Saturday Review of Books: April 5, 2014

“The only thing I regret is that I will never have time to read all the books I want to read.” ~Francoise Sagan

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

D is for Dramatic Monologue

“Well, I think maybe people who write poetry are different in their thinking, to begin with, and how they translate what they experience into writing or maybe what they experience is somewhat different from what others do.” ~Lisel Mueller ~

Dramatic monologue: a poetic form in which a single character, addressing a silent auditor at a critical moment, reveals himself or herself and the dramatic situation.

Shakespeare (450 years old this month) was the quintessential poet/dramatist. Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be”, Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and Tomorrow”, King Lear’s insane and yet curiously apropos ravings, are all a part of our Shakespearean heritage.

But this monologue by Portia from The Merchant of Venice is one of my favorites:

'Blind Justice' photo (c) 2013, Tim Green - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

Other masters of the dramatic monologue in poetry: Robert Browning (My Last Duchess), Edgar Lee Masters (Spoon River Anthology), T.S. Eliot (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock), Rudyard Kipling (Gunga Din and others), Edgar Allan Poe (Annabel Lee).

C is for Cento

I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering. ~ Robert Frost ~

cento: “a poetical work wholly composed of verses or passages taken from other authors; only disposed in a new form or order. The term comes from the Latin cento, a cloak made of patches.” ~Wikipedia, Cento (poetry)

Let’s build our own cento, discover our own poem. I’ll post a couple of my favorite lines of poetry, and anyone can add, in the comments, one or two lines from another poem that you think feed into the cento. We’ll see what we have by the end of the day. Be sure and tell us the source of your lines.

Cento for April Third, National Poetry Month

It was many and many a year ago
In a kingdom by the sea

'The Two LIghthouses' photo (c) 2011, Anita Ritenour - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

B is for Ballad

Poetry is music written for the human voice. ~Maya Angelou

Ballad: ‘A ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Ballads derive from the medieval French chanson balladée or ballade, which were originally “dancing songs”. Ballads were particularly characteristic of the popular poetry and song of the British Isles from the later medieval period until the 19th century and used extensively across Europe.” ~Wikipedia, Ballad

'Gypsy Mellodee AHR# 106548' photo (c) 1985, Virginia  Hill - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Raggle Taggle Gypsy

There were three old gypsies came to our hall door
They came brave and boldly-o
One sang high and the other sang low
And the Lady sang the raggle taggle gypsy-o

It was upstairs and downstairs the lady went
Put on her suit of leather-o
T’was a cry all around the door
She’s away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy-o

It was late at night when the lord came in
Enquiring for his lady-o
The servant girl replied to her lord
She’s away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy-o

Oh then saddle for me and my milk white steed
My big horse is not speedy-o
I will ride and I’ll seek my bride
She’s away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy-o

Then he rode east and he rode west
He rode north and south also
But when he went to the open fields
It was there that he spied his lady-o

I love Celtic Thunder. Sadly, when I retrieved the above video, I read the news that George Donaldson, the anchor and father figure for the group, died on March 12, 2014 of a massive heart attack. He will be missed by the fans of Celtic Thunder and by his colleagues.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith

There are a few authors I could read all day, all week, and never get tired of their books, their characters, and their writing style. Whereas some authors I read and enjoy but then need a break—Dickens or John Grisham or even Tolkien. Others are so delightful and amusing and light-hearted that I could take a steady diet and not feel too over-filled or burdened. P.G. Wodehouse, Jan Karon, Agatha Christie (well, maybe not “light-hearted”), and Alexander McCall Smith fall into the latter category.

Mr. McCall Smith has written several series of novels set in various locales, and I’ve enjoyed at least a few of the books in each series:

Corduroy Mansions in London
44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh, Scotland,
The Isabel Dalhousie novels, also in Scotland,
Professor Dr. von Igelfeld novels in Germany and other settings,
and of course, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency set in Botswana, Africa.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon is the latest, and perhaps greatest, of this best-selling detective series. I enjoyed the contrasting of modern ways and the old conservative ways of traditional Botswanan culture—and the compromises between the two. I enjoyed the two mysteries and their cozy solutions. I enjoyed the continued unfolding of the friendship between Precious Ramotswe and her assistant Grace Makutsi. And Mma Ramotswe’s husband Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni continued to work in this book as in others at loving and caring for his traditionally built and professionally astute helpmeet. The supporting cast in this series also make an appearance and add to the story, each in his own way: Mma Potokwane, Phuti Radiphuti, and the apprentices, Charlie and Fanwell.

A couple of quotes, just to brighten your day and give you something to think about:

On forgiveness:
“She had forgiven him, yes, but she still did not like to remember. And perhaps a deliberate act of forgetting went along with forgiveness. You forgave, and then you said to yourself: Now I shall forget. Because if you did not forget, then your forgiveness would be tested, perhaps many times and in ways that you could not resist, and you might go back to anger, and to hating.”

On beauty:
“You could be very glamorous and beautiful on the outside, but if inside you were filled with human faults—jealousy, spite, and the like—then no amount of exterior beauty could make up for that. Perhaps there was some sort of lemon juice for inside beauty . . . And even as she thought of it, she realized what it was love and kindness. Love was the lemon juice that cleansed and kindness was the aloe that healed.”

A is for Anaphora

Most of the time, poetry enjoys the visibility of other minor cultural subcultures like chess or quilting. ~ Anita Diamant

April 1st is, of course, April Fool’s Day, a good day to turn the world upside down and notice poetry. Have you been fooled yet today?

For the month of April, in addition to my regular book reviews, I’m going to be posting some of my favorite poems: anaphora, ballads, cento, an abecedarian collection of poetic forms and types. April is National Poetry Month, and I intend to give you a gift this month: a poem a day. If I miss a day, forgive me. If my poetical selections displease you, again forgive. If you enjoy deceptively simple poetry, and light verse that’s not always so light, and meaning cloaked in the language of poetry, you might have a good time celebrating Poetry Month with me.

For today, I thought I’d kick off this series with A is for Anaphora.

Anaphora: a type of parallelism created when successive phrases or lines begin with the same words, often resembling a litany. The repetition can be as simple as a single word or as long as an entire phrase. As one of the world’s oldest poetic techniques, anaphora is used in much of the world’s religious and devotional poetry, including numerous Biblical Psalms.

A List of Praises by Anne Porter

'Sunset behind pine trees' photo (c) 2010, Ula  Gillion - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing,
Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches,
Mad with the joy of the Sabbath,
Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun,
Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes,
A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry
living wild on the Streets through generations of children.

Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away
With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle
As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning,
Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh
Of the wind in the pinewoods,
At night give praise with starry silences.

'Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) lunge feeding' photo (c) 2012, Mike Baird - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Give praise with the skirling of seagulls
And the rattle and flap of sails
And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell
Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor.
Give praise with the humpback whales,
Huge in the ocean they sing to one another.

Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids and cicadas,
Give praise with hum of bees,
Give praise with the little peepers who live near water.
When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries
We know that the winter is over.

Read the rest of this anaphoric poem at Poets.org.

Lockwood & Co. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

“I can claim to be tolerably detached on the subject of ghost stories. I do not depend upon them in any way; not even in the sordid professional way, in which I have at some periods depended on murder stories. I do not much mind whether they are true or not. I am not, like a Spiritualist, a man whose religion may said to consist entirely of ghosts. But I am not like a Materialist, a man whose whole philosophy is exploded and blasted and blown to pieces by the most feeble and timid intrusion of the most thin and third-rate ghost. I am quite ready to believe that a number of ghosts were merely turnip ghosts, elaborately prepared to deceive the village idiot. But I am not at all certain that they succeeded even in that; and I suspect that their greatest successes were elsewhere. For it is my experience that the village idiot is very much less credulous than the town lunatic. On the other hand, when the merely skeptical school asks us to believe that every sort of ghost has been a turnip ghost, I think such skeptics rather exaggerate the variety and vivacity and theatrical talent of turnips.” ~G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, May 30, 1936.

So if GK (and Shakespeare) were willing to suspend disbelief and leave a little room for ghost stories, so can I. And Lockwood & Co. The Screaming Staircase is an entertaining sort of ghost story. I’m not saying Mr. Stroud’s middle grade ghost novel is a true ghost story, but it is, within its own rather odd universe, believable and amusing and maybe even thought-provoking.

Lucy Carlyle leaves her provincial village after a ghostly disaster to go to London to find a job with one of the prestigious Psychic Investigation agencies there. She ends up accepting a position with Lockwood & Co., an agency staffed and run entirely by children. The three investigators at Lockwood & Co. are Lockwood, the owner of the agency, George Cubbins, his sloppy and nerdy assistant, and the intrepid Lucy herself. The subject of their investigations is The Problem, an infestation throughout Britain of ghosts, haunts, spirits, ghouls, specters, and other psychic phenomena. Only young people have the ability to sense and possibly eradicate these hauntings, but everyone is endangered by their ghostly presence. In fact, being touched by a ghost is usually fatal.

A bit of mild cursing (h—, d—, and the like) mars the otherwise excellent writing and subtle humor woven throughout the story. Lucy is a versatile and insightful narrator, and Lockwood himself, while somewhat enigmatic, is an engaging character. Since this novel is Book One of a series, the author preserves some mysteries about both Lockwood and about The Problem itself, presumably to enliven other books in the series. In the meantime in this book, we are introduced to a London in which children use iron chains, silver seals, and salt-bombs to fight off malevolent spirits bent on righting old wrongs and harming the still-living.

