Daniel Defoe, despicable moral ambivalent or daring, dogged dreamer?

I first met Defoe (who was actually born Daniel Foe, adding the more aristrocratic “de” to separate himself from his very common father a tallow chandler) in a Children’s Illustrated Classics Robinson Crusoe. For those born to late to experience these wonderful introduction to the great stories of literature, they were chapter books with every few pages a lovely pencil action shot or charming evocative landscape. The pictures were part of the story, leading me both towards the original authors works and comic books. The footprint will stay forever with me, both in printed word and line drawing.

I found him again as a history and journalism enthusiast in my early adulthood, but as then I found the world so clearly devided between the good guys and the bad guys, his apparent ambivalence and choice to survive at all costs did not endear him to me even if he was one of the fathers of the novel and of modern journalism.

In this century Mr Defoe and I became reacquainted through the works of one of the great storytellers of this century, James A Owen. I compare his literary realities to Tolkien and Lewis.  In another time he would certainly have been an Inkling. If you have not read the series yet, begin now. If you have read them, then begin again as the last volume appears later this year.

In the Imaginarium Geographica series, that begins with “Here There Be Dragons,” Defoe is somewhat of a villain  although his real life adventures as a spy have always made me wonder of his true allegiance.  Like the Potter series, or most aptly referenced here “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”, good and evil are most clearly delineated at the start and grow more shades of gray as the story progresses.

I will reread Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe again but thought to try his more controversial novel and am just about to finish “The Fortunes and Misfortunes of  the Famous Moll Flanders,” and have to says I am pleasantly surprised at the strong feminist tone of this novel and cannot wait to find a good biography of the man to help flesh out my picture of him. I still think he was a man whose instinct to survive was greater than his ethical adherence, whose need to be admired, liked and seen as “somebody” was bent by a youth of being a “nobody” and led to many of his own misfortunes. However, it was that uncanny ability to survive and thrive in a time of great change and social turmoil that helped bring into fruition the modern novel and journalism so I can only be grateful.

I recommend “Robinson Crusoe” for the easier and more moving read (yes, I have read the unabridged version and was just as enthralled) but recommend “Moll Flanders” for its social context and for those who like reality TV, I mean this was the Jersey Shore of its time!

Most importantly I recommend reading, turn off the TV tonight and open a book, any book, and let the screen in your mind light up with all the wonderful pictures and places the words can lead you. I have started a Book Club over on FaceBook called the “Imaginarium Geographica Classics Club” that I hope you all will join. Pick any author running about those pages and one book he wrote and add it to the comments section on the page. An exciting contest is soon to be revealed revolving around these books and authors.

Hands in the air, screaming all the way!

What is  “How to ride a roller coaster,” Alex.

September was one of those amazing, scary and fun roller coasters rides I loved when I was young; October has been more like the flume ride where the bumps are milder and the thrill comes from cold water suddenly splashed in your face. Anyway, very little blogging has occurred.

So the important questions on everyone’s mind (although my friend  informed me when we were hanging out last month that she never reads my blog, nor do the other members of our little group, so actually I guess every one’s minds but the group of my closest friends; and before you judge us not friends anymore, realize every Ya Ya Sisterhood grows in different directions eventually, and this in no way precludes continued friendship) is what am I reading, watching and eating.

‘What I Am Reading” is easiest to answer. I will sheepishly admit (“sheep”ishly because my purchase was completely related to marketing hype) I am half way through JK Rowling’s newest adult novel ” Casual Vacancy”.  Rowling’s ability to deliver well rounded and surprising characters in a much less magical setting (Novel is set in modern England,  but for a few vocabulary changes it could just as easily be set in Connecticut or Arizona)  is the highlight so far, and it is still rating a 4 to 5 but I am holding out for a happy ending. I will keep you posted.

I am also rereading Charles Dicken’s “Nicholas Nickelby”, the entire plot just seemed appropriate in the current economic and political climate and Dicken’s delectable word casseroles never disappoint! With his humorous mix of understatement, grandiosity and verbal seasoning, I  easily laugh at the moral-less and manipulative shenanigans in his books while their character twins infuriate me in the current news.

