cats · random

Die Katzen sind nicht amüsiert

This is Chaucer.  Spam comments bore him.  They waste his mommy’s time since she has to go delete them.
 Dante also doesn’t like spam comments – spammers do not give tummy rubs.
Die Katzen sind nicht amüsiert.  Sie müssen ihren Bauch reibt.
So stop with the spam already!

Cast your votes at Literature by Women!

We’re setting the September through (about) February schedule at Literature by Women.  Here’s the shortlist:

Atkinson, Kate: Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Bronte, Charlotte: Shirley
Drabble, Margaret: A Writer’s Britain
Lahiri, Jhumpa: Unaccustomed Earth
McCullers, Carson: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Mengiste, Maaza: Beneath the Lion’s Gaze
Muller, Herta: The Passport
Nemirovsky, Irene: Suite Francaise
Oksanen, Sofi: Purge
Proulx, Annie: The Shipping News
Tyler, Anne: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
Welty, Eudora: The Ponder Heart
Woolf, Virginia: Orlando
Yourcenar, Marguerite: Memoirs of Hadrian

Voting directions are on the thread here.

music notes

Things I found while "cleaning" iTunes

I had to replace the hard drive on my laptop (“The Precious”) because the original was dying (oh, and the Geek Squad wanted to “run more diagnostics” to make sure it wasn’t infected – considering that it was both overheating and trying to jump across the desk due to a broken arm I’d say the Geek Squad gets a “fail”).  So I was really smart and backed everything up (twice) then replaced the hard drive and upgraded the OS to Windows 7 (pretty sweet).

So I had to re-install iTunes and import all my music/podcasts – something got messed up because almost everything is duplicated.

So I’ve spent the last few days deleting the duplicate import files (I played a few playlists to see which files were updating information before I started) and I noticed a few things:

  1. I have some really random music tracks from Paste downloads; not that the music is bad it’s just really random as to genre and sound
  2. I listen to a lot of christmas music
  3. I have really embarassing taste in the pop music that I listen to at the gym (like Ke$ha)
  4. None of the Janet Jackson or Michael Jackson imported CD tracks duplicated (only tracks from iTunes downloads of their music duplicated) – obviously that says the Jacksons are gods
  5. Glee seems to like songs with titles that begin with “Don’t” – “Don’t Stop Believin’ “, “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, “Don’t Make Me Over”, etc.
  6. Lady Gaga got copied three times….scary
  7. Every, single Madonna song/CD I have in iTunes got duplicated in random amounts – I guess Madge really can “reinvent” herself
  8. I am finally able to buy and download music from iTunes without worrying my hard drive will crap out before I get a chance to back-up new purchases; 1st purchase: Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”, 2nd purchase: Muse’s “Uprising” (don’t judge)
  9. My iTunes gift card is almost out of money so I have to buy a new one before I do anymore buying
Booker Project · stuff I read


I started reading Troubles when the shortlist for the “Lost” Man Booker Prize was announced in March.  The Siege of Krishnapur is on my longlist TBR as part of my Booker Project/Challenge but Troubles is the first book in JG Farrell’s Empire trilogy so I was interested in reading Troubles before Siege (the final book is The Singapore Grip).

Conveniently for me, Troubles won the “Lost” Booker Prize so I got to read my first Booker winner of the year.

Troubles follows the story of Major Brendan Archer and his interaction with an Anglo-Irish family, the Spencers, at their decaying estate/hotel, the Majestic, around the beginning of the “Troubles” in Ireland.

(“Troubles” is such an innocuous word, like a guerrilla-style war for Irish home-rule is the same as a bothersome neighbor who neglects to return the leaf blower.)

Archer comes to the Majestic to claim the hand of his fiancee, Angela Spencer, and winds up embroiled in the idiosyncratic way of life at the old estate.  It’s a bit like a Waugh novel, the decaying Anglo-Irish aristocracy is a major focus of Troubles, combined with a Wodehouse farce – the cadre of elderly English maiden aunts and widows who permanently inhabit the Majestic lend a comic aspect to post-World War I/pre-civil war Ireland.  The rapidly multiplying horde of cats inhabiting the Majestic – they steadily take over the upper floors and varying rooms of the hotel causing guests to change rooms – are also a source of hilarity (to the reader) when the cats venture out to vex the hotel’s human inhabitants.  Archer also becomes fascinated with the aloof Sarah Devlin, a resident of nearby Kilnalough, as the relationship between the English and the Irish rapidly deteriorates.

JG Farrell’s writing is wonderful and very much worth savoring.  The majority of the plot in Troubles moves very slowly (the whole action of the book takes places over eighteen months to two years) so there is plenty of time for Farrell to develop the characters of Archer, Spencer, Ripon, Sarah, and all the others…only the expected character development doesn’t seem to occur.  The only character we start to fully understand is the Major and we see all the other characters through his eyes; I really only recall one or two scenes where Archer is not present so it was so fun to read a book that really stayed with one character’s perspective (the few point-of-view breaks were almost anecdotal in nature so they really didn’t interrupt my reading).  Farrell even provides the reader with the newspaper articles Archer reads so we always stay with Archer’s perspective and body of knowledge. 

