Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Six Moon Dance

By Sheri S. Tepper

At a time in the future and after humanity has spread to the galaxy, on a certain planet a new social order has been created. Females are more rare on this planet and thus are more valuable. A man wishing to marry must pay a dowry for his bride. Further, men are required to wear veils that hide their faces when in public lest their naked faces tempt women into uncontrollable lust.
When people first settled on to this planet, Newholme, extensive surveys has shown no intelligent life on the planet. But later, suddenly, intelligent natives appeared. Legally, people were forbidden to settle on planets that already had native populations. Frightened of losing their planet, the people hid the fact there was an indigenous population from the central authority, the Council of Worlds (COW for short).
But word leaked back to COW and an investigator was sent to Newholme. This investigator, part machine and part human and known as the Questioner, has the power of life or death over the people of Newholme. So the people are frantic to hide what they have done and they order all the native peoples into hiding.
What the locals don't know is that there are no native peoples. There is just one native person and all the little natives running around are just extensions of itself. Living everywhere, nothing occurs on Newholme that this entity doesn't know about. And it is pleased to learn of the arrival of the Questioner. Not because it wants the humans punished for invading its planet. It is pleased because it needs the Questioner's help and human help to solve a very big problem, a problem so serious that if not dealt with very soon will cause the annihilation of the planet Newholme.

This is a fascinating story. Tepper has some imagination. Her strange human society seems like it would work, in some weird, creepy way. Reading about the people of Newholme was very interesting. Also her aliens are very alien and yet not so alien that they are unsympathetic or incomprehensible. She tells an engrossing story with lots of detail and lots of mysteries to wonder about and discover the truth about later in the story. Especially intriguing was the fauxi-dizalonz, a part of the native being of Newholme, a pool where its old parts are melted down and reassembled good as new; and it so happens this pool works on humans too!
One thing I didn't like about the story was not the conclusion, but the ending. At the end of the story, the Questioner is given the opportunity to enter the fauxi-dizalonz and be reborn. It's pretty clear the Questioner will end up entering the pool but the story ends before that happens and we never get to know how it would affect the part-human, part-machine being. I would really liked to have known that!

New Words

Hispidity: Hispid means covered in short, stiff hairs; bristly. 'Haraldson further provided that persons must not only advocate but assure personal rights for all races, and that they must not discriminate against born, hatched, aggregated, or budded creatures on the basis of species, morphology, color, hispidity, gender, age, or opinion, except as species, morphology, gender, et al. provably altered the consequence of any given situation.'

Corpora callosa: The corpora callosum is the band of nerve fibers that connects the right and left cerebral hemispheres of the brain. 'Because it [the Questioner] held three human brains and unlimited memory, complicated corpora callosa and storage units of enormous capacity were required, but the solutions to these and other problems of structure and design were uniformly inspired.'

Brachiate: Swing from one hold to the next (like a monkey). 'She [the Questioner] was enormously strong; she could swim, dive, fly, brachiate, crawl, or climb mountains.'

Miscible: Capable of mixing or blending. 'Clothing, ideas, fads, convictions, all had been transitory and miscible.'

Analects: Collection of moral and social teachings of Confucius, including the concept of the Five Relationships. '"I am memorizing whole book of Confucian analects."'

Marmoreal: Resembling marble or a marble statue. 'The seating area sloped down to an oval dais with a curved back wall against which stood the three effigies of the Hagions, marmoreal images four times the height of a woman, each the likeness of robes draped around a female figure, but with only an emptiness inside.'

Adits: Entrances or passageways. 'Instead he was in a maze of passageways that branched opening onto narrow catwalks that crossed open space to small, dark balconies from which, ascending or descending by ladders, one came upon narrow adits leading to crawlways the went hither and thither in all directions through the ancient fabric of House Genevois.'

Ramified: Divided or branched out. 'No effort had been made to map the ramified and interpenetrating layers.

Neap: The lowest high tide of the month. 'A two big-moon neap, full or dark, was low, but a three big-moon neap was lower, and an all-moon low sucked the water out of the bays to leave mud flats extending to the horizon.'

Squamous: Scaly. '"It's a scale," she said. "From some sort of squamous creature."'