My spiritual book of the day is the Dalai Lama’s “How to See Yourself as you Truly Are”, it is the right book at the right time. In simple concrete meditations his holiness illustrates the emptiness of enlightenment while proving “nothing” is anything but nihilism.

My cookbook of the day is “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Baking” as I practice even more and new techniques to make my holiday favorites like pumpkin pie deliciously vegan friendly. Nothing to post yet yet in the way of adapted recipes, but soon…

So that is what I am reading…

What am I watching? Well currently I am watching bugs and roadrunners eat my few squash that appeared….*sad sigh* My plants this fall are big and green and healthy with multiple blossoms but few fruit, and those flora that fruited are being eaten by local fauna.This homesteading experiment thingy makes me truly appreciate the work and luck involved in feeding oneself just a century ago.

But, usually here I have a new favorite TV show or lesser known movie that made me incredibly happy and I want to share. However, there just isn’t a single new one that I can justifiably say you “must see!” However an old favorite from the early 1990’s finally made it onto DVD, so my “watch it” suggestion for this blog is “Leaving Normal” which will forever be my favorite “women’s” movie. I also love “Boys on the Side” and “Fried Green Tomatoes” but they are not my favorites because, although in a less dramatic way, both of these movies still echo the Medea Myth glaringly retold in that decade’s critically lauded ‘women’s” film “Thelma and Louise.” The acting is lovely, the story a bit magical and what I love best about “Leaving Normal” is that no woman has to die just because she is strong and just because she doesn’t make pleasing men or satisfying society her first priority. Go watch it, you will love it too, I promise.

And finally, What am I eating? Well that has to be a whole other blog since my writing time is up for the day….but definitely a recipe and appropriate rambling will appear this week.

Namaste my friends…

Read, listen, enjoy, and ya know, talk back!

Here is the promised blog, appearing on the actual day I promised it and not only offering a tasty selection of fashion, travel and writing blogs I peruse and recommend, but also a wonderful, and equally tasty (as those who celebrated Amie’s birthday already know) and extremely versatile vegan crock  pot concoction.

May I also recommend listening to this award show while reading todays blog, or making the chili, or just just sitting smiling and alternately reminiscing of filkers, and authors known and salivating over all the new stuff out there yet to be discovered, http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/25307882, I admit to more of the first, I am after all, mature (code for getting old.)

No geek ever looked so good as one taking fashion advice from the beautiful blonde who pens this blog http://2morrowsdress.com/, and her advice stands strong for those who walk in the normal ways of the world as well. This blog has all kinds of useful advice about choosing, caring for and ways to wear the one thing we all have in common, clothing! From her “little white dress” to her white shirt dilemna I (the fashion challenged costume maker) have enjoyed and employed Jen’s advice. Look for the same brevity and classy taste in her entertainment blog http://jentheredonethat.com/ .

For writer’s or readers of fantasy or of  life fiction check out the blog by novelist Ann Videan  http://anvidean.com. Music is a recurrent theme in her writing, both blogs and novels. Her blog is also a great place to pick up a few marketing tips for those trying to court fame and fortune as a professional pen wielder. On the same wavelength, but perhaps better known among fantasy fans is one of my other favorite author’s blog http://windling.typepad.com/blog/. (I know, if you took my advice you are listening to *gasp* science fiction awards while reading about fantasy blogs, I am sorry if this is jarring, but I am totally a “soup” person. If you don’t know what tha means, feel free to ask, and I will happily explain.)

Totally unrelated blogs but incredibly fascinating (to me at least) http://www.dailycoyote.net/  and http://honeyrockdawn.com/ both from the same lady who is living one of my dreams (but we only have one life so I happily live the one I am in and find blogs that allow me to vicariously live the other dreams). Of course there are always two of my  favorite go to sites: http://whatever.scalzi.com/ , http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/  , reflecting another life I chose not to lead.

Now if you are still with me and haven’t clicked off and become lost in one of these amazing blogs, here is my newest vegan creation, I call it “2 hours till dinner and still lots to do”

Plug in your crock pot or slow cooker, low heat.

