Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Poem for September: The Walrus and the Carpenter.

By far the longest poem I have memorized, it was good I picked this month to do it as it was the Bike Commute Challenge, and I had a lot of memorizing time on my hands, or on my bike, as it were.  By the end of September I was pretty sick of the first quarter of it, because that was the section I had said the most times.  I think the next time I pick a long poem I will physically divide it up into four parts and only take one section per week then mesh them all together the last week.

That said, this is a pretty easy poem to commit to memory as it's ballad type nature easily lends to putting pictures of what comes next in your head.  And it's fun to try different voices for the characters.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Lewis Carroll

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Books read in September

Some good fiction reading this month...

Eat, Drink and Be From Mississippi
Nanci Kincaid
I grabbed this book because I had no fiction on hand and the train was coming. I was a bit leery, both because of the title (a bit too cute) and the way the author spelled her first name. Yes, I judge a book by its cover, it's author's name and its title, along with a host of other things. But 5o pages in, I was hooked and want to read everything Nanci Kincaid has ever written.

The synopsis of the book is a bit off. Don't get impatient because you are pretty far in and the "troubled teenager" hasn't shown up yet; he arrives in the second half of the book. The first half is a leisurely meander though Truley's life, getting him from Mississippi to California and from high school student to successful entrepreneur. After that enjoyable setup we can make room for the troubled teenager.

Every once in awhile I get to read a book with delightful characters. Funny, interesting and flawed, I fall in love with them all. Add to that, the fact that Kincaid has some nice turns of phrase and you can take my recommendation that you sit yourself down with a nice book.

The Prophet of Yonwood
Jeanne DuPrau
The third book in the Ember series, this is billed as a prequel. I thought it failed on that front as the first 281 pages seemed to have no connection at all to the city of Ember, or the people of Sparks, for that matter. The story was interesting enough, but I kept wondering when I would find out how this connected to the previous books. If you are a reader similarly inclined, simply turn to page 182 and read "What happened after" first. Knowing the connection to the previous books, you can now begin the story at the beginning and read it on its own terms.

The Diamond of Darkhold
Jeanne DuPrau
After I finished The City of Ember, and before I realized there was an Ember series, I spent a few days wondering what, exactly the builders were thinking. Their whole setup seemed great for 200 years, but there seemed to be no plan for how the people of Ember would survive above ground without the collective knowledge of human history. I myself have a smattering of knowledge of how to grow food and consider myself handy, but I'm not sure if I could make it through a winter on my own, and I was raised on frontier novels with survivor tips disguised as plot points. The people of Ember had never seen a sunset, or experienced seasons, or even snow. What exactly were they supposed to do for food and shelter?

The first chapter of book four in the Ember series lets us know that the builders were thinking of how hard the emergence would be and explains that they decided to do something to give the people of Ember a head start--to make it easier on them. The builders put this mysterious something into a time-release vault for the people of Ember to find when they come above ground. After this setup, we are plunged (yay!) back to the village of Sparks where the former citizens of Ember and current citizens of Sparks are attempting to survive their first winter. We follow Lina and Doon as they find evidence of this thing that will make it easier on the Emberites. Being the Lina and Doon we know, of course they decide to solve this mystery on their own.

Now knowing the thing that the builders prepared, I have to say, "eh." Sure, the item was helpful to the village of Sparks and allowed a great many things to happen, as we find out in the last chapter, but really. That's what they thought of? A few books on creating food and shelter as well as natural medicines might have served the citizens a bit better.

That said, I enjoyed this seemingly last book in the Ember series. Like the first and second book, it was full of action and moral quandaries and Lina and Doon are great characters.

The Divorce Party
Laura Dave
Can you think of any circumstance in which it would be okay for your fiancee to neglect to mention that he has been married before? How about the fact that his family is worth half a billion dollars? Maggie, one of the two main characters in this novel discovers both of these things on the way to meet her fiancee's parents for the first time. What's worse, they are attending her future in-law's Divorce Party.

I found this to be a nicely written novel with sympathetic characters and a few interesting plot twists. The last chapter in particular was a nice completion of a circle. At a brief 244 pages, this might be a nice vacation or rainy weekend read.

American Wife: a novel
Curtis Sittenfeld
I spent this weekend devouring this novel, and what a lovely way to pass a late-summer weekend. I heard Sittenfeld on Fresh Air when this book was first published and it was obvious to me that she was in love with her main character. This love comes through in the writing of this book, which I found added to my love of the book.

While many novels explore the compromises people make to remain with their married partner, most people won't have to face the level of compromises that Alice Blackwell, the main character, makes over her the lifetime of her marriage to Charles Blackwell. The first third of the book explores Alice's upbringing, and was where I fell in love with her too. She is a deeply sympathetic character.

The middle part of the novel--the troubles in the Blackwell's marriage, was not as interesting to me, but if your attention starts to waver, stick it out. Because, what if you wanted to live your life essentially a private person, but your husband, who you deeply love, first runs for governer and then later runs for, and is elected, President of the United States of America? And then what if, early in his presidency a huge national tradegy occurs and your husband decides to start wars in two countries and eventually becomes one of the most hated sitting presidents in US History? How would you arrage your life?

Aside from being an entertaining story (the part where the Blackwell matriarch explains the reasons why Alice Blackwell needs to return to her alcoholic husband was a particularly fun few pages for me) this was a gentle reminder to remember that there are people behind the personas we see in the media. Also, Sittenfeld is a fabulous writer and I will be including several phrases and passages from this book in my quotes page. Highly recommended.