Eidolon: 'She was a perilous eidolon, a symbol of marvel and romance.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog

By Nancy Ellis-Bell

Nancy is an animal lover. So when the opportunity to acquire a blue and gold macaw came along, Nancy just had to take it, despite the difficulties presented. One of which is that the bird was captured in the wild and during the capture its leg was damaged so badly that its foot had to be amputated. Also, it is aggressive and bites. Further, Nancy's home is pretty small and this is a big bird. She has two dogs and two cats in the home already.
But she brings the bird home and names it Sarah and proceeds to fall in love with it. She can't really touch the bird since it bites and its beak is powerful enough to take off a finger. In fact, it likes to crack bones and eat the marrow, which I guess is common with macaws.
Somehow, she and her husband and her pets manage to adapt to the big bird. Nancy decides to let the bird out of its cage and gives it the freedom of the house, making every one's life more complicated as the bird harasses the dogs and cats. Giving Sarah more freedom makes Nancy feel good. So good that eventually she lets the bird go outside, relying on the bond she has established with the bird to keep it from flying away. Even though she has been warned by a good friend and parrot fancier that, "If you free-flight your bird, it's only a matter of when, not if, the bird will be lost or die."
Nancy cannot resist the idea of giving Sarah the freedom she lost when she was captured and she lets the bird out. She is justified when Sarah sticks close to home, never venturing too far away and always coming back into the house when Nancy calls her home. They spend a lot of time outdoors together, since Nancy is an avid gardener. They have a special relationship although Sarah is still too aggressive to be touched or handled. Still there is a strong, loving bond between the two.

This was a pretty good book. I didn't really sympathize with the author much, bringing that big, noisy and aggressive bird into her little and already crowded home. And I especially didn't sympathize with Nancy's desire to give the bird its freedom. (Bit of a spoiler here.) In the end it's the bird who pays the price for Nancy's hubris. I guess Nancy learned her lesson, though. Her new bird, a scarlet macaw, is not a wild captured bird nor is it allowed to fly free outside. Too bad Sarah had to die to teach her that.

Greasy Rider

By Greg Melville

When it came time to get a second car, freelance journalist Greg Melville fancied a big shiny red pickup truck. His wife Ann Marie nixed that idea. Instead she suggested he get an old diesel vehicle and convert it to run on waste vegetable oil. So Greg bought a 1985 Mercedes diesel station wagon for $4000 and then spent about another $4000 getting it repaired and getting the veggie oil converter installed.
Then Greg got a brilliant idea. Why not take that car and drive it across country, from his home in Vermont to California, running it solely on oil scrounged from the grease dumpsters of restaurants? Since Greg is mechanically challenged, he talked his buddy Iggy, who is good with cars, into coming along.
So they load up the wagon with several gallons of oil and they headed to California, making stops along the way at various locations where people are trying to reduce energy consumption. Iggy also challenged Greg to continue to explore greener alternatives in various side trips taken after the jaunt to California is over.
Among some of the places visited are Al Gore's mansion in Nashville, Tennessee; where it appears Gore is all talk and no action especially when Greg finds out Gore's huge mansion uses about 190,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in a year compared to about 10,800 for the typical family home.
They also stop at Fort Knox, where a conversion of the heating and cooling to ground source heat pumps has cut the heat & air conditioning bill by about 50%. Another stop is a wind farm in Minnesota and a "green Walmart" in Texas.
One of the highlights of the trip has to be the Google headquarters in California where they have gone all out to make their operation not only Earth friendly but also employee friendly. The perks their employees get must make working there a dream.
The hardest part of the trip is getting and dealing with the waste grease. Often the grease is rancid and they have to live with the foulness of it, which they keep stored in the car. They often end up smelling like garbage. Plus the grease has to be pumped and filtered and stored in 5 gallon jugs and if it has any water in it, it can ruin the car's engine. It is really hard on the car's suspension, carrying those big jugs of grease and it eventually goes out. Still the trip goes on and they do make it to California.

This was an interesting book, entertaining while being informative. His description of the benefits of wind generated electricity made me wish I had a wind powered turbine to provide my home with free electric. It was also inspiring reading about the changes that green technology can bring about. I do have to say that the grease car did not appeal. Handling stale, often spoiled grease, pumping it, filtering it, storing it, the stench; it just sounds like too much. But it makes for a good story.