Chop a small onion and one or two green peppers into small (1cm or less) pieces. Put two-three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a cast iron skillet (enough to lightly cover the bottom) and as it gets warm toss in the onions first and stir with a wooden spoon. When the onions become translucent add the peppers (and 1 cup mushrooms if you have them and you know your intended audience likes them) and cook another minute or two, turn off the skillet heat if on an electric stove, to very low flame if gas, and press in one clove of garlic, stir and let them all sit together as you stir together 4 cups hot water, a small can of organic tomato paste, two cubes of vegan bullion, and 1 tsp fresh chili powder in the warm crock pot. Add 1 can organic black beans rinsed and drained, or 2 cups of home cooked black beans. Dump in the lovely mixture of onions and peppers, stir again. Add 1 1/2 cups of Trader Joe’s organic red quinoa, OR add 1/2 cup organic red quinoa and 1 cup Trader Joe’s harvest Grains Blend, OR add 1/2 cup organic red quinoa, 1/2 cup couscous, and 1/2 cup yellow lentils. Close the lid and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours (quinoa unfurled and beans soft). Serve with warm crusty bread, or corn chips and enjoy!

finally, where I got my chile powder recipe, or buy a fresh one if not so motivated http://video.about.com/americanfood/How-to-Make-Chili-Powder.htm

 

 

A book that won’t let me go

This month our book club read the dystopian masterpiece by Japanese born/British citizen Kazuo Ishiguro “Never Let me Go”. It, along with his first two novels  “An Artist of the Floating World” and “A Pale View of Hills” have been on my “must read” list for literally years (since its release in 2005.) I love the depth and breadth of his literary imagination and wanted to know all he had to offer, but like so many other things that I knew I would not only enjoy but would also be good for me, like learning to ride abike, or really swim laps, or grow my own organic vegetables, or make a seven-day backpacking trip, I never seemed to get around to it until outside forces motivated me.

I had even owned the book. The lovely green paperback kept migrating to my “read it now” shelf, but then some new shiny author would draw me into their back list with their tantalizing prose and I would forget the love affair I had with Ishiguru’s telling. Eventually I lent it to someone who had seen the movie and it disappeared into that place books without nameplates in them always seem to go. You know that place of not remembering exactly who it is lent it to, and them not remembering where they borrowed it from either. In all fairness I have two books like that on my shelf, books I know I did not purchase but do not know from whom they came.

Having “Never Let me Go” selected for August was the impetus to repurchase and finally read this literary sci-fi coming of age story. Told in the first person by one of the students of an unusual private school which was created as an ethical question as much as an answer, this book covers everything from disenfranchisement based on birth (particularly pertinent in the face of current class wars) to the meaning of mortality. In the stories climax I was reminded of the current “morality” wars as well, when those who deemed themselves worthy to ascertain the presence or absence of souls in other life forms or revealed to be the most soulless and self-serving.

This novel truly won’t let me go, my mind keeps returning to the story and its author and how he elegantly tells in the fictional lives of three young students all the horror and redemption humanity is capable of committing.

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954, his family moved to England when he was 6 years old. The cultural questions of both homes are reflected in this novel. One’s family could not be from Nagasaki in the 1950’s and not be gravely aware of how ethics are forgotten in the pursuit of  “greater good”; and England in the 1960’s was suffering the culmination of the Post-war class crisis as well as a wholesale abandonment of religion. Much was being made of  the “winds of change” freeing women, empowering the poor, allowing the working classes to get their own piece of the pie. The “Work hard, do what you are told and you will be aptly rewarded ” ethos began to crumble under a new bottom line, and then its inspired social programs all fell apart as violent student protests and numerous race riots turned the tide again, reimposing stringent class lines  based now more on new money than old blood. In this century, the use of sweatshop labour in non-English countries to let western consumers “have it all”; the destruction and raping of natural resources in third world countries so growth can continuously be supported are easily analogous to the organs being cut from the “donors” until they complete.

In the tradition of other great authors of fictional social commentary such as Swift, Twain or Orwell, Ishiguro uses an engaging story to (hopefully) awaken the reader to look at life and their own choices just a little differently. As for me, I will get to his other books sooner now, and probably reread his later ones as well.