If I didn’t know Farrell wrote Troubles in the 1960s (a time where the “Troubles” were heating up in Ireland again) I would have thought the original publication was in the 1920s.  There is a very real-time feeling to the novel, the feeling of uncertainty, that you don’t quite know who’s a “Shinner” (Sinn Fein), if you will make it home to dinner in one piece.  That is the best kind of historical novel – when you can’t tell the setting was reconstructed from research – and I love it.

Bookclub · stuff I read

The Corrections

So, I feel kinda like a heel.  I never read Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections; I never read it because Oprah said she liked it and I ran full-tilt in the other direction.  Never mind Franzen didn’t want to be on Oprah.  It was too much pop culture, tabloid sniping for my taste (I wasn’t in the mood for pop culture when I was in grad school).  Not long ago I read Reading With Oprah and the idea that I never read The Corrections niggled in the back of my head.  Franzen’s novel received the National Book Award in 2001 so it was probably pretty good…hmmm.  I got to pick the June book for our little booksellers bookclub so I decided to choose The Corrections.

I’m really glad I finally read The Corrections because it really is an interesting look at a middle class family.  Everyone in this family needs to take their blinders off.  Alfred is caught in the downward spiral of senile dementia; he can’t relinquish his rigid, 1950s-derived concepts of family and behavior.  Enid is concerned with the facade of presenting a happy nuclear family to the neighbors.  Gary is unable to acknowledge his own mental and marital problems.  Chip’s academic cocoon has burst and he’s on a path toward self-destruction.  Denise doesn’t know what she wants but she knows it’s not “this” (“this” being “not her mother”).

Every character in this family is completely incapable of having an honest conversation with another member of the family without resorting to gossip/spying/sneaking around behind people’s backs.

The Corrections was hard to get into.  I realy liked Franzen’s style but the timeline Franzen uses is one of these oddball, post-modernist ones where you jump back and forth and between characters without a good chronology.  It took me until about halfway through Chip’s introduction to understand how the book was structured; after that I was good. 

While I both liked (and hated, I wanted to slap all of them least once during the book) the characters, I really think Franzen did his best when characterizing Alfred.  Alfred is an intelligent man, a disciplined man, who cares deeply for his family (even though he really has trouble expressing any deep feelings to anyone).  As he descends into dementia the vivid hallucinations are wonderfully rendered.  Although it’s only a fictional representation, the possibility that I could wind up like Alfred (that we ALL could wind up like Alfred) – concerned about a roving piece of feces and destined for sedatives and a nursing home – is terrifying.  I really have to re-read The Corrections because I feel like I missed a great deal on just one reading.

(By the way, there is a fantastically hilarious scene where Chip is in a grocery store and it underscores just how desperate Chip has become in trying to keep up appearances.)

Current book-in-progress: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Current knitted item: blue shawl (I am almost done!)
Current movie obsession: You’ve Got Mail
Current iTunes loop: The Five Browns

Extra Extra

Beth Fish Reads: Harper Perennial Books: Reviews

Beth Fish is spotlighting books from Harper Perennial!  You know, the HarperCollins imprint with the “olive” on the spine and oftentimes a nice “P.S.” guide in the back?  It’s an imprint I, personally, look for when I’m buying books – I’m kind of a geek in that I like my imprints to look nice on the shelf when lined up next to each other with their pretty spines (I “collect” other imprints, too).

Check out Beth Fish’s Introductory post as well as Beth Fish Reads: Harper Perennial Books: Reviews to see what other Harper Perennial titles are abuzz in the blogging world.  Use the “Mr. Linky” to link up your Harper Perennial posts.  I linked up my reviews to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Poisonwood Bible, and It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me – I hope to have The Falls, The Moonflower Vine, A Vindication of Love, and Vanishing and Other Stories coming along in the next few months, too.

(And if you have time, mosey on by The Olive Reader – Harper Perennial’s fantastic blog)

new yarn

Iowa City Book Festival 2010: Sunday

Today was the “A Day in the City of Literature” portion of the Iowa City Book Festival.  All different book discussions or book-related activities were spread out all over downtown – I was having trouble figuring out the times on everything (plus parking downtown is a pain on Sundays because of the special parking on the street for churchgoers).  I decided to go to the Book Crafts event at Home Ec Workshop since there’s yarn and fabric there, too (I could have gone to the bead shop for a book-making demonstration – I think that’s what was there but I really don’t use beads much).

The book craft activity wasn’t anything terribly special – you could color/sticker your own bookmark or accordion book, so it was like a kids’ event we have at the bookstore – so I decided to look through the yarn instead.

I found:

Malabrigo Worsted in Sotobosque – a really beautiful pink-brown-black kettle-dyed yarn.  It reminds me so much of an Iodine Clock demo, only pink instead of yellow.  I think I’ll make the DNA Helix cable scarf out of this instead…maybe.

