Friday, April 30, 2010

Broken Computer & Recent Reads

Alas, my computer has succumbed to either Bejeweled or the cats. The power is out and I am questioning whether I want to purchase a new power cord that may or may not work for $100 or purchase a new mini computer for $400. Hmmm...what to do? What to do? While I am in indescision limbo, I am without a computer at home. Oh, well, this means that I am not constantly on Facebook playing the very very addicting Bejeweled. I have heard that I can get it on my Iphone but I don't even want to go there, so I haven't and don't plan to. But at the same time, I realize that I am not on Facebook, keeping up with friends. But then again, I do have an Iphone that I have used for Facebook before. I am just being lazy.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have read a couple of books for Book Club, which is going very well. YEAH!! And a couple of books for myself.
Here is the listing:
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahme-Smith

This book took me almost 6 weeks to get through. It isn't a book that I was actually interested in. This was strictly for professional development. It seems to be a growing genre of either adapting a classic like Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen into a modern horror classic like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Abraham Lincoln as a vampire hunter was midly interesting. I only wish I actually new more about the famous president so that I could better determine what was fact and what was fiction--I mean other than the vampires. For example, did Lincoln really befriend Edgar Allen Poe? Was his father really a lazy drunk? So now I will have to find me biography of Lincoln to try to answer some of these questions.
Her Fearful Symentry by Time Traveler's Wife author Laura Niffenegger

Again this book almost took me a full month to get through. It was slow, overly detailed and then ended abruptly. It was almost like the author was as tired of her characters as I was and tried to tie up the story neatly. It is a bit of ghost story and ends bizarrly. Someone in the Book Club said that they read in a review that abrupt ending might have been due Ms. Niffenegger being under deadline pressure. In a way I was relieved that the book finally ended. I was entirely ready to be finished with it no matter how strange the ending was. There are much better ghost stories out there.
A Dangerous Road by Kris Nelscott

What a relief to pick up this title after the above two. This book is next month's Book Club selection. Since we have a limited number of copies in the system, I needed to read my copy quickly so that I can get it out to the next Book Club Member. I truly enjoyed this fast paced mystery set around the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, TN. I read this title in hours as oppossed to days or weeks that the other two books took. Since I read The Help by Katherine Stockett recently, I thought that A Dangerous Road made a good companion piece. Nelscott's characters were likeable and I had a sense of time and place. The book is from an African-American man's point of view which made it complimentary to the women's viewpoints in The Help.

I have also read the first of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, One for the Money. It is cute, quick, and I understand why she is now on her 16th or more Stephanie Plum book.
This evening I will finish Sue Grafton's A is for Alibi.

Also the first of her Kinsey Milhonne. The writing is fresh, fast-paced and interesting. It is no wonder her alphabet novels are best sellers. I do wonder what she will do when she is finished with Z is for...? Will she start with AA is for...? or switch over to numbers? Certainly double letters would make coming up with titles rather difficult. I can only think of batteries and bra sizes that have double letters. Hmmm... DD is for... might make an interesting book--but maybe not one in Ms. Grafton genre. Also it would be tricky for her to switch over to numbers because Evanovich is already using ordinal numbers (1, 2, 3..) and James Patterson has the cardinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd) nailed down pretty tightly. So perhaps Z will be the end for Kinsey and she will be ready for retirement.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Attila The Hun

Early Sunday evening, we returned from Disney. It was a good weekend but after 3 days of fun, it was time to go home and cultivate some sofa time with my kit-kats--who by the way did not totally destroy my apartment--just mildly. I only found my chair tipped over, the small table beside it tipped, a couple of pictures knocked off the TV, and a wrapping paper roll, I left laying around, shredded. Pretty good for 2 and a half days alone.
Yesterday I had the day off. After a trip to the Goodwill to look for some tea cups for my upcoming Mother-Daughter Tea, I just lazed around home finishing up one of the several books I am currently reading: Attila: The Barbarian King Who Challenged Rome by John Man.
A highly readable account of one of histories most notorious characters. I am interested in history and read quite a bit of historical non-fiction so this fit right into my comfort zone. Of course, for Western European stock, the very name Attila evokes ruthless, warlord of the sort that leaves its resonance after more than a millennium. But when I worked at the Hungarian School in Slovakia for the ill-fated short time, I was almost unnerved every morning calling roll because I had at least one Attila in every class. It was at that point that I put together Hun as Hungarian. But really the Hungarians are Mygars who settled Attila's old stomping grounds about 400 years after his death and his people scattered to the winds. But this left me thinking that Attila is obviously viewed quite differently in this part of the world. I mean, to me naming your child Attila is almost like naming him Hitler. But not to the Hungarians, he is a hero of sort.
When I came across Attila by John Man, I was happy to pick it up and learn more. Several months ago, I was pleasantly surprised by Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford. I had no idea that the other big historical villain was a thoughtful nation builder that instituted laws, trade pacts and a succession system. He has only been brought down to vilified because his nation building just happened to cross over the unwilling backs of Eastern Europe to Western Europe's door as they quaked at the thought of being ruled by an Eastern barbarian that was if anything more enlightened than their feudal governments were. But victors write history and historical prejudices are passed from generation to generation until we believe without question. Both Attila and Ghengis are readable historical accounts that do not read as texty. In Attila, Man also takes us along for his research and introduces us to people modern people such as Lajos Kassai who has revived the forgotten skill of mounted archery--a skill that launched Attila to the forefront of history and terrorized those on the receiving end.
Attila was no Ghengis. He was a brute, pillager, warlord. But then again this was the time of the Vandals, Visagoths, Ostrogoths, and countless other Barbarian tribes that were flexing their muscle and knocking on Rome's door during the waning days of their Empire. Attila was a nation builder and through sheer personality, tactical genius, and brute force he forced an unwilling decadent Rome to take him seriously. This is an underdog story if there ever was one.
I can now understand why Attila is a popular Hungarian name and just as my favorite Oklahoman, Paul Harvey used to sign off: ...And now you know the rest of the story.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth

Yes, that would be Disneyland. This is my second annual participation in the Reyes family reunion. Yesterday, M and arrived early, checked in and then headed for Orange for lunch. Hmmm, the five mile trip to Orange turned into a 10 mile adventure with a few u-turns. Sometimes I wonder how I made it around the entire world. Well, admittedly there were more than few lost moments during those travels. And more than one time I just gave up getting to where I wanted to go and started following people because Douglas Adams once wrote in a book, that you should just get behind someone who looks like they know where they are going, you may not end up where you want to be but you will end up where you should be. Yes, I have found that this Karmic view of getting places has saved much self-abuse.
Historic Orange is a quiant area filled with good restaurants and expensive antique shops. M and I ate at the Cuban restaurant on the corner of the roundabout. It was a beautiful day and very good food.
Later we met up with others in Disneyland. I ate a massive piece of Chocolate cake and promptly understood that I overdid it. It was like a brain freeze with icecream only in the pit of my stomach while most others were riding Pirates. I guess that the cake is still with me because as I am writing this I am in the lobby drinking coffee to try to settle my stomach. I know that this goes again all logic but I think it is because I put so much creamer in my coffee. Breakfast does not even sound remotely interesting right now.
After dinner last night, we went into first California Adventure until it closed at 10:00 and then into Disneyland. M and I were pegged out but we had Mal with us who as any 12 year old boy is on holiday, full of energy. He went off with the cousins and M and I found rides that allowed quiet repose such as the Tiki Room and the Jungle cruise. Mal and the cousins stayed on until the bitter end, so it was almost 1:00 before we found ourselves in the hotel room.
Coffee is finished, and I think I will take a walk out while everyone else is having breakfast. More later.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Help

Katheryn Sockett's first book is a highly readable story of women in a turning point of American and particularly Southern history. Women caught on both sides of a cultural divide. The most obvious divide that is still there today is the racial divide. Black and White. But there are other divides, rich and poor. Of course the maids are stuck on the poor side but we also see Miss Celcia, white trash that married above her station struggling with the lines that Aibileen comes to realize are just in our heads. Also the rich white girl Skeeter toes another line of the time. She is not settling down, marrying and having a brood of her own that will require Help to take care of. Her mother wonders if she my be a lesbian and has her drink a specially brewed tea to cure that possible tendency. Because Skeeter is questioning her own expected place in society she is able to look around her in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi and question the order. And in the 1960's the world had their eyes on Mississippi and their struggle at time with violent and ugly results to keep traditions from crumbling into a new era without Jim Crow.
Being from Little Dixie, the only part of Oklahoma that is actually Southern in culture. I was able to recognize some of the characters. Things in the world had changed by the time I was growing up in the 70's and 80's but not that much. Integration on the surface was a fact, I know that there was a Black school in my town but it was closed down by the time I was school. So I grew up with Black classmates, but I cannot say that I really had any black friends--I had to wait until college for that to happen. No reason really other than it just wasn't done. I was friendly with my Black classmates but my circle of friends were just like me, lower middle-class Whites.
Conitinuing with my thoughts, I was raised by a mother with an open world view. When I came home from schoool telling my Mom about the poor Soviet children with no choices that I learned about, she quickly let me know that what I was hearing was propaganda and that the Soviet children were more like me than not. My mom told us of her Black friend in Conroe, TX that used to come and go by the back door no matter how my mother asked her to enter like her other friends. But her friend said that it was better her way, would rumple feathers in the town over either one of them, I am sure. My mother often cited that trash and decency comes in every color, no culture, color or creed has a monopoly on either one.
But I also grew up in a tense time, our little town had a race riot incited by the appropriately named Willie Warhop, half Indian, half Black and pure thug. For three days the school was closed, my younger brother and I were shipped off to the country, a good man and cop, Rueben Farmer, lost his life and countless building burned down all over an incident that happened at the nortoriously trashy nightclub Black Cat.
My father 10 years older than my mother, had different sensiblities. In basic terms he was racist. But wrapped up in thatknee jerk racism of his era, he befriended people who were worthy of friendship. One junior officer Earner came to call my mom and dad just that Mom and Pop. Heads would sometimes turn in the store with this very black man and my parents would exchange greetings in stores. I have a special place for Earner in my own heart. During the rough rough week that my mother called me back to Idabel so I would have have a chance to say goodbye to my father who was fading fast, he lasted less than 5 more weeks, Earner came by and spent some time with my father. During a time when my father wishfully mistook me for my sister, and confused things in the present with the past, Earner gave me a glimpse of the man my father was before the illnesses consumed him. He laughed and his eyes crickled in a way that I only had a memory of, only Earner, sitting at the kitchen table, that bleak November evening, was able to bring my father back for a glimmer.
Somethings change and some stay the same. Bi-racial relationships are still frowned on in my town and probably across much of America. They happen but no one seems to like them. A friend's sister and her Asian husband and mixed children moved to Hawaii from South Carolina in search of a more welcoming environment. Perhaps it is no mistake that our first African-American president is from Hawaii. It's not that racism doesn't exist in Hawaii. It does. When a co-worker and I overheard another co-worker explaining to a student that Hawaii wasn't racist, we jumped all over him. What was he talking about, Haole's, Flips, Japs, Local this and that, etc. Local author's Lois Yamanaka's are often banned on the mainland for containing blantantly racist dialogs. Our co-worker amended his statement to "Well, Ok, we are equal opporunity racist in Hawaii." That I would agree with and perhaps that is our hope. Race is recognized along with the often cultural nuances that goes with it, but it generally doesn't get in the way of letting people live their lives.