Apr 30, 2009

The Feminine Mystique

by Betty Friedan

This is a tough book for me to write about. I read it a long time ago, when plowing through piles of books on pregnancy, childbirth and similar topics. Not sure how this one got on my list as I don't consider myself a feminist. I thought I would find it uninteresting or difficult, but on the contrary it's an easy read, and very engaging. On the other hand, I didn't end up feeling indignant or frustrated like I felt the author intended me to. She thoroughly describes how housewives in the 50's felt bored, frustrated and oppressed, and urges them to make something more of their lives and stand up for their own interests. She makes it sound like a woman needs a job to feel fulfilled, and points out all the inequalities in how men and women are treated. I don't know, I just couldn't get riled up by it, because I'm pretty happy to be a stay-home mom with a garden to tend, and books to read in the few spare moments I have. I never get bored or feel like my life is missing something essential. So I couldn't really connect with her views, although some of the points she brought up got me thinking. Others I kind of dismissed because they seemed rather forced. The sad thing is even though I know The Feminine Mystique is an important book, well-researched and chock full of thought-provoking info, I can hardly remember one specific thing from it... Hm. I got the impression that this book is to the feminist movement what Silent Spring was to environmentalism.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 587 pages, 1997

More opinions at:
arch thinking
Book Addiction
Life Under the Quill
the Square Doughnut

Apr 29, 2009

wondrous words

The first two on this list came from my reading of The Other End of the Leash. The rest are from Quicksilver. Even though I have made slow progress with this book (only 127 pages so far), it still supplies me with many many new words each week!

Sinusodial- "The dogs would waver back and forth, moving in a sinusodial S curve, trying to follow the molecules of scent as they moved through the air..."
Definition: curving (isn't the phrase redundant, then?)

Paedomorphic- "This tendency to continue exuberant play into adulthood is one of the factors that leads most scientists to consider dogs and humans as paedomorphic..."
Definition: retaining juvenile characteristics into adulthood

Coelestial- "The tail of Ursa Major was like the hand of a coelestical clock, and Daniel had been studying how to read it."
Definition: another spelling for celestial

Spadroon- "The black-clad fellow drew out a sword of his own, something dull and clanging, a heavier spadroon, and the scarlet boy came at him like a boiling cloud, with lightning movements darting out of the center."
Definition: a broadsword used both to cut and thrust

Sizar- "Daniel finally recognized him as Roger Comstock, the sizar."
Definition: a student at Cambridge who having passed certain examinations, was exempt from paying for food and tuition and had lodgings at very low cost

Ween- "I ween you are of the same mind, Mr. Waterhouse, but sailing on a ship across the North Atlantic is not for cowards, and so you are here."
Definition: to think or suppose

Lascar- "The lascars spring up and busy themselves drawing up his equipage on ropes."
Definition: an East Indian seaman

Gnomon- "Newton was constructing a sundial on a south-facing wall, using as gnomon, a slender rod with a ball on the end."
Definition: stationary arm on a sundial whose shadow indicates the time

Shawm- "Stourbridge Fair was already audible: barking of dogs, wild strains from bagpipes and shawms whipping over their heads like twists of bright ribbon unwinding in the breeze.
Definition: a double-reed instrument that preceeded the oboe

Numismatic- "If you would allow me to approach within ten feet of these coins, it would help me to appreciate their numismatic excellence...."
Definition: having to do with coins or currency

Saturnine- "In a country inn, on the way to St. Ives, he encountered a saturnine, beetle-browed chap name of Oliver Cromwell who had recently lost his faith, and seen his life ruined..."
Definition: of a melancholy or solemn disposition, from being born under the sign of Saturn

Pedantry- ".... out of a stubborn belief that pedantry and repetitiveness could through some alchemy be forged into wit."
Definition: giving excessive attention to academic learning or formal rules

Caitiff- "Have you ever felt a certain annoyance, when one of your semi-educated Londoners speaks of 'a vile rascal' or 'a miserable caitiff' or 'crafty knave,' 'idle truant,' or 'flattering parasite'?"
Definition: a despicable person, a cowardly wretch

Homiletical- "Daniel exhausted the Terms of Abuse in a few short hours, then moved on to Virtues (intellectual, moral, and homiletical), Colors, Sounds, Tastes and Smells, Professions (viz, carpentry, sewing, alchemy) Operations, and so on."
Definition: relating to or having the nature of a homily: an inspirational saying or moralizing lecture

Phew! This book is giving me words every other pages, it feels like. Visit Bermudaonion's Weblog to see what new words other readers discovered this week.

