Monday, February 20, 2017

Time Flies

Just a friendly reminder: If you're joining the BYRC this year, you need to be signed up before March 1.

Sign up in the comments here, and/or check the progress page here to make sure I have you listed.

And if you have any idea how March can be just around the corner already (yikes!), please let me know ASAP!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Not Blogging

I'm a little behind on the blogging, but I have a good excuse! See you next week!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ethereal 2017 - My Sign-Up

Because I was invited by a new bloggy friend who hosts this challenge: the dynamic Carolyn at Riedel Fascination.

Because I have some cool books on my shelves that I need to prioritize.

Because reading about the Green Man will give me hours of pleasure, not to mention a walk down memory lane.

Because some obsessions never abate.

Because connecting with the archetype of our relationship with Nature is more important than ever these days.

Because I can't say no to a good challenge!

And therefore:

I'm joining Ethereal 2017, a challenge that focuses on books about spirits, souls, spirit encounters real or fictional, the paranormal, faith, mysticism, fantasy, folklore, sacred environments, and such topics, including (quite naturally, now that I think about it) children’s books, because plants and animals in children's books are depicted in magical ways.

This is a great excuse to delve into my Green Man books, which are solidly within the folklore realm and a long-term interest of mine. To wit: once when I saw the Green Man on a building in Toronto, I let out a shriek of excitement and joyful recognition that stopped passers-by in their tracks. It remains a happy memory to this day, more than 10 years later.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a photo of the Green Man of Bamburg, one of numerous depictions throughout history. The cathedral in which he makes his home was consecrated in May of 1237. And what's he doing in a Christian building? Ah, that's the mystery and the allure.

Photo credit: Pinterest

These days the Green Man is most often seen in garden sculptures and on beer labels, but don't be fooled. He's a powerful symbol from ancient and medieval worlds. 

I look forward to reading more about him. My books will be:

Seeking the Green - Tylluan Penry
Uprooted: On the Trail of the Green Man - Nina Lyon
The Land of the Green Man: A Journey Through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles - Carolyne Larrington

Monday, February 6, 2017

Exploring the Failure Zone

This tidy little volume, Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better, came to me as a mystery gift from my local book haunt. They were giving away books one Christmas, already wrapped, with clever little hints on the tags. It's been waiting patiently on my TBR list ever since.

In some ways this is the perfect book for me, because I'm a perfectionist. I work very hard to be more relaxed about things--and if you think that last assertion is funny, then you know exactly what I'm saying.

Just the other day at the start of a presentation, I had to log in while the screen was already being projected onto the big screen for the entire audience to see. That was the most stressful part of the entire presentation: knowing that if I made a typo and couldn't log in the first time, everyone would see and know. Not that they would care, mind you--it was a friendly audience. I just hate making a mistake when folks are watching!

The book began as a graduation speech Buddhist nun Pema Chodron gave when her granddaughter graduated from Naropa University. The text of the speech is delivered a few sentences at a time, on the right-hand page, with an interesting simple illustration on the left-hand page. It unfurls gently, giving the reader plenty of time to think about each nugget of wisdom before proceeding on to the next. The illustrations progress, too, building into complex patterns and then morphing into other patterns, always reflective of the words on their counterpart pages. (The illustrations make this a kind of flip book, too, which is a nice bonus.)

The speech itself is imbued with the Buddhist sense of engaging with things as they are, even the most uncomfortable things: not hiding, not avoiding, not shoving under the rug. It's a message that's not easy to hear in our fix-it-quick society, where we're all too ready to blame external forces for our problems and/or to move on quickly as though we had nothing to do with whatever disaster has occurred. It was simultaneously restful and challenging to pause, reflect, face up to the idea of failure, and try to make it a teacher, maybe even a friend.

The graduation speech is augmented with the transcript of an interview with the author in which many of the same points are explored more deeply. It made the book more substantial, turning it from something you might give as a gift for a graduation into a book you might also buy for yourself and return to over time.