New Word

Swiftboat: To attack a politician with specious claims; To trick, scam, or swindle. '"They want to swiftboat Al Gore, not get the truth."'

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Inside Job

By Connie Willis

Rob and Kildy are debunkers. They investigate psychics, mediums and channelers and other such con artists and prove they are scammers. Kildy has recently discovered a channeler who is a little different. This woman, Ariaura Keller, usually channels an entity she calls Isus. Lately a different entity has spoken during the sessions and this entity rails against channelers and reviles the fools who believe and waste their money on them.
Ron thinks this is just a publicity ploy but Kildy thinks that Ariaura might be channeling an real spirit. She and Rob attend one of the sessions at which this entity does appear and it commences once again to rail at the audience:

"But fear not," Ariaura said, "for a New Age is coming, an age of peace, of spiritual enlightenment, when thou -- doing here listening to this confounded claptrap?" ... "It's a lot of infernal gabble," she said belligerently. ..."This hokum is even worse that the pretentious bombast you hear in the chautauqua," the voice croaked. ... "But there you sit, with your mouths hanging open, like the rubes at an Arkansas camp meeting, listening to a snakecharming preacher, waiting for her to fix up your romances and cure your gallstones --" ... "Have you yaps actually fallen for this mystical mumbo-jumbo? Of course you have. This is America, home of the imbecile and the ass!" ... "You sit there like a bunch of gaping primates, ready to buy anyth--" Ariaura said, and her voice changed abruptly back to the basso of Isus, "--but the Age of Spiritual Enlightenment cannot begin until each of thou beginnest thy own journey."

Rob is pretty sure it is all just another aspect of Ariaura's con game but still he and Kildy do some checking up and discover that the unwelcome spirit spoiling Ariaura's meetings bears a striking resemblance to an early 20th century newspaperman, H.L. Mencken.
Is it really Mencken? Rob works up a list of questions and the spirit is able to answer them all correctly. It even pronounces Baltimore, Mencken's hometown, the way he did: Bawlmer. So what is really going on? Is Ariaura a ultra-devious and intelligent scammer or is she really involuntarily channeling H.L. Mencken? Rob and Kildy investigate further and their investigations just may cause an unhealable rift between the two good friends.

This was a pretty good though short read. (It's only 99 pages long.) It was fun reading about Mencken and it was interesting reading about the channeling sessions. A lot of people have strong opinions about Mencken but the author must be a fan of his and after reading this book it has made me more curious about that very opinionated man, Mencken. An interesting and thought-provoking book!

For another review see

New Word

Papuliferous: having pimples. '"The problem is, if you prove you're Mencken," Kildy said earnestly, "then you're also proving that Ariaura's really channeling astral spirits, which means she's not --" "--the papuliferous poser I know her to be." Exactly," Kildy said, "and her career will skyrocket."'

Monday, April 13, 2009

Southern Living

By Ad Hudler

When Margaret's domineering mother died, Margaret found herself the owner of a rather run down house in the town of Selby, Georgia. On a whim she decides to move to Selby and she finds a job working on the local newspaper where she publishes a column called "Chatter" which contains the call-in comments and complaints of the local citizenry. A Yankee and raised to be an independent woman, Margaret finds the adjustment to Southern Living to be challenging and enlightening. For one thing, even though she is a talented cook and trying to start up a catering business, the locals are not interested in her "foreign" dishes which are low fat, spicy, and garlicky. For another, used to a more driven Northern lifestyle, she finds Georgians laid back and relaxed attitude puzzling and misleading. She thinks it means they just don't give a damn but instead they are approaching things from a different point of view.
Margaret isn't the only woman we get to know in this novel. Featured also are Suzanne, former poor girl and now married to a successful neurosurgeon. Suzanne is going off the deep end trying to cope with her indifferent husband, her own social-climbing desires and the neighborhood dogs who keep messing on her lawn. Add in a pretend pregnancy and it is clear Suzanne is heading for a huge fall.
The other star of this story is the once-beautiful former beauty queen Donna. Before the accident that left one side of her face scarred, young Donna had everything she wanted: a hunky boyfriend and her dream job selling makeup. But after the accident she lost the makeup sales position and the hunky boyfriend because of the drastic change in her appearance and now finds herself working in the produce department of a grocery store, a job that at first she absolutely hates. But as time passes and she brings her natural talent for design to bear she finds that this job can be as exciting and even more rewarding than her previous job at the makeup counter.