Apr 28, 2009


by James Herbert

I always enjoy stories written from an animal's point of view. Fluke starts out with the birth of a puppy, and follows him through the ups and downs of life as a stray in the city. But this isn't any ordinary dog- there's something different about him. He is more aware, intelligent, understanding of human habits- and has fleeting memories of a different life. Eventually the dog meets a few other animals who also have this higher awareness, starts to puzzle out what's going on, and sets off on a journey to find some answers. At first I thought this book was rather like an old favorite from my childhood, Scruffy by Jack Stoneley, until the dog's human memories came up. Then it made me think of Diana Wynne Jones' Dogsbody- so I was expecting something a bit supernatural- but it actually ended up having a religious theme: reincarnation. Most of the book flows at a well-measured pace, describing the dog's life, but at the end things start to happen more quickly, with a murder mystery to be solved and a little twist in the ending. A very fun and interesting light read, great for on the beach (when you have to keep half an eye on the kid near the water)!

Rating: 3/5                      191 pages, 1977

The Other End of the Leash

Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs
by Patricia McConnell

This book has been on my TBR so long (years) I can't even remember where I first heard about it. I never could find it anywhere (always missing or checked out at the library), until a few weeks ago I discovered a copy at a library sale. Ecstatic. And the read was wonderful. The Other End of the Leash is about the human-dog relationship, especially in regards to communication and training. McConnell, an applied animal behaviorist who helps people with problem dogs (mostly cases of aggression) explains how even though we can be very close to our dogs, many things inherent to the nature of canines and primates (ourselves) can cross the wires and cause continual misunderstandings. The message you are trying to send your dog may be the opposite of what he thinks it is (for example, dogs may not perceive hugs as gestures of affection, but dominating or even threatening). She shows how understanding the natural way dogs perceive and interpret our behavior, and changing it so that the message comes across clearly, can greatly facilitate harmonious living with canine pets. A fascinating book, one I'm hanging onto for reference when I ever (the child is begging) get a dog of my own.

I read this book for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge

Rating: 4/5                    246 pages, 2002

I'm back

from the beach. It was lovely. Sun, sand, surf, amusement rides, what more can you have perfect on a vacation? I even went garage-sale-ing with my mother-in-law (she loves bargains) and picked up this cute bookbag and a handful of cookbooks. Then out on the seashore I stopped at a local used bookshop (even though I'd brought four books with me!) and bought three new ones.

These are all new to me. Kind of unusual for me; I rarely buy books I haven't read and loved yet. I've always wanted to read Gorillas in the Mist, and Nymeth's review sparked my interest in it again. And Pigeons I've wanted to read since I saw it in a bookstore some while ago. I gave in this time. Fluke was exactly that- picked up on a whim, but it turned out to be fairly entertaining.

I read two books entire, half of Shakespeare Wrote for Money, started The Ra Expeditions, and never opened Quicksilver, even though lugged the heavy thing around. Quickie posts on the books finished coming up!

Apr 19, 2009

Trowel and Error

by Sharon Lovejoy

Unlike the other gardening books I've read, Trowel and Error is not full of instructions on how to design or cultivate a garden. Rather, it is crammed full of handy little tips on how to make gardening easier and more economical, like using common pantry items to whip up bug repellents and plant tonics or recycling household items into useful garden implements. There's even suggestions on how to decorate your garden with found items and worn-out garden tools. Some of the ideas were familiar to me- milk-jug cloches, flowers to attract beneficial insects. Others were entirely new -and exciting- like using infusions of willow to propagate plant cuttings, basil tea spray to fight cucumber beetles (which destroyed my cucumber and melon plants last year), aluminum foil to bounce light onto sun-loving tomatoes and peppers. That's only a few; the book contains "over 700 shortcuts, tips and remedies for the gardener." I'm ready now to roll up my sleeves and start concocting stuff in the kitchen to apply in the garden, hopefully with good results.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 206 pages, 2003

Apr 17, 2009

blog award!

