March 30, 2012

Here at the End of All Things

Home is behind

The world ahead

And there are many paths to tread

Through shadow
To the edge of night

Until the stars are all alight

Mist and shadow
Cloud and shade

All shall fade
All shall


~~Lord of the Rings

March 26, 2012

And the Moral of the Story...

is never write and post something on which you worked hard and which you feel passionately about on the weekends, because your regular readers may not be weekend internet warriors, and therefore may miss it entirely! Whoops! 

So this little postlet is to say to my loyal followers, "Psst!  Hey!  Come look over here at my review of the new Hunger Games movie! No real spoilers, I promise."

March 24, 2012

Coming Home to "The Hunger Games"

Those of you who read my entry in The Hunger Games Read Along will remember my discussions of poverty and deprivation in 20th-century Appalachia (some of which has continued into the 21st century, unfortunately), and how the depiction of the Appalachian District 12 in The Hunger Games struck me so profoundly because of my own family background.  Last night, I went and saw the film, The Hunger Games, and when the opening scenes appeared on the screen, I nearly gasped.  I had come home to the mountains that I grew up visiting as often as I could in the summers, only they were those mountains as my grandmother had known them.  Shacks.  Clothing made of old, faded, nearly-rotten cloth.  The specter of the coal mines and the Black Lung lurking within them.  Welcome to Appalachia.

Girl standing in front of her family's "house" in Lost Creek, Tennessee, c. 1933-36
Photo is from the archives of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

Screen shot from The Hunger Games courtesy of MSNBC

According to MSNBC, the entire film was shot in North Carolina, and these houses are authentic remnants of the past I've been describing, the abandoned employee shacks from a company-built and -owned mill town which long since ceased to function.  Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who beautifully portrays lead character Katniss Everdeen, was born and raised until the age of 14 in Louisville, Kentucky, a city 45 minutes from my hometown and to which I can practically drive in my sleep, I've made the trip so many times.  These are my people.  This is my home.

Randomly chosen picture of a house in Salem, Indiana, my hometown,
which has been foreclosed on and stands empty, waiting for a buyer.
Photo courtesy of

Until the action of the film shifted to the Capitol of Panem, it was really difficult at times for me to watch the screen without weeping, hard for me to separate the fictional scenes from my family's own genetic memories--passed on to me with my mother's milk--of poverty, the Depression, the dust bowl, farming other peoples' land in order to eke out a living, the hard scrabble for work when even those avenues failed, and the eventual need to leave the mountains and migrate north to Indiana.

Woody Harrelson and I have always had a very complex relationship (of which he remains blissfully unaware), because he can be such a rebarbative personality, i.e. he's often a bit obnoxious and a pain in the ass.  Yet, I think we need people like that as a society, to keep us honest.  He's like my generation's Andy Kaufman.  He's also an amazing actor.  Though he, unlike Jennifer Lawrence, is not originally from "District 12," he lived and studied in Hanover, Indiana, as a young man, and in this film he brilliantly portrays the man raised in poverty, plucked from obscurity, and never again truly knowing where he belongs.  Many, many of my forebears turned to alcohol to avoid the realities of life in Appalachia, just as Haymitch has when we first meet him.  He made me truly love Haymitch as much in the film as I did when reading the book.

Image copyright Scholastic

I enjoyed the film tremendously, despite its disturbing violence and shades of a pseudo-Nazi American dystopia; I mean, I had read the book, so I knew that's exactly what I was in for when I bought my ticket.  I was astounded at just how closely the movie stuck to the book, with only a few deviations that rarely sounded any jarring note.  The secret to this accuracy, no doubt, was revealed in the closing credits, in which Suzanne Collins was listed as one of the three authors of the screenplay.  The subtle overlay of traditional Appalachian music at strategic points was very satisfying to the little girl within me who grew up hearing Bluegrass, even if I didn't learn to appreciate it until I became an adult.  Most of all, I think they very powerfully encapsulated the sheer bloody-mindedness, the determined, cantankerous independence of a group of people who endured everything from Hadrian's forces in Scotland to the English land clearances in Ireland to Prohibition here in the US, which most of us blissfully ignored and from which quite a few of us actually made a decent living for once from the manufacture and sale of illegal brews.  We love our land, we love our families, and we love being left alone to go our own way in peace.  We couldn't have asked for a better representative than Katniss Everdeen.