Following the story of these three women was truly enjoyable. Watching Margaret find herself at home in the Southern culture was heartwarming as was seeing Donna come into her own as she rises to manager of the produce department and learns that true beauty is on the inside, not the outside. And poor nutty Suzanne, trying to be all things to all people and failing spectacularly but still, in the end, managing to land on her feet. It was all charming and inviting and makes one long to be there with them. I truly enjoyed this book.

For another review see Bookreporter.

New Words

Soppressata: Coarse Italian salami, like headcheese. 'Margaret longed for Wegmans, her supermarket in Buffalo, and she wanted soppressata and passion fruit and soba noodles.'

Tabbouleh: cracked wheat salad typically made with parsley, tomatoes, cucumber, and mint. 'She wanted some interesting, pro-choice couple to invite her to dinner for tabbouleh and grilled eggplant.'

Fermata: a small arch (with a dot beneath it) placed over a note that indicates the note should be sustained longer than its ordinary duration. 'She was at the highest point in this chronological arc of humanity, midway through the life cycle, and, oddly enough, the petite woman looked a lot like Suzanne, who was nearly thirty-four with small facial features, plucked, fermata-shaped eyebrows, breasts that Suzanne considered too small, and black, shoulder-length hair, just long enough that she could pull it back with a bow on Sundays for church if she wanted to.'

Nori: toasted seaweed sheets used to hold sushi rolls together. 'Michael brought his fingers to her lips -- they gently brushed her mouth as he found a firm hold on the sushi. "Okay," he said. "Bear down on that nori. Cut it with your teeth. Good." Freed from embarrassment, she closed her mouth and chewed.

Coffered ceiling: a ceiling with recessed square panels, bordered with trim for ornamental purposes. '"They need a coffered ceilin' in that room," she said. "That room's got too big a feel to it. That high ceilin' probably makes 'em feel like little kids."'

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2007

Something terrible has happened to the Earth, some huge ecological disaster or perhaps a horrible war. Whatever it was it has left the world, cold, barren and burned.
A few people have managed to survive, hanging on mainly by preying on each other. One man and his young son have clung to survival for as long as they can where they currently live but things are getting very desperate. The man decides to head out to a new locale, some place where food and shelter can be found, southward and to the ocean. He doesn't have much time because he is ill and knows he is probably dying. He just wants to get his son to safety. So they embark on a dangerous trek, hiding out against marauders, stumbling across timely caches of food and supplies. The man does the best he can but sometimes things go really hard for them. But they struggle onward to the promise of some kind of life and security.

Well, isn't this a cheerful little book? People roasting newborn babies over campfires. Charred burned corpses littering the highways. Hopelessness and despair and impending death. Yup, a real hoot.
Lots of readers found this book uplifting and inspiring. To me it was just so depressing and gruesome. I couldn't take it and had to set it aside for several months. I don't need to be hit over the head with a brick, which is exactly what this book does to the reader. Not to my taste at all.

For another review, see The New York Times.

New Words (Apparently the author is fond of unusual words. These definitions may not be accurate as some of these words are very hard to track down.)

Gryke: also grike; a fissure. 'He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time.'

Meconium: greenish substance that builds up in the bowels of a growing fetus and is normally discharged shortly after birth. 'The improbable appearance of the small crown of the head. Streaked with blood and lank black hair. The rank meconium.'

Rachitic: of, relating to, or affected by rickets; resembling or suggesting the condition of one suffering from rickets. 'He was lean, wiry, rachitic.'

Siwash camp: a camp out without a tent or supplies. 'When it was a bit lighter he rose and walked out and cut a perimeter about their siwash camp looking for sign but other than their own faint track through the ash he saw nothing.'

Claggy: sticky or tacky. 'The gray and rotting teeth. Claggy with human flesh.'

Parsible also parsable; parse means to break a sentence down into component parts. "He'd had this feeling before, beyond the numbness and the dull despair. The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities.'

Intestate: having no legal will, one who dies without a will. 'He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth.'

Patterans: any of several coded signs left along a road or on a non-gypsy house by one gypsy comrade to another. 'They began to come upon from time to time small cairns of rock by the roadside. They were signs in gypsy language, lost patterans.'

