30 January 2013

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"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 36

This meeting of the Anti-Grasshopper Club is now in session. Are we all here? . . . Good.

We knew this was coming, didn't we? Laura Ingalls Wilder couldn't have foreshadowed it more darkly if she'd painted them on. This may be the most awful part of the entire readalong--and one of the Top 5 Most Awful "Two or Three" Book Club Moments, up there with scenes straight out of Stephen King. Yet in the midst of that overwhelming misfortune comes this beam of light:

"I don't want to look any more," Mary said, and she went away from the window. Laura did not want to look any more, either, but she could not stop looking.

The hens were funny. The two hens and their gawky pullets were eating grasshoppers with all their might. They were used to stretching their necks out low and running fast after grasshoppers and not catching them. Every time they stretched out now they got a grasshopper right then. They were surprised. They kept stretching out their necks and trying to run in all directions at once.

"Well, we won't have to buy feed for the hens," said Ma. "There's no great loss without some gain."

That's a great passage, coming in the midst of some devastating descriptions of the damage caused by the grasshoppers--which read like that proverbial train wreck you can't drag your eyes away from. If you were looking at your family's farm, the hard labour of many months, and the beautiful prairie beyond being completely destroyed while you were powerless to do anything, no one would blame you for taking in only the huge loss. But the Ingalls can see the hens for the grasshoppers, and that makes all the difference. Ma reminds her family--and the readers--that as long as you can look at the hens and laugh, you will be saved from despair.

Besides, it's nice to think that in the midst of that grasshopper feeding frenzy, some of the invaders are getting eaten, too! But I'm just petty like that.


27 January 2013

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"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 35

How I'm ever going to finish this before February without backdating, I'm not sure. But enough about me . . . Let's see what's up these days with naughty Laura . . .

"Oh, Pa," Laura said, "do I have to go to school?"

"You will like school, Laura," said Pa.

"I like it better here," Laura said, mournfully.

"I know, little half-pint," said Pa, "but it isn't everybody that gets the chance to learn to read and write and cipher. Your Ma was a school-teacher when we met, and when she came West with me, I promised that our girls would have a chance to get book learning. That's why we stopped here, so close to a town that has a school. You're almost eight years old now, and Mary's going on nine, and it's time you begun. Be thankful you've got the chance, Laura."

A few meetings ago, Sheila said she found it funny that Ma and Pa never bothered to teach Laura how to read, despite Ma's having been a school-teacher--and now that I know about the three textbooks at Ma's disposal all that time, I find it curious as well. But Laura's temperament must have also been a big factor. Contrast her with the more sedate Mary, whom Laura says "looked like a good little girl who wanted to go to school": if I remember correctly, there is a reference to Mary's reading lessons with Ma in one of the chapters about Laura's exploring.


26 January 2013

+JMJ+

Twelve Things about Hotel Transylvania

12. There are many Hotel Transylvania posters that I could have used to illustrate this post. I chose this one because the character I loathe the most isn't in it.

I mean, when I watch a movie about monsters who hang out at a special hotel so that they don't have to deal with humans, that means that I want to hang out at a special hotel so that I don't have to deal with humans, either. You know?

11. The first scenes in the hotel were really promising. As the guests--all regulars, apparently--start to arrive for the season, every monster cliche of the movies gets thoroughly, yet affectionately sent up. Take the werewolf showing up in one of those tacky short-sleeved office shirts and a tie, with a whole litter of uncontrollable offspring and a heavily pregnant wife. Not quite the "Alpha" dog of countless legends and movies, is he? And of course Frankenstein's monster and his bride would be Jewish . . . But did you expect they'd have New York accents, too? LOL!

There's obviously a lot to "monster culture" that we humans don't know, and I would have loved an unadulterated look at "ordinary" monsters just being themselves and not the scary stereotypes we imagine they are. But do you know what we get instead?

