Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hunger Games Thoughts

(This isn't a book review, but musings about a book.  If you want the basic plot of the Hunger Games before you read my thoughts, go to Good Reads.)  

For months (probably years by now) I have had people telling me that I need to read and watch the Hunger Games.  I was quite reluctant for several reasons.  First of all, I had read the first book and thought that the writing was, frankly, not that great.  Second, I have a (slightly irrational) dislike of young adult fiction as a class.  I think that it's kind of ridiculous that teenagers have to have their own category of books.  You read the children's section until you're sick of it, then you gently ease into the adult section.  I also found it highly ironic that the people reading/watching the books/movies are being entertained by the killing just like the members of the Capitol.  However, last night at the behest of my family, I sat down and watched the first Hunger Games.  Before I sat down, I decided I was going to step out for the worst of the gore.  There actually were only three huge battle scenes, so I didn't actually miss huge portions of the movie.

Several things struck me while I was watching the movie.  1.  This story is a huge social commentary.  That's something I didn't realize when I first read the book.  Sure, the story is for entertainment, but there's a deeper point behind the pretty basic tale of kids in a dystopian society.  Are we, like the people of Panem, entertaining ourselves to death?   I was interested to read that Suzanne Collins thought of the Hunger Games while switching channels between a sports game and Iraq war footage.   2.  I don't think that many watchers/readers get how serious the message is. Actually I don't think you really can if you're, say 10.   3.  And this is completely shallow...I'm sorry.  I liked Gail (the boy back home that loves Katniss) better than Peeta (the boy who is in the Hunger Games and ends up with Katniss).  He has principles, something Peeta apparently doesn't really have.  And, I just think he's a nicer person.

My third thought deserves a whole paragraph unto itself.  I'm going to have a little spoiler here, so if you don't want to know what happens at the end of the first book/movie, stop reading.  At the end, Peeta and Katniss (our heroine) survive.  They have been told that they can be a team, so they don't end up killing each other.  Finally, after everybody else is dead, there is an announcement that, never mind, they will have to kill each other.  Katniss pulls a move that nobody is expecting.  She takes a handful of deadly berries and tells Peeta that they're both going to eat them and die, leaving no winner.  Now, let's stop right there (I promise this isn't the end).  You all know that I am a sucker for happy endings (in fact, I'd probably hate the writers if I hadn't thought of this plot ending myself), but what would have happened if Katniss and Peeta had eaten the berries and died?
It would have been a huge statement.  Think what would have happened- here is the Capitol with no winner, no huge victory parade and medals, no crown.  It would have shown all the watchers the true horribleness of the Games.  It would have said, look, the whole point of the games is death and entertainment.  There would probably have been a whole lot of rage and uprising and, hopefully the end of the games.  Of course, that isn't what happens.  A voice yells, "Stop!" and the two are safely carted home with much fanfare.

So now you know what I think about the Hunger Games.  I think I will go ahead and read the books and I'm definitely going to watch the next movie.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Red Herring Without Mustard

I just finished the 3rd Flavia de Luce this morning.  I spent all of Sunday afternoon reading it, moving from the porch swing to the front yard with a kitty to the first raft ride on the pond with my family, to the hammock under the shade of an old spruce.  It was the perfect afternoon to share with a wonderful book.

Flavia is back, with a curious mystery.  The book opens with Flavia having her fortune told by an old gypsy that has just turned up in the area, after being gone for 20 years.  This may seem like a fairly harmless beginning, but things quickly turn sour when the fortune-teller is found in her caravan, bludgeoned.  And this seems to be connected to an earlier mystery, the kidnapping and death of a small child.  And the gypsy is being accused of the deed by the mother.  Just when Flavia thinks the drama is over, a well-known poacher is found, dead, hanging from a statue on her estate gardens.

It was an exciting, well written yarn and, though I really tried my best, I was still amazed by whodunnit.  Mixed with this exciting mystery are many introspective moments for Flavia.  She solves just a tiny piece of the mystery of her mother, Harriet, who died on a mountaintop when Flavia was a year old.  And there's a new friend for Flavia in the granddaughter of the gypsy.  Of course, the odious sisters are still hanging around and Flavia spends quite a bit of time wondering why on earth they despise her so.  The reason is not found by the end of the book, but I'm still hoping that I'll find out...
I am so curious why Alan Bradley has created such awful siblings.  I have never met siblings that treated each other as badly as the de Luce sisters do.  Sibling rivalry?  Of course, I've seen plenty of that.  But this goes beyond the normal arguments and twitting into truly hateful behavior.  But, I've heard that all is explained, so I keep reading.

