May 31, 2015

a year(ish) of books ...

Well, since it may be awhile before I figure out a new way to blog with pictures now that Windows Live Writer (Microsoft blog editor) and Blogger (Google) aren't cooperating, and since I'm way overdue for a book list ...

Most recently:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - (bookclub selection) I'm not sure why it took me nearly 50 years to read this masterpiece.  Maybe it's because I had a vague knowledge of the sad ending, and I'm kinda a fan of "happily ever after", but whatever the reason was, I'm glad I got over it and finally read Anna. Tolstoy does two things I tend to hate when modern writers do the same (I mean, we're talking major literary pet peeves here):  1) he allowed the narrator into numerous characters' heads so that the first-person-ish perspective might change from one paragraph to the next; and 2) he would build up a storyline (with one group of characters; note: this is a Russsian novel, so of course, it's kitted out with about a billion characters, all with long names and shorter nicknames that you might not intuitively associate with their longer name. oy.), build that storyline right up to a suspenseful moment, and then switch to a whole different place with all different characters.  But unlike most modern writers, Tolstoy does it with panache.  And I didn't mind one bit.  LOVED.

Father Elijah by Michael O'Brien - a few years back I read Island of the World (also by O'Brien) which I counted amongst the best books I'd ever read.  Father Elijah was not my cuppa.  Maybe because "apocalyptic" literature isn't my "book language" in much the same way that fantasy genre isn't my favorite.  Or maybe I would have been let down by any modern book after having just read Anna Karenina; but, for whatever reason, this book just felt clunky, YA-ish, simplistic, and unrealistic. Don't think I'll be reading anything else in his Children of the Light series.

A Good Man is Hard to Find, a collection of short stories by Flannery O'Connor (bookclub) - LOVED.  Dark, moody, deeply ironical, certainly no happily-ever-after to be found here.  O'Connor fits a whole lot of story into a sparse number of words.  Her settings and characters, though oft called "grotesque" Southern "gothic", are authentic feeling and anything but shallowly drawn.  This isn't "feel good" reading, but it is GOOD READING.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor - a book to make your heart cry out against injustice...  (Little Dude's class is reading this right now, so I grabbed his copy when he wasn't reading).  a must read.

and now, after this most recent group of books, I feel deeply in need of something light, carefree, delightful, and full of happily-ever-after!!!

[More] Book Club selections:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - a re-read for me, and an all-time fav.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes - HILARIOUS, abeit, perhaps overly long-winded.  For me, the translation mattered.  I was not connecting to the translation by Smollett.  From the library I grabbed more selections.  I liked editions translated by both Raffel and Grossman; I decided upon Raffel.  Don Quixote is pure slapstick.  And, I found its appeal to be surprisingly timeless.  Must admit, I much more enjoyed the first half (first "book"), than the last half (second "book" - they were written 10 years apart) where I found myself skimming heavily.

The Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson by Mark Twain - short, pithy murder-mystery-trial.  'Twas good.  Best part for me: clever maxim foreshadowing each chapter's events.

Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, translated by Sheila Fisher - I can't say I really enjoyed this book, but I'm glad I read it. I used the Selected Tales edition that had the original middle-English and Sheila Fisher's modern translation side by side.  The surprise for me for this book (which was written in the 1300s, btw) was how many feminist-women's-rights issues were addressed - fascinating!

Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan - check it off the "to read" list. but I don't remember much of it.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens - started out severely snarky and funny and somewhere along the line seemingly became the melodramatic style it was formerly mocking.  it was just ok for me.  not a fav.  After our discussion, our bookclub watched the Disney version of Oliver Twist.  Don't make our same mistake - the movie was all kinds of awful and changed the story in ways that were unforgivable.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand - I have respect for Louis Zamperini and for Laura Hillenbrand's research and documentation, but .... [whispering really really softly] I didn't like this book.

YA Fairytales:

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale - meh.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine - pretty good.

Goose Girl by Shannon Hale - really good, escapist "beach" reading. (though I wasn't overly fond of the sequels in the series)

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale - this was a no brainer because I tend to really enjoy [both well-known & lesser-known] fairy tales expanded.  but I kinda hated this one.

Other modern miscellany:

The Care and Handling of Roses & How to Be an American Housewife, both by Margaret Dilloway - enjoyed.

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole - hated.

The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen - deftly told story of freed slave who becomes a union spy (based on true story)

The Giver by Lois Lowry - re-read.  super excellent still.  quietly and sparingly told narrative of future dystopian society questioning whether "safety" is a preferred value to freedom/choice.

Dreaming of Spies by Laurie King - latest in the Mary Russell series.  Absolutely LOVED.

