Thursday, March 31, 2011

Measure for Measure

by William Shakespeare
New York: Signet Classics, 1964.

When the Duke leaves Vienna, he puts a deputy, Angelo, in charge. Angelo is a bit hard-nosed, and decides to revive some of the laws that have been largely ignored by both populace and ruler. Specifically, he imprisons a man who impregnated the woman. Despite the fact that Claudio is willing to marry this woman, Angelo orders that the law be carried out and Claudio must die. Can Claudio's sister, Isabella, convince Angelo to relent?

While not one of Shakepeare's most obscure plays, Measure for Measure is also not one I had ever read for school. It does not have oft-quoted lines like Hamlet or [Romeo and Juliet, though it does still have sentiments that have found its way into our popular culture (the idea of "hate the sin and love the sinner" shows up). The title is taken from Matthew 7:1-2: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." In this case, our judge Angelo is the least sympathetic character in the play. Instead, you really feel for people like Claudio, who makes a mistake but wants to make it right as well as he can, and Isabella who truly loves her brother but is given an awful choice to save his life. I'm not sure I fully agree with the sentiments of the play, and I was a little surprised by the frank discussion of sex and prostitution (I'm not sure why, it's not like I never read Shakespeare before...). If not one of my favorites, it was still a thought-provoking read.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Joy of Keeping Score

by Paul Dickson
New York : Walker, 1996.

Do you know little about keeping score in baseball, but love the history of the sport? Do you keep score in the stands, watching TV, or listening to the radio? This book has something to offer for each. Beginning with chapters on basic score keeping and more advanced techniques, then moving into a quirky alphabetical list of fun facts, score keeping in French, presidential score keeping and more, Dickson's fifteen-year-old homage to the history and technique of keeping score still has plenty of interesting tidbits for today's fan.

My dad first taught me to keep score when my brothers were in Little League. I think he may have done this partly keep his own sanity by giving me something to do instead of ask him what inning it was or what the score was or make clover chains under the bleachers. In fact, after I started keeping my "unofficial" score book in the stands, the mothers started asking me such questions (though I'm pretty sure they left the clovers alone). When I first heard of this title, then, I thought it would be the perfect quirky book to get me geared up for baseball season (last year I read a book on umpiring; I seem to have a trend going here). In only a little over 100 pages, I added a few notations to my score keeping arsenal and learned a bit about baseball statistics and history while I was at it (my favorite anecdote involved presidential score keeping). Great reproductions of score cards of both famous and not-so-famous games are included, adding a lot of visual interest. I'm definitely passing along a recommendation to my father.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Where I'd Like to Be

by Frances O'Roark Dowell
narrated by Denise Wilbanks
New York : Random House Listening Library, p2003.

Maddie grew up happy, even though her mother left her and she didn't know who her father was. For awhile, she lived with a dear old woman she called Granny Lane, until diabetes made it impossible for her to care for a child. Now living in a home with other children from various home situations, Maddie meets the new girl, Murphy, and thinks they might become friends. She has no idea how much of an impact Murphy will have on her life and that of some of the other children in the town.

I read this story once before, but it was maybe seven years ago and I'd completely forgotten what happens. Denise Wilbanks' narration has a Southern lilt that helped me remember that the story is set in Tennessee, another detail I'd forgotten. Where I'd Like to Be perfectly captures the tensions, worries, and joys of childhood friendship as Maddie, Murphy, and their friends go to school together, play together, fight and make up. Maddie narrates so we have her perspective perfectly, while her descriptions of the others' actions give us insight into their points of view as well. In some ways, I was reminded of The Egypt Game, though the imaginative stories of these children are much closer to home, so to speak. Listening to the audio, I missed some of the details either by being distracted or because the reading was drawn out over a week, but I've made a note that I want to read it again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wise Man's Fear

by Patrick Rothfuss
Daw Books, 2011.

This is the second day of Kvothe's story. He takes up where he left off at the end of The Name of the Wind, still learning at the university and little more than a few pennies to his name. While The Name of the Wind focused on the set up and early education of Kvothe, The Wise Man's Fear presents the truth behind a series of incidents that eventually made up the legend of Kvothe. The truth itself is fantastical, of course, but perhaps a little less so that the stories of Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane - well, you get the idea.

What happens to your identity when the stories of your legendary deeds have grown up around you, and no one knows the truth anymore? Kvothe seems to grapple with some version of this question. He may not be just the simple innkeeper he masquerades as, but neither is he Taborlin the Great. Among his deeds, the thread of his search for the truth of the Chandrian who killed his parents and the Amyr continues with a shocking lack of information in the Archives and tantalizing rumor. In nearly 1,000 pages, it would be difficult not to have whole chapters and events that bored some readers, and this tome in so exception. The middle dropped out a bit for me, personally. Interspersed throughout the story of Kvothe's past are interludes with Bast, Kvothe, and the Chronicler that give us, again, a slightly different picture of who Kvothe is now. Why, as shown in The Name of the Wind for example, can he no longer use sympathy? This and more questions remain, meaning I will wait impatiently for the final installment of his story.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Name of the Wind

by Patrick Rothfuss
DAW Books (Penguin), 2008 (c2007).