Pampooties: soft shoe, moccasin or slipper, usually made of leather. 'They'd wrapped their feet in sailcloth and bound them up in blue plastic pampooties cut from a tarp and they left strange tracks in their comings and going.'

Salitter: essence of God. 'He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salitter drying from the earth.'

Crozzled: crushed, squashed, shrunken. 'The incinerate corpses shrunk to the size of a child and propped on the bare springs of the seats. Ten thousand dreams ensepulchred within their crozzled hearts.'

Hydroptic: swollen. 'The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular.'

Rabbit at Rest

By John Updike

In this, the fourth and last Rabbit story, Updike says goodbye to Rabbit. We get to experience the last few months of Rabbit's life until his untimely death in his mid 50s.
The novel starts out with Rabbit and his wife Jan at their condo in Florida. Rabbit and Jan are semi-retired and spending their winters in Deleon, Florida while their son Nelson runs the Toyota dealership back in Brewer, PA. Rabbit and Jan seem pretty contented and comfortable but it soon becomes clear that something is screwy back home. Nelson and his family come down to Florida for a brief visit and Nelson is jumpy and skinny and he admits to his mom that he has been using cocaine.
Rabbit takes his granddaughter out sailing and while out on the ocean he has a mild heart attack. He manages to get the boat back to shore where he then collapses.
After he is placed on medication and they get back to Brewer, Rabbit undergoes angioplasty but he can't seem to shake the bad habits that lead to the problem in the first place, not enough exercise and eating improperly.
On his first night home after the angioplasty, his daughter-in-law, angry at her drug-addicted husband, comes into Rabbit's bedroom and seduces him.
Rabbit's son is forced into rehab after a nasty scene when he accuses his family of stealing his cocaine stash. Nelson has also been stealing money from the dealership, almost $200,000 and Toyota pulls their franchise. This really upsets Rabbit and then Jan finds out about the one night stand with the daughter-in-law, and, rather than face her, Rabbit flees down to their condo in Florida. He feels like the whole family is ganging up on him. Jan wants to sell the condo to help cover Nelson's debts and Rabbit doesn't want to. She also wants to sell their little house that Rabbit loves which really upsets him more, plus losing the dealership. Throw in a foolish attempt to recapture his lost youth with a pick-up game of basketball and it all adds up to a major heart attack, one from which Rabbit will not recover.

Sad to read a book about a man who has finally reached a point in his life where things are pretty good only to see it all taken away within the course of a few months. In this last book Rabbit is less of a stinker than in the first two and it seems as if the deck is stacked against him this time. Feels just a little unfair to Rabbit but maybe not. Rabbit is still a pretty selfish guy but at least in one respect he has improved: in this book there are no fantasies of smashing his wife's head in. Rabbit has settled down, ready to moulder away into comfortable old age, but it is not to be. Technically, Rabbit has heart disease but it seems like that last heart attack was really his own heart breaking from seeing his world fall apart and dealing with it all on his own, having estranged himself from his wife and family. In the end, jerk though he was, I was sorry to see Rabbit go.

I really enjoyed Updike's descriptions of Florida, of Rabbit's last drive south, and of Rabbit's experience with heart disease. It just felt like the real deal, almost as good as being there. Updike really has an amazing eye for descriptive detail, he really captures it. Excellent novel.

New Words

Macoma tellin: a mollusk; in this case its shell. '"Oh," he says, enjoying posing as casually brave, shaping the ash of his cigarette on the edge of a lovely Macoma tellin he uses as an ashtray, "it's mostly talk."

Taborets: A taboret or tabouret refers to two different pieces of furniture, a cabinet or a stool in the shape of a drum. 'Stuffed flowered chairs with broad wooden arms, plush chocolate-brown sofa with needlepointed scatter pillows and yellowing lace antimacassars, varnished little knickknack stands and taborets, a footstool on which an old watermill is depicted, symmetrical lamps whose porcelain bases show English hunting dogs in gilded ovals, an oppressively patterned muddy neo-Colonial wallpaper, and on every flat surface, fringed runners and semi-precious glass and porcelain elves and parrots and framed photographs of babies and graduating sons and small plates and kettles of hammered copper and pewter, object to dust around but never to rearrange.'