Graphic Novels:

The Property by Rutu Modan and Jessica Cohen - a great first introduction to graphic novels. I loved seeing how the story played out visually. Loved the themes and how the possibilities overlapped between older & younger generations. My only tiny disappointment was that the story felt abrupt, too short, a little rushed, finished altogether too soon. overall: liked

Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi - (all 8 volumes!!)  LOVED.  To the moon and back.  That is, LOVED once I finally figured out HOW TO READ RIGHT TO LEFT. Firstly, figuring out back of book to front of book. Then right page before left page. And then, FINALLY (stupidly of me) right to left within the conversation bubbles - duh. it's amazing how confusing a story can be when you're not reading things in the correct order. Plus strange-ish names. Plus manga characters all looking remarkably similar until I figured out the "thing" that distinguishes each one as being that one. A truly delightful story. Two families. Baseball. Love. Middle Dude LOVED too. College Kid likes, but is yet to finish the series.

Bone by Jeff Smith - Middle Dude and College Kid both really liked this 1350 pp tome of a graphic novel and thought I might like it, too.  And maybe if I had a greater appreciation of fantasy I would.  But I don't, so I didn't.  It did have some comic moments and I certainly have appreciation for any author/artist who can tell such a lengthy story primarily thru imagery - quite a feat.

Photography books:

Life of a Photograph by Sam Abell - enjoyed.

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton - such an awesome photo project.  totally enjoyed.

May 28, 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream

It feels like the end of an era.  Our last Shakespeare with our much loved Shakespeare teacher.  Over the years, Middle Dude performed in four productions (MND-Flute/Thisbe, Merchant of Venice-Bassanio, Macbeth-Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew-Petruchio) and Assistant-Directed this year’s MND.  Little Dude performed Grumio in Taming of the Shrew last year and played Puck this year.

And, because I can’t help being all sentimental, here’s the video from Middle Dude’s first performance (he’s so tiny!! and so pretty as blond-long-haired Thisbe-snort) way back in the day in his first MND …

”If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.”  
(Puck's epilogue)

May 11, 2015

Galaxy-ography: April 2015

yet another month of phone pics … lots of butterfly action, a daytrip to Joshua Tree, and the College Kid finished his freshman year.
galaxyography apr1 galaxyography apr2 galaxyography apr3

May 6, 2015

One Second Everyday: the April 2015 edition

gym, banana bread chef, frisbee golf course in the ‘Bu, filming baby butterflies, joshua tree, Horse (at the hoops), skipping, spinning, sprinkling, movie-title-handball, gaming, drawing, dinner, walking doggies, book club (Oliver Twist), another baby butterfly, Joshua Tree, baby goslings, more gaming (I could probably make a whole 1SE of just gaming, but how boring would that be?!?), daily greeting, new book for club (Anna Karenina – so good!), practicing Puck’s lines, performing Midsummer Night’s Dream for the residents at Sea Bluffs retirement home, pretty poppies in the wind, windy shadows in Big Dude’s “office” in the garage, soaking in some vitamin D, In n Out lunch, COFFEE. snippets of life.

College Kid took over the video-making duties this month and added the neato opening and closing shots of driving thru Joshua Tree, and I’m sure this fancy bookending pleased his video-making-editing sensibilities and aesthetics.  And it turned out cool.  But, you know which “outtakes” he left out?  The entire sequence of my butterfly hatching and the cute little waddling goslings.  I guess those just aren’t manly things?

May 4, 2015

Whistler’s Mother, van Gogh’s Mother, Art Crime, Degas’ greedy heirs, and other art miscellany. All at Norton Simon Museum.


Little Dude’s class had a field trip to the Norton Simon Museum.  I was positively giddy to see that Whistler’s Mother would be visiting while we were there.  I cannot view Whistler's painting without hearing Mr. Bean in my head: "This picture is worth such a lot of money, because .... it's a picture of .... Whistler's mutha."  Whistler himself claimed that “One does like to make one’s mummy just as nice as possible.”

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Van Gogh was fond of his mother, too, and basing her portrait off a b&w photo, claimed, “I am doing a portrait of Mother for myself. I cannot stand the colorless photograph, and I am trying to do one in a harmony of color, as I see her in my memory.”  The Norton Simon placard adds that “Despite his intent to liven up her visage with his palette, van Gogh created a nearly monochromatic version – in a pallid, unnatural green.”  heh.  Green or not, his mummy does look like such a very nice lady.

van Gogh mother

Manet also painted his mother.  But Norton Simon didn’t have that painting.  Instead, there was displayed this fine (dare I say, sentimental?) portrait of his wife…

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Manet also liked to paint unsentimental images of people on the margins of society, like this Ragpicker.  Of whom the critics of the day were …. critical.  But whom I thought was awesome.   (btw, our docent was super enthusiastic. Methinks she and the students mutually enjoyed each other).