My grandfather and great uncle (and four-legged friend), Kentucky, c. 1930

March 22, 2012

Review of "Farmer Boy"

by Laura Ingalls Wilder

 Honestly, it has taken me 25 years and several failed attempts to finally finish reading this book, and now that I have, I really have no idea why, because it is just simply DELIGHTFUL!  I was taken aback a couple of times by how much social mores and attitudes have changed, but that's always to be expected when you're reading about events that happened in the 1860s.  I must admit that I did not envy or appreciate the role of women in the book, no matter how nostalgic I may get for by-gone days, but then, some of the characters in the book commented on that same issue themselves.

When I was younger and first tried to read this but just couldn't get interested, my mom postulated that it might have been because the protagonist was a boy, and I think she was definitely on to something.  After all, I hadn't often stumbled upon many girls in books with whom I could identify as strongly as I did with little Laura Ingalls, who was as big a tomboy as I was and yet still knew how to be feminine at times.  Having finally found her, why would I want to take a break from HER exciting adventures to read about some boy?!

Many literature classes and quite a few life lessons later, however, I've since gotten over any such reservations, and it was fascinating to me to read about what Almonzo was up to when he and Laura were both children and hadn't yet met, to see the same general time period from the point of view of a more established and prosperous family than Laura's.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and recommend it to children of both genders and any age.

Too Much Book, Not Enough Blog, or Review of "Whose Body?"

Have you ever found yourself so engrossed in books that it was difficult for you to take a break from READING them long enough to BLOG about them?  That's the state of distraction I've been in the past few weeks.  I've just been DEVOURING books like a starving man who has stumbled upon a smorgasbord.  Huge, non-fiction tomes, tiny little novels, all have been gobbled up lately into the swirling vortex that is my new-found reading appetite.  I'm already over 30% finished with my Goodreads goal for the year, despite the fact that it's only March, and my Goodreads "currently reading" shelf is displaying four books at the moment.  Don't ask me what happened; I've always been an avid reader, but suddenly, I simply cannot get enough of the written word.

ANYWAY, the fact that I've been reading a non-fiction trilogy lately, the last two volumes of which are each over 900 pages long, has slowed me down enough that I can breathe for a minute and continue chipping away at my reviewing backlog.  Thus, on with a review, what, what?

by Dorothy L. Sayers

 I really enjoyed this mystery novel, the first in the "Lord Peter Wimsey" series, though the jury was out for most of it on whether I liked Lord Peter himself (and therefore the whole book) or not.  He's one of the first of what became a very familiar pattern--the rich young English nobleman who makes a hobby of investigating crime and gets away with it because of who he is and how powerful his family is.  His mother gets into the act as often as possible to keep her life from getting dull, and his older brother, the responsible one who inherited the family titles and estate, thoroughly disapproves of the whole business, to no avail whatsoever.

In this first novel, the case in hand quickly blossoms into two cases, one a missing business magnate and the other the random appearance of a naked corpse in someone's bathtub.  As usual, the police officer assigned to the corpse case is a complete imbecile, but unlike in all the Sherlock Holmes books, the cop's idiocy gets exposed before the end.  Meanwhile, another police officer, a friend of Lord Peter's, actually has a brain, and Lord Peter uses him as his side-kick/lackey/Watson.

Wimsey himself is very aptly named, if his conversation is anything to go by.  He's so full of random quotations that he's barely intelligible at times, speaks with a rather annoying drawl, and really did not make a favorable impression on me at all until he started demonstrating post-World War I "shell shock" (PTSD).  That factor humanized him in a very dramatic and effective way.  It didn't occur until about 2/3 of the way through the book, and it wasn't until then that I was truly hooked.  Fortunately, I got invested in the next in the series much more quickly (as future reviews will demonstrate).

