Category: Books

For My Future Spawn: History

“History: gossip well-told.”
– Elbert Hubbard

Hands down my favorite family holiday was trekking along this thing. Glean from this confession what you will.

In case you forgot, I love history.  I find it fascinating.  I joyfully memorized dates in school and wrote fantastic papers.  Not that I had a hope or prayer of doing otherwise – my family’s library is a massive thing divided into Theology, my father’s collection of Modern Library first editions, classics, children/young adult literature, and history with an emphasis in the development of Western Culture.  Our family vacations are not to theme parks as much as hiking Hadrian’s Wall, Normandy, Colonial Williamsburg, museums, castles, palaces, and ruins (true story about how all four kids, aged 20, 14, 12, and 10 climbed all over a Roman fort that was partially submerged in a stream looking for the carved symbols hidden at the base meant to protect it – which may or may not have been relief carvings of genitalia – because it was something we had never seen before in our many adventures in various Roman piles of rocks) .  We are DORKS.

And everyone knows the best way to grow a dork is to start young!  Ergo I bring you, Horrible Histories: a humorous, outrageous, and engrossing (emphasis on the “gross”) medium for bringing history to the masses.  “It’s history, with all the horrible bits left in.”  Timelines, explanations, and facts interspersed with tidbits of the unusual, gory, or just plain bizarre.  And Britishly funny!

Titles such as The Savage Stone Age (Horrible Histories), Villainous Victorians (Horrible Histories), and The Vicious Vikings and the Measly Middle Ages (Horrible Histories) virtually speak for themselves.  Illustrated by the delightful Martin Brown and others, there are puns, jokes, incredible stories, side-splitting captions, and all manner of fun.  I’d recommend them to anyone who wants to stuff their kids’ heads with something without the child catching on to the parent’s nefarious scheme to make them enjoy getting smarter.  You can buy them on the cheap, often starting as low as $.01 on Amazon, I already own a sizable (and growing) collection that still makes me laugh.

It’s history, almost as if told by Monty Python.  Oh, I own that too.
Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives

Liberal. Education

“A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.”
– George Santayana

We here at Small Dog Syndrome got some fun  emails from a previous post (the post about things one’s kids ought to know.  Not the post about beating one’s kids.  Very different).  And so, because it’s summer and I need something to do on my lunch breaks and weekends, I think I’ll start up a bit of a series on the subject (again, about what’s one’s children out to be exposed to, not domestic violence.  Just so we’re clear).  Nothing formal, and certainly not organized; that’s just not the way we do things around here.  Let’s think of it as an ongoing project that will intermittently interject into our regularly scheduled reading.

Do you have something to share with the class?

I’m opening this up for discussion as well, be free with your comments, accolades, scathing rebukes towards my taste, etc.  And by all means, add your own suggestions!  I’m looking for books, movies, TV shows, vacation spots, and the like, all I ask is that you keep it culturally-minded.  Meaning while Spongebob Squarepants may have been your favorite drivel growing up, I’m looking for the quality things that you’d truly want your future spawn to know of.  More importantly, why.

The Fighting Quail

“Remember, kids, the Quail Call is not a toy!”
– Quailman (Doug)

Once upon a time, Margot began working in the university library in the Children/Young Adult  Literature section.  I take some credit for helping her get this job as one of the questions they asked her was, “What books are you currently reading?”  She responded with a book I’d lent her, entitled “I, Lucifer” (click for Amazon link).  Which, as you may have guessed, is not a children’s book, but absolutely fantastic.  But apparently she was the only person who didn’t say something like, “The Berenstain Bears,” “The Magic Schoolbus,” or “The Three Little Kittens,” and she got the job because of individuality (not to mention brilliance.  She’s annoying like that).

And I’m so glad she did because that meant she could share this gem (which pops up on library computers when an error occurs) with us!

See? Doesn't this make you happy?

I personally think we should set this up on all campus servers (particularly the parking system and its annoying offspring computer problems).  Wouldn’t seeing this make your technical issue so much less aggravating?  I think all universities should offer some sort of equivalent, though some mascots should not be used (such, as Pinto pointed out, a duck).

