to say I have read it.
  12. Book you have re-read the most times in your life (or if you hate re-reading, just write that!) Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows the answer to that question is Jane Eyre. :)
  13. If you could spend a day in any era, where would you go (including “I would not go anywhere! I LOVE the 21st century!”)? Oh gosh. Medieval Ireland maybe, to visit a monastery and learn first-hand about life in that era. Or perhaps go back to the 1800s or 1700s and visit some of my ancestors. There are so many times and events that I would love to have a front-seat viewing of, like a fly on the wall. As a historian, I have asked myself this question many times, but it always comes back to the answer that while there are so many time periods I would love to visit, I would never want to permanently live in any of them. I believe we were all put where we were meant to be, even if it doesn't feel that way.
  14. If you could be any character in literature, who would you be (and why)? Wow, hard one. Probably Anne of Green Gables, because we have such a similar personality and because she has such a beautiful world. I would love to dream in the Dryad's Bubble with Diana, or explore Green Gables, or sail in a boat, pretending to be the Lady of Shallott. Anne is a pure spirit, one I would like to be friends with, or perhaps learn to exemplify.
  15. Do you love Jane Austen or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”? (Phrase borrowed from Mark Twain).
    1. Why? (for either answer)? While I think Jane Austen doesn't deserve all of the hype she gets (not because it's unwarranted but because there are so many other wonderful female writers of her age that are overlooked by a majority of Austen fans), I think she was a brilliant writer with a great talent for expressing herself through her characters. So no, I wouldn't beat her over the skull. Wow, Mark.... that was a bit harsh!
    2. Favorite and/or least favorite Austen novel? Favorite: Sense & Sensibility. Her other novels never drew me in the way this one did, nor did I really like any of her other characters as much as I liked Elinor and Marianne. (Except Fanny from Mansfield Park. I did like her). Least Favorite: Emma. I didn't enjoy the plot and I found myself annoyed with Emma herself. When I don't like the main character, I usually don't enjoy the book.
  16. Your favorite season? Autumn. The smell and feel of the air, the crunch of leaves, the bright colors, and the array of fruits and veggies available make it the perfect time of year.
  17. Do you prefer dawn or twilight? Dawn- the start of a new day, with new possibilities. Although I do love driving home, watching the sun set.
  18. Your favorite memory from childhood? I had a wonderful childhood, with many good memories. Most of my favorite memories revolve around playing with my sister- we were very imaginative and invented many worlds to play in, from the Oregon Trail to Hogwarts. (We were both avid readers, even then). Other great memories center around spending time at Oma's house next door, watching her cook, helping Opa in the garden, or playing in the back room. I have great memories of my dad's farm, where I learned that cows are the most amazing creatures you'll ever find. And finally, I have lovely memories of life at home, being supported by my mom who made sure to encourage and support our passions and interests. I wouldn't be me without all of the people who played such large roles in my life.
  19. Some of your interests beyond books? Spending time with Nathan, cuddling with my cat Hobbes, genealogy, baking bread and cooking/experimenting with new recipes, singing, writing/blogging,  and I just started gardening this year, which I now love to do.
  20. Added after I posted, thanks to Payton’s suggestion: “Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?” Again, another hard question! I don't think I can answer these, because there are so many wonderful characters in the books I have read and to choose just one is nigh impossible. Of course, I believe the best heroine would be Jane Eyre, but how can I make that decision, for what about Anne Shirley or Jo March or Hermione Granger? What about Marianne Dashwood or Honora Kelly or Sorcha? I don't have an answer, although it is a great question.
  21. What question do you wish I had asked? (Ask and answer it!) I don't know, these were good questions. Perhaps the question: what inspires you? Inspiration is the key to happiness, in my opinion, and I strive to find inspiration in any of my passions and hobbies. I am inspired by the creation I see around me: my tomato plants, a sunrise, rainstorms. I am inspired by others: my family, my husband, my Savior, my friends, and my literary companions. I am inspired by stacks of books sitting on my end table, a perfect cup of tea, kneading bread, folding laundry, decorating my apartment. I am inspired to learn, to dream, to hope, to remember, and to create by noticing the little things around me and appreciating them for the blessings they are.
 That was fun! Thanks for the great questions, Jillian. My book is calling my name, so off I go. :)

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