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Animals Make Us Human

By Temple Grandin

How do you make an animal happy? Turns out it is not that hard. According to scientists, all animals (humans too) have core emotions, such as seeking and playing and fear and rage. To keep animals happy, reduce fear and provide play and seeking. Seeking is the activity involved mainly in locating food but it can be anything that stimulates an animal to seek. Seek out good grazing, seek out rabbits to chase and eat, seek out a tossed ball. Give these things to an animal and for the most part it will be a lot happier. Herd animals are the easiest to please. Give them a manger full of yummy hay and a couple of buddies and they are fine. Some herd animals need a little more though, like pigs. Pigs love to eat, but they love even more to root around. Researchers have discovered that if pigs are given fresh straw to root around in every day, they are a lot happier. In commercially raised animals, a happy animal is a healthy, growing animal, which is what the producer wants.
The main thrust of this book is the livestock industry and the egg and chicken industry. As the author points out, simple, not very expensive changes improve the quality of life for these animals and these changes not only benefit the animal they benefit the producer. But a lot still needs to be done, especially in the way chickens are raised for meat and eggs. A lot of chickens have it unnecessarily bad, especially the layers, the chickens who supply our eggs. As the author points out, unnecessary cruelty is unreasonable and a lot of these plants simply needed to be better managed and more closely monitored.
Even though the main thrust of the book is geared to the producer, there is also valuable information for pet owners and also a very interesting section on zoos and zoo animals. Something for everyone who has animals or works with them. For pet owners, the author points out that pets left alone all day with no companionship or stimulation are really being abused. In her opinion, livestock raised for slaughter are better off than pets left alone all the time because their quality of life is better, more active, more stimulating. Hopefully books like Temple Grandin's will open all our eyes and inspire us to be more thoughtful and kinder in our dealings with the animals in our lives. This is an excellent and thought-provoking work.

For another review see The New York Times.

New Word

Ethologists: Ethology is a branch of zoology concerned with the study of animal behavior. Ethologists take a comparative approach, studying behaviors ranging from kinship, cooperation, and parental investment, to conflict, sexual selection, and aggression across a variety of species. 'There is such a thing as "human nature," and managers should think about stockpeople and about themselves the way animal ethologists think about animals: as conscious beings who predictably follow the rules of behavior for their species.'

A Good House

By Richard Manning

Manning is a reporter who lives in Montana. Shortly after he remarried, he and his wife decided they wanted to build themselves a new, environmentally-sound home on an large acreage near Missoula, his home town.
And he means literally build their own home. Most of the work was done by him with the help of professionals. The professionals provided the guiding hand and he did what he could to help, and not just a little. Manning has a background in construction and more than just a rudimentary knowledge of concrete work, wiring and carpentry. He taught himself plumbing and finish carpentry in the process of building the house.
During the book we follow the Mannings as the house moves from design to construction to finish work with Manning explaining his thinking in how the building of a home effects not only the local environment but the whole Earth. Towards the end of the book he admits his own selfishness in building a home in the wilderness, how crowded and noisy he found the city and just plain unbearable. This is his justification for what he did.
This is my dark little secret: that all of the good I have tried to build into this house is nothing more than a grand rationalization to hide my abhorrence of people. Not of individuals, but of the braying, collective mass. I can speak of energy consumption, fighting profligacy, even craft, but reduced to its simplest level, this house is about noise.
I could no longer stand the noise of the city, even a small city like Missoula -- the rush and the crush and rude violations of space.
This is probably the only part where his logic breaks down. Everyone finds cities noisy and crowded but most just have to make do. Which is a good thing. Because if we all streamed out of the city to find our 38 acres of wilderness then there wouldn't be any wilderness left.

This was a pretty good book. At times the technical aspects of the building were hard to follow, especially the description of putting up the house frame with its talk of joints and posts and studs. This part didn't really register with me but the part where he describes his travails with the composting toilet sure did. That part will stick with me forever. He has made his peace with that extremely fussy piece of plumbing but, if I have any say in the matter, I will never have a composting toilet, never! His description of what he had to go through! At one point, the composting unit overflowed and he had to shovel his own ... yuck!
Anyways, gross out part aside, this was a good read, informative and enlightening. And at the back of the book is a helpful list of the literature that helped Manning along in the process of building his dream home.