March 14, 2012

Dribbling Along

Image courtesy of Indiana University
(my alma mater)

Just a quick check in with Yarn Along this week, and no, the title of my post does NOT refer to NCAA basketball and March Madness.  GO HOOSIERS!  (Sorry, I have a sort of basketball Tourette's Syndrome; a lot of us native Hoosiers suffer from it.)  That was just a serendipitous coincidence.

I am sadly lacking in exciting pictures this week, though I did accomplish some crocheting with which I was quite pleased.  I foolishly let my mother-in-law carry her birthday gift--a small set of hand-made, cotton dishcloths--out of my house without taking a picture of them first!  Oops.  Otherwise, the Blueberry Ripple afghan continues apace, and has reached that stage at which we grow slightly weary in well-doing, as the Apostle Paul says, and begin to notice just how MANY different ends are protruding from the magnum opus, and to anticipate exactly how LONG it will take us to weave them all in.  Still, within a fortnight it should be done, and I must admit that I truly love it.  I can't wait to finally show off the finished product.

Book News: Just tonight, I finally finished The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard J. Evans, which I can highly recommend if you're looking for a history of the topic and which I plan to review shortly here on The Beauty of Eclecticism.

In other words, both my reading and yarning projects this week have been ponderous, time-consuming, and worth the effort in the end.  My progress on them has been not so much dramatic, as simply a proof of the adage, "Slow and steady wins the race."  Not terribly exciting, perhaps, but worth the big payoff when the photos of the finished object appear.  Hope your efforts have been equally satisfying.

March 12, 2012

Review of "Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging"


Yeah, I know, I've only mentioned this a couple of thousand times, and those of you who have known me personally for any length of time have no doubt heard a couple of MILLION times.  So all the Britishisms in this book only made me love it all the more.  Indeed, I would never have picked up this YA novel in the first place if it hadn't been for the title.  For those who may not know, "snogging" is the British equivalent of "making out".  Now, armed with that information, you must admit that this is a pretty hilarious title.

by Louise Rennison

To be perfectly honest, this book is mostly made up of absolutely mindless, rubbishy fluff.  If you're in pursuit of high art in literature, keep looking.  BUT, if you're searching for an irreverent, hilarious read, you could do much worse.

This whole series strongly resembles The Princess Diaries, but without the completely improbably element of royalty.  However, there is a hidden undercurrent that reveals quite a bit about how the teenage psyche works, or at least how an adult author remembers it working for her.  I feel sure it was this aspect of the book that got it nominated for a YA literary award.  To be perfectly honest, the reader in me laughed my ass off at this book, while my inner mother of a SuperToddler kept thinking, "Oh, dear Lord, how will I EVER deal with raising a teenager?!"

Georgia Nicolson is enrolled in a middle-class British public girls' school (that means a private school, if you're American), trying to survive her teachers, her own confusion about hormones and sex, and the possibility that her whole family might have to emigrate to New Zealand so her father can find work.  Meanwhile, she's wondering if the guy of her dreams really likes her, and how to keep her friends from driving her slowly insane.

In short, this book is utter foolishness, but it's an awful lot of fun.

Review of "13 Little Blue Envelopes"

All right, self!  It's time for us to "man up," as it were, and catch up on this ridiculously mounting backlog of reviews!  No more slacking--I'm a book blogger, for goodness sake!

Anyway, I must confess that the book I'm going to review today helped cause this backlog to begin with, because I was somewhat dreading reviewing it.  So many YA afficionados have adored this book, gushed and raved about it, that having to say that I expected much more from it didn't sound like much fun.  In other words, avoiding this review for over a month is far long enough, so on with the truth-telling.

by Maureen Johnson

Virginia Blackstone's Bohemian, free-spirited, artist aunt dies young of cancer, leaving an incredibly convoluted and cooky sort of will for her niece that "Ginny" must follow, in the form of 13 envelopes that must be opened in a specific order and under very specific conditions.  Can anyone think of some cliches we've left out? Let us know, and we'll try to work them into the next edition of the book.

