December 25, 2008

This Day

Hodie Christus natus est:
hodie Salvator apparuit:
hodie in terra canunt Angeli,
lætantur Archangeli:
hodie exsultant justi, dicentes:
Gloria in excelsis Deo,
et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis:


Merry Christmas, one and all.

This blog will be on hiatus until January (as should yours be: eat, drink, be merry!).

December 19, 2008

Review: The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew! Oh, how your absurdities delight me. Oh, it is all too much to bear. I can't speak about this. I will have to show you, internet. Here are the first four paragraphs of The Secret of the Old Clock:
Nancy Drew, an attractive girl of eighteen, was driving home along a country road in her new, dark-blue convertible. She had just delivered some legal papers for her father.

"It was sweet of Dad to give me this car for my birthday," she thought. "And it's fun to help him in his work."

Her father, Carson Drew, a well-known lawyer in their home town of River Heights, frequently discussed puzzling aspects of cases with his blond, blue-eyed daughter.

Smiling, Nancy said to herself, "Dad depends on my intuition."

Of course he does, Nancy Drew! You just keep saying things to yourself. We'll tag along.

Okay, so I hadn't read any Nancy Drew books since middle school, when my friends and I had a brief period of devouring them before we moved on to V. C. Andrews. And I definitely enjoyed these books back then -- what I didn't remember is how incredibly campy and stilted and twee they are. For example, here are the things Nancy does in this book:

  1. Rescues a five-year-old girl

  2. Becomes instantly beloved to two old ladies

  3. Successfully confronts her rich, spoilt, homely rivals

  4. Gets taken in by some strangers who become her BFFs after about four seconds

  5. Rescues a puppy

  6. Saves an old lady

  7. Foils her rich, spoilt, homely rivals again

  8. Repairs an outboard motor

  9. Escapes from a locked closet using only a clothing rod and her amazing screaming prowess

  10. Catches some thieves

  11. Finds the missing will

  12. Foils her rich, spoilt, homely rivals while successfully improving the lives of every other being with whom she's had contact over the course of the novel

Look, she rescues a puppy, a child, and an old lady all in the same book, all while being attractively perky and slim and utterly adored. Does this strike anyone else as overkill? Anyone? It gets a bit trying after a while -- Nancy Drew is so perfect. The Hardy Boys at least get knocked unconscious once a book or so. And she's always saying things to herself, or telling herself things, or declaring to herself -- not so much with the thinking, really. It intrigues me.

The Secret of the Old Clock was sort of charmingly ridiculous, but I can't really recommend it as being something particularly well-written. Dead funny, though ... just unintentionally.

Bonus excerpt!:
"So, one o' you ornery robbers got yourself locked up, did you?" came an indignant male voice. "That'll teach you to try puttin' one over on old Jeff Tucker. You won't be doin' any more pilferin'. I got you surrounded."

The caretaker! Nancy heaved a sigh of fervent relief. "Let me out!" she pleaded. "I'm not one of the thieves! If you'll only let me out of here, I'll explain everything!"

There was silence for a moment. Then the voice on the other side of the door said dubiously, "Say you aimin' to throw me off, imitatin' a lady's voice? Well, it won't do you any good! No, sir. Old Jeff Tucker's not gettin' fooled again!"

Nancy decided to convince the man beyond doubt. She gave a long, loud feminine scream.

"All right, all right, ma'am. I believe you! No man could make that racket. This way out, lady!"

Comedy gold.

December 16, 2008

Just Call Me Numbskull

I had an exam today, ENG331, two hours of Renaissance Drama before being officially done school for the winter break. No sweat, really; we'd been given the essay questions in advance, so it was really a question of matching some answers and then writing an essay from a mentally outlined essay prepared in advance.


I got to the exam centre well ahead of time, and sat down to review some notes and wait around until we could begin. After a while I realized that I hadn't spotted any of my classmates the whole time. Kind of unusual, but it was a big place, and so I didn't think too much of it.


Finally it's two o'clock, and we can go into the exam room. I go in -- but where is ENG331? Nowhere in sight; the room is rapidly filling with engineers. I go out. Maybe I'm in the wrong room. Was it 200, or 320? I go up to the next floor, now conscious that I'm bordering on not-on-time. Room 320 is filled with a geography class. 300 and 310 are full on history majors, 330 is religion. No English anywhere.