10. A picture is worth a thousand words . . .

22 January 2013

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"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 34

You may or may not have noticed that the last readalong post was kind of . . . for the lack of a better word . . . half-assed. =P I'm sorry about that and will try to get back up to my usual standards with this one.

Next day Laura was sure that Ma would not let her go to play in the creek. It was still roaring, but more softly. In the dugout, she could hear it calling her. So to Laura quietly slipped outdoors without saying anything to Ma.

The water was not so high now. It had gone down from the steps and Laura could see it foaming against the footbridge. Part of the plank was above the water.

All winter the creek had been covered with ice; it had been motionless and still, never making a sound. Now it was laughing swiftly and making a joyful noise. Where it struck the edge of the plank, it foamed up in white bubbles and laughed to itself . . .

Oh, Laura . . . In another type of children's tale, this episode would have ended very differently! LOL! As things stand, I don't know how this is going to play out and can't wait for the ending. =) 

20 January 2013

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"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 33

Now that I'm no longer worried about squeezing a fifth Little House book into January, I'm happy to announce that this will be one of five readalong posts on the last novel we are tackling together, On the Banks of Plum Creek. It's the longest one, so far!

As we say hello to the Ingalls again, we also say goodbye to three beloved friends from the prairie . . .

Beyond the firelight, Pet and Patty and Bunny were eating grass. They bit it off with sharp, pulling crunches, and then stood chewing it and looking through the dark at the low stars shining. They did not know they had been traded.

Laura was a big girl, seven years old. She was too big to cry. But she could not help asking, "Pa, did you have to give him Pet and Patty? Did you, Pa?"

Pa's arm drew her close to him in a cuddly hug.

"Why, little half-pint," Pa said. "Pet and Patty like to travel. They are little Indian ponies, Laura, and plowing is too hard work for them. They will be much happier traveling out West. You wouldn't want to keep them here, breaking their hearts on a plow . . ."

Nice one, Pa. It's worthy of Mr. Edwards. LOL! But seriously, I think it's the loss of Pet, Patty and Bunny, more than the loss of the little house on the prairie, that really underlines the fact that the adventure is over. Laura Ingalls Wilder can play my emotions like an autoharp. =P

18 January 2013

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Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 10

Although I haven't signed up for any 2013 Reading Challenges, looking over some of them has helped to remind me of what I'm trying to do on this blog. I'm referring to the ones with monthly themes.

Take the Paranormal 2013 Reading Challenge, "each month featuring a different category of paranormal creature." January gets Vampires, probably because it is the easiest category to get everyone started; my beloved October gets Ghosts, for the spooky factor, I guess; and December gets Other, defined as "sirens, unicorns, centaurs, time travel, etc."

Then there is the Reading Romances Challenge, in which each month is devoted to a well-known (and well-loved) Romance cliche. January's theme is Marry Me?, which means arranged marriages; February is Foreigners Do It Better month, which is as self-explanatory as it is hilarious; and December gets Cinderella, for either rags-to-riches or riches-to-rags stories.

I'd be more likely to do the first challenge than the second, if only because I'm so out of the Romance reading loop that no titles jumped to mind when I read the second set of categories. But I'm not doing either of them, am I? So what is the point of this post?

15 January 2013

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"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 32

No discussion of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy is complete without a nod to all that food! I'm letting Christmas dinner be the pinnacle of the Wilder family's meals, but I wouldn't have said no to any chance to sit at their table.

He looked at the crisp, crackling little pig lying on the blue platter with an apple in its mouth. He looked at the fat roast goose, its drumsticks sticking up, and the edges of dressing curling out. The sound of Father's knife sharpening on the whetstone made him even hungrier.

He looked at the big bowl of cranberry jelly, and at the fluffy mountain of mashed potatoes with melting butter trickling down it. He looked at the heap of mashed turnips, and the golden baked squash, and the pale fried parsnips.

