Thursday, August 30, 2007

Book lust

I've recently finished a tour of twentieth century literature, inspired by Nancy Pearl's book Book Lust. What follows is a brief—I'm trying to hold myself to three or fewer sentences per —impression of each book. The colored type is my way of rating the books I read. Green means Hated it, red: Just OK Blue: Liked it Purple: Loved it, definitely reread. An author's name in pink type means I want to read more of his or her work.
Edit: As I write this, I'm realizing I've forgotten a lot about what I read. I wish I'd kept a running review as I read.
100 (or so) Good Reads, Decade by Decade
Henry James' The Golden Bowl--Unreadable!
Mark Twain's The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg-- A collection of essays and stories. Not Twain's best.
G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday--Mix of suspense and philosophy. I can't remember it very clearly.
Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks--The ultimate comfort literature. I love the Germans!
Upton Sinclair's The Jungle--You'll never see sausage the same way again.
Miles Franklin's My Brilliant Career--Edgier than you'd expect from the picture of the proper Victorian girl on the cover.
Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio--Small town boy/man caught between his ambitious father and his mother, whose one fear is that he'll turn into a Striped Shirt Asshole.
D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers--Coal miner's son with demanding mother and ninny girlfriend. I didn't love this as much as most people seem to.
P.G. Wodehouse's Psmith in the City; Leave it to Psmith--P.G. Wodehouse is the bomb. Funny stuff, if you like eccentric British aristocrats.
John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps--Classic suspense novel. Very brief; must see movie in order to refresh my memory.
E.O. Somerville's The Irish R.M.--Tally ho! Endless depictions of riding horses, buying horses, looking at horses, talking about horses and little else.
E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case--Detective story, but apparently not very exciting since it left absolutely no impression on me.
Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front--Sad. A young German soldier on the front in WWI.
E.M. Forster's A Passage to India--The movie wrecked it for me, a bit. Still, I love Forster and I like books about India, so how could I go wrong with this?
Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy--Very long. Based on a real-life murder case in upstate NY.
Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes--The original blonde joke. The brunette gets all the good lines.
Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway--Virginia Woolf isn't so scary after all.
Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa--This book is such a classic, I was expecting an engaging portrait of life in Samoa. Instead, it reads like the dullest textbook imaginable. Huge disappointment.
Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years--Apparently, the 1920's was not a good decade for American Literature.
Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain--Excellent, but major time commitment and the last 300 pages leave you dizzy with their intellectual challenge.
Pearl Buck's The Good Earth--China...something something. I think I have alzheimer's.
John Dos Passos's 1919--I know I liked it, but can't remember much about it. Sorry.
Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon--Classic detective story. Sexy too.
James Hilton's Goodbye, Mr. Chips--Just so-so. Why does everyone get excited about this book?
Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts--Strange and disturbing.
A.J. Cronin's The Citadel--If you're good at doctoring, maybe you should stick with it and not try to write novels.
C.S. Forester's Captain Horatio Hornblower--Love Horatio! British navy in the late 1700's, early 1800's. Can't wait to read the other Horatio books.
William Faulkner's Light in August--Demanding, but worth it. I find Faulkner difficult, but I loved the Southern country utterances of main character Lena Grove.
John Hersey's Hiroshima--Account of the bombing of Hiroshima, as experienced by several survivers.
Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited--British boys at Oxford and beyond. Not bad, although I hear the movie sucked.
Edmund Crispin's The Moving Toyshop--Classic British detective story with Oxford Don detective. Fun and undemanding.
Laura Hobson's Gentlemen's Agreement--A reporter "becomes" Jewish in order to experience anti-semitism first hand. I liked it and the movie is pretty good too.
Jack Schaefer's Shane--the cheesiest novel ever written.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's Cross Creek--Memoir of life in the Florida backwoods by the author of The Yearling. Well written and my kids and I enjoyed the movie too.
Albert Camus's The Plague--Bubonic plague strikes a city in Algeria. Lots to think about.
Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories--Loved it loved it loved it. A young gay man lives in Berlin before WWII.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea--Musings on life with charming illustrations.
Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man--Don't hate me, but I could not get through this.