I am glad that another “meant to” has become an “I have.” I do swim and bike now, ate my first “homegrown in Arizona” organic vegetables this summer, have new seedlings ready to plant and will begin backpack daytrips as soon as it cools down a bit here.  As this book reminds me, we all “complete,” so I will continue to carpe my diem, and as I run and bike and dig in the soil today I know bits of this book will come floating back to my consciousness again with some new resonance, for this is truly a book that will “Never Let me Go.”

 

Where everyone knows your name.

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.

Taking a break from your worries, sure would help alot

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name

And they’re always glad you came

You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same, you wanna go..”

I may have a bit of Cliff Claven in me as I am known to spew out random factoids,  and I have a bit of Norms love of quips and his singlemindedness, but lucky for me, my happy place is not a bar and my solace is not a beer.  It was a sunny, muggy Sunday that needed a breath of cool fresh air, and I had some presents for July birthdays and an anniversary waiting at the special order counter,  so of course I made my way with my roommate to my own version of Cheers yesterday, a local bookstore.

Now my metaphorical barstool is parked at “Changing Hands” in Tempe, AZ (http://www.changinghands.com/) where I am afraid I spend as much money though less time than Cliff or Norm did. Changing Hands has everything a Sunday afternoon could want old books, new books, red books, blue books; the gift section has quippy bumper stickers and smell-tastic scents of candles, incense and wholesome body products, eclectic magazines of every ilk and racks of cards and all this bounty shares space with Wildflower Breads bistro where I and my newest conquest can get to know each other one chapter at a time over tea and crumpets or soup and salad, and the people there know my name. My “Cheers” is Changing Hands, so I sing it highest praises, but any small bookstore worth its salt can become everything promised in that famous 80’s theme song. Bonus points if they also buy back used book buddies and give credit to meet new print potentials like Changing Hands.

Now there is a science to buying back books that I am not privy to, its mysteries are as complicated as dating. So let it be said here and now, that I cannot predict which and what will leave a bag or box to garner credit and which will return again home to try their luck somewhere else or perhaps be left when one is taken at some coffee shop somewhere. Still some books once read just won’t be read again, and deserve to try their luck with other readers, not hoarded and neglected on the shelf just to prove someones literary prowess, and well used books and used book prices mean I can try authors I am just wondering or pick up missed backstock titles on my personal favorites.

Usually I leave Changing Hands with one or more books I had not even heard about before, maybe one I had heard about but was undecided on its purchase until one of the knowledgeable and friendly associates waxed poetic on its charms and I was compelled to make it mine, and one or two books they have ordered for me. Yesterday I (as always) had a budget and presents to purchase, and one book whose author I had heard on NPR but I could not remember the title or the guys name. That’s what else the associates at Changing Hands excel at, getting me exactly what I want, when all I remember is that it’s this big (insert appropriate hand motions), blue and recently reviewed on _______(fill in with radio or TV show). O.K.,  yesterday I actually said to the gentleman helping me (who is Changing Hands version of Woody), “Just came out in paperback,  Zone something I think, zombies?” and he took me right to the shelf.

“Unfortunately too soon for a used copy,” he said with a smile, “and you really should go to NPR and check out his interview.” I like that, they do know me there, know I am a book glutton so every book I buy used is a few more dollars to get my fries-with-that backstock paperback of a classic or a new favorite author, and they know that I love to listen to authors talk.

I have sat at Changing hands and listened to numerous authors I already loved and knew like Christopher Moore and James Owen, and met new authors I now follow rabidly like Kevin Hearne.  If you live in the East Valley or you will be visiting our area, their calendar is always chock full of delicious little goodies for all flavors and ages of readers.

All this being said, it is truly the talent at my bookstore, yes I do think of it as mine, I buy from them first if possible in all instances for print and e-books, that make my visits feel as warm and complete as an Emmy winning Cheers episode.  I started to list their names and the books   and authors with whom I now had real relationships with because of Changing Hand friends; you know the kind that’s not just a one book deal, but you keep coming back each time they publish, wanting more than they can give, the kind that keep you up late night with characters that populate your sleeping dreams and monopolize your waking hours, and five hundred words later and not nearly finished I realized I was forgetting two very important names,  because I am not the best at names, better at faces, so I deleted the specifics, but many of the books and authors have appeared or will appear in the coming weeks on this blog. But you know who you are, and I do indeed thank you. You make lives better one book at a time!

