Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cat Quote - The Rule of Four

The delicious futility of impossible tasks is the catnip of overachievers.
from The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason (p. 264)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jeremy Visick by David Wiseman

Twelve year-old Matthew Clemens, who cares more for rugby than history, gives little thought to his school project on mining accidents. That is, until he becomes drawn to a lichen-covered tombstone hidden in the corner of the village churchyard. Three Visick men, a father and two sons, are buried there. But there is a fourth whose death is memorialized on the tombstone in eroded lettering that only Matthew can decipher:

and to Jeremy Visick, his son,
aged 12 years, whose body still lies
in Wheal Maid.

"Wheal" is the Cornish word for mine*, and in this book, Matthew and the reader are led on a tour of mid-nineteenth century Cornish copper mines that is equal parts realist and spectral. Matthew realizes that, had he been born a few generations earlier, Jeremy Visick's fate would have been his own. To the consternation of his mother, the usually rowdy Matthew becomes withdrawn and loses his appetite. He starts sleepwalking - to the little cottage shared by the Visick family before tragedy struck, to their tombstone, and later, to the long-abandoned mine-shaft where Jeremy Visick is still interred.

What unfolds is a standard ghost story. The ghost of a boy, trapped at the site of his tragic death for more than a hundred years, reaches out to his modern day counterpart so that his remains might be finally reunited with those of his family. But if the plot is standard, the telling is nothing short of excellent. The author David Wiseman, a native of Cornwall, uses the Cornish setting to full advantage. Against the backdrop of Matthew's routine schoolboy existence, each intrusion of the supernatural sends chills down one's spine. The landscape Matthew wanders through, trancelike, is at once bucolic and foreboding, for concealed beneath its surface are not only veins of precious ore but the crushed bones of fallen youth. A nicely-conceived ghost story, well worth reading.
* A glossary of Cornish mining terms. Not necessary for following Jeremy Visick, but useful for elucidating the occasional mining term.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

The third book of Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence brings together the Drew children from Over Sea, Under Stone and Will Stanton from The Dark Is Rising. The grail, which the Drews unearthed after so much difficulty, has been stolen by a representative of the Dark. In order to regain it, the Drews reconvene at the Cornish fishing village of Trewissick along with their Great Uncle Merriman and Will Stanton. With the exception of kindly Jane, they distrust Will Stanton and see him as a hindrance in their quest to regain the grail. This is ironic, since Will is an "Old One" and understands the battle between Light and Dark more deeply and commands magic that they cannot even imagine.

Like in Over Sea, Under Stone, the Drews are asked to help the Light (represented by Merriman) without understanding the larger battle between Light and Dark that they are part of. Paralleling what he told them before their first adventure, Merriman says:
But it is part of something very much larger as well, something which I may not explain. I can only ask you to trust me, as you all trusted me once before, in another part of the long battle between the Light and the Dark. And to help, if you are sure you feel able to give help, without perhaps ever
being able fully to understand what you are about. (p.4)

In essence, they are asked to proceed on faith. The difference between this and their earlier adventure is that, paralleling their quest is the quest of a child who possesses ageless wisdom and near-perfect knowledge of the circumstances bringing them to Trewissick. The reader, like Will, has full knowledge. The contrast between Will and the Drews makes the enforced ignorance of the Drews less palatable than it was in Over Sea, Under Stone, though it also bothered me in that book. The Drew children cannot help but appear immature, and though I know they are Susan Cooper's creation, I feel she has done them a disservice.

Merriman and the other adult Old Ones actively enforce the ignorance of the Drew children by erasing from their memories episodes that are scary and/or raise too many questions about the Old Ones' magic. They do it for the children's good, but to me it seems sinister, manipulative, and disempowering. Cannot the children be given the chance to demonstrate their maturity and understanding? Did they not prove in their previous adventures their ability to distinguish between Dark and Light and to withstand the trickery of the Dark? Perhaps Susan Cooper deliberately put the Light in such an ambiguous position, but it seems ironic to me that the Drews should be kept "in the dark" by the Light.

To end on a more positive note, my ambivalence about Cooper's portrayal of the Drew children didn't prevent me from appreciating the novel. Parts of it are imbued with the dreamlike atmosphere from The Dark Is Rising that I enjoyed so much. The character of the Greenwitch itself is thought-provoking and adds complexity to Cooper's world. From The Dark Is Rising, we know that water is neutral, neither Light nor Dark but a thoroughfare for both. The Greenwitch is of this "Wild Magic" that is older even than the magic of the Old Ones. It will be interesting to see if Wild Magic has a role to play as the battle between Light and Dark concludes in the last two books of the sequence.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Caturday Catch-up

My spring break has officially begun, and I'm back home with my kitty brothers. I remembered to bring my signed copy of the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats book, and Ping gave it a floofy hug of approval.

I have finished several (short) books over the last few weeks, and I'm behind in blogging about them. It's not for lack of anything to say, it's just been hard to find enough time to sit down and gather my thoughts.

Here's a possibly incomplete list of books I have neglected "mewsing" about. I hope to make it through the list by the end of Spring Break, and if not, at least blog about the Decades Challenge books and not get behind any further in my other books. Ideally, I want to write about books when they're freshest in my mind, but I'm a ways from that goal.
  1. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper, finished yesterday. I didn't enjoy it as much as The Dark Is Rising, but it is still a lovely book, woven richly with mythology
  2. On the same vein, I don't think I ever blogged about The Dark Is Rising, which I finished sometime last month
  3. Two books for the Decades Challenge: An Old Fashioned Girl by L.M.A. and
  4. Washington Square by Henry James. Very interesting when read together, but that's the topic for another post perhaps.
  5. A short novella (I'd call it a short story if it wasn't bound as a book) called Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi
  6. An audiobook, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming - the first James Bond I've ever "read"... I got it on a whim and it was a surprise in some respects...
  7. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis - I just finished that today. A quick read, written very simply but all the more powerful for its directness.
  8. I think that's it, but there are a few books from January I never wrote about either...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Reading a cat

Floofy Elephant & Floofy Ping, originally uploaded by littlemiao.

Some of us read books. My floofy elephant enjoys reading cats (and he's much wiser for it).

Friday, April 4, 2008

There is no such thing as too many books

Merlin napping among the books, originally uploaded by littlemiao.

I told myself that I wouldn't buy more books until I had read at least four of the books I bought earlier this year. I'm nearly finished with two of them, but I've already placed another book order.

I was inspired to place the order now by a 10% discount on the Norton Critical Edition of The Scarlet Letter. I have a special fondness for Norton Critical Editions even though they tend to be more expensive - they include relevant writings by the same author as well as early and recent critical commentaries.

I also have a fondness for Penguin Classics editions, as their critical essay is usually well worth reading. I bought the Penguin edition of Voltaire's Candide, one of my favorite little novels. I wonder if I will still enjoy it now as much as I did in high school.

Additionally, (because there was 4 for the price of 3 sale, and I had to choose three more books), I got The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which has been highly recommended to me by several people.

To balance out the order, I bought two young adult novels: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo and The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. The first features a mouse, which is attraction enough for me (though now I'm afraid Papa Miao might already have it, since he has mentioned it to me before). The second is the first in a triology about an Afghan girl under the Taliban, which I saw reviewed over on Maw's Book Blog.

I'm nearing the end of Louisa May Alcott's An Old Fashioned Girl, and I still have to catch up on a few of my book reflections. Washington Square, most especially - I finished it a while ago, and the longer I wait to write about it, the dimmer my reflections will get.