I go back down to the main lobby. Is it room 100? No: that's another engineering class. I run out of the building: can I spot a payphone? I can't. I go back up to the 300s and try again -- no dice. Back outdoors, and I see a payphone two blocks down. I sprint, phone home, and get my brother to check my exam schedule. Firefox loads and loads and loads. Finally I get confirmation: room 320. Room 320! I run back to the exam centre.

It's now ten past two, at least. I'm late, but I can still get in. Back to room 320 -- but it's still full of geographers. I ask the supervising prof if he knows where my exam is. He doesn't, but suggests I try 310. I am referred to 310's supervising TA, who has a full exam schedule. He finds ENG331:  room 320.


Of course it is.

But it didn't turn out too badly, for all that (true, it's the stuff of bad pre-exam dreams, but I found out that I had the wrong day before my exam took place, rather than after -- a blessing, that). After stumbling out of 310 and taking a few minutes to get my breathing back under control and not cry, I took myself to a nearby library, one to which I'd never been.

My friends, the library was lovely! Head and shoulders above my local library, to be sure, and close enough to campus that I can probably frequent it fairly easily. There's a huge science fiction & fantasy collection there, as well as a more than respectable children's lit section, and it's all air and light. I picked up a copy of Scalzi's Old Man's War, which also is delighful.

But I'm not reading it right now. I have an exam tomorrow, you know.

December 15, 2008

Review: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi

I first encountered this book back in about grade seven or eight, when our class read it together. I remember liking it quite a bit, and also bring frustrated with the class's pace in finishing it -- most of the reading was done out loud, and I tended to get in trouble for not knowing where we were when it was my turn to read, because I was reading ahead. I remembered parts of the story, but certainly not the entirely of it, and so when I spotted it on BookMooch I snagged it right away. I'm all about the nostalgic reads.

Happily, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle stands up to re-reading -- being an excellent little book, as the Newberry Award people seem to agree -- and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. Here's the blurb:
Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial and found guilty ...

Charlotte Doyle is just such a girl and she swears to tell the truth in all its detail. It happened during the summer of 1832 aboard a ship called the Seahawk. The only passenger on the long Atlantic Ocean crossing, Charlotte found herself caught between the madness of a ruthless captain and the rage or a mutinous crew. This is her terrifying account of that fateful voyage.

Murder on the high seas! Adventure! Mutiny! And of course, lots of sea-talk about sails and mizzenmasts and riggings and all, which I love. I'm a complete sucker for a good sea-faring story. And, being a middle-grade sort of book, this is a very quick read -- the perfect thing for a Monday afternoon.

The writing is generally strong, though simple. Charlotte is well-characterized. I feel like the book could have been bigger, but it is what it is, I suppose. And the author only goes by one name, which is kind of enchanting. Those of you participating in the Newberry Project might find The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle useful as well as entertaining.

December 10, 2008

How to Survive a Renaissance Drama

(A practical survival guide in case you should ever find yourself in a play written during the English Renaissance.)

1. Try to ascertain whether you are in a comedy or a tragedy: Comedies may feature cross-dressing, fairies, forests, crude sexual humour, and illicit romance. Tragedies may feature murder, incest, madness, gratuitously violent acts, crude sexual humour, and some seriously illicit romance.

If you're trapped in a comedy, take heart: hardly anyone ever dies in a comedy. If you're trapped in a tragedy, the rest of this guide may prove useful.

2. Do not marry, kiss, flirt with, seduce, or make sexual advances toward anyone. This is a sure path to doom.
2a. At the same time, do not refuse to be married.

2b. At the same time, if the person who intends to marry you is a relative, it doesn't matter what you do, because you're practically dead already.

3. The Duke is most likely evil. Also, the prince and his cronies. And the duchess. And the queen. Keeping to yourself might be the wisest course.

4. Never get on a boat.

5. If there is a curtain or a wall-hanging in the room, somebody will be behind the curtain.
5a. Try to avoid being the person behind the curtain.

6) The Cardinal usually gets the last word. Remember this.

7) Do not eat or drink. Ever.

8. Do not talk to strangers, witches, old friends, new friends, the Cardinal, the Duke, anyone's illegitimate offspring, grave-diggers, children, or clowns.

9. Do not attend plays or masques.

10. You will probably be cuckolded. It's best to accept this now. If you're lucky you will survive that as well as everything else.

11. Ascertain as quickly as possible whether you are a major or minor character. Neither gives you particularly better odds, but remember: knowledge is power! Until it gets you killed, that is.