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451-- Depressing. I always thought this title referred to a planet where the average temperature is really really hot. It's actually about book burning on Earth of the future.
Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit--Why don't married couples send the kids to bed and drink martinis together anymore?
John le Carre's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold--The Spy genre is not my thing.
Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire--Oh-so clever, but I still hated it.
Paul Scott's The Jewel in the Crown--Laaa! First book in a superb quartet of books about India at the end of the British Raj. You can't just read this, but must read the whole series.
Chaim Potok's The Chosen--Again, the impression I got from the title was wrong. I thought this would be based in biblical times, and instead it's about Hasidic Jews in 1940's Brooklyn.
Thornton Wilder's The Eighth Day--Midwestern family whose father is accused of murder. It's colored blue, so I guess I liked it.
Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy--Highly recommended. An autobiographical series about a young British couple who live in Bucharest at the beginning of WWII. They stay one foot ahead of the Nazis. Made into excellent miniseries called The Fortunes of war starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.
William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner--This book left me in an existential funk so deep I thought I'd never climb out.
Elizabeth Taylor's Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont--Excellent. Excellent. A British lady moves into a residential hotel and passes off a young man she meets in the street as her grandson, for the benefit of nosy neighbors. Also a great movie starring Joan Plowright and Rupert Hottie McHottie Something-or-other.
Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter--You can't go wrong with Eudora Welty.
J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur--Another supberb book about India. This one is set during the 1857 Mutiny. A group of British are besieged in an inadequate shelter while violence threatens. Excellent study of human nature.
Clair Huffaker's The Cowboy and the Cossack--Cowboys drive a herd across Siberia in the 1880's.
Steven Millhauser's Edwin Mullhouse: the Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954--Fictional biography of a fictional writer. Quirky. Annoyingly quirky.
Jack Finney's --Time and Again--Time travel is an irrisistable subject for fiction, although Finney indulges in absurdly romantic comparisons of past and present. His method of achieving time travel is so clever, you almost think you can accomplish it yourself.
Ella Leffland's Rumors of Peace--Girl coming of age in California during WWII.
Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children--Spot the symbolism and win a banana.
Don DeLillo's Libra-- Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories cause me to become comatose.
Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day--Complex character portrait. The movie is good, but the book is better.
Muriel Spark's A Far Cry From Kensington--Feeling very sad that I can remember so little about this book. I read it long before I actually started this list.
Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park--Cop novel set in Russia.
Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow--Jesuits in outer space! Unfortunately, even in the distant future year of 2019, the baby boomers still have a finger in every pie.
Beryl Bainbridge's The Birthday Boys--Novel about the disatrous expedition to the South Pole, led by Captain Robert Scott. Five chapters, each devoted to the point of view of one of the men who made the final trek to the pole. I cried at the end.
Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides--So crappy, I wanted to kill myself.
Leah Hager Cohen's Train Go Sorry--A worthy topic for a book--a hearing person's life among the deaf. Unfortunately, Cohen's pretentious descriptive passages--clearly she's a graduate of the "there's no such thing as a bad metaphor" school of writing--left me irritated.
Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker--another book I read long ago. Korean immigrants...political corruption...
Howard Norman's The Bird Artist--why does everyone make fun of Newfies? Every book I've ever read that's set in Newfoundland has been excellent.
Robinton Mistry's A Fine Balance--Oh geez, an Oprah book. Mistry won all kinds of prestigious awards for this book, and yet he commits the cardinal sin of fiction writers: using dialogue to convey information about the plot, as in,"Gee, things sure have changed since Dad died of colon cancer five years ago." The cruelty inflicted on some of the characters is truly sickening. Is this really modern India? (Or 1970s India, anyway.) Also, one wonders if Indira Gandhi was really the monster Mistry implies she was.
Mark Helprin's Memoir From Antproof Case--The title intriqued me and the book doesn't diappoint. Memoir written by a man living in Brazil, who stores his writings in an antproof case. He describes his character as having "some idiosynchrocies. That's like the pope saying his is "sort of" Catholic.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


This year, the Piedmont nursing program requires that all students buy a PDA on which we will install software to aid with giving medications. I purchased the required Palm Tungsten E2 and had been told by the nursing professor to keep it plugged in for a full 24 hours before class in order that it be charged. The package instructions say to plug it simultaneously to an outlet and my computer's USB port and that it will charge in three hours. I didn't know which instructions to follow, but ended up doing as the package directed. I hope I haven't made a fatal mistake and somehow corrupted my PDA by allowing it exposure to my computer--although I know that's what you want to do in most cases.

While, for my purposes, it isn't necessary to synchronize the PDA with my desktop computer, I thought it might be nice to be able to take advantage of all its features. In a rash moment after a virus attack, I allowed my son to install Linux as our OS. I went to the Palm support website to see what options there are for Linux users, and this is what I got:

Dear Linux user: You're fucked.

Well, not exactly that. A more literal translation would be:
Dear Linux user: The good news is you can synchronize your PDA with your computer. The bad news is, we won't give you any help at all, so go down to the basement and talk to your computer geek buddies, you alternative trouble-making freak.
Have a nice day. :)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Start of semester anxiety

Someday I'll look back on this and laugh.
There are two types of problems. The first is the unsurmountable problem. These are relatively rare and seem to be exclusively those bearing on one's personal health or lack thereof (or death)--the sorts of problems that require an act of God. All other problems are the type that can be solved with money. What problem, anywhere, can't be solved with the right amount of cash?

Today I had a problem and my problem's price turned out to be $110. That's $110 more than I wanted to spend today, but my problem is solved. What sort of problem? Just some silly beginning-of-semester issues involving a non-existent "user guide" and seemingly dysfunctional website for one of my classes. Still, I have a tendency to panic and I felt sure that my nursing career had ended before it had even started.

Another, less pressing problem is mastering dosage calculation. My nursing instructor sent home a four page flier and explained that if we mastered the skills contained therein, we needn't buy the $55 textbook on dimensional analysis. There are four skills and I have mastered three of them, but the mastery of IV drip calculation.

We monitor the flow rate by counting the drops as they fall into the drip chamber. Not all manufacturers make equal sized tubing. Each package contains a printed label stating its calibrated size. This is written as drops per mL (gtt/mL). It takes 10,15,20, or 60 drops to fill a 1-mL container. Most physicians order IV fluids on the basis of volume with a corresponding time. (e.g. 125mL/hr. In order to deliver fluids at this rate you must calculate the gtt/min, so you can count them as they drop into the drip chamber.

What the F have I gotten myself into? I don't ever recall seeing a nurse staring at an IV bag, counting drips for a full minute. I asked Jon about this and he says he never counts drips. He tells physicians that he has three speeds: fast, medium, and slow and they should pick one. That's all very well, but I don't think that will fly with my instructor. That, and even though the calculation follows a similar format to the ones I've already mastered, I keep getting the wrong answers. This material will not be covered in class (although we will be tested on it).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Stone again

Jon got up all the concrete. The wood floor underneath is in surprisingly good condition. The previous owners refinished the floors and then put down the stone base for the stove. I just need to fill in some gouges created by Jon's efforts yesterday. Or maybe I could just put a couch over it.

There is still a short length of black pipe sticking out of the wall--the umbilicus of my living room. I pulled on it gently and it started easing its way out, but Jon is at work and I am afraid of something scary coming out of the hole--a cave cricket or other undesirable life form. There may even be an old fireplace behind the drywall. This old stove was hooked up to the house's original central chimney. There's a second old chimney at the corner of the house, which I think was part of the old coal burning furnace, so what other purpose would the central chimney have served, other than a fireplace?

I'm thinking of Craigslisting the stove. If anyone is interested in a Vermont Castings wood burning stove--it's at least 10 years old, and two of the legs need to be reattached (I think it's just a matter of replacing the screws)--let me know.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Set in Stone

All I said was, "This house is a mess," whence followed the unusual occurrence of Jon and me working together to clean without getting into a fight. If only it had ended there.

