Friday, October 28, 2011

Moving into the future: Girls can now inherit the throne!


One of the most amazing "Dear Sugar" letter responses yet:

From the Oct. 21, 2011, column:

"Countless people have been devastated for reasons that cannot be explained or justified in spiritual terms. To do as you are doing in asking if there were a God why would he let my little girl have to have possibly life threatening surgery?—understandable as that question is—creates a false hierarchy of the blessed and the damned. To use our individual good or bad luck as a litmus test to determine whether or not God exists constructs an illogical dichotomy that reduces our capacity for true compassion. It implies a pious quid pro quo that defies history, reality, ethics, and reason. It fails to acknowledge that the other half of rising—the very half that makes rising necessary—is having first been nailed to the cross.....What if you allowed your God to exist in the simple words of compassion others offer to you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What if the greatest beauty of the day is the shaft of sunlight through your window? What if the worst thing happened and you rose anyway? What if you trusted in the human scale? What if you listened harder to the story of the man on the cross who found a way to endure his suffering than to the one about the impossible magic of the Messiah? Would you see the miracle in that?"

The letter is amazing. Read it here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dickens Overload: I am such a nerd. :)

I finally broke down and purchased my subscription to the Dickens Society...which means I get the Dickens Quarterly...and I am so happy. :) The price really isn't bad at all--only $25. I used to subscribe to Victorian Studies and that one cost $75/year. So, I am getting concentrated material on an author I love for a third of the cost of VS! :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Days of Dickens

Yesterday, I returned from the Charles Dickens conference I attended in Myrtle Beach. We left on Thursday of last week ("we" meaning my dissertation director and I). Even though I became very sick on the trip (yes, this is getting old), I still had a good time and learned a lot. I presented my paper on Saturday, and it went really well. If I had just been feeling better (i.e. not curled up under mountains of covers trying to avoid chills/able to eat without being sick/able to sit through presentations without aching all over), it would have been fantastic. I met some great people and enjoyed what I could.

We stayed at Ocean Creek Resort. It was a nice place, in general, but without a car it was a bit inconvenient. Also, the staff recommended that we try Bennett's Calabash restaurant for fresh This is probably the worst restaurant I have ever been to in my life. It was a buffet, and after my recent food poisoning experience, I don't like those very much. Still, I knew I could exercise caution and find something. Well, I was right to avoid the seafood as much as possible. Just at a glance, I could tell that it was all frozen. Out of curiosity, I took a piece of salmon, and it was completely overcooked and hard as a rock. Worse, though,was the fact that even though there appeared to be steam coming up from the buffet, all of the food was room temp or cooler. Not good. Even the desserts were bad. And the price?? Wow. So expensive. So, anyway, that was a total loss. But, I had great company, and that made it okay.

Traveling with my dissertation director was great as well. He and I had great flying experiences on US Air and no problems. So, great conversations and no plane delays? I say that the trip was an A+ in those departments!

So, anyway, I am back. I am not feeling 100% yet...probably more like %60. But, I am playing catch up and doing okay. Best of all? I am more motivated than ever to work on the dissertation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What I am reading now...

I have finished the "pleasure reading" for the month (see earlier post), and I am still reading the stuff for the dissertation. When I was in the bookstore this weekend, however, I found a $3.97 copy of Her Fearful Symmetry. I've been wanting to read this one for a long time. I know a lot of people didn't like it, but that is fine. I didn't read The Time Traveler's Wife, but so far I really like this book. I'll keep you posted!

"Witch's Sister" movie (based on book by P. R. Naylor)

When I was a little kid, this was my most favorite movie EVER. I loved it. I still have the VHS tape of it. (My parents taped it for me off of Showtime, I think.) Anyway, my tape is in horrible shape, and I have searched for it for years. Well, someone finally uploaded it to YouTube!!! It is cheesy and very late 70s/early 80s...but it is just something bizarre from my childhood. Watching it was such an imaginative experience for me, for some reason. The best part of this movie is just that there really is no resolution. And it is just downright creepy. The girl who plays the older sister (Judith) is great at creating mystery. Here is Part 1...


Oh, CRAZY!! Here is a homemade trailer for my other favorite movie as a kid: the movie version of Anna to the Infinite Power!! It was also so creepy and about cloning!! Again: super cheese. But I loved it.

Both of these movies are based on books:

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Witch's Sister and Mildred Ames's Anna to the Infinite Power (which I think is out of print now...but you can find it used, and I found one at my local library book sale years ago).

Thank you, Lisa!

A big thanks to my former student, Lisa, for making me some Halloween cookies! They are so cute and taste wonderful!! Thanks, Lisa!

The rest of the cookies are on a great plate, too...No, my display here isn't so great, but that is only because I am sharing the rest of the plate with my coworkers!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MyVampFiction: Beyond Retro Column

Hi, everyone. My column and review of Le Fanu's Carmilla is up on

Click here, if you want to read it.

For my previous blog post about it, see here.

PS: Yes, my pen name is "Victorian Vamp." I sort of love it.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs


A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

The summary above of Ransom Riggs's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children isn't the best. Basically, it is about a young man, Jacob, who has grown up with an eccentric grandfather. The grandfather often showed Jacob photos of very strange children doing things that seemed impossible--levitating, speaking from mouths in the back of their heads, etc. Eventually, Jacob stopped believing the photos were real and his grandfather never mentioned them again.