Sarah's Quilt
Nancy E. Turner
Somewhat like a Michael Bay movie with it's pretty much uninterrupted action scenes, this is the continuation of Sara Prine, the woman I first met in These is my words. Sara's grammar is fine now, but she has a lot of problems, most of them stemming from the drought. As with the first book, about three-quarters of the way through I grew weary of all the hardship that come Mrs. Prine's way. However, the force of her character kept me reading to the end. I'm taking a break from her for awhile, but I will return to read the next book in the series.

Food Not Lawns
H.C. Flores
This took me a long time to read, but it was worth it. Flores spends about one third of this book discussing how to build community, though there are suggestions/tips about permaculture, which she calls "paradise gardening." A good solid recommendation for permaculture reading.

Started but did not finish

The Believers
Zoe Heller
I didn't like the people peopling this book, so I dropped it before I even found out what the secret was.

Figures in Silk
Vanora Bennett
I started this, but it didn't grab me and it is due tomorrow at the library. Back it goes.

The First Days of School
Harry K & Rosemary T. Wong
If I had unlimited time, I would dive into this again. However, my fiction slot has been taken up by Food Not Lawns for so long that I never even opened it. Perhaps when I get that first teaching job I will consult this.

Hope and Despair in the American City: Why there are no bad schools in Raleigh
Gerald Grant
I stopped reading this short, readable book before getting to the "hope" section. Reading about the decline of Syracuse just made me mad. Even though I haven't finished it, this book will always be the book that opened my eyes to the fact that the mortgage subsidies most homeowners get add up to much more of a subsidy than welfare recipients get.

Ordinary Springs
Lenore Hart
You know how you think the book is going to unfold even when you are on page 20? You know how sometimes you read just to find out if you were right? This wasn't one of those times. I couldn't get into this.

The Solar Food Dryer: How to make and use your own high-performance, sun-powered food dryer.
Eban Fodor
A compact little book about how to do just what the title says. Fairly good instructions and it also include recipes. A bit of it is available on Google Books if you Google the title.

Did not even start

Troll: A love story.
Johanna Sinisalo
Perhaps it is the fact that this was translated from the Finnish that kept me from enjoying this novel with a great premise? I usually love books that are set in apparent modern times, but with just one or two fantasy elements. In this one, the fact that trolls exist wasn't enough to keep me reading.

Poems and why you should memorize them. I'm not the only one.

Before we discuss September's Poem, here are some excerpts from a delightful article about memorizing poetry.  These observations of Jim Holt are things I've found to be true in my short time memorizing.

Got Poetry?
Published: April 2, 2009

The process of memorizing a poem is fairly mechanical at first. You cling to the meter and rhyme scheme (if there is one), declaiming the lines in a sort of sing-songy way without worrying too much about what they mean. But then something organic starts to happen. Mere memorization gives way to performance. You begin to feel the tension between the abstract meter of the poem — the “duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA” of iambic pentameter, say — and the rhythms arising from the actual sense of the words. (Part of the genius of Yeats or Pope is the way they intensify meaning by bucking against the meter.) It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano.

Nor, as I have found, will memorizing poetry make you more popular. Rather the reverse. No one wants to hear you declaim it. Almost no one, anyway. I do have one friend, a Wall Street bond-trader, who can’t get enough of my recitations. He takes me to the Grand Havana Cigar Club, high above Midtown Manhattan, and sits rapt as I intone, “The unpurged images of day recede. . . .” He calls to one of the stunningly pretty waitresses. “Come over here and listen to my friend recite this Yeats poem.” Oh dear.

I hope that I have at least dispelled three myths.

Myth No. 1: Poetry is painful to memorize. It is not at all painful. Just do a line or two a day.

Myth No. 2: There isn’t enough room in your memory to store a lot of poetry. Bad analogy. Memory is a muscle, not a quart jar.

Myth No. 3: Everyone needs an iPod. You do not need an iPod. Memorize poetry instead.

Jim Holt

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Julie & Julia

My guess is that the critics who gave mediocre reviews to this movie are either 1) people who have never had any doubt about what they would "do" with their lives or 2) people who hate food or 3)men. As a person who has read not only both books the movie was based on, but also--while working a dreary secretary job--the entire Julie/Julia Project blog, I thought this movie was a spot on depiction of not only the casting about for some sort of meaning in daily life and also the transformative power of coulpledom. That this movie also had great sets, clothing and a host of actresses who were normal looking was an even bigger bonus--Enjoy!

Bechdel score. Two women: yes! Who talk to each other: yes! About something besides a man: Yes! Amazing!

poster from:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


My position on women changing their names when they marry is well known.  So I don't actually recommend you follow the "before" part of this ad.  But the retro-cheezy nature of this sign always makes me smile.  Totally remember Anders Printing Company.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Even more block.

I suspect the liquor store building will be the last building on the block standing.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More block watching

Here it was in September of 2008.
All that remains in September 2009 is the chimney.  Looking at the old picture, I think the taller chimney belonged to the house next door.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

I'm not interested in football or the plight of 1960s all-male ivy league school sports programs. I am a fan of a well told story. This movie was one and you should watch it.

Bechdel score. Two women: ha ha ha ha ha ha.

poster from: