Friday, November 30, 2007

The Star of Kazan

First blogged book review...I must say I'm excited to join the ranks of all the oh-so-cool LRRHer book-reviewing bloggers!

The Star of Kazan, by Eva Ibbotson, isn't quite a young adult book, but it has an older feel than the others of her books that I've read (Which Witch? and Island of the Aunts), and I'm looking forward to reading her other YA novels. A Countess Below Stairs, here I come...

The Star of Kazan takes place around the turn of the nineteenth century in the Austro-Hungarian and German empires. Twelve-year-old Annika was found abandoned in a church as an infant by the cook and maid of a Viennese household of professors. Sigrid and Ellie, the two servants, have raised her since then, and though she has a comfortable and happy life, she still dreams of her mother someday seeking her out. When, to the great surprise of all, a grand lady arrives at their doorstep claiming Annika as her daughter, it seems as though Annika's dearest wish has finally been granted. But her new life at the grim family manor in bleak northern Germany is full of strangeness and secrets, and it doesn't take long to realize that everything is not as it should be. Throw in a Gypsy stable-boy who knows more about the family's past than he'll tell, a dying old woman who was once a star on the stages of Paris, and a convention of overly-relaxed jewelers, and there's nothing for the story to be but absorbing.

By about the halfway point, I was having trouble putting this book down, despite the fact that also had basically the whole plot figured out by then (not sure how that works). Plotting aside, the setting is perfect and the idiosyncratic and original characters are likeable. As comfort books go, this one's got a special glow. It reminds me of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase in some ways, although they have different styles and different feelings. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Grade: B+

What a LRRHer says about The Star of Kazan:

I found an interesting interview with Eva Ibbotson on

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A little Yannis Ritsos

The Meaning of Simplicity

I hide behind simple things so you'll find me
if you don't find me, you'll find the things,
you'll touch what my hand has touched,
our hand-prints will merge.

The August moon glitters in the kitchen
like a tin-plated pot (it gets that way
because of what I'm saying to you),
it lights up the empty house and
the house's kneeling silence--
always the silence remains kneeling.

Every word is a doorway
to a meeting, one often cancelled,
and that's when a word is true:
when it insists on the meeting.

-Yannis Ritsos
translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley

Monday, November 26, 2007

Grendel gives Holly hope

He rejected my second proposal as well. But now stage 1 of wizard angst/childbirth is hopefully over. I think I've finally, finally found a topic I can work with, back in Beowulf. Here is the section I'm focusing on (lines 86-114):

Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
to hear the din of the loud banquet
every day in the hall, the harp being struck
and the clear song of a skilled poet
telling with mastery of man's beginnings,
how the Almighty had made the earth
a gleaming plain girdled with waters;
in His splendour He set the sun and the moon
to be earth's lamplight, lanterns for men,
and filled the broad lap of the world
with branches and leaves; and quickened life
in every other thing that moved.

So times were pleasant for the people there
until finally one, a fiend out of hell,
began to work his evil in the world.
Grendel was the name of this grim demon
haunting the marches, marauding round the heath
and the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time
in misery among the banished monsters,
Cain's clan, whom the Creator had outlawed
and condemned as outcasts. For the killing of Abel
the Eternal Lord had exacted a price:
Cain got no good from committing that murder
because the Almighty made him anathema
and out of the curse of his exile there sprang
ogres and elves and evil phantoms
and the giants too who strove with God
time and again until He gave them their reward.

Back to Beowulf

After politics I'm getting a collection of essays on Beowulf out from the library, which willl hopefully lead me to something better. Something about Grendel, maybe? It includes Tolkien's famous essay "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," which will may be enough on its own.

I think I'll become a flagellant, treading softly through the hallways of my dorm crying Latin prayers and beating myself with my textbooks. When I die, my ghost will keep on flagellating, haunting the halls of the underclassman dorm...

Which brings me to a grammatical question that's been bothering me for some time. When used as an adjective, is it "underclassmen" or "underclassman"? What do you think?
Angst isn't generally my thing, but sometimes it's appropriate. Like now.

My prof rejected my proposed topic for my English paper, because, as he recognized, it was crap and would result in a paper that basically summarized his lecture on that canto without contributing a single new idea.