Upon reading this list, you might conclude that your odds of survival in a Renaissance-era tragedy fall somewhere between "slim" and "none". Take heart: you'll likely die a horrible, gruesome death, but at least you'll go out confident in your own acuity.

December 9, 2008

Dear Internet: Huh?

Recent search terms, because they amuse me:

how to talk paraguay languish I suspect that this means "how to talk paraguay language" which might be more usefully rewritten as "learn to speak Spanish" ... or Guaraní. If you want to know how to talk to languishing Paraguayans, I probably can't help you.


"brice courtenay" wikipedia I am always amazed at this sort of search, because why would you not just go to wikipedia and search for Bryce Courtenay there? Here's his Wikipedia page, and his librarything entry. And here's his homepage (warning: it plays music). Was that so difficult? It probably was: his first name was spelt wrong in your search.

books to read before ulysses If you've not read any Joyce before, start with Dubliners, a collection of short stories. And then, if you like, you can read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; it's not strictly necessary to the understanding of Ulysses but does take place before it and might be useful as an illumination of Stephen Dedalus's character. Or heck, just jump into Ulysses. No need to be scared.

THE fILLES DU rOI book ThIs booK wAs one of my CHildHOOd favOUritEs and coNtinues to BE SO. but WhY do you TYPE like ThiS?

Yellowknife ebook Right here. But Yellowknife is good enough to buy a hardcopy

how to pronounce frabjous Well, you pronounce "frab" like "frab", and "jous" like "just" without the T. I know it's made up, but it's not that hard. Phonics, people, phonics!

dumb blonde guide to christianity Sorry, dude, but this book doesn't exist. Tamara Leigh made it up for her book Faking Grace. But you could write it, if you really feel it ought to exist.

mystery novels that are fun to reread Most of them, if you are one of those people who can't remember what happens in books you've not read for a while. But otherwise I would suggest anything by Dorothy L. Sayers. Her prose is so delicious that the mystery always seems sort of incidental to me. Also, try Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series. Those books are so funny that, likewise, the actual mystery really isn't the point.

how to get rich quick, kids book and how to get rich quick book for kids I don't get it. Is there a children's book about this? Bedtime stories for tiny capitalists? Or are you trying to get rich quick by writing a children's book? Because listen, homefry, that's probably not going to happen. Even Margaret Atwood got rich slowly.

December 8, 2008

Review: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud

The Bartimaeus Trilogy comprises, unsurprisingly, three books: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye, and Ptolemy's Gate. And, oh buddy, are they ever fantastic. This is probably the best fantasy series I've read in a long time, and though I think technically they're YA books, all three are thoroughly enjoyable for adults.

The series takes place in an alternate England, where magic is predominant, rather than technology. The country (and the Empire, naturally) is ruled by an over-class of magicians, who call upon spirits to help maintain their iron rule. Those who we might know as politicians -- Gladstone, Disraeli, Churchill, etc. -- were in fact some of the most powerful magicians of their respective times.

Enter Nathaniel. Taken (well, bought) from his parents at the age of five, he is apprenticed to Mr. Underwood, a minor magician and civil servant. Somewhat predictably, Nathaniel is mal-treated under his care. But he is also learning. After being humiliated at a dinner party when he is eleven, by the magician Simon Lovelace, Nathaniel is determined to avenge himself.

Enter Bartimaeus, a 6th-level djinni of considerable power and no small amount of wit. Bartimaeus is summoned by Nathaniel as part of the latter's plan for revenge, marking the beginning of a long and tempestuous relationship between the pair.

Does this sound a little like Harry Potter to you? It's not. What we have here is not "plucky orphan learns magic, saves world" so much as "plucky orphan learns magic, becomes idiotic megalomaniac, is saved by djinni, like, a million times." It's good. The chapters tend to alternate between viewpoints and narrative voices: either Nathaniel (and some other, later characters) in the third-person, or Bartimaeus in the first. The writing is definitely strongest when Bartimaeus is speaking; he is much the more interesting character, and I can't help but speculate that Stroud enjoyed writing his chapters the most. And as you might guess from the title of the series, it really is more about him than about Nathaniel. Which is just the way it should be, I think. Nathaniel is a pansy.

Bartimaeus also uses footnotes for amusing and/or informative asides. I know that they drive some people crazy, but footnotes are one of my very favourite authorial conceits. They just tickle me. You're all lucky that I can't figure out how to make wordpress do footnotes, or they'd be in every post. Seriously.