Now its time for the closing credits and another commercial or two http://changinghands.com/  and not because its related, commercials do not have to be related, but because it is the most awesome blog,  especially today 7/22/2012  http://whatever.scalzi.com/ and because two of the books I bought yesterday were his books. “Rough Guide to the Universe” is a5th anniversary present to my son and DIL who always shoot for the stars and manage to help others along the way see the stars within themselves (and who happen to own a really nice telescope) and I also left with yet another copy of “Old Man’s War,” I always give mine away it seems, because I,  like the staff at Changing Hands, share the joy found in a perfect first sentence followed by an even better story line and always want to share it.

If you don’t live local, they ship and sell e-books, but better yet find the local place you can make yours at http://www.indiebound.org/indie-store-finder.

 

Making the mundane magical one orphan story at a time

As a reader, I appreciate short stories, brief self-contained literary nuggets make reading an entire book more time friendly. Each little orphan story lends itself to a natural stopping point, facilitating my actually closing the book so I can sleep, eat, make the plane, clean the house, or whatever I might have waiting.  When put together, these individual children create a family of ideas that embrace and entertain with the best full course novel: but like haute cuisine hors d’oeuvres, the brevity also means they are either very good or very bad.  Today I offer to your mental palette,  two amazing collections and one actual novel by the gentleman who taught me what short stories should be. None of these are new writers nor are they new books, so I shall present them in the order they appeared on my shelves.

The gentleman, and he truly was a gentle man, that set the bar for which every short story writer ever after would aim, was Ray Bradbury. His short stories in collections like “The Illustrated Man” and “Martian Chronicles”, would come into my life the following fall via a yet unmet school library, but it was the first day of summer in 1960 something. My sister and I had walked ourselves, in our brand new summer tennis shoes, library cards stuffed in cut off school pants, the familiar six city blocks to restock our entertainment.  My sister made her way to the shelf with her favorite book, “Adventure in Forgotten Valley” by Glyn Frewer, and I followed touching the spines of  dozens of well read friends, watching for something new. (I had  already read this part of the library from A-Z, and held my next two books in reading the non-fiction portion in order in my hand. I was up to the 590’s and flora and fauna.) When there it was, a new book faced out and waiting, “Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum: Twelve Shuddery Stories for Daring Young Readers.”

I remember it now as destiny, that the first story I opened to, while waiting for my sister to pick her other three books, was “October Country” by Ray Bradbury. I asked the librarian what “whole books” she had by this man Bradbury, maybe hoping for more of the Elliot family (which would not make its way into any reader’s hands until 50 years later in “From Dust Returned”) That day I went home with my two books on zoological identification and evolution of the mammal, Hitchcock’s Monster Museum, and Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” brought over from the Young Adult area of the library (cuz they did that for me,  I was kind of an unusual kid.)

I read books now the same way I did then, from first printed word to final printed word. This is from Mr. Bradbury’s introduction, “if your boy is a poet, horse manure can only mean flowers to him; which is, of course what horse manure has always been about.” I knew in that sentence I had a friend who understood me better even than my sister, who knew my heart in a way few have since, and for the first time in a very alien universe I was not alone.  That morning Bradbury’s prose broke a spider web on my face and I knew this summer would be different. I am much older and have reread this, as well as his better known books, dozens of times, and every time some new phrase or nuance reaches out and embraces all the real parts of me.

If you have never read “Dandelion Wine”, there is no more perfect time than summer, to meet Douglas Spaulding and John Huff and Grandma and even the Junkman, and if it is your first time you will not need to wait a lifetime as I did to return again to Greene Town, Illinois as “Farewell Summer” was released in 2004.