My copy was an uncorrected proof. I didn't find any errors (and I have an eagle eye). I do hope they made a slight correction in the book's design, because this very nice and thoughtful text is printed in grey ink. The illustrations were quite dark and seemed to jump off the page in comparison to the text. The grey text, on the other hand, was difficult to read unless the light was very, very good.

So, getting comfortable with failure. Maybe even embracing failure as a learning tool. Perhaps, dare I say it, welcoming failure as the gateway toward doing better next time.


Your best qualities come out of that place because it's unguarded and you're not shielding yourself. Failing better means that failure becomes a rich and fertile ground instead of just another slap in the face. . . . And it isn't that failure doesn't still hurt. I mean, you lose people you love. All kinds of things happen that break your heart, but you can hold failure and loss as part of your human experience and that which connects you with other people.

Note: This book counts toward the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge. I'm also counting it as the letter C (Naropa University is in Boulder, Colorado) for the Where are You Reading Challenge.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Finished At Last

This book turned out to be my reading year nemesis in 2016. I'd hoped to finish strong, but I bogged down at the end, thanks to my difficulty with this novel.

Ilustrado is my first Man Asian Prize winner and I'm reserving judgment until I read a few more of the winners. However, my initial impression echoes my reaction to the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature winners I've read so far: I wanted to broaden my reading horizons, and I've done that, but it hasn't been successful. (You can read a little more about that here, if you're so inclined.) I think it's entirely my fault that I don't "get" these books, which are recognized by others as being excellent novels. I blame my weak and narrow knowledge of the countries and cultures involved; that's a good enough reason to think about coming out of my comfort zone in the future. And now, how about a review?

This novel begins with the discovery of the body of poet and literary light Crispin Salvador in the Hudson River. There's some question whether his death was murder or suicide, as Crispin's student and acquaintance Miguel--it's rather a stretch to call him a friend, because he seems present in Crispin's life more by default than by design--tries to track down a missing manuscript and construct a biography-in-progress. The unknown contents of the manuscript, rumored to be an expose of the corruption of Filipino aristocracy, provide a possible motive.

The murder angle soon dissipates, however, in this novel that flips constantly, reminding me of the various snippets one views while channel surfing. (I know I'm onto something here, because there's even a scene where Miguel channel surfs and reports what he sees.) Miguel narrates his own story of his journey to Manila, including such personal details as the painful end of his relationship with Madison in New York, the possibility of another with Sadie, a girl he meets by chance in Manila, his own family history, and verbatim accounts of interviews he conducts as part of his research.

Sometimes this narration is in first person. Sometimes it's in third person--or maybe that other Miguel traveling through Manila is supposed to be someone else. The narration is constantly interrupted by excerpts from Crispin's novels and political writings, snippets from newspaper reports, political blogs, and message boards (supposedly verbatim, including the spam), interview transcripts, conversations that read like a play script, and samples from the biography-in-progress--all in different typefaces. Some of the writing is excellent; I particularly liked one of Crispin's efforts, a sort of fantasy thriller a la Jurassic Park, in which a boy and a girl are cornered by some fierce toothy creatures. It thoroughly caught my attention for the few paragraphs it lasted.

Eventually all this mishmash coalesces into a family saga and dovetails sharply into a meditation on the role of the artist and the artist's bond with the audience, in which the past and the present and the various narratives meet at the exact moment that black words are typed onto the white page. It's a very nice moment, but it was a long time coming.


And I forgave him [his lack of involvement in politics]. Even if I thought he was running away from something by living abroad. Maybe I excused him because he was a man who'd already made many a stand, perhaps one too many, and it was now the era for people like me to step up. Or maybe I admired him because he had graduated into a different role. When Crispin spoke about his writing, he wielded adroitly a life sharpened by learning, defending a ferocious belief that merely being in touch with today is limited, even juvenile--in the way that this morning's newspaper is revealed as tonight's fish-and-chips wrapping when works like One Hundred Years of Solitude . . . are picked off the shelf. A man with battered hands is shown to be a craftsman only when he puts them to work.