I am thoroughly enjoying this series.  It's perfect spring reading because it's exciting and fascinating enough that it can hold your attention away from all the new sights and smells and sounds outside.  However, you can put the book down mid-chapter to snap pictures of the blowing wash or take a nap on a patch of green grass and then pick the book up and remember exactly where you were.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Cookbook Series

I don't have any book reviews at the moment because I am about 30 pages into three different books.  I hope to get a lot of reading done today.  However, I am still reading, thinking about, and cooking from cookbooks!  I thought I would review one of my favorite cookbook series.  They're not well-known out of my specific culture, but they are worth seeking out.  I am a Mennonite  (a whole other topic for a whole other place and time).  However, among many things, Mennonites value cooking.  Back in the 70s, two Mennonite women decided to write a cookbook about cooking food that was sustainable and was chock-full of recipes submitted by people all over the globe. This cookbook was called More-With-Less.  Several years later, in the 90s, two other women added to the series and wrote Extending the Table- a cookbook about eating world food.  The series was completed in 2005 and was about eating in-season, sustainable food.  I grew up with these cookbooks and they still have a special place on my list of favorite cookbooks.

I think that my favorite is Simply in Season.  More-with-Less's extreme obsession with calories and low-fat seems quite dated and Extending the Table sometimes calls for ingredients that we don't keep on hand all the time.  But Simply in Season, with its contemporary but delicious recipes is pretty much perfect.  I also like occasionally coming across a familiar name in the contributions.  There is a chapter for each season, with recipes like Gazpacho in the Summer and Maple Glazed Parsnips in the Winter.  I turn to this cookbook quite a bit in the summer.  This cookbook also has the added bonus of having an ingredient index.  So, if you're being bombarded with spinach, you can look up spinach recipes in the back.

While I don't use it frequently, Extending the Table has introduced me to some delicious recipes.  The kimchi is one of my favorites and Shanghai Ham is also wonderful.  This cookbook is a great way to learn a little bit about different countries and it's a good place to turn to to replicate restaurant dishes.

I think that I have the most memories and associations tied to More-With-Less.  There are some basic recipes like mayonnaise and french dressing that are perfect.  And, while low-fat is stressed, there is nothing nasty or flavorless about the food.  Even the recipe for Wheat Germ Balls is delicious!

I was surprised and glad that these cookbooks can be found on amazon.  I recommend them for anybody who likes to cook and wants a little taste of another culture.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Room with a View

This is one of those books that stays on my to-read list; not because I don't want to read it, but because it gets surpassed by more flashy books.  It seems that, the longer it stays on the list, the less likely I am to read it in the future.  However, I finally checked out A Room with a View and heartily enjoyed it.

It is the story of young Lucy Honeychurch, a very proper Edwardian everywoman who goes to Italy with her overbearing older cousin as a chaperon.  However, her life is changed forever when she gets to Italy.  She finds herself falling for an unsuitable match: the melancholic and mysterious George Emerson.  First, she falls into his arms in a dead faint after seeing a man murdered.  Then, Mr. Emerson most improperly kisses her behind a row of bushes, seen only by the Italian taxicab.  Charlotte, her chaperon, warns her to tell nobody.  Back home, Lucy is forced by her mother and Charlotte to marry the highly eligible bachelor Cecil Vyse.  Mr. Vyse is a dull, oppressive force in Lucy's life and she works her hardest to love him, but finds herself continually thinking about the fascinating Mr. Emerson.

I found myself gripping this book and reading slightly obsessively until the book was finished.  The main idea of this story (girl torn between true love and obviously-awful-but-really-eligible guy) has been done many times, but it was interesting to read one of the "originals".  I also love events unfolding simply by smart conversation and hidden meanings in every word that someone says.  Sometimes I wish that people still had that skill.

I think that I'm going to have to read more of E.M. Forster.  And I'm definitely going to watch the 90s movie that was done that stars Helena Bonham Carter.  I recommend this for anybody who loves a good, smart romance with a side of social commentary.

Friday, April 11, 2014

My First Poetry Reading Finished

The first book I turned to in my poetry reading month was a beautiful old book of poems by Longfellow.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, in large part because I am such a romantic and this poetry is nothing if not romantic.  Each morning, I sat down with a hot cup of something and read a few poems.  I was amazed how quickly I read through the book.
This isn't the edition I have, but it's all I could find.

I started with the first section, called Voices of the Night.  The poetry, mostly concerning nature, was so  pleasant to read.   The second section was my favorite.  It was poetry written by Longfellow when he was 19 and younger.  The poetry is so joyful and full of energy, and the tone is somewhat simpler than the first section, which was written when Longfellow was older.  It was interesting to see his writing progress.
As I read through this poetry book, I kept turning to the front, musing
about this picture of Longfellow's face.  Does he look
grandfatherly, or does he look stern and forbidding?  I can't decide.