For another review see Peaceful Prairie.

New Words:

Spudded: a spud is a kind of spade. 'Michael, Tracy, and I had spudded in these trees just a day before, and we were worried about the deer.'

Soffitand fascia: Soffit is the under-surface of any part of a building such as the arch, eaves or cantilevered section and fascia is the vertical roof trim located along the perimeter of a building, usually below the roof level, to cover the rafter tails at the eaves. 'The wires were in, the windows hung, pipes placed and soldered, roof on, rafter ends blocked, exterior walls sheathed, internal walls framed, drains stubbed, soffit and fascia cut and nailed down.'

Kerf: the gap left when material is removed by a saw. The width of the kerf is equal to the set of the saw. 'I flip the board and cut the other end to length, allowing the saw's kerf to exactly halve a thin pencil line for a tight, butt joint.'

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Family Tree

By Sheri S. Tepper

The first sign that Dora has that life is headed in a new direction is that bold and fast growing weed that has popped up in a crack next to the stoop of her house. This is a yard where not even flowers are allowed to grow: too messy. Jared, Dora's husband, likes everything precise and neat and no weeds allowed.
But this new weed is just the beginning because before much longer, it seems like all the plant world has gone loop-da-loop. Not only are new, tough weeds sprouting everywhere, but the trees are growing and taking over, even: blocking traffic, devouring abandoned properties, even making off with babies in families that have more than three kids. Seems like nature has decided that mankind has had its own way for too long and that now the trees are in control.
On top of that, Dora, who is a police officer, is investigating the similar deaths of three local geneticists. Are these deaths related to the new, aggressive and self-aware forests?
Three thousand years into the future, the survivors of an disaster that wiped out most of Earth's people have not regained the technology of those who came before them. A few pockets of knowledge have survived, hidden libraries, but the knowledge contained in these libraries is flawed and incomplete. It is revealed to a few of these people that some new catastrophe is headed their way that could, again, destroy Earth's peoples. This small group heads out to gain the knowledge they need to ward off disaster. Little do they know how far they will have to travel ... 3000 years into the past, back to Dora's time and location. For their very survival is key to the events happening outside Dora's door.

The premise of this book is a little weird and a lot of fun. The suddenly sentient trees taking over the land and pushing people around was scary and fascinating. Isn't it something we would all like to see? Something greater than ourselves who has the wisdom to force us to behave and be decent to our fellows and treat the Earth with respect? Plus the people of the future are a hoot. Tepper gives little clues about these people as you read the book, still, it was so cool when their true natures are revealed. This is a really good and charming story, and even though it is a pretty long book, almost 500 pages, it is never boring and always interesting. I very much enjoyed it.

For another review, see Curled Up with a Good Book.

The Stepsister Scheme

By Jim C. Hines

We all know how fairy tales end ... "and they lived happily ever after." Well, not always. Cinderella had her happily-ever-after until her Prince Charming ran off with one of the wicked stepsisters. And with poor Cindy (whose real name, we are told, is Danielle) expecting her first baby, no less.
This isn't a case of wandering affections or of a husband frightened by the responsibility of impending parenthood. No, something more sinister is afoot. It's up to the intrepid Danielle (aka Cinderella) to track down her errant husband and detach him from whatever charm the nasty stepsister has placed on him. To do so, though, she is going to need some backup and that's where Snow White and Sleeping Beauty come in. No longer just fairy tale princesses, these two women are now in charge of their own destinies and armed to the teeth, to boot.
Off to fight the baddies (and fight they do, lots and lots of fighting), the princesses head off to Fairytown, where they believe the evil stepsisters have absconded with the besotted prince. With a little help from their friends, a magic sword, and some handy magic, the women are ready and able to take on all challengers. Those stepsisters are going to regret the day they ever fooled around with Cindy's guy!