He swallowed hard and tried not to look anymore. He couldn't help seeing the fried apples'n'onions, and the candied carrots. He couldn't help gazing at the triangles of pie, waiting by his plate; the spicy pumpkin pie, the melting cream pie, the rich, dark mince oozing from between the mince pie's flaky crusts . . .

Okay, that's it. I need to take a break and eat something before I feel as if I'm starving to death--a familiar feeling from these two weeks of reading Farmer Boy. =P See you after the jump.


13 January 2013

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Twelve Things about White Water Summer

12. Those who have seen White Water Summer may find the poster a bit misleading. This isn't a movie about Kevin Bacon's character and some sidekick canoeing through some dangerous rapids. In fact, although Bacon gets top billing and his name above the title (and his face above his name), he's only playing a supporting character. So there's a sense in which this is not a good poster for the movie.

And there's another sense in which it's the perfect one.

11. The real main character is the other guy in the canoe, who is played by Sean "Goonies never say die!" Astin. I'm saying that just to be objective, though. For me, the true draw was Jonathan Ward, formerly of the sitcom Charles in Charge. (You caught the Friday night live blog, right?) I will watch anything he has worked on.

10. Astin plays Alan, an awkward, nerdy boy whose parents sign him up for a wilderness survival course run by Bacon's character Vic. It involves hiking, camping, mountain climbing, white water canoeing, and living off the land with three other boys. Alan is not happy about it--and he is extra wary about Vic. As he should be!

That's easy for me to say, though. From my vantage point, watching the story unfold, it was clear that Vic fit the profile of a modern narcissist.

10 January 2013

+JMJ+

"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 31

In case you missed it, Shaz wrote a catch-up post for the readalong: Farmer Boy (Part One).

Now what do you think of using models for covers? I don't think it's too different from having evocative illustrations. But with the medium being the message and all, perhaps I should be more critical. =P

Every day the pumpkin vine drank up the bowlful of milk, through the candlewick, and the pumpkin was growing enormously . . .

Almanzo had his little pig now, too . . . and he fed her all she could eat. She was growing fast, too.

So was Almanzo, but he was not growing fast enough. He drank all the milk he could hold, and at mealtimes he filled his plate so full that he could not eat it all. Father looked stern because he left food on his plate, and asked:

"What's the matter, son? Your eyes bigger than your stomach?"

Then Almanzo tried to swallow a little more. He did not tell anyone he was trying to grow up faster so he could help break the colts.

It occurs to me that the farm is a perfect setting for a coming-of-age story, inasmuch as growing is the very business of a farm. Not just any kind of growing, mind you: a weed can do that. It is a growing that is helped along, in the way it needs to be helped along, for the greater good of all. On a farm, the crops have to be tended correctly and the animals have to be raised properly, or else all is lost. How much truer that holds for a child!

06 January 2013

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Punk Catholic Thought of the Year II

Oooh, a sequel!!! And due warning: it's rated NC-13! Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the blog . . . Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!

One of my most beautiful Mass memories is from a time the sanctuary was so crowded that I had to sit behind a statue of St. Martha. My view of the altar was completely blocked, and I was feeling a bit sad that I wouldn't get to gaze at the Host when Father elevated it. As soon as everyone knelt for the Consecration, however, I felt an uncharacteristic urge to turn my head away from the altar, toward one of the glass windows at the side of the church. This was a pre-dawn Mass, so it was still dark outside and the windows acted as mirrors. And that was how I got an excellent, if reverse-image, view of the Consecration.

I've always thought of that as St. Martha's little gift to me that morning . . . and I've had cause to think of it again over the past several months. These days, if I can't get a seat up front at church, I deliberately sit where I know my view is going to be obscured. That's actually a lot trickier than it sounds because it's not one view I have to block, but several.

This is thanks to something very new in the sanctuary of my parish church. And by "new," I mean that Marshall McLuhan was all over it long before I was born. There are currently six flat screen monitors installed on pillars along the main area of the church, for the benefit of those in the congregation who don't have a very good view of the altar (or of the lectern).

I f***ing hate the things.