The book ends with the following hint (from a captured ghost) about where the story might be headed in terms of plot and theme:

“I can tell you things, you see. Important things. Like this: Death’s coming. . . . It’s nothing personal. Death’s coming to you all. Why? Because everything’s upside down. Death’s in Life and Life’s in Death, and what was fixed is fluid. And it doesn’t matter what you try, Lucy, you’ll never be able to turn the tide—”

I am definitely curious enough to read the second book in this series, Lockwood and Co. The Whispering Skull, due for release in September, 2014. Lockwood and Co. The Screaming Staircase was the winner of the Cybils Award for Middle Grade Speculative Fiction for 2013.

Saturday Review of Books: March 29, 2014

“I’m a reader and a storyteller, and God chose literature and story and poetry as the languages of my spiritual text. To me, the Bible is a manifesto, a guide, a love letter, a story.” ~Shauna Niequist

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

Favorite Poets: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

“A Sonnet is a moment’s monument,—
Memorial from the Soul’s eternity
To one dead deathless hour.”

~Dante Grabriel Rossetti


Hidden Harmony

THE thoughts in me are very calm and high
That think upon your love: yet by your leave
You shall not greatly marvel that this eve
Or nightfall—yet scarce nightfall—the strong sky
Leaves me thus sad. Now if you ask me why,
I cannot teach you, dear; but I believe
It is that man will always interweave
Life with fresh want, with wish or fear to die.
It may be therefore,—though the matter touch
Nowise our love,—that I so often look
Sad in your presence, often feeling so.
And of the reason I can tell thus much:—
Man’s soul is like the music in a book
Which were not music but for high and low.

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Mary Lee Hahn is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup at A Year of Reading.

Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick

Middle grade fiction subtitled A Story of Katrina, Zane and the Hurricane tells about the adventures, or misadventures, of Zane Dupree, a visitor to New Orleans from New Hampshire during the worst disaster in the city’s history, Hurricane Katrina. And Zane sees the worst of the worst.

I remember Katrina, but I think I must have subconsciously blocked out many of the details of the news coming out of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina’s devastation. I think I found it hard to believe that, for a few days at least, lawlessness reigned, and the governing authorities were at least somewhat powerless to help survivors of Katrina’s floods and winds. I do remember the refugees that came to Houston from New Orleans and from other places in Louisiana and the crime that some of them brought with them. (Wikipedia says: “The number of homicides in Houston from September 2005 through February 22, 2006 went up by 23% relative to the same period a year before; 29 of the 170 murders involved displaced Louisianans as victims or suspects.”)

However, I also read that reports of the lawlessness in New Orleans after Katrina were exaggerated:

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was characterized by extensive reporting of looting, violence, shooting against rescuers, murder and rape. While some criminal acts did occur, such as the emptying of an entire Wal Mart, many reports were also exaggerated, inflated, or simply fabricated. Several news organizations went on to issue retractions.

The media reports did fuel a paranoid anxiety in many homeowners who decided to take up arms to defend their property. Investigations carried out in the years following the hurricane turned out evidence of violence by white vigilante groups against evacuees and survivors, usually young black men. For example A.C. Thompson, after extensive investigation and eyewitness interviews in New Orleans found that “at least 11 people were shot. In each case the targets were African-American men, while the shooters, it appears, were all white.” Wikipedia, Effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans

So, take most of the bad things that really did happen during and after Katrina, and Zane Dupree sees or experiences them all: floods, heat, wind, looting, vigilantes, shooting, crime, death, lack of medical services, and more. This approach to telling the Katrina story through the eyes of a young survivor makes for a dark tale, but it’s deftly lightened by the heroism of Zane’s rescuers, jazz musician Trudell Manning and his ward Malvina Rawlins. Zane’s dog, Bandy the Wonder Dog, also adds a bit of humor and lightheartedness to the story. While Malvina tells very bad jokes (What did the ocean say to the ship? Nothing, it just waved!), and Mr. Manning tries to get himself and the two children to a safe place in a devastated city, Zane learns that that he can survive the worst of the worst, even in New Orleans,—with the help of family and friends.

Zane, the narrator, gives readers a warning on the first page that “there’s some really gross stuff in this book”, but most readers eleven or twelve and up have probably seen worse on television. However, if your child is particularly sheltered or sensitive, Zane and the Hurricane may not be the book for them. Other wise, it’s a good introduction to a sad episode in recent history and a good discussion starter. How would you act in a crisis? What if police were scarce and services such as electricity and food services were to disappear in a disaster? How would you treat your neighbors? How would they treat you?