Sounds like a lot of fun, right? Wrong. Unless you like written depictions of battles and tussles. I don't. I should have known what I was getting into when the first tussle occurred within the first ten pages of the story. To me, it seemed like one of those books where the story is merely a transitional device to the next fight. Beyond the constant fighting though, the book is just not interesting. I never really cared about any of the characters until nearly the end of the book. The only part that captured my attention is where Danielle (Cinderella) ends up captive and serving her stepsisters just like in the bad old days. That was the only part of the book that I felt was compelling and interesting. The rest was just blah.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Official Preppy Handbook

Edited by Lisa Birnbach

Everything you could possibly need to know about the preppy lifestyle is contained in this book. Presented as a work of humor, still it reads like the real deal. It explores the preppy lifestyle from childhood to retirement, describing the right clothes, shoes, pets, schools, sports, clubs, interests, the right mates, it covers it all. Even though it was written it the late 1970s, I expect it is still relevant and true in its revelation of what it means to be preppy.

For another review see College Confidential.

New Words:

Parietals: in private school, these are the rules dealing with the proper procedures for having a visitor of the opposite sex in your dorm room. 'The process, like most moral indoctrinations, has its uncomfortable aspects: rules, parietals, demerits, and disciplinary action.'

Foulard: fabric pattern or weave typically printed made up of a small repeating geometric pattern. They are frequently used for ties and scarves. 'The small, repeating motif print. Possibly derived, at great distance, from men's foulard patterns.'

Adumbrates and malversation: To adumbrate is to foreshadow vaguely; to give a vague outline; to obscure or overshadow. Malversation is corrupt behaviour, illegitimate activity, especially by someone in authority; misconduct in public office. 'Use of SAT words is as casual as breathing. Example: "Ahhhhh ... but surely you don't mean to .... ahhh .... suggest that .... ahhh ... his behavior in any way adumbrates malversation .... because, ahhhh ... after all ... none of us is prepared to ... ahh ... to ahhh .... agree with you on that." For further instruction, listen to William F. Buckley, Jr.'

Friday, April 03, 2009

Vile Bodies

By Evelyn Waugh

Adam is an aspiring young writer hoping to marry Nina but since he has no money and Nina is not the kind of gal who can live without money, the engagement is on hold until Adam can generate some cash. He then becomes a gossip columnist, reporting on the doings of the "Bright Young Things" of London in Britain between the wars. Since Adam is a member of this set he has the inside track on all the hot news on their antics since he knows all the kids and goes to all the parties. In fact, he has to go to so many different parties that he becomes totally sick of it. Eventually he resorts to just making up stuff to fill his column which results in losing that job. His and Nina's marriage is looking less and less likely unless Adam can track down the drunken Major who placed £1000 of Adam's money on a long shot at the race track that actually came through. So this drunken Major owes Adam £35,000, which, if he can ever find him, will give Nina and Adam the funds they need to finally get married.
Complications ensue, parties occur, people get wasted, cars get wrecked, people die and still Adam can't get the money owed him. Nina's patience is running short and she finally marries another fellow, although this does not mean she is through with Adam, not at all. Freshly married and back from her honeymoon, Nina takes Adam home and introduces him to her senile father as her husband. Well, it's a lark but of course it can't last and Adam ends up alone on a battlefield when another war breaks out.

This novel has its moments of inspired lunacy, but it has another side that is not so amusing and jolly, as people die or kill themselves. The characters don't seem to take anything too seriously, not themselves, not society, not morality, nor responsibility. Actually, if you want to read a funny novel of the 1920s, read almost anything by P.G. Wodehouse. His novels are always lighthearted and a lot of fun and tragedy free and just a joy to read. Vile Bodies may be an accurate portrait of a particular time and place but its gloomy side is a bit of a downer.

For another review see Illiterarty.

New Words:

Tapette: homosexual [I think]. '"My dear, he looks terribly tapette."'

Cachet Faivre: a pain medication containing caffeine and quinine. '"Half the young fellows as come here now don't have anything except a cachet Faivre and some orange juice."'

Toper: a drunk. 'In a paragraph headed "Montparnasse in Belgravia," he announced that the buffet at Sloane Square tube station had become the haunt of the most modern artistic coterie (Mr. Benfleet hurried there on his first free evening, but saw no one but Mrs. Hoop and Lord Vanburgh and a plebian toper with a celluloid collar).'

Fillet: a narrow headband or strip of ribbon worn as a headband. 'Neither powder, rouge nor lipstick had played any part in her toilet and her colourless hair was worn long and bound across her forehead in a broad fillet.'

Flageolet: a small flute. '"Mr. 'Ginger' Littlejohn has the similar foible that he can only fish to the sound of the flageolet."'