Self Infliction, or the Guardians Challenge

                Sometime ago, about two five weeks I’d guess, I stumbled upon a book blog and discovered the Guardian Challenge. The Guardian is a british paper that has published a list of 1000 novels which they think are the best of the best. The idea of the challenge is to read 10 novels from the list  (1%), with at least one book from each of the seven sections (comedy, family, love, state of the nation, sci-fi/fantasy, and crime). A day spent on the library’s website and a short jaunt out to pick up my my holds and I was in business. My choices were pretty random, and I only checked out five to begin with, but I thought I’d review some of them for you just for fun (Photos courtesy of Amazon). 

A Room With A View by E.M. Forster
Set partly in Italy and Partly in the English countryside, this book really made me want to travel. It was enjoyable to read, with lots of description and digressions-which-were-not. That is, a lot of the book wasn’t actual dialogue but a summary of dialogue written in a general way as if it were unimportant to the plot. Plot is an interesting word to use in accordance with this book because one didn’t get the feeling that the book was about the plot. The first half seemed a commentary on the rules of propriety; though the author never says a word against the rules, the reader cannot help thinking some of them just make things worse. The second half was definitely more story-oriented, but it too makes the characters seem like a backdrop for something else. Some idea or philosophy that you can’t quite put your finger on. I think this is why I didn’t like this book. I mean, I liked reading it, but I didn’t like it. I prefer a story, I suppose, and I couldn’t shake the vague feeling that this book wasn’t about the story. The characters were slightly alien to me too. Sometimes they did things that seemed completely out there. Their reactions to certain events made no sense to me. (Cecil thanking Lucy was particularly odd). I’d recommend this book, because it was enjoyable to read (I’ll probably read it again. Eventually), but I wouldn’t buy it. 
                               Silas Marner by George Eliot 

                    After reading the backcover of this book I realized I had seen a movie remake of it, with Steve Martin no less. I’d advise all people interested to read the book first and then watch the movie – The book needs all the suspense you can give it. Like Forster’s book, this one’s plot was pretty simple. When I say that I do not mean to say it was bad or to otherwise disparage its worth,  I’m merely trying to explain what it feels like reading it. Most of the “adult” books I’ve read have been from the sci-fi/fantasy genre and involve an intricate weaving of plot, setting, and characters. This book weaves those things together too, but the whole feel is simplicity. The historical setting, for instance, was understated and would have totally gone over my head if I had not been reading an edition which mentioned it over and over agin in the forward. 
              The book is only 176 pages long, but even so it has very few actual events and quite a lot of character-oriented introspection. There is a whole chapter of country dialogue, complete with accent and unique grammar structure, which has no effect on the plot. Even the men who are talking are little more than names, so that it is more an insight into village thought than into the minds of specific people in a specific village. Because there is not much dialogue, and even less action, I found it hard to care for most of the characters. For all that, the book was okay. Rather like oatmeal, neither overwhelmingly bad nor astoundingly good, but neutral with overtones grayness. But every now and then there would be a sentence that made me smile. I especially loved this one:
“In that moment the mother’s love pleaded for painful consciousness rather than oblivion –  pleaded to be left in aching weariness, rather than to have the encircling arms benumbed so that they could not feel the dear burden.”

Hero…. or Hopeless

“Hold on,” he said, stopping the car, “I’ll have to open that door for you.”

“Oh. It’s child-locked.” I said, simply, as I stared at the door, hoping it would reveal it’s secrets.
“Well, kind of.” He replied , opening the door for me to hop out of. “It’s to keep people in  who don’t want to come quietly.” 
I nodded. It made sense for a police car. 
   I finally got my bike back today. It has been chained up for two weeks, but since I’m going home I kind of need it. There’s no day like the last day to visit the local police station and see if they have a bike-chain snipper. I wish I could’ve gotten a picture of those babies. They were probably as long as my arm is from the shoulder to the fingers, and the head, the cutting part, was a little bigger than my hand. They were huge, and they cut through the plastic and braided metal of my chain easily enough. At least, it looked easy when the young policeman did it. 
           My next post will be from home concerning home (hopefully with pictures). I’l leave you with the knowledge that I have started a new sock project: pink and brown jaywalkers. 

The Heat Goes on…..

It has been hot since Friday. Hot and bright. Glaringly bright. The kind of brightness that gives you a smirk and goes “Hah, don’t you wish you had your camera so you could capture the flowers, the clouds, the sunsets, the breath taking beauty of it all?” To scorn the glare and enjoy the sun I checked a volume of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories out of the library. They are petty little works, I suppose, with none of the lasting importance of Shakespeare or  Pope, but they are amusing. And they have had a impact on us, you know. Though it is dying out, there is still the “Ask Jeeves” search engine to be traced back to that perfect essence of a gentleman’s man. There is charm in Wooster’s absurd slang, in Jeeves obvious superiority, in the insecurity of their bachelorhood. There is also a quaint sort of charm in the utter stupidity of all the characters, excluding Jeeves of course. Jeeves is rather like Sherlock Holmes. Your first impulse is to sourly wish a woman into his life to show him what’s what, but you come to your senses in time. Neither of these men could be themselves if they were not bachelors. Whatever makes a man go down that road, these two men have it in spades. Perhaps it is an unfortunately  accurate perception of their own superiority. 

