Thursday, October 26, 2006


1. It's the start of my favorite time of year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, early darkness so kids are indoors and reading and going to bed because they have school the next morning . . . ah, autumn.
2. The Great Pumpkin. At our house, the children count out a certain number of pieces of candy and leave the rest for the Great Pumpkin (who brings them each a book in return.) Less candy, more reading. My kind of holiday hero.
3. The Nightmare Before Christmas. "This is Halloween, this is Halloween, Halloween, Halloween . . ."
4. Chocolate. (The Great Pumpkin has to dump all that candy somewhere!)
5. Costumes. I throw a party every year just so I can have an excuse to dress up. No bag ladies or corpses or sumo wrestlers for me--if I'm going to dress up, I'm going to be more glamorous than usual. Apparently, that is a sign of being a Capricorn. "Dignified Capricorns love the royal treatment, so dressing up like Marie Antoinette or King Henry VIII might appeal." Thus claims the following website (for which I'm indebted to my friend, Katie.) Follow the link to find out your zodiac costume fate.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Earlier this week, I heard a great line from the TV show STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP. One of the actresses said: "I have a vivid imagination and I get paid a lot of money for it." My husband said to me: "That's what it is--you have a vivid imagination." To which I replied: "And I haven't been paid one cent for it yet!"
Paid or not, imagination is central to who I am. I have always lived stories in my head. It's nice to find an acceptable outlet for that at last! As I raise my children, there are three traits I most want to instill in them: faith, humor, and imagination. Thus far, I seem to be succeeding with each (child and trait!). My two older boys read lots of fantasy--ERAGON and CIRQUE DU FREAK and PENDRAGON. All of my children make up plays and act out situations with their friends or by themselves. My 7-year-old daughter was frustrated last spring with how slowly I was reading HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE to her, so she started taking it to bed. She's now started the fifth book in the series, having read the previous four on her own. She has said that she can't wait until she turns 11 and receives her letter to Hogwarts. And do you know, I honestly can't tell if she believes that or not. At 7, I'm not going to ruin it for. She'll be pulled into hard reality soon enough, let her have her months of dreams.
My 10-year-old son has been known to ask "Do you believe in . . ." anything from Lord of the Rings elves to alternate worlds to vampires. I give him my Fox Mulder/X-Files answer: I want to believe.
There's no need to flood me with comments on how I'm deceiving my children, even lying to them. There's no need to give me your opinion on how children need to trust their parents. I am quite confident in my children's ability to hang on to both trust and imagination. After all, I've functioned 37 years in this world without having to be locked up for my own safety--and just maybe my vivid imagination will pay off someday.
As for illusion, that's what people with vivid imaginations create: in words, in images, in stage roles. Last night we saw the film THE ILLUSIONIST about a stage magician in turn of the century Vienna. Illusions abound in the film and the beauty of it was that I believed for two hours in what I experienced on screen. It's a magical, brilliantly-written, subtly-acted film that I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in the very best of what movies can do.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY by Alan Paton: Amazingly, I'd missed out on this one until we read it for book club. Having lived in Haiti and been recently in Africa, I was in the perfect frame of mind for this story of a black South African pastor whose son kills the son of white farmer during a robbery. With its distinctive style and structure (including no quotation marks), it took me a while to get into the story. But the story is powerful, a meditation on apartheid South Africa and the responsibility of those who know better to do better. The last section of the book is beautiful and uplifting and I'll keep it on my bookshelf forever.
EXIT LINES and CHILD'S PLAY by Reginald Hill: more Dalziel/Pascoe catch-up books. The first deals with the seemingly-unrelated deaths of three elderly men on the same night. Of course, everything's related in a mystery--at least, in a good mystery. The second is the story of an old, rich woman who dies and leaves her estate to the soldier son who went missing in Italy forty years before. How far will other members of the family go to get their hands on the fortune? And is the man who appears at the funeral really the lost prodigal?
PASTWATCH by Orson Scott Card: a friend lent me this alternate history tale in which a future Earth civilization, on the verge of utter destruction, sends three travelers back in time to make the alterations that will preserve humanity's future. Their key event? Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean in 1492. Good characters, vivid settings, intricate plot--but somehow, the whole was not as good as the sum of its parts. Not my favorite Card by a long shot.
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson: Jackson is best known for her short story "The Lottery" in which a town draws lots to see who . . . well, if you haven't read it, you really should! I read HILL HOUSE because I'd seen several movie versions and was curious about the source material. It was much more psychological than horror, but I couldn't quite sympathize with Eleanor as the main character. On the other hand, IN THE CASTLE is brilliant: domestic and creepy and innocent and twisted all at once. From the back flap copy: "17-year-old Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Once there were seven Blackwoods--until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl. Acquitted of the murders, Constance returned to the big old house, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villageres. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp . . ." A great read for Halloween :)
HALF-BROKEN THINGS by Morag Joss: a new to me British crime writer, this is a stand-alone psychological suspense novel. Again, the back flap copy does the story more justice than I can: "Jean is a house sitter at the end of a dreary career. Steph is nine months pregnant and on the run. And Michael is a thief. Through a mixture of deceit, good luck, and misfortune, these three reluctant, damaged loners have come together at a secluded country home. Living off the manor's riches, tending its grounds and gardens, they leave the outside world far behind them . . . Until the first unexpected visitor arrives." A wonderful writer, a compelling story, but with that sense of seeing a train wreck coming for these people and knowing you can't do anything to stop it. I will read more by Joss.
BIRTH OF BRITAIN by Winston Churchill: in between saving Britain, Churchill wrote about its history. I just read volume one, from the Celts to the Tudors. The writing is lucid and clear and helped make sense of lots of twisted family trees and timelines. I even now have a decent idea of who Alfred the Great was and why he's Great. My only quarrel was with the final chapter on Richard III. An ardent Ricardian myself, I took issue with Churchill's admitting that Thomas More was a biased source, and then going ahead to accept More's Tudor-revisionist history at face value. Other than that, a wonderful book for anyone interested in British history. I will read future volumes.
THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova: this manuscript, the author's first, sold at auction for 1.6 million dollars. As jealous as that makes me, I'll freely admit that this is the second time in a year that I've read this book and I enjoyed it just as much the second time through. "To my dear and unfortunate successor . . ." thus begins a story of Dracula, communist Eastern Europe, a teenage girl without a mother who is trying desperately to understand the things her father is hiding from her, a chase through history and old parchments and older churches to save a friend before he becomes undead. I loved this book, far more than Dan Brown's antiquities chase, and I suspect I'll read it again in the future.