The concept of the envelopes themselves was fairly innovative, and I was really hoping for greatness from this book.  Instead, the envelopes' contents led Ginny on a series of disastrous Europen experiences that I mostly found annoying.  If I'd gone through chaos like this girl endured, I'd probably refuse to ever set foot outside my own apartment again!

Don't get me wrong; I'm certainly not saying that this book was awful.  I've read much, MUCH worse books in a wide variety of genres, and it did manage (barely) to keep me interested enough that I finished it.  Still, it was highly improbable, at times quite predictable, and frankly mediocre.  The most interesting characters and events were never developed, and it just didn't seem to coalesce into a single, unified book.  Sorry, gang; this one just wasn't for me.

March 07, 2012

Stopping By Quickly on a Quiet Morning

(with apologies to Robert Frost)

Oh, I've been too long absent from Wondrous Words Wednesdays!  An absolutely delightful meme, that fell by the wayside, I'm afraid, in the midst of my life's craziness, and I am determined to return to it faithfully, with renewed verve.  Today's post is just a brief pit stop, with only one interesting word to share, but there will be MANY others next week, as those of you who've read my "Word" posts in times past can attest.  This week, I have the following for you.

-obloquy--Did you even know that English HAD a one-word term for verbal abuse, and for the attendant state of shame in which its long-term sufferers must live?  Neither did I until yesterday.  I encountered this one in The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans, so I don't think it requires much imagination to figure out where he was going with that one, who the perpetrators or the victims of said abuse were.  It's a fascinating book, if very somber.

Anyway, happy word spelunking, fellow readers!

Rippling Along

Greetings, one and all!  After a hiatus last week involving a sick SuperToddler and a bedraggled, worn-out mommy, I have returned to Yarn Along, flush with success in my fortnight's endeavor to keep my Blueberry Ripple Afghan growing.  A piece like this isn't just a project, of course--it's a commitment.  When you undertake an afghan like this, you know you're in for a bit of a long haul.  But, it's growing by leaps and bounds, and I'm enjoying it very much.  Would you like to see it?  Well, obviously you would; that's the whole point!  So...

TA-DA!  A bouncing baby Blueberry Ripple Afghan!  Hurray!  I'd say it's just about 3/5 completed at this point.  As a matter of fact, since its intended purpose is to allow me to snuggle up beneath it, and it currently covers me from hanging just below my feet to the top of my abdomen, I'd call that an extremely accurate measurment of its progress!  Now then, let's give this beauty a close-up, Mr. Demille.

What do you think, gang?  I'm quite pleased overall, so much so that I've decided to make another in a different colorway as a gift, when I finish this one (which means you won't get to see that one until after the gift is presented to its intended owner, but eventually there will be pictures and much rejoicing here on Yarn Along, I promise). 

Oops!  I almost forgot the READING bit of this exercise, which would have been a shame, since I've finished FOUR books in the past week!!  I'm reading three books currently, because I'm just a compulsive simultaneous-multiple reader (I've finally embraced this fact about myself), but probably the most fascinating is The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans.

This book certainly isn't a light-weight--over 650 pages, and although that includes probably 150 pages of endnotes, bibliography and index, Goodreads counts all of it in my "pages read" count for the year!  I must confess that pleases me, even if the confession indicates some major flaw in my character.  When I checked this book out from the library, the lady who checked it out to me said, "A bit of light reading, huh?"  And she's right; this one is certainly not many laughs.  But it's certainly enthralling; I always wondered how all that lunacy got started, and now I'm finally finding out.  It's not written for scholars or experts, either; if you're interested in the subject, I can recommend this one so far.

Anyway, that's the past two weeks in review.  Hope you're having satisfying times with book, hook, and/or needles!

February Medieval Summary

"And God bless us, every one."

