Friday, January 28, 2011

Worried about Egypt... safe. Violence will not help matters.

Sara Donati's Into the Wilderness saga...

I posted about this a few days ago. I have been reading Sara Donati's Into the Wilderness, the first book in a saga that is, I believe, six books long.

In general, I really like historical long as it doesn't burden me with factual information. In my opinion, the historical aspect of things should be the backdrop--not the overwhelming plot. Because, let's face it, we all know what happens if someone is writing about a well-known historical event. Instead, the focus should be character development and how the plot (embedded in that historical moment) contributes to character development. How people cope with a moment in history is fascinating.

Now, Into the Wilderness is not a novel without faults. But what novel doesn't have faults? Sometimes it is way too predictable. There is a huge part of me that says this is more romance and adventure than historical fiction (but I am totally okay with that). And, I think that the Elizabeth and Nathaniel, the romantic pairing of protagonists, aren't as well drawn out as they could be at times. I think they jump into their relationship a little too fast. But, again, I COULD CARE LESS. Because you know what? This is a fantastic novel. Good writing. Total escapism. Characters I can respect. And, best of all, a totally sexy male like Nathaniel. :) Always a good thing to include.

VERY simply: Elizabeth moves from England to the newly independent States. She lives with her father (who has been there a long time) and her brother (who moves there from England with her). She is independent and wants to start a school in a community that isn't always the most tolerant. Immediately, she meets Nathaniel Bonner, a man with whom she forms a romantic relationship. They marry, face problems, and have wonderful adventure. Yes, my summary is simple and stupid...but you really should read the book because it is FANTASTIC! (As said in my best Oprah Winfrey "sing song" voice.)

Really, though, so much important happens in this book. Sara Donati takes her plot from the movie version (not the book version) of Last of the Mohicans (Cora, who lives in the film version, is Nathaniel's mother in this book...but in Cooper's tale, Cora dies.) She does everything wonderful that was captured in the film version and places it in her own story. The lush atmosphere, the moral and strong men and women, the racial prejudices, etc.

Also fascinating, is that the author and the book are totally aware of the book's fictional presence and ambition. By revising Cooper in the same way the film version did, Donati inserts herself into a strange literary conversation. Then, in one scene, another fictional character, Claire Fraser from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, shows up. Gabaldon and Donati are friends, and, as an interview I read stated, Donati jokingly said that Claire should show up to treat the injured character at a certain battle because Gabaldon had already written a book where Claire was at that battle. Gabaldon said, "Sure." And the rest is history! So, it is a lot of fun to see all kinds of fun with fiction (very meta of her) at work.

Anyway, if you just want a book you can fall into, check out Into the Wilderness. I just bought the second one (Dawn on a Distant Shore) and can't wait to start reading it.

The titles, in order:
Into the Wilderness
Dawn on a Distant Shore
Lake in the Clouds
Fire Along the Sky
Queen of Swords
The Endless Forest

I haven't read all of Gabaldon yet, but hers are great, too!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I love you, but please don't wake me up at 2 a.m. again this morning. :)

Oh, well. You can wake me up whenever you want, I guess. You are the best dog EVER, after all.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Can I marry a fictional character? Please?

So in love with Nathaniel Bonner in Into the Wilderness. Yes, if it were possible, I would actually consent to marry him. And those of you who know me...well, you know that is saying something considering my love of my independent life. I have been known to quote Letitia Elizabeth Landon's "The Marriage Vow": "The altar, 'tis of death! for there are laid/The sacrifice of all youth's sweetest hopes."

:) not totally anti-marriage...but, wow, it would take a really special man...

Monday, January 24, 2011

RSC: Not at all happy with you.

Dear RSC,

I am not at all happy with your decision to replace Antony and Cleopatra with Julius Caesar. Now my one trip to see the RSC this year has been taken away. I have already seen Julius Caesar and I really wanted to see Antony and Cleopatra...and now that hope has been ripped from my mind in a most violent manner. You just don't understand! I love Antony and Cleopatra!! I need to see it!! UGH!!! THE AGONY!!! Come on, RSC!!! Somewhere in your vast network of decision makers has to be my "man of men"!!

Okay. Maybe I am being a little dramatic. But this is the only thing I had to look forward to this summer. I, however, will forgive you if the company manages to run the play while I am in England (in two years).

So sad,

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sweet Melanie's Shower!

Today, my best friend since seventh grade had her baby shower! (Due in March!!) Melanie looks great and will be having a beautiful baby girl. I can't wait!! The shower was great and she and the baby received some beautiful things. Here are some photos from the day:

Some of the food...

Melanie and I (I am only a bit taller in this photo because I have on heels...but we are about the same height.)

Melanie opening gifts...

Melanie and her mom...

Melanie and her mother-in-law...

Melanie and my mom...

Melanie and Donna (Donna is Melanie's husband's aunt, and she hosted the party)...

Overall, a wonderful day!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Black Swan

Today, Jeff (my cousin) and I went to see Black Swan. Wow. I am totally stunned. I am not a Natalie Portman fan at all, but she was amazing in this film. (As was every other actor cast in a part in the movie...beautiful and tragic and true.)

Surprisingly for me and you, I am not going to say a lot about this movie. First of all, it is still very new and a thriller in many ways...and I don't like spoilers. Secondly, the movie will be different for everyone who sees it. It is about many different things. The overarching idea is the destructive nature of the quest for perfectionism. Many of us can identify with that concept. And when I watched the movie, I recognized that a lot of my own destructive nature/habits and my approach to life can be very like Nina's before she becomes the Black Swan. There were points when I wanted to cry and when I hated myself as I watched, because I am her in a lot of ways. For me, it isn't the body thing or dancing, but it is the letting go and just experiencing life thing.

"The only person standing in your way is you."--Thomas Leroy

The above quote is from a moment between Nina and Thomas, the ballet director (I guess that would be his title). Anyway, the basic idea is that Nina won't allow herself to get in touch with her real self. She considers it to be a forbidden, dark side of herself, but really it is just the side of her that is authentic. However, due to many circumstances (crazy upbringing included), she translates finding the life within her into doing all kinds of forbidden or dark things. And isn't this what so many do today? We think that we become interesting by doing outrageous things (now, that is not to say that everything she does is so outrageous, but you get my point). Really, we just deaden ourselves. Thomas, the director, is hesitant to allow her to dance the part of the Black Swan because she isn't aware of anything that makes her "human." She can't express her sensual nature on the stage because she has repressed it. And he is right...but the ending...and I am not talking about the literal ending but something that he says to her at the end...well, it was all about the performance and never really about her. Ugh. Cryptic, I know. But just see it. It is graphic and sexual and for "mature" audiences. But the film is amazing.

And this is just one aspect of the interpretation...there are layers and layers...just amazing and haunting.

I still can't believe Social Network won the Golden Globe. Idiots.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My new obsession:

I really love the Into the Wilderness series. It is a sequel to The Last of the Mohicans. Now, many people don't enjoy Cooper. I can deal with him because I am used to description in my reading.

This series of books maintains the allure of that world but has beautiful description and lots of dialogue....very good dialogue, I might add. More on it once I finish (and that could be a while because it is long and I am working on a dissertation...or should be).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

From the holidays...

Over the holidays, I got to have a short visit with my cousin T. (Theron)who lives in Oregon. He came to town with his sister, Laura, and her mom and dad, Jeanne and Theron. (Jeanne is my dad's older sister.)

So, thanks to Uncle Theron, I have some updated pictures to post!

(T., Laura, Jeanne, and Theron)

(T. and Grandma. She looks great after physical rehab!)

(Laura and I)

(T., me, Laura)

Too much fun! come back soon, T.!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Old family photos...

My great-great grandfather, William Neville.

My great grandmother, Irene, with her half-brother (Morell Keith Neville, who became Governor of Nebraska in 1917), and my great-great grandfather, William Neville.

(Photos added to the web site linked by the photo by my cousin Shari.)

Other family photos of my great grandmother and her mother in this post.


Well, the first week (really, a half week) of school is over and the weekend is here! What will I do? What exciting things can I get up to? Where will I go?...


Yes. That is right. I have a dissertation to write.

Oh, well. Good times, anyway!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Rant about MTV's "Teen Mom 2"

Tonight, I came across Teen Mom 2. I decided to see what was up because I enjoyed last season, especially the really tragic issues that emerged out of that series. I still think that Catelyn and Tyler are amazing people.

HOWEVER: I REALLY object to what this television show has become. Gone is any meaningful commentary/documentary style television. Like The Real World, the first season was relevant and meaningful. There were no expectations, so no one was trying to make problems or dramatize anything. However, now, just like with their other reality shows, they have chosen people who are a "sure thing" as far as creating drama.
Normally, I would have no problem with that concept. I understand marketing and making money. However, MTV has crossed the line now. Take a look at this article:

This mom, Jenelle, has had problems for years...has been in trouble for years. For MTV to choose her for this show is a decision to amplify the position Amber fulfilled last season. That is a conscious decision on the network's part. Jenelle is clearly someone in need of help--and I hope that one day she will get it. But my problem isn't with her. My problem is with MTV. In my opinion, they are just as guilty of child endangerment/child emotional abuse as these teen moms who act out in front of their children. MTV knows exactly what it is doing and it is extremely irresponsible and appalling. They should be ashamed because they are playing a HUGE role in that child's life and its future. I could NEVER live with myself if I knew that I was a part of that environment--the reason I will NEVER watch the show again.

Shows like The Real World or Jersey Shore are different things. If those people want to get in trouble or act like a jackass, then that is fine. They are adults and are only putting themselves at risk. But we are including kids--BABIES--who have absolutely no say in what is happening to them. No one is tuning in to see how these people are trying (really? I can't see any of this yet) to be parents or even to see the babies. It is all about the drama of the mothers, how many fights can be shown between parents and teen moms screaming at one another while the baby is right there, or how they are (oops) having another pregnancy scare.

The thing is that MTV is capable of some really great productions. Their reality tv can be some of the most profound material on television. The problem is, after a really good first season that is meaningful, they always screw it up. What is ground breaking becomes money making. Again: FINE IF YOU ARE COVERING ADULTS. Not fine for kids or babies.

MTV: Wake up.

Lovin' the books!...And I love this!

(Probably need to click on the video so you can watch it on You Tube...stupid widths again!)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

First day of school!

Well, today was the first day of school (spring semester). Overall, I think it went as well as it could and my students seem fine. I teach at 8 and 12. I don't mind getting up early, but I hate having a three hour break in between classes. It is fine on the day I hold office hours, but the other two days...yuck.

Today, I spent the entire time editing my chapter. It was 62 pages and I was able to cut it to 55. I just can't see any more cuts to be made, but I think that is because I am just sick of looking at it. Actually, considering I added another complete section and a conclusion (probably a total of about 10 pages), I think that I cut a significant amount. But, still, more is to be done! I sent it on to my director because I need a second pair of eyes at this point.

So, I am exhausted. My eyes hurt and my brain hurts! So, this is all I am capable of typing right now. :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Casey in the snow/ice...again!

Well, we really were lucky that the bulk of the snow and ice missed us. I have no problem with snow, but when ice causes power lines to fall down...well, I don't like that so much. In Alabama, we also can't drive in the snow very well because we have no equipment to clear roads or to sand them. So, ice paralyzes us. And I hate sitting at home. I really need to work on my dissertation and doing that at home is nearly impossible.

So, instead...