Also, the Fail Quail unintentionally reminds me of my youth:

Quail Man

The Merry Month of May (or, Geeks Unite!)

“Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”
– Douglas Adams,
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This is clearly the month for geeks, nerds, Avatards, etc.  Earlier in the month we were able to enjoy Star Wars Day, otherwise known as “May the Fourth, be with you.”  Now personally I’m a fan of the first three episodes (by which I mean IV-VI) and not so much the second trilogy (by which I mean I-III).

And this mind-warping chronology brings me nicely to today, which is Towel Day, in honor of Douglas Adams’ trilogy-in-five-volumes – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

This is a fan-holiday I can get behind, owning, as I do, the entire “trilogy” as well as (my preferred) Dirk Gently books, and The Salmon of Doubt, a collection of Adams’ speeches, essays, quips, and short stories.  Apart from a wonderful absurdist, he was a fantastically intelligent and clever man who despite his love for technology, was not limited to science fiction.  My personal favorite is the story of Genghis Khan who storms into Europe “so fast he almost forgot to burn down Asia before he left.”  Oh!  And God’s final message to his creation: “We apologize for the inconvenience.”

My parents are also fans.  They own the original radio series on cassette tape (which I may or may not have purloined when I went to university – sorry Mum and Dad!) which I listened to from a young age.  I’ve got them on MP3 now and they still make me laugh.

So yes, I know where my towel is.  Which reminds me.  J. and I need to do laundry rather badly.  So long and thanks for all the fish!

“O, that I had but followed the arts!”

“Thereby hangs a tale.”
– William Shakespeare

Long ago, when J. was still a bachelor (side note, we’ve been officially together for two years now…weird) he lived with Scotticus, Cakes, Bear, Jaime, and Jazz.  They’re still very much around in our lives.  I affectionately refer to them as the Other Women when J. goes off to play basketball, get hamburgers, and generally boy about. 

One of my favorite memories of Jazz was one day hanging out at their flat.  I had glanced around and discovered that they had made a home entertainment system supported almost entirely by books.  I was remarking on a tome of Shakespeare upholding a television speaker when Jazz explained the reasoning.
“Girls will come over, see all these thick books everywhere, and think we’re all really intellectual.”
“Not if you’re using them as furniture, dear,” I replied laughingly.

To be a paper weight, or not be a paper weight, that is the question.

However, while making a V-day present craft for Marie (sidenote the second: Marie, beloved, would you send me a picture so I can brag shamelessly about it?) I noticed that the canvas had bowed annoyingly in the middle.  And the only thing I could think of that would be heavy enough to fix it, were Shakespeare and a dictionary.

Apologies, Jazz.  I now suspect you of secret genius.

Creative. Writing (Pt. II)

“All writers are copycats, unless they’re bad writers.  Then they’re plagiarists.”
– My writing professor
 
 
 A sample of my writing classes offerings from last night. 
You called?

1) The Unintended Romance:  one person turned in a piece that had a paragraph including the words “the sun delicately kissing her skin,” “white teeth flashed in his olive-skinned face,” and “thick muscles and strong torso flexed as he picked her up.” 

The teacher asked us all to review it and determine what was wrong with the paragraph.  Some people said that some alliteration threw them off, other said it was an imagery technique.  I said it sounded more like ripped-bodices-and-heaving-bosoms writing than what she was going for (a murder mystery).  It’s good she and I get along because half of the class gasped/blushed and murmured things like, “Oh dear!” while she burst out laughing.

This seems...oddly familiar...?

2)  Teen Angst:  Another girl (a rather rude one who has to have the last word in every group review we do, and likes to toss her editing experience in people’s teeth) turned in a piece that took place in a high school science class between a completely uninteresting girl and a boy acting strangely and awkwardly, seeming tormented by a secret pain.  My pal (the bodice ripper) piped up immediately and said one word: Twilight?”

The whole room dissolved into hysterics and debate.  Some people tittered quietly to themselves while one or two started roaring about how amazing the Twilight series was and everyone else wouldn’t know great literature if it smacked them in the face!  Others countered that it was adolescent fiction and no more, while some snapped that young adult writers have produced some first-rate literature, though not Twilight they hurried to say.  The writer was mortified, while our teacher seemed secretly delighted.

