March 15, 2017

The Latest Batch of Books...

Lady Susan by Jane Austen - enjoyed this novelette (told cleverly thru a series of letters) and loved the movie adaptation, Love & Friendship, which brilliantly captured the snarky wit of Austen in this story.  Kate Beckinsale was perfection as Lady Susan.

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey  - true story (usually I'm not enamored by non-fiction, but ...), delightful portrayal of what-life-looks-like in this large family.  Funny, insightful, and full of grace and love and quirky shenanigans.

Beloved by Toni Morrison - all the time and narratorial shapeshifting genius of Virginia Woolf, all the creepy hauntingness of Henry James' Turn of the Screw, and one thousand layers of devastation.

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay - this was my point-counterpoint book to Beloved.  I would read Beloved til the heaviness overwhelmed me and then I would pick up this piece of fluffy lightness.  Then another chapter or two of Beloved.  Rinse repeat til both books finished.  In terms of Reay books, Bronte Plot > Emily Price > Dear Mr. Knightley> Lizzie & Jane, in my humble opinion, of course.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin - this book is almost the polar opposite of a Hallmark Christmas RomCom movie.  This is the book that would happen if Sinatra's song "I Did it My Way", feminism, and the late 1800s collided.  Only sophisticated.  And no happily ever after (duh).

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne duMaurier - (bookclub) reread.  This book is totally, completely, ideal for lively bookclub discussion!!

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante: (for the record, and just my opinion, the titles all brilliantly capture the essence of the individual books, and the cover art bears NO RESEMBLANCE WHATSOEVER to the stories unfolding in the books)


My Brilliant Friend  - slow paced, violent childhood, poverty, teenage angst, "gang" warfare in the 'hood, multi-layered-complex-friendship, this intro novel frames the entire series, and the jarringly brief ending shows a marriage (that likely lasts a lifetime) over before it begins (slight spoiler: setting the "flavor" for the rest of the story, endless disappointments over and over again).  The trend of Elena being a user and Lila being a giver begins in this first novel.

The Story of a New Name  - ummm, women making bad decisions.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay  - ach. gah. bang-my-head-against-a-wall.  this volume is mostly Elena.  And Elena is narcissistic, arrogant, painfully unaware of her true self, constantly misunderstanding the motivations of her "best friend", and a completely unreliable narrator.  In short, Elena is a selfish woman with a hot temper who continues to make terrible decisions; it's painful to be in her brain.  When Lila is missing from the story, the story is not worth following.

The Story of the Lost Child  - Lila is back.  So, of course, is Elena.  Their lives and families overlap again.  Our narrator continues to see herself and others (especially Lila) wrongly til the very end (with a few worthwhile moments when she properly sees herself/Lila and honestly see/acknowledges her own jealousy & feelings of inferiority).  Quite honestly, this was a painful slog thru nearly 1800 pages.  Very little happy.  Very little closure.  Very little likeability.  Thus not surprising at nearly the end to read the punchline: "Only in bad novels people always think the right thing, always say the right thing, every effect has its cause, there are the likable ones and the unlikable, the good and the bad, everything in the end consoles you."  If indeed that is Ferrante's philosophy of what a "bad novel" is, and her belief is that a "good novel" is the opposite, then The Neapolitan Novels are indeed "good" by her definition.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - (bookclub)  Confession: Dickens is not my favorite author.  He's not even close.  That confessed, I quite liked Christmas Carol; I quite despised Oliver Twist.  A Tale of Two Cities falls somewhere in the middle for me.  Its first sentence/paragraph - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..." - and its last sentence/paragraph - "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." - are amongst the best in literature.  But I had to suspend my disbelief so many times - on par with The Count of Monte Cristo - for all the overlapping "circumstances."  Dickens' style in this book seems much less extraneously "wordy" than his others works, more "action-packed", more simple and elegant (which I quite appreciated in several sections), less snarky, but every bit as filled with thinly-developed "stereotype" characters.  I'm glad I read it, but I won't be sad if I never read it again.  This Schmoop youtube summary is Funny.


The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman - I very much liked parts of this book; and I very much disliked some parts of this book.  But first the likes ... in my personal literary universe, this is an engaging page-turner.  The writing is good.  In many ways the narrative reminded me of a book I read long ago, A Simple Plan by Scott Smith.  Both books are about the fragility of morality, but from different angles.  A Simple Plan shows the domino-effect of one seemingly "unharmful" lie steam-rolling into a lifestyle of ever greater sin and immorality.  The Light Between Oceans, however, shows how one [large, egregious] lie can eat away at an otherwise honorable man ... "You could kill a bloke with rules, Tom knew that. And yet sometimes they were what stood between man and savagery, between man and monsters..."  Soon after the lie is enacted, I "screamed" in a text to a friend (who had demanded I read this book): "Too high a price to pay.  TOO HIGH A PRICE.  I'm getting all itchy scratchy. She asked her husband to die to his honor. To be who is isn't. To lie. Forevermore.  Everything's going to break.  This cannot end well."    So, anywhoo, all of that is very good.  The only thing that I didn't like about the book is the same thing that I don't really like about Charles Dickens or Alexandre Dumas: the unbearably unlikely piling on of circumstances, the need to suspend disbelief due to the unrealistic, never-would-happen-in-real-life circumstances, the need to release myself from the aggravations of "drama porn" to enjoy the story regardless.  And so I did, and I did.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - (bookclub) You know how you can read the same book at different times in your life and think/feel differently about it?  I did not like The Great Gatsby the first time I read it (high school? college?).  Now that I'm older and more widely read and have lived some life ... I still don't like it.  It *is* beautifully written.  It *is* layered and complex and ironic and insightful.  But I feel the same way at the end of Gatsby as I do at the end of any Hemingway book:  EMPTY, disheartened, cynical.  And truly, I don't need even one more thing to make me feel cynical (hello, current state of the nation and politics).   This line (even coming from a not-necessarily-reliable-narrator) pretty much sums up a bunch of the book for me:  "It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."