I took Casey's "snow" photos (see previous post for explanation):

(Casey sniffing a tree stump. I just bathed him a couple of days ago and he is going through a big shed, so you will probably see little pieces of hair sticking out! But, as you can see, we really didn't get "snow" as much as ice pellets. Still, it is white and on the ground, so Casey and I will pull out the camera!)

(Happiness for my dog is cold weather and walking on snow/ice...even at 15-yrs-old.)

(One of my favorites...this is "pure" Casey.)

(Looking around the backyard...)

(Another favorite: Casey looking under the table....yes, I love my dog!)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Just something funny...

This afternoon, I went to a local bookstore and browsed for an hour or so. While I was there, a group of three 15/16-year-old girls were trying to find Spark Notes for The Scarlet Letter (already a bad sign).

Anyway, they moved out into the main aisle and one of them started looking at books on a table. She suddenly said to her other two friends, "Hey. Do you guys know who Keats is?"

They were only about three or four feet from me, so I overheard this conversation and my ears perked up when I heard "Keats". I thought that she was talking about a book on the table...a book of poetry by Keats or something.

So, the other girls shook their heads and said, "No." One said, "Who is he?"

And the first girl said, "Well there is only one Keats!"

I thought: Very true, my dear.

And then she says: "You know. He is that guy in fourth period...he is really moody but I have a funny story about him."

This is the only Keats she knows. But she is only 15 or so...hopefully she will learn that there really is "only one Keats"...and that boy...well....he isn't the right one!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

I never had a chance to post about reading Kelly Creagh's Nevermore. I finally got around to some pleasure reading right around Christmas (shortly after finishing The Film Club). Anyway, I really enjoyed it. The ratings on Amazon were great so I thought that I would take a chance with buying a hardcover (something I rarely do). I was pleasantly surprised. I wondered how the author would approach Edgar A. Poe in a story about high school students...and she did a fantastic job. I also wondered how this book would give me something different from all of the other teen novels. Let me just say that I was very happy!

Nevermore pairs a goth guy (Varen) with a spoiled cheerleader (Isobel). The romance is very slow to build and the character's personal lives are very complex, always proving that you never really know what goes on behind closed doors. I think that Creagh captures a lot of things really well about high school and adolescent relationships. Also, in the background lurks a mystery that has to do with Poe...and Creagh pulls off the nearly impossible task of making you want to go out and read classic literature (and, no, I am not the only one saying this...lots of teen readers agree).

The story is too complex to go into in my review, but some readers complained that the book "just ended" with no resolution. Well...yes. This is a series. It is called a cliffhanger...and I appreciated it. I don't like the trend in lots of teen novels that neatly end each book in the series. Ugh. Boring.

Anyway, if you have some free time and just want to have fun with a good story, try to check out Nevermore. (And, as I mentioned in a previous post, the author has a fantastic web site:

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bright Star

Last night, I finally had a chance to sit down and watch the movie Bright Star. Many of you have probably seen it, but this was my first time. My friend, James, recommended it to me quite some time ago, but it finally came up on the Netflix queue! I loved the film, but there were things that annoyed me...not because the film was made poorly or anything, but because some of the characters annoyed me--specifically Fanny Brawne. Now, this doesn't mean that I ended up not liking the movie. I guess what I am trying to say is that the strange (and, yes, sometimes annoying) complexity of her character is what makes the movie great...even if I wouldn't want to be around her in real life!

The movie is beautifully made and very romantic (not with a capital "R"). Keats is my favorite Romantic poet, so I wondered how I would enjoy the film. The movie follows a brief period in his life (three years, I think) when he fell in love and cultivated a relationship with Fanny Brawne.