I have literally no ideas. Absolutely no ideas for this accursed paper.

Time to pray some more.

As for you, you can pray that I can refrain from impaling myself on my pencil.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Scratch that. I don't have it in me to tackle Beowulf after less than thirty minutes of lecture on it. The Inferno it is; more specifically, the fifth canto, in which Dante the Pilgrim has his famous encounter with Paolo and Francesca in the Second Circle of Hell.

I swear, writing a paper feels like as painful a process as giving birth (though I can't say I know from personal experience). It's like the mental equivalent of labor. My brain and emotions are addled beyond the powers of description to say. This is the first major push: picking a topic, which will develop into a thesis. The second push is actually writing the essay.

Believe you me, I am going to drop this English major like a potato Enna's been playing with.
Well, today is not the most peaceful and relaxed of days for me, as I have to e-mail my proposal for my second English paper to my prof today and I still have no idea what my area of interest is (I can tell you this, though: it'll be on some aspect of Beowulf), but I've still certainly got plently to be thankful for, and I thought I'd join some of youse in writing a list of things I'm particularly thankful for right now:

I'm thankful...

that I go to Wheaton. It is the perfect fit for me in so many ways, and I feel at home there like I've rarely felt at home elsewhere.

for my English and German professors and classes.

for the German language. I can't even say how much or why I love it, but this language feels like the native language of my soul, or something like that.

for all the new and incredible friends I've made this semester.

for the beautiful music I've discovered and rediscovered.

for the wonderful books I've read and have yet to read.

that it is so easy for me to get books! The campus library has more than half a dozen magnificent bookcases of YA and children's books, and the public library is so excellent and so close.

for Irish dance. For my dance school back home, that I've finally found a school here that seems like it'll work out for me, for the feíseanna I've been to, for the progress I've made, for the fact that I got up my nerve last October to try a class in the first place, and for how well it suits me.

for my marvelous bike, for the freedom it gives me, and for all the time I've spent on it.

for the stunning Pacific Ocean.

for Midwestern trees and skies.

for the vivid and strange moments and memories that make life what it is.

and for miraculous poetry.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Home in my city by the bay

Yesterday I flew home in the evening. There was crazy traffic getting to the airport, and it just felt hectic there, but I didn’t have to take public transportation there, I made my flight with plenty of time, my luggage arrived, and I even enjoyed a tasty smoothie and ran into Elanor at the airport. (Bananas and blueberries are excellent blended together, by the way.) I got some uncomfortable plane sleep, and was home by midnight.

Today I rode my bike down to the health food store by the beach, and after I’d picked up the brown sugar, dried apples, and rolls, I couldn’t resist riding the last few blocks to the beach. It was as beautiful as always; no traces of the oil spill were apparent (yes, there was an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay the Wednesday before last, if you weren’t aware, caused, of all things, by a tanker running into the Bay Bridge). I did see this notice all over the place, though:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"
- T.S. Eliot

Monday, November 19, 2007

"The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"

We read this poem first semester of senior year AP English. I love the imagery, especially the images of childhood, the sweetness, the sorrow and longing, the projection of the wife's emotions onto the natural world...I wrote my Aino poem under the influence of this poem, especially of its syntax and diction, which I find striking in their simplicity and straightforwardness.

The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-sa.

- Ezra Pound (a loose translation of a Chinese poem)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Shin splints and Riverdance

My shin splints have been bothering me of late, so I desist from dancing down our (concrete) hall now. I think I'm going to have to make my practice sessions in the dance studio shorter, and jogging is definitely off.

I'll keep wearing my dance sneakers for my soft shoe dances, too, instead of going barefoot. I need to do those anti-shin splints exercises more.