After. Math.

“The Christmas season has come to mean the period that the public plays Santa Claus to the merchants.”
– John Andrew Holmes

Black Friday is not really something I participate in, I’ll occasionally venture out (closer to noon than midnight) but it’s no different for me than any other weekend shopping except the people are ruder and all have a look of unmasked panic flitting across their faces. 

But.  This year J. and I were tipped off early to Amazon.com’s sales.  BIG mistake!

I can quit any time I want!

– Five DVDs
-Eight books
– 80% of my inbox is shipping emails from Amazon
– Two packages received already
– One sore clicker finger
– Fourteen other books “Saved To Buy Later”
– Six squeals of excitement while clicking through site
– Nine heart-rending decision about what to buy and not buy
– Four times I’ve checked my shipping status since breakfast

I Could Never Be a Librarian…

“I cannot live without books.”
-Thomas Jefferson

We bought (another) bookshelf some time ago but just got it secured to a wall in our office a couple nights ago.  It was nine thirty in the evening and we were both exhausted, but I pulled almost all our books out to reorganize them to use all that glorious additional space we’d acquired.  Not as easy as you might think.

Should I sort alphabetically?  If so, by title or author?  What about by color of book cover?  Size?  Hardback vs. Paperback?  Topic?  Gah!  What was a bibliophile to do?

toomanybooksI eventually decided on chronology, starting with Homer, Virgil, and Beowulf (remember how I majored in European Studies with an emphasis on literary history?…) working my way through Geoffrey of Monmouth, Dante, and Petrarch, and got on rather well until I butted into the sixteenth century.  I stared down at my copy of The Other Boleyn Girl and then frowned at the space it should go for a while before setting it down in a new pile.  I could not, in good conscious, wedge it between Sir Thomas More and John Donne.  I didn’t even get a full century ahead of that before I ground to a halt again.  Rousseau, Voltaire, Manon Lescaut, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and…The Scarlet Pimpernel?  Hm, a better fit than the Boleyn Girl, but still didn’t seem quite right. 
“Are these supposed to go in order of subject matter or when they were written?” I demanded of J. as he obligingly carted books around the flat for me. 
“I have no idea what you’re doing,” he returned, disappearing into the office with my anthologies, essays, and critical works.
“Me neither!”

The same problem with C. S. Lewis, as well as the fact that I have works from him that fall both in fantasy and theology, neither genre had previously featured.  I tucked The Chronicles of Narnia with my science fiction, Lois McMaster Bujold and Douglas Adams…and then realized I had no idea where any of them should go chronologically!  “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” didn’t necessarily come after post-modernism in my mind.  And what about all my academic books, J.’s philosphy and textbooks? 

I finally got it all sorted, but with an additional bookshelf not all of the available space is used.  Which means of course a run to the campus bookstore (hurrah for employee discounts!) and Barnes and Noble is in order!

Addict Takes Another Hit

“What did you find?”
“Treasure!”
-Aims and C.

In addition to other things, it’s also Graduation Week here on campus.  Having done the cap and gown thing last August, you’d think this wouldn’t mean much for me.  Au contraire.  It also means that the university bookstore is having a sale and that it’s payday tomorrow.  A rather lethal combination!  I spent my entire lunch break wandering around the store looking for deals and even managed to show remarkable restraint.  My arms were full of nearly a dozen books at one point that I was covetously hording but I managed to get a grip and narrow it down to a very sensible three.  The Histories by Herodotus, because even though I worship at the shrine of the Father of History, I’ve been content to read this gem in my mother’s classical library on visits home.  No more!  In the same vein I got a copy (finally) of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  The last one I don’t like to admit but I will, Little Women.  It was my go-to-feel-good-book when I was younger so I grabbed it for old times sake (and it was less expensive than either the Writings of John Donne or the T.S. Elliot anthology I wanted).  All for under $20!

I’m honestly trying really hard to read more modern literature and expand my interests, but I keep going back to older classics.  I think I just have to accept my status as a book nerd.