We have a wood burning stove in our living room. It came with the house and it sticks awkwardly out into the room. When we first bought the house, Jon was enthusiastic about it and we had many fires, which were messy, and really, not very exciting, considering the amount of work involved in firing up the woodstove, when you only use it occasionally. More exciting: when squirrels and birds came down the chimney. Well, exciting, but not exactly desirable.

Today turned out to be Get Rid of Stove Day. Between Mad Scientist, Jon and I, we managed to load the thing onto a dolly and wheel it onto the front porch, where I guarantee it will sit for the next six years. We are now without a way to cook our risotto when the apocalypse comes, but we've added four square feet to our living room. It's all about priorities.

Naturally, you can't sit a wood burning stove on a wood floor, and ours rested on a little stone platform, bordered with some nicely polished wood. The nicely polished wood came up easily and I felt encouraged, but encouragement soon turned to unhappiness when we realized that the stones sit on a thick bed of concrete poured directly onto the hardwood floor.

I did a set of google searches titled with themes of "someone poured concrete on our hardwood floor" but can find no internet support for solving this problem. It's a good thing we still have the tiny sledge hammer Jon gave me to demolish the bathroom tiles.

Monday, August 20, 2007

More on the public schools

Tonight, at the CHS open house, the 9th grade honors English teacher described the long list of books the class will be reading: Greek and Roman myths, Indian, Chinese and Japanese literature, a Dickens novel, some James Joyce, Chekhov, Kafka. You need to feed excellent minds with excellent literature, he said. What is the point of feeding children literary pap? Thank you, Mr. E. I'm glad someone has sensible ideas about literature in school.

How are kids supposed to succeed in a class like his, if the foundation of their reading in the primary grades is stupid little "books" from Open Court? Berenstain Bears stories? Books based on Disney movies?

How about some Laura Ingalls Wilder or Beverly Cleary? L.M. Boston, Maud Hart Lovelace, Susan Cooper, Madeline L'Engle, A.A. Milne...

School open houses

Today is a big day for parents of kids in the Charlottesville City public schools--open houses were today. This year I'm fortunate in that my four children are in just three city school, as opposed to four different schools, like last year.

We go to CHS tonight, but Drama Queen, entering ninth grade, has many of the same teachers Mad Scientist had, and they were all excellent, so I don't have too many worries. She's in honors English, honors Geometry, French, Orchestra, honors World History and honors Biology. She is worried about getting lost, and, remembering last year's open house, I'm resting my legs right now in order to be prepared for tonight. Mad Scientist, a 10th grader, is taking both chemistry and physics this year, plus pre-calculus, French, and honors English and history. Unfortunately, he quit orchestra.

My youngest child, Mr. McP, goes to Jackson-Via and the scene there today was grim. I don't care what the school board says, all the city elementary schools are not the same. I homeschooled for two years, specifically to keep my two youngest kids out of Jackson-Via. (My older children went to Burnley-Moran.) I do not want my son to spend six hours a day reading junky non-literature,--I hate the indiscriminate "all books are equal" approach to reading so popular in schools where many kids don't read much. You should see the excellent reading list at Peabody and compare it to the crap the kids read in the public schools. At Jackson-Via, I fear my son will be encouraged to become a mediocrity, a drone, and I can't have that but I also don't want to give up nursing school in order to educate him myself. Have decided to view Jackson-Via as his daycare, and enrich his education in the evening.

Next, we went to Walker Upper Elementary. Laaaaaaaaaa! Walker is my favorite of the city schools: a host of bright, enthusiastic teachers, an orderly, well organized environment--all of my children have thrived at Walker. We will miss Mr. Henderson, the former principal, but I've heard good things about the new one.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Books and movies

I spent the hottest days of the summer reading a book about an expedition to the South Pole: The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge. This is not the Shackleton expedition, but the one led by Captain Robert Scott in 1912. The group arrived at the pole, only to discover the Norwegians had beat them there. All five men died on the way back to their camp, most notably, Captain Titus Oakes leaving the tent, saying, "I am just going outside and may be some time." He was never seen again.

Watched Kontroll, on the recommendation of a friend.

An interesting mix of suspense and comedy, set in the Budapest subway and a nice change from the usual. Currently shelved among the staff picks at Sneak Reviews.