Showing posts from August, 2013

Caturday: Sad cats

I hadn't really intended to do a Caturday post this week, but then my daughter sent me this video and I just couldn't resist. After all, the world - meaning the Internet - can't have too many cat videos, can it? Enjoy!

They have a scheme

In a week when we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, it has been depressing to watch the reaction to all this from the right-wingers. Depressing but not entirely unexpected. First of all, the right-wing media led by Fox News went into a frenzy because no Republicans or conservatives were invited to speak at the event. As often happens with this media's stories, that one was totally false. In fact, most of the names that are known as national leaders of the Republican Party were invited to attend and to speak. They all declined.    If one of them had accepted, what could he have said? After all, this is the party that has worked furiously all year, especially since the Supreme Court decision stripping part of the protections of the Voters' Rights law, to roll back the "Dream." State after state, led by Texas, has enacted draconian voter ID laws that require

Gardening for the Birds by George Adams: A review

My rating:  4 of 5 stars If you are interested in creating a habitat garden, a garden that fits seamlessly into your local environment and is welcoming to local wildlife, this is a book that can help you achieve your goal. George Adams' emphasis is upon attracting birds to the garden, but, in fact, his gardening method will also attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, small reptiles and amphibians, as well as avian visitors. It will be a place that is welcoming to them all and that is much more interesting for any humans that spend time in it. One of the most popular hobbies in the country is feeding birds. An entire multi-million dollar industry has grown up around supplying feeders and feed to the hobbyists, but putting up a bird feeder in your yard is not necessarily the best way to attract birds or to attract a wide range of species. You might wind up with nothing but House Sparrows, which is not what most people who want to watch birds in their yards are aiming for

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Cicadas

Late summer afternoons in my backyard are the Time of the Cicada. The "songs" of the male cicadas as they attempt to attract mates provide a constant background music for my outdoor activities. The males rest on tree trunks and branches and produce a periodic whine by means of two special vibrating membranes in the sides of the abdomen. The females do not sing, but they are an avid audience for the males' performance. Here in Southeast Texas we did not participate in the periodical cicada madness that occurred earlier this year in the eastern part of the country. The 17-year cicada does not occur here, although there is one that completes its life cycle in 13 years, some of which emerge every year, rather than in massive broods. Our main type of cicada, the ones that are singing in my backyard now, are called dog-day cicadas because they emerge at this time of the year. They have life cycles of 2 to 5 years.  These cicadas occur in a wide range of colors in brown

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Continuing with my summer detective fiction reading orgy, I decided to pick up on a series that had been urged on me by my husband for several years, Michael Connelly's Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch. The time finally seemed right for me to begin reading it. Harry Bosch, as all the reading world except for me probably already knew, is a Los Angeles homicide cop. He is the typical maverick that all of these heroes of detective novels seem to be. He is described again and again by his superiors as "not a team player." He may not always play by the rules but he has a strong sense of justice and he is absolutely dedicated to his own personal vision of policing.   Again like most such detectives, we learn that Bosch has an interesting and troubled backstory. His early life was spent in foster homes and institutional care. He joined the army during the Vietnam War era and wound up in Vietnam as a "tunnel rat," assigned to go into the tunne

Poetry Sunday: One Art

Losing things is something with which we are all familiar. Games. Keys. Papers. Time. Tools. Words. Various bits and pieces, detritus of our daily lives. Love. People. There is an art to losing things without losing self and the older we are, the more practice we get at that one indispensable art. One Art   by  Elizabeth Bishop The art of losing isn't hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master. Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster. I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn't hard to master. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn'

Dark and stormy - the Bulwer-Lytton competition

"It was a dark and stormy night;  the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” —  Edward George Bulwer-Lytton,  Paul Clifford  (1830) Yesterday, I blogged about Elmore Leonard's rules for good writing. Today, it seems only fair that I give equal time to the other side of the coin, so to speak. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, an early 19th century English novelist, has the reputation of having composed some of the worst fiction in English ever, as the above example of his first sentence to his novel Paul Clifford may serve to illustrate. In fact, his beginning, "It was a dark and stormy night," has become a well-worn cliche, conferring on Bulwer-Lytton a kind of immortality which perhaps his writing does not really deserve.

Leonard's Rules of Writing

When Elmore Leonard died at age 87 this week, he left behind a prodigious body of work. I noted that several of the obituaries and appreciations of him that I read referred to him as a "man of few words," certainly an ironic epitaph since he produced so many of them. Ironic but also true for he was a man who eschewed writerly flourishes. He wrote clean and spare prose, with no words wasted and that is what he advocated for other writers. In 2001, Leonard wrote a piece for The New York Times in its series called "Writers on Writing." In it he talked about his philosophy of writing and listed ten rules for writers. They are worth reviewing now as we think about Leonard's life's work and what he has meant to modern culture. Elmore Leonard's Rules of Writing 1. Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ah

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbø: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars This book did not begin promisingly for me. After being given the leeway to investigate the death of his friend and partner Ellen, Detective Harry Hole has spent months following leads and his intuition. He has become certain in his own mind that the man behind Ellen's murder as well as the burgeoning illegal arms trade in Norway is Inspector Tom Waaler, his colleague on the Oslo police force. He has even found one witness who is able to confirm at least part of his suspicions - a witness who promises to testify. But when the time comes for Harry to present his story to his boss, the witness refuses to speak. Harry is left hanging with an incredible story and practically nothing to back it up. The fact that it is the truth counts for naught. As The Devil's Star begins, he has reached the end of that process. Completely frustrated by his inability to prove his case against Waaler, Harry has been driven to drink again - literally. He has fallen

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Pokeweed

If you are a person of a certain age, you may remember the summer of 1969 when Neil Armstrong took his "giant leap for mankind" on the Moon. Around that same time, there was a song that was very popular and was getting a lot of play on the radio. It was called "Poke Salad Annie" and told the story of a poor Southern girl who picked a wild plant called pokeweed and cooked it as a vegetable. Annie, however, would have actually called her vegetable "poke salet." It is a vegetable that many poor Southerners were then, and probably still are, very familiar with. It is properly known as pokeweed ( Phytolacca americana ) and it grows wild and rampantly in the eastern United States. It is a member of a family of perennial potherbs that are native mostly in Africa and the New World. The plant's name supposedly is derived from the Algonquian word "pakon" or "puccoon" which referred to a dye plant. It is also sometimes spelled "Polk&q

The Grand Ole Opry I knew was never like this

When I was a little girl growing up on a farm in Northeast Mississippi, my family did not own a television set. In fact most of the people in our neighborhood did not own televisions. What we had was a radio and we listened to that quite a lot. It was our link to the world. One show that my parents - and, hence, I - never missed was the Grand Ole Opry, broadcast from WSM in Nashville on Saturday night. Those were the days of people like Kitty Wells, Roy Acuff, Cowboy Copas, the Louvin Brothers, the Carter Family, and, a little later, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and on and on, a seemingly endless progression of country music - REAL country music, not what goes by that name today - stars. And the songs were all about lost love, drinking, cheating, trains, honky tonkin', all the classical themes of country music. That was the Grand Ole Opry that I knew. The Opry is still there, still broadcasting on WSM, but it has changed slowly with the times and not always for t

Barbara Mertz, aka Elizabeth Peters

I was saddened to read in the Times Books section over the weekend that the Egyptologist and writer Barbara Mertz had died. Mertz, at age 85, had had a long and prolific career as a writer. In all, she wrote nearly 70 books only two of which, Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt and Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt, were published under her own name. Her career as a fiction writer began in 1966 when she used the pen name (at her agent's request) of Barbara Michaels to write The Master of Blacktower , but it was as Elizabeth Peters, a nom de plume derived from combining her two children's names, that she had her greatest success. It was as Elizabeth Peters that I got to know and love her writing. Peters wrote mysteries featuring bold and adventurous heroines, but her stories were always based on scholarly topics, usually from the world of archaeology. She was a trained Egyptologist and her most successful series was based mos

Poetry Sunday: The Peace of Wild Things

Almost forty years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the writing of a man from Kentucky named Wendell Berry. He thought that, with my interest in Nature, Berry would be a perfect fit for me. He was right. I have frequently dipped into Berry's writings over the years since then. He is a prolific writer of essays and poems, all of which have at their foundation the idea that people need to live at peace with their environment. As he wrote in 1969, "We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us." Wendell Berry has not only written in support of that assumption; he has lived his life as an example of that assumption. Now, the 79-year-old writer has been recognized for his life's work. He has been named recipient of the prestigious Dayton Literary Peac

Caturday: Kitten cuteness

Here's your kitty break from all the week's depressing news. The world may be going to hell in a hand-basket, but kittens will still be kittens. Which means they will play with just about anything. Sometimes Mom will even join in. Enjoy!

One Step Behind by Henning Mankell: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars At the heart of the several mysteries that Kurt Wallander and his team must investigate in this seventh book in the Wallander series are secrets. The victims all have secrets which make it difficult to get a grasp on the motives and reasons behind their victimhood, and, of course, the perpetrator, a serial killer, has the biggest secrets of all. He is a cipher, an anonymous man, someone that you would never notice. People look right through him and never see him. How will Wallander ever be able to find this invisible man? It begins with three young friends meeting in a nature preserve, dressed in elaborate 18th century costumes, in order to celebrate Midsummer's Eve. In the middle of their happy celebration, as they are lying on the ground, a gunman steps out from behind a tree and shoots all three in the head. He then hides the bodies in a temporary grave. Afterward, postcards start arriving from various sites around Europe informing the young peo

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars Vintage, vintage, vintage. On every page. Sometimes, seemingly, in every paragraph. For about two-thirds of this book, vintage was Sara Gran's favorite adjective. All of her characters wear vintage clothing. They all shop in vintage record shops or book stores or clothing and accessory stores. Often, they even drive vintage cars. Okay, we get the idea. It's cool to love vintage things. This is the kind of quirk that can irritate me almost beyond endurance when reading a book - the repetitive use of a word. Yes, I realize that might be perceived as petty. So sue me! It's my pet peeve and I'm sticking with it. At a certain point in the book, Gran seemed to realize what she was doing and she stopped using the word, cold turkey. Never used it again. But she found synonyms or other ways of conveying the same idea. I really liked Gran's first Claire DeWitt book which was set in New Orleans, and I had looked forward to reading this one. It