I don't know much about her real life, but, even though I loved the movie overall, I really didn't like how the writers manipulated her character. I loved her attitude in the beginning because it was surprising. She has a quick wit and keeps everyone on their toes, she has a real talent for sewing and is a bit quirky in her fashion sense, and she is bold in a way that is admirable. But, once she falls in love with Keats, things become very strange. Maybe Fanny's emotional response to life is fabricated for the sake of drama...I just don't know...but she seems very unstable to me in the film. The girl we meet at the beginning of the film doesn't seem to fit with the girl I see mid-way through the movie. The writers recover her dignity near the end, but it is all so strange. For example, she insists that she be seen as worthy to be around the male poets and that she is intelligent...yet, when she meets Keats for "poetry lessons," it eventually becomes clear that she is merely using the time to flirt and has not read any of the poetry assigned to her (something Keats's friend points out). I didn't like this at all. This along with Fanny's crazy mood swings was disappointing (not about the film but about the character).
So, we go from strong, interesting, and bold trailblazer woman to a person who disintegrates because she can't cope with Keats's half-rejections (not really rejections...she just sees them that way...and maybe if she had actually taken the time to do her "homework" then she would have been a better reader). When things are good, she is elated and does everything suggested by Keats in his letters (at one point, he says that he wishes that they could be like she has her younger brother and sister catch dozens of butterflies and she puts them in her room. She just ends up with a lot of dead butterflies at the end). Her family seems very aware of her moods and attempts to placate her at all times. When things are good, she allows them to touch her and be kind to her. The children in the film, especially, seem to walk on eggshells around her.

In one particularly interesting scene, Fanny is completely in love. Though she has been horrible to her sister, she suddenly takes her in her arms and tells her that she loves her. The relationship is one of the best parts of the film because it shows, in an understated way, how manipulative Fanny can be (at least this film version of her character...I am so reluctant to say that this is how she really was...I would have to know more). I became really angry at her at this point in the movie. But, times with Keats, as I said, are not always good.

When Fanny sees any obstacle in the way of her relationship with Keats, she is an emotional wreck. She begins to behave horribly to her younger sister and family, she tries to kill herself, and--remember those butterflies??--well, she ends up sitting in a room full of dead insects. Ugh. Anyway, just because I don't like her character doesn't mean that I don't like the movie. I think that the actress playing Fanny did an incredible job and I couldn't stop watching her (especially at the end when she finds out that Keats has died).

But let's talk about Keats for a minute...

I wasn't too crazy about the guy who played Keats in the movie...but that is okay, because this is really Fanny's story. It isn't that the actor did a bad job, it was just that the writing of his character could have been so much better. I love Keats. I love the poetry of the Romantics...but Keats is the most amazing poet out of all of them, in my not-so-humble opinion. I really do love Romantic poetry. I get it. But Keats goes beyond them. He responds to the first generation Romantics (Wordsworth, Coleridge, etc), but he makes his poetry his own. I am especially sensitive to treatment of "Ode to a Nightingale," the most wrenching and emotional poem I have ever read. I feel pain when I read that poem. It is excruciatingly beautiful. So, while I didn't like the reading of the poem at the end of the film or the fact that they were aligning it so closely with Fanny Brawne, I LOVED the scene where Keats climbs to the top of a tree and reclines into the branches, just like a nightingale. So, Keats had his great moments in this film!

As my students know, "Ode to a Nightingale" is really difficult to understand. It is tragic and beautiful, of course, but it is speaking back to so many things that came before it. So, I don't like the script's attempt to make Fanny the catalyst for the poem (or to even relate her to the subject matter). Though one could discuss so many things in the poem, one theme that is clearly present is death. The fact is that Keats knew he was ill for a long time or at least suspected that he was ill. In the movie, it almost seems like everything was fine and then Keats all of a sudden says, "Oh, no. I have tuberculosis." It didn't happen that way. When he writes the "Ode," he is confronting death, beginning tentatively, saying to the nightingale that he wishes that he could join him:

...That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow...

And, later, becoming resolute in his decision about death and dying:

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mus├Ęd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!...

It is gorgeous and amazing. One of my favorite poems. But it isn't all about Fanny Brawne, folks.