I have always had a certain passion for things fantastical and found that drugstore paperback shelves could offer me, if often less powerful prose at least more prolific hits, than the local library in this genre. It was here I first met the next gentleman friend of my imagination, Mr. Peter S. Beagle.  His “Last Unicorn” was a better quality read than the usual paperback fare I would read for hours behind the rack, I used my saved pop bottle and milk money to buy it.  He was not as easy to find as Bradbury, and although I found him in an occasional anthology (I particularly remember werewolves in Terry Carr’s New Worlds’s of Fantasy #3) and managed to carry a collection of his works with me when most everything else I owned was lost, I had never met the man.

That is until this year at Phoenix Comicon, I asked him which of his books he had there to sell he would recommend, and so I am now a proud owner of a signed “The Line Between.” I just finished reading it for the second time, and am slightly ashamed as a previous “cricket” to not have adequate words for the range of this man’s talent. Although the gem to most Beagle readers will be “Two Hearts” the not disappointing return to the world of the” Last Unicorn,” my favorite is the final entry, “A Dance for Emilia” which made me both laugh harder and cry harder the second time.  If you have any doubts about why you should read this collection, let’s just say I am mentioning this man’s short stories in a review sandwiched between Ray Bradbury and Charles de Lint.

Charles de Lint introduced me and many others to a new kind of fantasy where faery magic happened not in some far green country but the dark edges of our own dreams and city street corners. I did not meet his books until I was a writer myself, and an adult who was still pretty busy hiding her “geek” reads behind the more acceptable classics and feminist tomes.  It was in fact women writers,  Terry Windling and Ellen Kushner who deserve an entire blog of their own, who helped me find him in a place they like to call Bordertown.  De Lint’s “Waif and Strays” is the third book I recommend for a perfect summer read. For established fans of Charles the collected orphaned stories are literary visits to Tamson House, Newford and Bordertown. For those not yet fans, there is Tamson House, Newford and Bordertown; three places you will visit in your own dreams that will forever alter how you see through your waking eyes as well.

That ability to invade sleeping dreams and change waking reality are the connecting threads in these three books. Find them, read them, and then go visit the authors pages and thank them. Even if for Bradbury it is posthumously, I believe somewhere a particle of him will know he’s made another set of eyes see flowers instead of manure, and maybe a cat will dance for you.

http://www.raybradbury.com/

https://www.facebook.com/petersbeagle

https://www.facebook.com/charles.delint.

 

 

Places to visit without leaving the comfort of your air conditioning.

My day started busy and is definitely going the stay that way so today’s blog is just a brief itinerary of some other blogs to travel to today while mine is being boring and neglected.

First off is http://jentheredonethat.com/. I used to be young and beautiful, not so much in person anymore, but I still get to experience youthful travel and foodie adventures vicariously through following this blog.  Check her out.

For all my Geek friends who, like me, will not be at San Diego Comicon this week-end, I give you these sites. Meet five of my favorite Con guests  (I have at least a dozen, some just aren’t blogging much right now due to other obligations) up close and personal (I mean the internet is personal, right, we are really all friends?) , and there are no long lines.

http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/

http://cmpriest.livejournal.com/

http://www.kevinhearne.com/

http://ginikoch.com/

And finally here are two sites to visit if you want to be inspired by others courage and maybe do some good today.

http://razzzberries.blogspot.com/  Go back a few and read forward to be amazed at this woman’s courage and plucky determination to make rainbows and lemonade.  Feeling grateful for your own health? Express your gratitude to the universe by donating a few dollars. As someone who has dealt with life altering illness professionally and personally, I tell you thank-you in advance.

http://www.welcome.to/desertcry If the small forgotten creatures of the world are more your thing than humans, or if maybe you want to do two good things today, go cruise around this sight a wee bit and learn about the furry things with whom we share the Arizona desert and then paypal  a small donation for some four legged patient’s food and/or medicine.

And now I am off to drive an hour and half in the heat listening to my favorite tunes (thank you Apple for the Ipod) cause I am blessed enough to have  veteran’s medical coverage. (And, no, I wasn’t being sarcastic, I really am grateful for medical care I can afford, and someday when lifetime caps and pre-existing conditions are not part of the insurance business, I will find me closer care. In the meant time, I deeply appreciate what I have.)

Namaste.

Tomorrow maybe some more vegan recipes. Those seem to be reader favorites.