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Summer hummers

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird photographed at Hamelia patens , aka "hummingbird bush," in my backyard, August 13, 2013. Until recent years, we could be about 99.9% certain that any hummingbird that we saw in our garden would be a Ruby-throat. That representative of its family had a near monopoly on the territory of (roughly) the eastern half of the country. With the changing climate and the expanding ranges of many birds, that scenario has changed dramatically. Black-chinned and Buff-bellied hummers are now, if not common, at least possible residents in summer. We also get a variety of vagrants through here at various times throughout the year. And, during the winter months, Rufous Hummingbirds are so common as to hardly evince comment anymore. For the last couple of years, indeed, I have had hummingbirds resident in my yard twelve months of the year. The Ruby-throats show up in late March or early April and linger until November - even sometimes into December. T

Simon's Cat vs. the World by Simon Tofield: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Those who know me well know that I am a big fan of Simon's cat, the wonderful, always hungry, totally self-absorbed feline who is a composite of every cat I've ever loved. It's obvious that Simon Tofield has also known a lot of cats like the ones who have populated and enriched my life and his drawings and particularly his YouTube videos featuring the animated drawings of his cat are a source of delight to me. Imagine my pleasure, then, upon receiving this little book of cartoons as a surprise gift on my birthday a few days ago. What fun! Every page brings a smile. In addition to the hundred pages or so of his iconic cat drawings, Tofield includes at the end of the book some lessons on how to draw different kinds of cats and one on drawing squirrels, which also frequently feature in his cartoons. He makes it look so easy that even I might be able to do it. This book gets an honored spot on the table by my favorite chair so that I can refer to it

Tenth of December by George Saunders: A review

My rating: 2 of 5 stars Okay, let me confess my prejudice right up front. I am really not a big fan of short stories. There. Now I have marked myself as a Philistine. (Except, of course, the Philistines weren't. They actually had quite a highly developed and sophisticated culture, but, in the end, they were defeated, and the victors got to write the histories. Thus, the Philistines have gotten a bad rap for all the years since.) But, short stories. Perhaps my objection to them is based in the fact that I feel short-changed by them. I like to get to know fictional characters over the length of 300-400 pages and several hours of reading. If their story can be told over a period of a few pages and read in a few minutes, it just feels incomplete to me. On the other hand, maybe I'm simply lacking in imagination and sophisticated taste. In other words, maybe I'm a, an unimaginative, unsophisticated reader. When George Saunders' latest book of short stories

Poetry Sunday: The Magpies

A hat tip to   my New Zealand blogging friend, Carole , for this week's poem. It is by a New Zealand poet, Denis Glover, of whom, I confess, I had not heard. Glover died on August 9, 1980, so it's a good time to feature one of his poems and this one, it seems, is one of his most famous. It references a situation which will be all too familiar to many people in these difficult economic times, post the burst housing bubble.  The Magpies by Denis Glover When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm The bracken made their bed and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle The magpies said Tom's hand was strong to the plough and Elizabeth's lips were red and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle The magpies said Year in year out they worked while the pines grew overhead and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle The magpies said But all the beautiful crops soon went to the mortgage man instead and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle The magpies said Elizabeth is de

Caturday: Happy birthday, Maru!

Actually, Maru's birthday was back in May, but I missed it somehow, so this is a belated birthday tribute. Maru's, caregiver posted this video to show that the popular star of the internet has lost none of his charm and none of his affinity for boxes. Enjoy!

Happy birthday to me!

When I fired up the old laptop this morning and called on my friend, Google, this is what I saw. Hmmm, I thought, some famous person has the same birthday as me. Then I ran my cursor over the doodle and read, "Happy Birthday, Dorothy!" Wow! My friend Google remembered my birthday. I didn't know she/he/it cared. I guess it's true that Google really does know all my secrets.  Will birthday greetings from the NSA be next? Anyway, all of that is just to say that I'm taking a birthday break. Normal blogging will resume tomorrow...or whenever I recover from my celebration.  

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars There has been a lot of buzz in literary circles recently about whether fiction must, or should always, have likable characters. It's a valid question, I suppose, at least for some readers. I know one who swears he won't read a novel unless there's a character in it that he can like and sympathize with. He gave up on Jonathan Franzen for that reason. It's interesting that the current discussion seems to always involve the work of female writers. I don't see any critics asking the aforementioned Jonathan Franzen why he doesn't have more likable characters in his work. It's quite likely that there is an element of sexism in the question, as there seems to be an element of sexism in the assessment of most human endeavors in this country. Women are trained from the womb to be "likable" and so we expect women writers to create likable characters. The lack of a likable character, though, does not seem to have held Gilli