05 January 2013

+JMJ+

"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 30

Although no one has linked up a Farmer Boy readalong post yet, I happened to know that one commenter has a relevant post in his archives and was recently reminded that another has one, too! Click on their names to find out what Bob and Sheila think of what Laura Ingalls Wilder had to say about education in Farmer Boy!

And if you miss the "Laura books," then you'll be happy to know that Shaz is extending the possibility for discussion at her blog with Part 3 of her readalong posts on Little House on the Prairie.

"Father, I can't go to school today, can I? If I don't work those calves, they will forget how to act."

Father tugged his beard and twinkled his eyes.

"Seems as though a boy might forget his lesson, too," he said.

Almanzo had not thought of that. He thought a minute and said:

"Well, I have had more lessons than the calves, and besides, they are younger than I be."

Father looked solemn, but his beard had a smile under it, and Mother exclaimed:

"Oh, let the boy stay home if he wants! It won't hurt him for once in a way, and he's right, the calves do need breaking."

I don't know about you but the above cover with the Garth Williams illustration is my favourite of the Farmer Boy lot. Star and Bright look so sweet and lovely. And no other cover that I've found expresses the juxtaposition of Almanzo and the not-quite-broken calves half as well.

04 January 2013

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Twelve Things about Children of the Corn

12. First of all, thanks to Angie Tusa, whose first Castle Rock Companion vlog about Children of the Corn inspired me to watch the movie again and to write this post! It's a good vlog--informative, entertaining, and to-the-point--and I recommend it if you're a Stephen King fan with a few minutes to spare.

11. I'm willing to bet that most people watched Children of the Corn for the first time when they themselves were young enough to be one of the children in the story. When a child character has a significant role in a movie, the movie seems appropriate for child viewers--and this famously cheesy adaptation of King's short story has several very significant child characters whose presence screams louder than the R rating.

And I think that's interesting cultural "baggage" for this movie to have, inasmuch as the story pits children against adults. Perhaps there is also a difference in the way we receive the story as children and the way we receive it as adults, but that has not been my own experience. I'd say I've become more critical of it . . . but also more appreciative. No conflict there. But I may be alone in this.

10. You know what other stories consistently set children and adults against each other? Faerie tales! And during my most recent viewing, I kept thinking that Burt and Vicky, the two adults who stumble upon the children of the corn, were a version of Hansel and Gretel.

02 January 2013

+JMJ+

"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 29

Now that we're done with the first two Little House books (which I now know, thanks to Shaz, are not really the first two Little House books), we finally get to Farmer Boy, which, to my great distress, has even more chapters than Little House on the Prairie! So even as I excitedly announce that this will be the first of four posts about our current novel, I have no idea how I'm ever going to finish this readalong "on schedule"! LOL!!!

Almanzo took his own little milking-stool, and a pail, and sat down in Blossom's stall to milk her. His hands were not yet strong enough to milk a hard milker, but he could milk Blossom and Bossy. They were good old cows who gave down their milk easily, and hardly ever switched a stinging tail into his eyes, or upset the pail with a hind foot . . .

When Almazo had finished milking . . . [his] father went into Blossom's stall with his own pail and stool, and sat down to strip the last, richest drops of milk from Blossom's udder. But Almanzo had got it all. Then Father went into Bossy's stall. He came out at once and said,

"You're a good milker, son."

Farmer Boy would have been a great book for the Top Secret December Theme (which nobody cared to figure out, possibly because I was being insufferable with it) . . . but I got to it too late.

01 January 2013

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Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 9

It takes me forever to finish my own projects, doesn't it? Chapter 8 went up over nine months ago. Since that time, you could say a whole new direction to my blogging has been born.

When I started writing these posts, my personal reading challenge was to come up with a nice balance between "new" books and "old" books. (See Chapter 3.) That soon became a more general rule of having as eclectic a reading mix as possible. You can see how that works out if you review last year's "Two or Three" Book Club picks . . .