I went to the dance studio in the SRC today for a half an hour or so, mostly stretching and working on my slip jig. For those of you who aren't familiar with Irish dances -- most of you, I imagine -- the slip jig is a soft shoe dance in 9/8 time traditionally, and usually still today, danced only by girls and women. It's the so-called ballet of Irish dance, with a very flowing, graceful, swinging feel. I'll have to remember that Sunday afternoon is a good time (i.e. there were no crew people on the rowing machines or anyone else in the studio, hurrah!). I got my Riverdance CD in the mail a few days ago ($2.50 plus shipping used from Amazon!), so I got to enjoy practicing to the beautiful slip jigs from the numbers "Women of Ireland" and "Riverdance." You can watch/listen to them here:

"Women of Ireland" -- Such a pretty beginning; the slip jig is called "Countess Cathleen." Though I laugh a little inside when they are just revolving around each other in the in-between measures. Then the women get all fired up and Jean has a hardshoe showdown with a bunch of men who think they can handle her. Kinda reminds me of Enna at the beginning of Enna Burning when she's talking about Finn...

"Riverdance" -- The Irish chorus Anúna introduces the dance with a song ("Cloudsong" is the name, I believe); sit tight. This is Riverdance's performance as the interval act at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, the four minutes that made Irish dance famous, and that's no exaggeration. Starts out with Jean's gorgeous floating slip jig (I do love her dress, and her hair is so pretty; it's been straight for a long time now), then we get a bit of undiluted Michael Flatley, and it ends with iconic Riverdance treble reel, the entire company in their hardshoes in a single line. It gives me goosebumps every single time I watch it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thursday, Friday, Freedays

I stayed up until around three last night, watching The End of the Spear for my Bible/theology (BITH) class and studying for my comparative politics test today (ethnic and national identity and conflict, and political attitude, ideology, and culture).

I woke up early to study in Saga, skipped BITH, went to chapel, finished reviewing my politics notes in German durinig the last two Referate (presentations), and then took the test, which was not too bad. We had one essay question instead of the usual two, hurrah! I felt like I did quite well, except for one thing: the essay question asked us to cite examples from at least two of our country case studies, which are Iran, Japan, China, Mexico, and the United Kingdom, and I didn't see how you could cite an example for that particular question, so I just didn't. Shrugs.

In the early evening I went to usher at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's performance on campus, but I fell asleep in the chairs in the back waiting for them to let people in. I think several conservies (conservatory of music students, a species of their own) must have been gathered around me, trying to wake me up without touching me or knowing my name, for a minute or two before I woke up. I didn't realize at first that I'd been asleep, and I muttered something about being really spacey. Hah. Then I left because I was superfluous and wanted to sleep. And here I am now, cozy in my room, rejoicing over the return of hot water to the underclassmen dorms.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

There's something poignant about the light in autumn. When I walk through the long shadows of campus hearing the bells tolling, I feel a wave of Quentin washing over me. Oh, Quentin. What he felt was what we all feel to some extent, I think, only amplified.

Please tell me if you ever read The Sound and the Fury. That book is a part of my consciousness.

Friday, November 9, 2007

"i thank you God for most this amazing"

I love e.e. cummings, and I love this poem. It nearly knocked me over the first time I read it. I have the first two stanzas memorized and I'll have the whole thing soon. More on that in a little while.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of allnothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of eyes are opened)

- e.e. cummings

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A poem on the art of poetry

This is a chunk of a poem I stumbled across while I had The Norton Anthology of Poetry (nearly 2,000 glorious pages) checked out from the library this summer.

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown --

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

-Archibald MacLeish
from "Ars Poetica" (1926)

Isn't that lovely? The awesome rhyme scheme makes me grin. So perfect -- it's the "less" that keeps the last two lines from rhyming. Absolutely wonderful.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I join the swooners

So I'd seen some of the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice before, but yesterday I watched the whole first disc with Nikki and Anna, and I'll probably watch the second one tomorrow. This time Mr. Darcy was so much more swoonerific. Ne'er was there a hotter scowl. Oh, swoon. And every time I saw him I got a jolt like, Hey, I've seen that guy! (Thanks to LRRH, a certain cardboard man, and a very attractive squash, ahem.) When he made his confession to Lizzy, friends down the hall attest that I was shrieking, "THIS IS WHY HE'S SO HOT!" I threw the back of my hand to my brow and toppled over at that point.

And I liked the coats they wore riding. Hurrah for men in breeches. I do believe a reread of Austenland is in order.


Nice to be part of the swooning masses of Firth-Darcy fans. =)

Monday, November 5, 2007

"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old."
- Micah 7:18-20