Kote the innkeeper has remade himself with a small and struggling business in a small village. One day, scrael attack a man outside the town, and no one but Kote really seems to know what's going on. Meanwhile, Chronicler is coming to town looking for Kvothe, the man Kote used to be. Chronicler convinces Kvothe to tell him his story, but Kvothe agrees only to do so if he can do it properly, over three days.

This is day one of Kvothe's story, from his childhood as a traveling player of the Edema Ruh to his studies and developing abilities. If you enjoy long fantasy stories you can really sink your teeth into, this is the book for you. If you're irritated by cliffhanger endings, then this is not the book for you... at least until book 3 of the planned trilogy comes out. I reread The Name of the Wind in preparation for digging into Wise Man's Fear, since it had been nearly three years since I read the beginning of Kvothe's story. I remembered little about the story, other than becoming extremely interested as the story went on and being incredibly frustrated when the first day of storytelling was over, despite the fact that the book is over 700 pages long. Upon rereading, I was really surprised by how much I had forgotten, and am glad that I took the time to revisit The Name of the Wind. This time, I was really able to take in more details even while I fretted more over slower parts of the story. If you have the patience and inclination, this is a rewarding tale that touches on the importance of stories and storytelling. If the next two books continue in this vein, it will fast become one of my favorite fantasy series.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sermons on Sunday

Strength to Love
by Martin Luther King, Jr.
New York, Harper & Row [1963]

This collection of Martin Luther King Jr.'s sermons, published in 1963, contains sixteen messages on various topics and an essay entitled "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence," in which Dr. King describes the study and philosophy that informs his convictions. Dr. King preached these sermons "during or after the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama" (ix), and does indeed often refer to the struggle against segregation going on in that time. Instead of dating the collection, this fact puts them firmly in a specific historic moment while strikingly illustrating many universal, still-relevant truths he espouses.

That this took me a month to read should not be taken as a negative. From the first sermon, I realized that to be fully engaged with Dr. King's wisdom, intellect, and passion, I wanted to take it slowly. Even so, I rather with it were a book I owned, because I rushed at the end when the library due date sneaked up on me. I didn't always agree with Dr. King's theology, but my admiration and respect for him have only grown as a result of reading some of his sermons. I was often challenged personally and a few times the sermon I was reading was directly applicable to something else I was mulling or struggling with at the time. I would recommend those unfamiliar with Dr. King's theology and philosophy read the final essay first, as it clarified some points that I had been wondering about while reading.

And now I'm off to find more books about and by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. This book, the graphic novel I See the Promised Land, and One Crazy Summer have really worked together to pique my interest, though looking at my book stack it may be awhile before I get to it...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

by Lauren Willig
New York : Dutton, c2005.

Eloise is working on her dissertation, and she's always been fascinated with enigmas like the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, and the Pink Carnation. The identity of the first two have long been unmasked, but her hope is to come across something in the archives that will reveal the long-debated identity of the Pink Carnation. In the course of her search, a descendant of the Purple Gentian gives her unprecedented access to family papers, which contain the story of the origins of the Pink Carnation.

Most of the story, in fact, is set during 1803, when Amy Balcourt returns to France (she is half-French, half English) to try to meet the Purple Gentian and assist him in his fight against Napoleon. I am a moody reader and what I, apparently, was in the mood for when I picked up this book was pure, unadulterated fluff. Oh, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it and would probably read it again. The characters were engaging and the romance aspect of the story amusing. Don't expect to find accurate historical fiction, however. History bends to serve the purpose of the narrative in more ways than one. The plot twists were not unexpected; in fact, I'd already guessed elements of the past and present story lines far before they were made explicit in the narration. Despite these facts, it was precisely the story I was in the mood for, and I enjoyed every unbelievable minute of it.

Oh, and now I'm rereading The Scarlet Pimpernel...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Circle of Magic: Sandry's Book

by Tamora Pierce
Syracuse, NY : Full Cast Audio, p2002.

Sandry, Tris, Briar, and Daja all don't fit in, for some reason or another. Sandry's parents are dead, and she was magically hidden in a room, alone. Funny things happen to the weather when Tris gets angry, and it makes her an outcast even among orphans. Briar was called Roach until he took a chance at a new life. And Daja is the lone survivor of a shipwreck, deemed bad luck to her people. None of the four think they have any particular gifts, but all four encounter a mage, Nico, who offers them a new life at Winding Circle.

I've read a few of Tamora Pierce's books, but this is the first I've read outside of Tortall. I was surprised to find that the narrative jumped between all four characters, rather expecting that each one - Sandry's Book, Tris's Book, etc. - would focus on one of them. Instead, the story jumps between the four, while keeping a third person narrative. I found the beginning very jumpy for this reason, but once they all go to Winding Circle it flows more smoothly for me. I listened to the Full Cast Audio, with the author as the narrator and various actors as different characters, and found it well done. The cast helped me keep the characters straight, and since I never read the book before, I didn't have any preformed ideas of how they should sound. Though I don't like this one quite as well as Alanna: The First Adventure or Beka Cooper: Terrier, it was a quick read and I'll continue listening to the series on my commute this week.