I also came home with some (more) sock yarn.  Malabrigo Sock in Primavera – pretty, no?

I didn’t find any fabric I liked there – I was looking for something specific and, while Home Ec has great cotton prints, I didn’t see anything in the color I needed.

So I went to Jo-Ann – which is turning into Wal-Mart, I am not kidding.  There are ketchup and mustard refillable containers for sale and a bin of cheap flip-flops near the door.  Really?  I understand that people like to decorate flip-flops but the containers and other crap are a bit much especially considering it took me nearly an hour to find good quality fabric.  Then I had to find the right color, also not easy because the selection of good quality material for dressmaking/couture sewing is pitiful; if I made quilts I’d be in business because they’ve got everything under the sun in cotton quilting fabric.  I miss my Hancock fabrics. *sob*  I want to go to Mood!

What I really needed was a nice, smooth fashion fabric to make a sash for a new dress (dress is ready-made but the sash that comes with it leaves something to be desired).  Since the dress is such a unique color green I wanted to use a darker shade of green instead of matching directly (if I had to, I would have used black, but I got lucky in the end).

The dress color is on the left, the new hunter green fabric is on the right.  That will definitely look pretty as a sash.  I got 3.5 yds so I’m going to cut (very)wide bias strips, fuse them with interfacing, seam them end-to-end with flat seams, and then sew the sides together to make a nice sash without any wrong sides.  It should be long enough to wrap around my waist twice before tying it off.

And we all wonder when those skills our moms taught us will come in handy!

So that was my day in the City of Literature!  And here I sit at my blog, typing away and knitting madly instead of reading.

I can’t wait to see what they do for the festival next year!

new yarn

Iowa City Book Festival 2010: Saturday

The Iowa City Book Festival was bigger and better this year!  This is what happens when your city is designated a UNESCO City of Literature (only the third in existence, after Edinburgh* and Melbourne).

Audrey Niffenegger kicked off the Shambaugh lecture series by reading from Her Fearful Symmetry and then taking questions.  The organizers allowed for about 40 minutes of questions which was great.  Audrey talked about how she came for a workshop at the IWP summer session and at that time The Time Traveler’s Wife was plotted thematically – after workshopping TTW she restructured it more along Claire’s life chronology and then it made sense.  She also talked about her visual artwork and, in response to an audience question, said she purposely gave Claire an art preference/style/type that she herself wouldn’t have to make so Claire could be conceptual and readers could imagine what they liked.  She also said she liked to ground her books in reality as much as possible using real places and modelling her characters on real people since her plots all center around a very “unreal” concept – ghosts, time-travel, etc.  She signed books afterward and I took Jackie’s copy of TTW to have it signed for her.
Great Audrey quote: “I’m decadent, but I’m not that decadent” when asked if she reads purely for pleasure (she’s currently reading an advance of a book about coffins/death rituals or something like that – she says it’s very good).
I did some knitting while hogging my seat in-between discussions (I missed Ash from English Major’s Junk Food when she presented her “picks” out in the lobby – she posted her picks here on her blog) .

Jane Smiley spoke next and let me tell you – she is a riot.  She did her doctoral work at the UI and taught at ISU so the audience was filled with people she knew from around town (her daughter, Lucy Silag, is in the IWW).  She read two passages from her new book, Private Life, including one about a charcter named Pete who was inspired by a Russian man who bid on the right to be a character in her book (a racing thoroughbred charity benefitted from the auction).  She told a lot of funny stories about living in Iowa City or working at Iowa State (she pled the 5th when asked if Moo was based on ISU – she said that Moo was inspired by the idiosyncracies of the land-grant university).
Great Jane quotes: “Wikipedia is great for authors because it’s often “wrong”…characters must have a point-of-view” and “You can have a favorite horse because the other horses don’t care”.

She also signed books after her talk:

[Now, I bet you’re wondering why there’s only this picture here – my computer crashed and lost all the pictures from this day, none were terribly dear, but it makes me mad just the same.  So I have author quotes instead of pictures.]

After getting A Thousand Acres signed I wandered around among the vendors, publishers, and groups set up outside.  I didn’t last long because the heat and sun started bothering me so I retreated to the bagel place for lunch and something cold to drink.
I went to the yarn shop instead of back to the festival (I know – naughty).  I was looking for something to use to knit the DNA helix pattern Christina wants me to teach her when we’re at Conclave.  I found some pretty Noro Kureyon at The Knitting Shoppe:
I was captured by this single odd-ball skein.  I’m thinking one won’t be enough for a cable knit scarf so I found two skeins of this other colorway and there’s enough overlap between the three that I can put the odd-ball skein between the other two and make a scarf. Yay!
And then I had to go to work (boo) – but I had a lot of fun at the book festival!

*Whoah, my bad, I had Dublin listed as a City of Literature, it’s not – I meant Edinburgh, Scotland, and it was the first one!  Thanks to Lizzy for catching that one! 🙂