Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Books & Things - What I got for Christmas & Birthday

I'm including my birthday gifts here because I was too lazy to blog about them before Christmas. My birthday is December 22. I won't spend time whining about how over the years I have received lots of Christmas/birthday presents. It happened sometimes, but not enough to scar me for life. Plus, Valerie never combines gifts, and her gifts are always just what I wanted even when she surprises me with something that I hadn't put on my Christmas wish list. :-)

Birthday Gifts
Drood by Dan Simmons - I've been wanting this book all since it was released in February. I've been rather obsessed with it. Searching the New Releases shelf during each visit to Half Price Books since its release. The kind of funny thing is that I've never read any Wilkie Collins books or Dickens's The Mystery of Edwin Drood. However, I did purchase a copy of Dickens's book and Collins's The Woman in White at Half Price Books during the spring or summer, but I haven't found the time to read either yet. I even downloaded a free audiobook of Collins's book. It's funny how I can sometimes read about a book and can't stop thinking about it. I think I'll have to read Drood very soon, even though it's 784 pages makes it a daunting read for this slow reader.

CueCat Barcode Scanner from LibraryThing - Yes, I'm a nerd. I've been wanting one of these as long as I've known about them, but I wouldn't purchase myself one because I thought it was silly. However, Valerie and I really need to weed some books and organize what we have. I'm not happy about the thought of getting rid of books, but I'm excited about organizing them in a joint library. We downsized our living space in April and weeded several boxes of books then, but, sadly, we still need to weed more, especially since we can't seem to stop accumulating them.

Smart Glass Necklace - A couple of years ago, Valerie gave me some cool cobalt blue earrings made of recycled glass, and this year, she gave me a matching necklace. I was totally surprised by the necklace, but it was a perfect gift. :-)

(Some) Christmas Gifts
Because Valerie and I bought a new TV for ourselves right after Thanksgiving, we only gave each other stocking stuffers on Christmas day. Once again, she made great surprising choices: a nifty Scrabble tile necklace that she purchased from someone on Etsy.com, some superb sterling silver earrings that I can wear all the time, and a box of Red Hots. I love Red Hots!

I got lots of other good things from Valerie's family and from one of my nephews-in-law--my extended family is too big, so we draw names--but I won't bore you with all the details. I'll limit myself to the two books I received.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson - I've been wanting to read this book for a long time. Robinson and Joseph O'Neill did an Inprint reading here in September, and I had to miss it because my school Meet Your Teacher Night was the same night. Since I was having a book fair that week, I had to be there to sell books that night, and I'm still upset about the timing. Anyway, every time I hear someone talk about this book, it makes me think that I have missed out on a masterpiece. This book is rather short, so it should be easy to work into my reading schedule very soon.

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro - I've read two other books of Munro's stories, Runaway and The View from Castle Rock, which I read this summer as part of my Short Story Reading Project. I've completely fallen in love with her writing, and I would now list her as one of my favorite writers. I can't wait to find the time to read this volume of stories.

Like I said above, I got lots of good gifts that I'm very grateful for, and I feel like the gifts that I gave were well received. As far as I'm concerned, Birthday and Christmas 2009 were GREAT!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I need some footnotes

While I should have been reading Water for Elephants last night, I started T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. The mere mention of this play's fourth tempter in an Engines of Our Ingenuity episode during yesterday's commute to work reminded me that I had never read this play and made me obsess about reading it. I kept thinking about it off and on all day. (Eliot's "The Waste Land" is one of my favorite poems, and I like "The Preludes," and some of his other poems too.) I knew that I had a copy of the play at home, a copy that I bought over three years ago when I was still teaching AP English.

So last night before going to bed, I found the book, thinking that I might read the whole playbefore going to sleep--it's very short and even a slow reader like me can read a play in one sitting sometimes. However, I should have known that I'm too old to stay awake that long. When I woke up this morning, I remembered a line from what I had read: "I have seen these things in a shaft of light." This line immediately brought to mind Emily Dickinson's poem that begins "There's a certain slant of light." Later, while I was waiting on the hair straightener to heat up, I found the poem in a book and reread it. Both the poem and the play have religious themes. Is Eliot's line an allusion to Dickinson's? That question is one of the reason's I need some footnotes.

Murder in the Cathedral is a short play, mostly in verse. It tells the story of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, returning to England after years of exile/banishment. He is assassinated very soon after he returns, and he had prophesied his impending death. Despite being written mostly in verse, the basic plot of the play isn't difficult to follow. What I need footnotes for is the British history, which provides the basis for the play. I just don't know or remember enough.

I really enjoyed the Chorus, which functions in much the same way as the Chorus does in the plays like Oedipus Rex. One of my favorite Chorus parts is in Part II after the four knights have stated the evidence of Thomas's treason and hinted that he must die for it. The Chorus says:
I have smelt them, the death-bringers, senses are quickened
By subtile forebodings; I have heard
Fluting in the night-time, fluting and owls, have seen at noon
Scaly wings slanting over, huge and ridiculous. I have tasted
The savour of putrid flesh in the spoon. I have felt
The heaving of earth at nightfall, restless, absurd. I have heard
Laughter in the noises of beasts that make strange noises: jackal, jackass, jackdaw; the scurrying noises of mouse and jerboa; the laugh of the loon, the lunatic bird. I have seen
Grey necks twisting, rat tails twining, in the thick light of dawn...
And this great poetry goes on for another page and a half in my book. Eliot piles on the dark imagery as the Chorus intones an incantation of death. (This passage makes me wish I still taught AP English.)

I think this play is intended as a tragedy, which would explain Eliot's use of a chorus. I need to reread the play with some footnotes and/or read some literary criticism before I say anything else about it. Hopefully, I'll have time tomorrow at work to do a little research. One of the perks of being a librarian is that I can do personal research and reading and look like I'm working hard, but let's keep that little secret between us. ;-)

Now, I need to go to bed and read more of Water for Elephants. Book club meets on Sunday, and I don't want to spend my whole weekend trying to finish it.