Still, the relationship between Fanny and Keats in this movie is sweet and beautiful...

...when he is with her and things are going the way she wants them to go. But their relationship is immature, at best...not surprising considering that they were both so incredibly young. But, that craziness is also what makes this an interesting movie.
So, even though it seems like I have been bashing it in parts, I really haven't. I loved it. I will be buying a copy one day. Also, one of the greatest strengths of the movie is that you don't need to know anything about poetry or the Romantics to enjoy it. Like I tell my students, you don't have to know anything coming into a poem or a movie or a book. Though you may not get all of the references, you can still get something valuable out of the experience. And the same holds true for Bright Star.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

What do you think about this decision?

"New Edition of 'Huckleberry Finn' to Lose the 'N' Word".

I do understand the sensitivity issue, but I also agree with a comment that I saw on Facebook this morning. The writer of this comment on Facebook correctly pointed out that if you take the word out then you essentially pretend that racism is not an issue in the book and you cover up racism during the time period as well. The relationship between Huck and Jim, and the culture of racism that surrounds that relationship, is, indeed, a sensitive topic. But it is an important topic. If you ignore it, then you ignore so much that is important about that book.

I have often heard that this book is banned in schools because of the 'n' word. I am TOTALLY against banning books. I don't understand the fear that surrounds letting anyone read something. I have seen the fear in others, however.

When I was between the ages of ten and thirteen--an age when many kids today turn to the teen or young adult section of the bookstore--there just were not a lot of good young adult books. Most of my book-lover friends and I just skipped from children's literature to adult literature. I remember reading a Stephen King novel at the hospital while visiting a sick relative. I was around eleven or so. And one of my aunts told my mother that I shouldn't be reading that book because it was bad for me to do so at my age and it would corrupt me. My mother clearly told my aunt that I could read whatever I wanted because I had sense enough to put it down if I couldn't handle it (very true of me, by the way) and to ask questions if I needed to. Of course, the response would be: Why would you want your eleven-year-old daughter asking the kind of questions she would ask after reading such a book?" which my mother would probably reply: Why not? That is the way of the world.

I love my mom!

Anyway, I remember hearing this conversation and being totally shocked and confronted with the question of "Am I reading something bad? Can books be bad?" for the very first time. I quickly decided that some books can be "bad" or make you feel "bad" things...but that doesn't mean that you ignore them or avoid the questions they face you to confront.

Literature that makes us uncomfortable or makes us react strongly is the most important kind of literature. It forces us to confront our true selves (just like Atreyu in The Never Ending Story!!!...just had to throw that in there!). No one can force you to believe something that you read--even things you agree with strongly. Reading something may put what we consider to be "dangerous notions" into someone's head...but chances are, those notions were building from something with a lot longer/stronger influence in a child's life than the encounter with the book. The same exact book could be read by two people and you would have two totally different reactions.

I will be the first to admit that books change your life. (I wanted to be Harriet the Spy when I was nine...was convinced that I was, too.) You can fall into one and identify with it so clearly that you become it or the character for quite some time. But being a successful learner means that you eventually have to step back and evaluate things with a clear head. Just like anyone influential in our lives, we go through the same process with books or characters we encounter: we admire them, emulate them, eventually rebel against them, and then come to some kind of understanding about where you fit in that process (and therefore creating your own opinions). It isn't dangerous, but it is one of the most important things that we do. This is why reading is so important.

And this brings me back to the "n" word controversy in Huckleberry Finn. If you never encounter it, especially in the form it takes in American literature of a certain time period, then you ignore one of the most profound issues in the country--and the world. Ignoring a problem only makes it worse. It is like reading literature produced during and after the holocaust: it must be read and remembered so that it never happens again.

So, final thought: I think that the only very bad and dangerous thing about Twain's book is the decision by a contemporary editor to cover up what is one of Twain's most important arguments in the book. It looks like most of the people commenting on the article (linked at the beginning of this post) agree.