ragpicker norton simon-7

This pair of paintings caught my eye.  Probably because of the unusual tall/narrow size (each one approximately life sized) and the beautiful simple wood panel “canvas”, and the striking-ness of the images themselves.  Sharing space with Rubens and Raphaels and Rembrandts and Renoirs and Monets and Manets and VanGoghs and Matisses and Picassos (just to name a few), this pair draws relatively little interest.  Leastwise, no one was looking at them when I was.  Who would guess that this pair of paintings is right at the very center of an art crime controversy and a long-running lawsuit over legal ownership.  Long story short …Nazis confiscated Adam & Eve from Dutch art collector Goudstikker during the Holocaust.   Allied Forces recovered stolen loot and sent it back to Dutch Government, which then entered into negotiations with Goudstikker’s widow, which didn’t conclude with agreeable terms.  So the Dutch Government sold the paintings back to a Russian art collector Stroganoff-Scherbatoff, who claimed a prior right to the art due to his family owning said paintings before they were (wrongfully) seized by the Soviets (to nationalize all art held in private collections) and then sold by the Soviets in an auction to raise money  (Goudstikker was the buyer).  Stroganoff-Scherbatoff (whose family may or may not have actually owned the paintings before they were seized) sold the paintings to Norton Simon in 1971, and they have been hanging in museums for public appreciation ever since.  Goudstikker’s family is currently suing Norton Simon Museum to recover paintings. Still with me???  Here’s the question:  Who actually has the proper right to the paintings?  Norton Simon who legally purchased them from Stroganoff-Scherbatoff?  Goudstikker who legally purchased them from the Soviets who may have [wrongfully – that is, seems wrong to me, didn’t seem wrong to Soviets] seized them from Stroganoff family (or other party)?  That’s the question still to be determined.  Oh, and the 2006 appraisal valued them at a mere $24million.  This article traces the provenance more at length than I did.

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Picasso was there.  I quite liked his painting.  It’s called Woman with a Guitar.  You can totally tell, right?  No?  Here, I’ll back up.  Totally obvious now, right?  No?

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The students were all super excited to see one of the bronze casts of Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen since they had studied this particular sculpture earlier in the year.  Our docent told tales of how the critics despised and reviled the original wax version of this sculpture, and how Degas himself never considered it a fully finished piece.  He never again publicly displayed this work – or any other piece of his 150+ sculptures!; it (and they) remained stored in a closet for 40 years (perhaps was reworked a time or two over the years for possible purchase by a private collector), and wasn’t found again until after his death.  Our docent claimed Degas denied possibilities of casting it.  Of course, after his death, his heirs were in charge.  And Little Dancer was casted and can now be found in many collections internationally.  The original wax figure was purchased by Paul Mellon and gifted to the National Gallery of Art.  Despite the critics maligning his work, contemporary artists held Degas in very high esteem.  Mary Cassat is quoted as saying, “I think Degas will live better and longer by his sculptures than by his paintings. I think him a greater sculptor than painter."   And Renoir claimed Degas to be  “equal to the ancients… Who said anything about Rodin? Why, Degas is the greatest living sculptor!"  (below are Little Dancer and some of his horse sculptures)

norton simon-4little dancer norton simon-9 More Degas sculpture background can be found here, here and here.

Back to van Gogh … such a short, troubled, self-destructive life … and yet such a vast body of awe-inspiring works of art.  This is Mulberry Tree, painted from the landscape surrounding the asylum he checked himself into in 1889.

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The gardens at Norton Simon will take your breath away.  It all feels so surreally like you’ve stepped into Monet’s garden world at Giverny.  Except this garden is peppered with modern sculptures.

garden-1 little dude and rodin garden-2 garden-3 
The Norton Simon is a gem of a museum.  This was a fantastic field trip. 

May 1, 2015

Evening time, Joshua Tree

Dinner time, firing up the bbq, and still climbing rocks, of course.

evening in joshua tree-1 Watching the shadow fall over the park is a treat to behold.  Have you seen this amazing time-lapse video yet?:  More Than Just Parks – Joshua Tree.  It beautifully captures the shadow falling.evening in joshua tree-2 evening in joshua tree-3 evening in joshua tree-4 evening in joshua tree-5 evening in joshua tree-6 evening in joshua tree-7 evening in joshua tree-8 evening in joshua tree-9 evening in joshua tree-10 evening in joshua tree-11 evening in joshua tree-12 evening in joshua tree-13 evening in joshua tree-14 I love this horizon sunset rainbowing that has happened every time I’ve been at Joshua Tree.evening in joshua tree-15a evening in joshua tree-16 And we waited around in hopes of capturing some milky way goodness.  But the milky way must have been representing somewhere else, and my attempts were pretty half-hearted (brought the tripod, but never hooked my camera up to it).  These are just 30 second exposures with my camera sitting on the dash.  Without fail, a car would drive by (glaring headlights), people would swing flashlights, the car next to us would turn on lights, and in the case of the picture below, my dudes re-entered the car, thus turning on our lights. evening in joshua tree-17 evening in joshua tree-18 Thus concludes our daytrip to Joshua Tree.