Reading along with Circe Institute's Close Reads podcast/bookclub...
Everything that Rises Must Converge - short story by Flannery O'Connor
Close Reads podcast:  https://www.circeinstitute.org/podcasts/close-reads
Close Reads Facebook discussion group:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1692179291092203/

Greenleaf - short story by Flannery O'Connor
Close Reads podcast:  https://www.circeinstitute.org/podcast/close-reads-42-greenleaf
Awesome blog posts unpacking the "layers" of Greenleaf ...
http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/2014/09/short-story-analysis-greenleaf-by.html
http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/2014/10/short-story-analysis-greenleaf-by.html






March 2, 2017

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

This, my friends, is not your garden variety sand.  It is gypsum sand.  Miles and miles of gypsum sand – 275 square miles, to be precise.  And gypsum sand is … glorious.  I’m not new to sand dunes; we Kellers have been wowed by the Imperial Sand Dunes in SoCal a time or twoDog Dude has been wowed, too.  I quite like Sand Dunes (albeit, in not-hot weather).  But after visiting White Sands, I’m quite aware that I  LOVE gypsum sand.  It has the neatest texture.  It remains cool to the touch on even the hottest day.  It’s easier to climb (the gypsum sand bunches together almost like that expensive moldable sand you can buy for crafts; it doesn’t slide away under you like regular sand).  Because it’s easier to climb, one is encouraged to sled down the hills, again and again and again.  Which we did.  And when I say “we”, I mean Julie’s girls.

The neato picnic area where we had our yummy pizza leftovers…

white sands-1white sands-2white sands-3

After lunch, we drove further on and parked in the equestrian lot …

white sands-4white sands-5white sands-6white sands-7white sands-8white sands-9

Sand as far as the eye can see…

white sands-10white sands-11white sands-12white sands-13

Wipeout!

white sands-14white sands-15white sands-16

(ps. all images wherein I’m pictured, but my arms aren’t extended in front of me, are credited to: Julie Rivera)

white sands-17white sands-18

(pps.  to add a little “zip” to our slides, we waxed the bottom of these plastic disks)

white sands-19

If you’ve ever wondered why photographer are so sore the day after a photoshoot, this is why:  the photographer low-squat + chimp, expertly demonstrated by Julie …

white sands-20white sands-21white sands-22white sands-23white sands-24white sands-25white sands-26

Oh hey, there’s that squat maneuver again … (and above, I’m grabbing my 1-second-everyday video footage)

white sands-27white sands-28white sands-29white sands-30white sands-31white sands-32white sands-33white sands-34

It probably goes without saying, but we all had a really great time at White Sands. 

(ppps.  I highly recommend visiting White Sands on a cloudy day like this one.  I think I would have found a sunny day here to be blindingly bright and eye-squinty.)

February 27, 2017

Carlsbad Caverns National Park via El Paso

A week ago I had the great pleasure of traveling out to El Paso to spend the weekend adventuring with Julie Rivera and her super-fun daughters.  Our first day we high-tailed it out of town, up the highway, and into New Mexico to venture deep down into Carlsbad Caverns.  And, wow.  So worth the drive.  An astoundingly, unbelievably, immensely other-worldly destination.  You drive through the middle of seemingly nowhere, having no idea (from outward appearances) what lies below you.  And what lies below you is … VAST.  Approximately 300 limestone caves VAST.

carlsbad caverns-1carlsbad caverns-2carlsbad caverns-3

The super neato bonus of adventuring with a fellow photographer is that you both end up in some of the pictures (grin).  This is the amphitheater just outside the natural entrance to the cave.  From this theater, during part of the year, you can observe the evening exits and morning return of 400,000 bats.  Yes, bats, whose daily flight patterns first alerted teenage cattle rancher Jim White to the presence of this enormous cave.  He’s reported to have said, “... any hole in the ground which could house such a gigantic army of bats must be a whale of a big cave.” 

carlsbad caverns-4carlsbad caverns-5carlsbad caverns-6carlsbad caverns-7

And thus we begin the descent, a 750’ descent, via switchback after switchback after switchback.  The hike down from the natural entrance is … spectacular.  And “down” is my favorite kind of hike. 
carlsbad caverns-8

carlsbad caverns-9carlsbad caverns-10carlsbad caverns-11carlsbad caverns-12carlsbad caverns-13

These next three pictures are the last bits of natural light in the caverns.  From there on out, it is DARK, illuminated only by artificial sources.  And my pictures do none of the splendors of the cave justice.  Not even a little bit.

carlsbad caverns-14carlsbad caverns-15carlsbad caverns-16carlsbad caverns-17carlsbad caverns-18carlsbad caverns-19carlsbad caverns-20carlsbad caverns-21carlsbad caverns-22carlsbad caverns-23carlsbad caverns-24carlsbad caverns-25carlsbad caverns-26carlsbad caverns-27

Can I just say?  An elevator that effortlessly transports you quickly up 750’ of elevation is all kinds of wonderful?  It is.  Truly.  What a great day!carlsbad caverns-28