I skipped over two ballads that Longfellow translated.  Next up was the Lord's Supper.  Since we are in Lent right now, it seemed especially fitting.  I might even pull it out again later on next week before Easter.  The other two pieces of poetry that I read were ballads.  The first, Evangeline.  I have a fondness for Evangeline because Anne of Green Gables makes reference to playing and reading Evangeline.  My last selection was The Song of Hiawatha.  I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it.  While I was reading it, I kept thinking, "This seems so familiar.  Why do I recognize this?"  Then I realized, I read this in 8th grade and remembered enjoying the tale put to poetry.  This morning I finished up by reading a few poems at the back of the book titled, "Miscellaneous".
Longfellow as a young man.

I'm starting a new book today, which seems fitting, as I'm starting a new year.  My birthday was yesterday.  I'd love to share pictures, but there are so many faces in them, that I think I shouldn't.  I will just say that it was a lovely birthday and, if I can find any food pictures, I'll post them.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Egg and I by Betty McDonald

Oh, this book.  I loved it so much.  When I checked it out of the library on the advice of my mother (who has excellent book taste, by the way) I was pretty sure I was going to love it.  After all, Betty McDonald wrote my all-time favorite children's books, the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series.  But before she became a famous author, Betty grew up with an interesting and amusing family, then married a man who wanted to be a chicken farmer.  Following the advice of her mother, she let her husband, Bob, decide where they would live and what they would do.  They end up on a dilapidated, isolated chicken ranch in the northwest Pacific, surrounded by trees and a few neighbors, all of whom Betty looks down on.

I am so impressed by authors that can write about any situation and make it extremely funny.  It appears that Bob, whom she later divorced, was no picnic to live with.  There are stories of him flirting with a Native American women, making fun of Betty, and scolding Betty for not keeping the house perfect as well as helping him with all of the farm work.  Of course, the story is one-sided, but even so, to make that funny is no small feat.  Betty and her husband were without running water, electricity, and had a wood stove that barely functioned.  People cheerfully traipsed through her house and stayed for meals and lengthy visits.  The one part that bothered me was the frequent racism throughout the whole book.  There were many Native Americans living near the McDonalds and many of them appear to have been alcoholics.  She writes unkindly about a snowflake dance that some Native American children did in a school play, noting nastily, "They only thing snowflake-like about their appearance was the whites of their eyes."  Sheesh, Betty!  In the preface written by Betty's daughters, there is a vague excuse about Betty being very frightened by the Native Americans, and so writing in a "lighthearted" way about them.  They finish by saying, "We are sure that if Betty were alive today, she would address the plight of the American Indian in a much different manner."  Maybe.
The 1940s movie.  I am very tempted by this.
On the other hand, I'm worried that it's going to be nothing like the book...

After reading this book, I turned to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Farm.  I was fascinated by the fathers in the book.  Every. Single. One of them was just like Betty's husband Bob.  I was amazed!  Was this really the 1950s norm, or was Betty just writing the man that she knew the best?  I was also amazed that, as a child, this went right over my head.  Reading The Egg and I put the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle stories in a whole new light.

However, despite the blatant racism and the fact that Betty's husband got on my nerves frequently, this unforgettable autobiography was good.  Many of the characters were funny, the plot speed was perfect, and I am sure that this story will stay in my memory for a long time.  I highly recommend this book to anybody that has or has not read anything by Betty McDonald.  You will love it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Library Loot

Today I'm linking up with this fantastic blog to bring you the books that I got at my last trip to the library.  I think this is a great way to promote libraries and I've gotten some great book ideas from it.
So here are the books that I checked out last time I was at the library.

1.The Egg and I is the first autobiography by the fantastic Mrs. Piggle Wiggle author.  I laughed and laughed at this account of chicken farming in the Northwest Pacific.

2.  A Room with a View is one of those classics that so many people miss out on reading in school.  It's the story of a young girl who leaves proper England for Italy.

3. I picked up Life is Meals on a whim.  It's a cooking calendar, with a one page treatise on such topics as ice cream, Alice Waters, and a poem to Brie (the cheese, that is).

4.  A Red Herring Without Mustard is the third Flavia de Luce book.  I just started it.  It's very good!

5.  I'm continuing my Neil Gaiman reading and thought I would check out this very famous title.  I just recently watched the movie and liked it.

6.  This Rough Magic is written by one of my favorite authors, Mary Stewart.  It is the story of Lucy Waring, a minor actress who goes to Corfu to visit her sister and has a very exciting adventure.

7.  South of Superior is a debut novel about a woman who returns to a little eccentric town on the upper peninsula of Michigan.  She goes to take care of an old family friend, but along the way meets many interesting people and is changed forever.

8.  A Company of Swans is by the very talented Eva Ibbotson.  This is the story of a young girl who lives with her oppressive father and aunt.  The only thing she likes is ballet.  Defying her father and aunt, she goes with a ballet troupe to South America and falls in love with a British exile.  Unfortunately, her father and fiance are following her.

9.  Brighten the Corner Where You Are is a day in the life of a North Carolina school teacher.   It has gotten a lot of critical acclaim, so I'm eager to read it!

And that concludes this week's library loot!  I'm looking forward to repeating this every week.