My in-laws are visiting for a week and half, so posts here are going to be sporadic- vacation time (we're going to the beach!). So I'll be missing out on all the Read-A-Thon hoopla. But maybe I'll make some inroads into Quicksilver.

The day before I got yet another blog award- from Books Please! The Lovely Blog Award. This one is to be passed on to fifteen other blogs recently discovered. Here's some new bookish places I've found online lately (that being a relative term):

Book Maven's Blog
Literary Wombat
Nonfiction Lover
Book Bites
Bibliophile by the Sea
Books and Other Stuff
A Novel Menagerie
A Patchwork of Books
Advance Booking
Bermudaonion's Weblog
The Curious Reader
The Inside Cover
Piling on the Books
The Narrative Casuality

There. Now maybe you've something new to read while I'm absent. Have fun with the Read a Thon, everybody!

Apr 15, 2009

wondrous words

Again, my new words come from two books. The first few are from Compost This Book! Then we get into Quicksilver, a heavy tome rich with descriptive unknowns. This is just the beginning of what I'm going to be looking up in the next week or so (it's a 900-page book)!

From Compost This Book!:

Geriatric- "There'd be a whole ecosystem in miniature lurking in that geriatric vegetable."
Definition: relating to the aging process

Sybaritic-"When Marty's heap is really cooking, the sybaritic creature is nearly always stretched out on top, luxuriating in the warmth."
Definition: devoted to or marked by pleasure and luxury

Chelating- "Like the sugar coating on a pill, the chelating humus makes the minerals palatable...."
Definition: to combine (a metal ion) with a chemical compound to form a ring

From Quicksilver:

Doppelganger- "Now he knows why: his doppelganger is a lad, moving about like a drop of quicksilver that cannot be trapped under the thumb."
Definition: a ghostly double of a living person that haunts its living counterpart

Erudition- "We have, as I said, found the place where your erudition gives way to ignorance."
Definition: profound scholarly knowledge

Mephitic- "They break out into the mephitic bog on its western flank."
Definition: poisonous or foul-smelling

Azimuth- "The schoolmaster adjusted his azimuth as the target moved, like a telescope tracking a comet, but none of his blows seemed to have actually been felt by the fair boy yet..." (this usage does not make sense to me, with the def.s I could find)
Definition: the arc of the sky between the zenith and the horizon or the horizontal angle of a bearing measured clockwise from the north (in surveying)

Ontogeny- ""There was a dollhouse and a clan of rag dolls in diverse phases of ontogeny."
Definition: the origin and development of an individual organism from embryo to adult

Empiricist- "Oh, he will be a great empiricist."
Definition: one who disregards scientific theory and relies solely on practical experience

Visit Wondrous Words Wednesdays at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

Apr 14, 2009

another award!

I was totally surprised this morning to find that Books on the Brain gave me the very cool "You Don't Say?" award featuring a panda! Here's what Sheri, who created the award, says about it:

We give and get awards for having a great blog and being a good friend. What I want to award is to those people whose comments have meant THE WORLD to me. It takes time to visit a blog and leave a comment. I wanted to take this opportunity to say “thank you” to each and every one of you who has left a comment for me on A Novel Menagerie. Also, I wanted to recognize some special bloggers whose comments have made such an impact on me. The “You Don’t Say?” Award is awarded to these special bloggers in hopes that they will pass the award along to 5-10 of their best commentors!

Thank you, Lisa, for this! I always try to leave meaningful remarks, and love it when others comment on my blog. The little bookish conversations we have are what makes blogging so much fun, and so rewarding. I'm passing this award on to:

Bybee of Naked Without Books!
Anonymous Child of Biblibio
Wendy of Caribousmom
Leslie of Books n' Border Collies
Trish of Trish's Reading Nook
and Black Sheep Books
and Bermudaonion's Weblog

Apr 13, 2009

Compost This Book!

The Art of Composting for your Yard, your Community, and the Planet
by Tom Christopher and Marty Asher

If you want to turn all your grass clippings, autumn leaves, hedge trimmings, vegetable scraps, paper, cardboard, dryer lint, etc into garden food- or compost- then this book is an invaluable resource! I found it a lot more interesting and amusing than expected. Marty and Tom, the authors, share their differing views and methods of composting, as well as a plethora of other composting "recipes" they've tested out. There's instructions on how to build your own compost bin (from simple to complex), and an overview of ones you can buy. There's information on exactly what compost is, how it works and what to put in it. There's even a history of composting, and all kinds of info about how different communities have used (or ought to) composting to help manage waste, improve the environment, reduce costs, etc. (including attempts that didn't work, and why). I smiled to see that my home town, Seattle, had one of the best composting programs out there! Did you know that some archeologists attribute early man's discovery of fire to compost (beds of leaves and other litter that spontaneously burst into flame!)? That George Washington methodically tested different formulas of compost? That the interior of a compost heap can get hot enough to warm a greenhouse, or cook a chicken dinner (not actually recommended). At the end of Compost This Book! the authors instruct you on how to actually break down their handy resource volume and add it to the heap. I wouldn't go so far as to destroy a book I find useful, but I did have one already in the recycling bin that I felt shamed to toss out- a book I received from Paperback Swap that had old gum sticking the pages together. So I committed a sacrilege (at least it felt that way to me, Tom and Marty would probably applaud) and shredded that book (minus the bindings and covers) into the top of my compost bucket. Wow. I just fed my vegetables a book (well, got it diced. They won't actually eat it for months).

Rating: 4/5                        248 pages, 1994

Apr 12, 2009

Bless Me, Ultima

by Rudolfo Anaya

When in college, for a short time I was an English tutor for two Korean high school students. They had to read this book for a class, a classic I'd never heard of before, and I became curious to read it myself.

The story is about a young boy, Antonio, growing up in New Mexico. When he's six years old an elderly woman comes to live with his family, a faith healer who uses herbs and mysticism to cure people of physical and spiritual ills. Her name is Ultima. Ultima becomes Antonio's mentor, guiding him through rough times and teaching him her personal belief system. Antonio has a lot of questions about faith, God, the meaning of life, etc.- but the things Ultima teaches him conflict with with the Catholic teachings his parents follow. Tony struggles to understand the differences and make a choice which he will put his own trust in. He also has to face constant friction between his family members, violence among his peers, and threats from people in the community who believe Ultima is a witch and wish her harm.

Bless Me, Ultima is a strong story of one boy's coming of age and search for answers. But the many interrelated characters and events become confusing and the book is full of metaphors and symbolism which felt unfamiliar to me (not their presence, just the ones that were used). Some readers are put off by the inclusion of many Spanish words and phrases, and the constant cultural references- both of Latino heritage and Catholic traditions- had few explanations and only made me feel removed from it all. I was unable to connect with the main character, or feel engaged in his search for stability and wisdom. I was surprised to find this book has been banned from some schools, apparently because of some violence and s-x - which I don't remember at all, so it must not have been that shocking- and how it deals with religion.

Rating: 2/5                       262 pages, 1972

More opinions at:
A Striped Armchair
Colony Library Lady

Apr 11, 2009

blog awards

Suey from It's All About Books gave me this award which I have been watching circle the blogs- with some trepidation. I don't know, those zombie chickens look kinda scary. But I am pleased to receive it- thank you, Suey! and happy to pass the following

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all...

on to these five other bloggers:

Nymeth of Things Mean A Lot
Chris of Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Trish of Hey, Lady Whatcha' Reading?
Raych of books i done read
and Caribousmom

~~~ I forgot to mention that Trish also recently gave me the Sisterhood Award. Thank you, Trish! I'm passing this one on to:

Juli of Can I Borrow Your Book?
Shelley of Chain Reading
Jenny from Jenny's Books
Maggie from Maggie Reads
Eva of A Striped Armchair

Apr 10, 2009

Ortho's All About Vegetables

by Barbara Pleasant and Katie Lamar Smith

Well, I know from past responses that nobody's much interested in my gardening books, so I'll keep this brief, for myself. Ortho's All About Vegetables is a great resource. It's short, sweet and to the point. Instructions on how to design a vegetable garden for the best production, how to grow seedlings, overall plant care and specifics on each of some forty different vegetables. Last year I just stuck the seeds in the ground and watered. This year, I now have (thanks to this book- a gift from my husband) a plan to give each type of veggie the individual treatment it needs to grow healthiest. Gorgeous photos and a nice layout that makes for quick, easy reference round out this book. It's inspired me to want to grow more plants than my family would eat! And now I want to get a copy of the Ortho herb book since I'm growing those, too.

Rating: 4/5                     96 pages, 1999

Apr 9, 2009

Meme: Numbers Game

from Booking Through Thursday:

Some people read one book at a time. Some people have a number of them on the go at any given time, perhaps a reading in bed book, a breakfast table book, a bathroom book, and so on, which leads me to…

  1. Are you currently reading more than one book?
  2. If so, how many books are you currently reading?
  3. Is this normal for you?
  4. Where do you keep your current reads?
Right now I'm reading two books (see the sidebar). Usually it's just one at a time, occasionally two or more. (They have to be on different subjects. Currently, it's a large historical fiction novel, and a book on gardening). My current reads rest on the bedside table, or hang around the couch during the day. (They often go along in the car, too!)

Apr 8, 2009


by Will James

I was surprised at being disappointed in this book. It wasn't nearly as good as Smoky. As Smoky tells the education of a wild horse into a cow pony, Sand tells about a spoiled rich city kid who learns to be a cowboy. Gilbert Tilden is on his way across the country to visit his father, when he accidentally gets off the train in the middle of the Great Plains, and being drunk, fails to get back on. He wanders about the wide expanse of prarie, gets scared by some cattle, and stumbles into a cowboy camp. At first the cowboys are just watching out for him until they have the chance to dump him back at the train depot, but pretty soon Tilden is interested in the doings of the camp, and wants to make something of himself. He fixes on the idea of learning how to be a "useful hand", to prove something to his father. Then he falls in love with a local rancher's daughter, and sets himself the nearly impossible goal of catching a wild stallion in order to win her favor. Many other men have tried to catch the stallion before, so he not only has to learn the ways of wild horses, and make careful plans, but also avoid the competition.

This had all the makings of a great story, but there were some things that seriously hindered my enjoyment of it. First of all, the main thread of the narrative is relating Tilden's thoughts, musings, and plans- over and over. It would have been more interesting to read more details of his training and the work he had to do to catch the wild horse, which were often skipped over. Sometimes it was hard to puzzle out what was being talked about, as I'm not really familiar with cowboy lingo (some of the words here). And the whole book is written in slang. Rather like Huckleberry Finn, which I was able to get used to. Here, I couldn't. It was particularly annoying that the words Tilden or the girl spoke were in near-perfect English, and the rest of the text in cowboy slang, misspellings and all. It would have been far easier to read if the narrative was proper, and slang only used when the cowboys talked. I thought this book would be a lot like Captains Courageous, which has a similiar theme- spoiled rich kid forced to work and build character- but here, I did not get much sense of Tilden's character growth, even though it was discussed all the time. By the end of the book it was all feeling rather dull. Even the end of the story where Tilden finally gets close to the wild horse wasn't nearly as interesting as I'd hoped.

I read this book for the 9 for '09 Challenge.

Rating: 2/5                       364 pages, 1929

Anyone written a blog post about this book? Let me know and I'll add your link.

wondrous words

Some of the words I have for this week are from the end of Emma, the rest are from the book I just finished, Sand. Quite a difference in subject and theme- from Victorian drawing rooms to the American West and cowboy lingo!

From Emma:

Conundrum-"Agreed, agreed. I am making a conundrum. How will a conundrum reckon?"
Definition: a riddle whose answer is (or involves) a pun

Acrostic- "I had an acrostic once sent to me upon my own name which I was not at all pleased with."
Definition: a poem or verse where the first (or last) letter of each line forms a word or phrase

Ostler- "... when Mr. Elton came back, he told us what John the ostler had been telling him..."
Definition: a stableman at an inn (I remember this word now, from Black Beauty)

Extenuation- "Let us wait, therefore, for this letter. It may bring many extenuations."
Definition: to excuse a fault (archaic meaning, the more common definition is to make something thin or stretched)

From Sand:

Nubbin- "Sometimes tho, he thought, he sure would rap them hands of his and make him let go of the nubbin."
Definition: a short, projecting part (here the saddle horn)

Rowel- "...and with a well placed rowel against the shortribs of that horse, lined him out from the one spot and set him going for other sods on a long crowhopping lope."
Definition: a sharp-toothed wheel on a spur

Senatorium- "And another thing, this camp is no riding academy, nor senatorium."
Definition: a resort for the improvement of one's health

Whang, Marlin spike- "There was rawhide hobbles, a marlin spike, a few strips of whang leather which, Skip had told him, was handy to mend things with."
M-S- a pointed metal spike used to separate rope strands while splicing
W- a thong or whip made of hide or leather

Hackamore- "Then, amongst other odds and ends, was a hackamore, a rope full of the knots which the Kid had started teaching him to tie...."
Definition- a halter or bridle with no bit, having a noose to tighten around the nose or a wide band that can be lowered over the horse's eyes, used in breaking to halter

Soogan- " 'Well, I guess it's time for me to hit the soogans,' he says"
Definition: a bedroll

Latigo- "Ropes are muddy and stiff, so are the latigoes and everything else a cowboy touches."
Definition: a strap that tigthens the saddle girth

Queer- "There been just a snag which come near to queering everything."
Definition: slang for to ruin or thwart

Visit Bermudaonion's Weblog to see what new words others have found this week.

Apr 7, 2009

No Man Knows My History

by Fawn M. Brodie

This is a very in-depth biography of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (also known as Mormon). It's an incredibly long book. I remember struggling to read it, not only because of the length, and the (often tedious to me) numerous historical facts, but because it brought a lot of questions to my mind. This book is crammed with stuff they certainly don't teach you in sunday school. As far as I can judge, it is very well researched, and the narrative style makes the information fairly easy to absorb, taken at a slow, methodical pace. The main quip I had with this book was that beyond presenting all the facts she could dig up about Joseph Smith's life, Brodie also tried to reconstruct what he might have been thinking or feeling, what motivations he had, delving into his very psyche. That felt rather presumptuous to me. How could she know what he'd been thinking? It becomes pretty clear through reading No Man Knows My History that Brodie doesn't believe Smith was a prophet, but at the same time the pages resonate with her admiration and even respect for this man. Even if you doubt his claims, there is no questioning that he was a charismatic leader, full of passion and energy, able to inspire others and with a singularly curious outlook on life. That's all I'm going to say about this book, as there's a plethora of other reviews out there, many of them long, detailed, and heated in opinion. Go ahead and see what a few others thought (links below).

Rating: 3/5                      576 pages, 1945

More opinions at the Wiki article


The winner of my bookmarks giveaway is Nymeth! Hey, Nymeth, some
tigers are coming your way!!

Apr 6, 2009

My Old Man and the Sea

a father and son sail around Cape Horn
by David and Daniel Hays

A man and his son went on a 17,000-mile sailing adventure around Cape Horn, in a 25-foot boat they built themselves. The dangerous route they chose had never before been completed by a boat under 3o feet. Instead of sticking to the safety of modern gadgets and technology, they used old-fashioned sailing methods. And they took along a cat (who seemed to always be either sick, or causing trouble). They visited many interesting and remote ports and faced ugly weather (including hurricanes), getting lost due to navigation errors, and the strain of keeping their relationship intact in the confines of the small boat for days on end at sea (lots of fights). The book is written in alternating voices, pulled from the Hays' journal entries. They're not always complimentary of each other, and I had to wonder sometimes what they thought, each seeing the others' opinion (often uncomplimentary) of himself in print. They made a lot of mistakes, and freely admitted their errors- some I didn't realize the gravity of, not having ever gone sailing myself- others hit me with the danger and I held my breath to see how they'd scrape out of it alive. My Old Man and the Sea is a blast of a read- full of adventure, humor and wry observations on the father-son relationship. I felt sorry for the poor cat. He was no sailor!

Rating: 3/5                         223 pages, 1995

Apr 3, 2009

The Secret Life of the Unborn Child

by Thomas Verny

Here's another book I read way back when, about pregnancy. The Secret Life of the Unborn Child was written back when people were just beginning to question the routine use of technology in childbirth, and delves into ideas about how things experienced by the baby before or during birth, can affect it (positively or adversely) for life. It was really interesting to read about how the baby develops and all the things infants can sense while in the womb (light, sounds, etc). I think it's amazing that unborn babies can learn to recognize their parents' voices, or even certain melodies. I'm not sure if that means they can actually form memories while in the womb, like Verny claims. And other of his theories about how children can be emotionally scarred by medical interventions seemed rather far-fetched. I found the book to be both very intriguing, and worth of skepticism. I'm pretty sure many of the ideas in it have been further studied nowdays, so if you open its pages, read with a heavy dose of salt (and wonder).

Rating: 3/5                       256 pages, 1982

Apr 2, 2009


by Jane Austen

What to say about Emma. If I had not been reading this book for a challenge, I would have given up before page 20. And it did not get really interesting for me until about page 300! Even then, I could have put it down at any time. So I have some thanks to give to the 9 for '09 Challenge for stretching my brain with this one. As I did not really like it, I don't want to say much about it, and leave it to other bloggers (links below) to give better criticism, analysis and praise. To be short: Emma is about a young woman in 19th century England, whose greatest concern is who her friends will marry. She doesn't ever want to marry herself, but gets all involved in matching up her friends- and nothing goes as she thinks it will. In the end, everyone ends up being in love with someone other than who we thought- including Emma herself. Oh, and her pet project was to take a lower-class girl, Harriet, and try to educate and culture her, then make her a match with a gentleman. I'm glad it ended up well for Harriet, I was feeling sorry for her near the end.

On the whole, I found Emma incredibly dull. I've read other books (in my school days) set in this time period, even with similar themes, which have far more interesting descriptions and events. Emma is full of musings and plans, veiled conversations and quiet get-togethers. It's all talk and letters and nothing much seems to happen. (Except for one scene where two ladies walking alone were terrified out of their wits by a band of begging gypsies). The occasional quaint spelling and view of a by-gone way of life was interesting, but that was about it. I admit my mind wandered a lot, as I struggled at almost every sitting to keep from falling asleep over the book- so I probably missed a lot of subtle humor and clever plot things. But I'm not itching to try it again. After Madame Bovary and this one, I'm starting to think that classics just aren't my cup of tea anymore.

This book reminded me of The Importance of Being Earnest, although I read that so long ago (high school) I can hardly recall what it's about. And- this may sound silly- at the end I couldn't help thinking of the Harry Potter books- because at the close of every one of those you find that some of the characters had quite different intentions than you thought all along- or at least, than the main character thought.

Rating: 2/5                              367 pages, 1816

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Apr 1, 2009

wondrous words

This week all my new words came from Emma. Even if I'm not enjoying the book, it's expanding my vocabulary! A lot of them are so archaic, though, I fear I'll never use them. O well, at least they'll be recognizable next time I meet them in print.

Valetudinarian- "The evil of the actual disparity in their ages was much increased by his constitution and habits; for having been a valetudinarian all his life, without activity of mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than in years..."
Definition: a sickly or weak person, constantly concerned with their own health

Mizzle- "Ever since the day that Miss Taylor and I met with him in Broadway-lane, when, because it began to mizzle, he darted away with so much gallantry, and borrowed two umbrellas for us..."
Definition: rain in a fine mist, drizzle

Cockade- "Here is my sketch of the fourth, who was a baby... and it is as strong a likeness of his cockade as you would wish to see."
Definition: a feather or rosette on a hat

Cavil- "Her eyes, a deep grey, with dark eye-lashes and eye-brows, had never been denied their praise, but the skin, which she had been used to cavil at, as wanting colour, had a clearness and delicacy which really needed no fuller bloom."
Definition: to find fault with, or make a trivial objection

Recontre- "...the history which he had to give Mrs. Cole of the rise and progress of the affair was so glorious- the steps so quick from the accidental recontre, to the dinner at Mrs. Green's, and the party at Mrs. Brown's..."
Definition: an unplanned meeting

Tippet- "Jane, Jane, my dear Jane, where are you? Here is your tippet. Mrs. Weston begs you to put on your tippet. She says she is afraid there will be draughts in the passage."
Definition: a woman's fur shoulder cape with hanging ends

There were also a lot of words I knew, but whose spelling gave them unfamiliar faces: chuse for choose, foretel for foretell, beaufet for buffet, stopt for stopped, sopha for sofa, surprize for surprise, huswife for housewife, etc. I'm not sure which of these words have different spellings because they're British, or just because spelling wasn't standardized back in the 1800's? But they made for interesting reading!

For more wondrous words, visit the host of this meme at Bermudaonion's Weblog.