But I must stop with books, this post is dedicated to the letter ‘G’ and so to ‘G’ I must turn. Grapes, graves, gowns, and games. The latter, I think, would make an excellent topic. I do love a good game. What is a good Game? 
  1. It Engages the Player: this is why goldfish is not usually regarded as a fun game. There is neither strategy or action, just repetition. Unless you know some really groovy people to play with you will be bored out of your skull. Which brings me to the next point
  2. It Creates an Avenue for Interaction: This nixes out solitary and most computer games, which are engaging but rather unfulfilling unless you regularly discuss them with other players. Don’t get me wrong, even if you don’t say a word to your chess opponent you are still interacting. Playing games does not have to be just another way of being social, but it should allow you react to outside stimuli. 
  3. It is Challenging: This is not an absolute criteria. Some games are perfect but not challenging at all. However, the best games make you feel as if you are doing something, even if it isn’t super hard. Better games leave the difficulty up to the skill of your opponent. Thus, chess is better than trivial pursuit, which is better than Sorry. 

Focus

         I suppose it had to be addressed sooner or later, but I am not good at focusing. I get distracted pretty easily if I’m doing something even slightly tedious. For years this has led to late nights spent throwing myself into work that I just could not concentrate on before. Last minute panic was the only thing that could force me to work on something. This has, sadly, not really improved as I’ve aged, but I think there is still hope for me. Maybe. I’m starting to desire a more peaceful, thoughtful approach to my work. Before I didn’t really care so much as long as I got it turned in, but now I really want to feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. 
            I’m starting to experiment with  strategic withdrawal, which I think might be necessary to prevent complete attention loss. If I accidentally start looking at this and that then, before you know it, whole days go by before I resume work. However, if I purposely go “okay, work for this much time and then take a break to do X” or “Finish this much and then give yourself  so-and-so amount of time to rest the noggin,” then I won’t be able to wander off. I’ll have stopped working, but only to regroup. This is the difference, I hope, between a retreat and a desertion. It’s still in experimental stages, like I said. In fact, right now is one of my breaks. Eventually I hope to mature to the point where my discipline is high enough that I can enjoy work for its own sake, and not merely to get it done. Until then, I just hope I can break the midnight habit.* 

       Here’s an unrelated musing: I saw a funeral home the other night, out of the corner of my eye. I stared at it as I was driven by, its sign waving in the wind. It struck me, who would want their name on such a sign? Who would want their name used for a funeral home? Offices of law I can understand, but to have you name swinging in front of a place for the dead; every time I saw it  I would feel as if I were looking at my tombstone.  

* Well, okay, I’ll admit that it has been a while since work has kept me up until Midnight per se, but that’s really just splitting hairs, isn’t it?  

Easter

“Christ the Lord has Risen today, Alleluia!”

                      Every year must have a first something, and this is my first Easter away from home. My first Easter without an egg hunt. My first Easter, in almost five years, without lamb. Lamb, mashed potatoes, and asparagus. The lamb is rubbed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary before being grilled. The grilling leaves the skin almost burnt and oh, so good. The mashed potatoes require a KitchenAid. The boiled spuds are placed reverently into the silver mixing bowl and a stick of butter is added while the blade whirls around, making fluffy, white mountains. Then milk, thick and creamy, is poured in, until the whole bowl is full of thick, creamy, smooth, satiny potatoes that melt in your mouth. Can you tell that the best spot to be on Easter day is the kitchen? The whole family hangs around, hovering over the chief, who, it so happens, is my father. Taste-tester is the most treasured position, and the favored one must endure, or bask in, the jealous, coveting stares of the unlucky majority.  
                   But, as I said, this year I didn’t get to share in the Easter feast. I biked over to the closest church here instead. What a site I must have been, decked out in my Easter finest, my cream rain coat keeping the wind off. Peddling along on my bright blue bicycle. Most Sundays I go to church with friends, not only because of the enjoyable fellowship, but also for the much more practical reason that I do not own a car. Naturally, as my friends were spending time with their families this Easter, I had to celebrate with a closer church. During the service, as the preacher preached of joy, a man came out a painted a picture. There isn’t really a word to describe what it was like, not a church flavored word anyway. Cool, interesting, neat-o. These make it sound like entertainment only, but I really do think it added something deeper to the service, I just can’t place my finger on what. Maybe it was a sense of awe, a taste of wonder. I have heard of people using art during church to get a point across, but this was the first time I had ever seen anything like it. I guess I lost something old and gained something new this Easter.


                   Have I shown you this picture already? It’s of the church grave in Japan. It’s rather interesting actually, not something you’d ever really think of here in America. But in Japan people place their ashes in a family shrine, or grave. Every New Years, and at other times during the year too, depending on the depth of belief, families across Japan go and pray to their ancestors at these graves. Naturally, if you’re a Christian, the idea of your family members praying to you is slightly disturbing (If you’re a Christian and this idea is not disturbing I don’t know what to make of you). To circumvent this unholy problem, the church in Hikari has it’s own tomb where its members can put their ashes after they die, safe in the knowledge that they are not going to be part of some later idolatry. It is still strange to think how different life for a Japanese Christian can be. Can you imagine your mother disowning you for changing your beliefs? Can you imagine it having an impact on where you will be buried?