Giving whole new meaning to the phrase "better LATE than never," I am finally posting the February update for the 2012 Medieval Challenge.  My apologies, gang.  If I can ever manage to get all three members of this household healthy at the same time, and keep it that way for more than two weeks, these kinds of delays will hopefully become a thing of the past.

Anyway, on with the show.  I DID actually manage to read a medieval volume in the month of February, that fascinating (if bizarre), rip-roaring Arthurian adventure, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (click for my review).  Of course, this means that I have eliminated the tiniest little work on my medieval TO DO list first, and only that one so far, while I've been rapidly whittling away at most of my other reading challenges.  This sort of behavior cannot be allowed to continue, because we all know where it would lead--all other challenges finished by June and six months of unrelieved medievalism stretching out before me.  So, I must tackle one of the weightier tomes in May.  I think I'll make it The Alexiad, a book I've owned for years and never yet attempted.

In the meantime, keep us up to date on how your medieval triumphs are mounting!  Did you surpass your own expectations?  Are you sinking in the slough of Despond?  We want to hear all about it.

March 05, 2012

The Penguin Did It

Oy vay!  It's been crazy around here for the past week or so.  It turns out that Brigid's run of SuperTerribleTwos was actually just the build up to her getting sick.  I should have known; she's often a willful child with a mind of her own, but her whole life, she has never just been impossible unless something was genuinely wrong.  She usually obeys me, even if she doesn't like it, and she's normally fairly easy to please.  Last week, she was just simply IMPOSSIBLE, and exhausting.  Like I said, I should've recognized the signs.

Photo courtesy of The Respiratory Store

You really haven't lived until you've tried to coax and soothe a SuperToddler through having something like this over her nose and mouth for about fifteen minutes at a time several times a day.  I know this thing looks terrifying, but we're actually quite lucky that there doesn't seem to be any infection--ears, sinuses, throat all fine.  Whatever this crud is, though, it goes straight to the lungs, like it did to me, and since they can't very well give a toddler an albuterol inhaler for a few days, we get the nebulizer, instead, to bust the stuff up and free her lungs again.  She is, slowly, getting better.

Meanwhile, just take a look at this adorable little guy, generously provided by our health insurance (they typically take much better care of kids than they do adults, don't you think?).

Photo courtesy of Medquip

As Sally says so often about Linus (remember Peanuts? Charlie Brown and Snoopy?), "Isn't he the cutest thing?!"  He even comes with his own little igloo carrying case!  Brigid immediately decided that igloo had to be part of her toy collection.  Anyway, inside his little tuxedo-clad body is the compressor and other innards that actually make the nebulizer function.  The SuperToddler may not be an enormous fan of the process, but she just thinks the penguin is the greatest thing to come into her life in ages.  I know I'm turning into my own grandparents before my very eyes even saying this, but don't they just think of the most amazing things these days?!  The same company sells pediatric nebulizers in the shape of fire trucks and panda bears and heaven knows what else.  Between worrying about the SuperToddler's health and the fact that I haven't had a break for three weeks because of complications in my in-laws' lives that prevented Brigid from going to Grandma's house, I am just simply exhausted and my brain has the consistency of jello, but somehow, that penguin's cheerful face really has made the whole thing just a tiny bit more bearable, I must admit.

"Isn't he the cutest thing?"
MEANWHILE, the more wearying my life gets, the more I tend to read anytime I get the chance, to escape the chaos for a while, which means that in the past month I have been on an absolute, non-stop reading binge, an orgy of reading, as it were.  I am SOOOOOOOOOOOO far behind on reviews now that I am seriously considering declaring general amnesty for myself and just trying to keep up from here on out.  Thoughts on the matter, anyone?  Leave them in the comments, if you have any.  Seriously, I'm about a dozen reviews behind now.  It's getting ridiculous.  Still, I want to try and post them.  We'll see what develops.  The siren song of crochet is calling my name now, and I'm within a few pages of FINALLY finding out the solution to a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery.  Keep watching this space!
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