As Jacob grows up, the grandfather begins to behave strangely. The family believes that he is just getting old, but one day, when Jacob is fifteen, his grandfather calls in a state of panic, saying the monsters are after him. Thinking his grandfather is having a mental breakdown or experiencing dementia, Jacob rushes home. He finds his grandfather nearly dead in the woods (he does die), and becomes confused by his grandfather's last words. As he watches the old man slip from life, he notices something in the bushes--something that looks like a monster.

From this point onward, Jacob struggles to deal with his grandfather's death and finally decides that he must travel to Wales, where his grandfather lived in a children's home during World War II. Once in Wales, Jacob finds the old children's home--completely destroyed by a bomb attack in WWII. Jacob embarks on a journey of discovery--of himself, family secrets, and a whole way of life that he never imagined existed--only to find himself in danger of being killed.

It sounds like a really good book. And, in some ways, it is. The photographs alone prompt most people to buy it. In fact, that was the reason I wanted it. I remember when I first heard about this novel on Amazon, and I waited anxiously for it to come out. When it finally did, I scooped up a copy, but I had to wait a while before reading it. It has been sitting on my shelf for a long time now, but, when my book club decided to let us read anything that was scary or strange for our October meeting, I knew that this was my chance to dive into Riggs's novel.

First, the positives:
There are some really great moments in this book, and I like the mixing of history (though it is not a historical novel) with the present. There is a strange combination of reality and unreality that makes this book seem like a fairy tale at times, something that is amplified by the inclusion of amazing found photography.

The photography helps the mood of the story, and like I said, it is a huge selling point of the book. The novel appeals to the visual, and the strange photos throughout this book (on the book jacket, too) help tell the story of the children featured throughout the story. On the cover, for example, if you look closely, you will see that the little girl is actually levitating. The photos included are real (called "found photography"), and most of them are bizarre, trick photography shots. Some are just plain creepy.

Now for my personal reaction:
Though I enjoyed parts of the story, I don't feel that I connected with enough of the characters. I wanted more from the story. Maybe this will happen in later novels, because I know that this is part of a series. I just never felt that there was a solid enough emotional investment between myself, the characters, and the plot. I would sometimes say to myself, "So what?" Still, this is a first novel, and the next may be great.

I liked the setting--especially the version of the old children's home in ruins. Still, I think more could have been done with this than the author managed.

I don't really know what I was expecting from the interaction between the photos and the story, but I didn't get what I wanted. Instead of the photos playing an active part in the mystery, they only functioned as an illustration of what the author had just described. For example, the character of the grandfather tells his grandson, Jacob (the protagonist of the story), to look closely at the picture I just mentioned that is on the cover. He explains that she is levitating. Yes...I can see that just a quick glance would not be enough to notice everything in the photos, and it can be difficult to see that she is levitating, because you just don't expect it. Once I find that out, however, what do I do with it? Why is that exciting (other than the obvious)? I was hoping for hidden clues in the photos that the reader would have to discover along the way. I guess what I am trying to say is that, even though some of the photography was amazing, the reader didn't have to do anything with it. Each photograph was explained and only functioned to give me an image of the character just described.

Would I read the next book in the series? Yes. I will give it a shot, because there were just enough moments in this one to make me see that the author can do something with the story. I just want more complexity. Just because you are writing a YA novel does not mean that you have to dumb it down or make it less intriguing. Sometimes, I felt like he stuck things in the book to make it more problems with parents that were never resolved but only glossed over sticking in a mild curse word in the oddest places...etc. None of these moments made me connect with Jacob or the other characters in a better way. They felt forced, as if an editor told him to put them in there. I may be wrong, but that is the impression I got. The best young adult books are the ones that are the most complex. They are the same novels as those written for adults, except the protagonists are teens and there is usually not a lot of sex (though I am starting to see that change slightly...not in this book though).

Anyway, I just wanted more. I wasn't completely disappointed, but I want more in the next one!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

(Source: Wikipedia commons)

Want a great Halloween read? Check out Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla. Written in 1872, this short book is a gem that many people don't read very often. It combines many of the predictable aspects of vampire stories as we know them today, but there are some surprising twists. Though we are never in doubt about what is going on or who the vampire is, Carmilla lets us see origins of the modern vampire story that stretch from Bram Stoker's Dracula to Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and many more. I have a full review of the novella coming up on Tuesday in my new column, "Beyond Retro," at The goal of the column is to look at nineteenth century (sometimes older) stories of vampires, werewolves, and any other paranormal event.

Oh, yes. I am completely plugging my column and the site. :)

But, anyway, you really should give Carmilla a read. I was not expecting to be as drawn into this story as I was. I always knew what was happening, yet Le Fanu's creation of tension in the plot was amazing.

The story is available for free in many locations. Here are some links:

Online: Carmilla

For Kindle (free): Carmilla on Kindle

For Nook: Carmilla for Nook. NOTE: This is not free. For some reason, Barnes & Noble is charging Nook users $.99 for a download of something that is in the public domain for free. Just my opinion, but that is so wrong. If you are a Nook user, you really should complain if B&N charges you for a random copy of a public domain work. It is different if you are paying for an edited version--like a Penguin or Oxford Classics edition. But just a copy of what is free online? I don't think so.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I am so tired!!! And my heart rate is crazy!

This morning, I had to take a long walk across campus. It is the first significant exercise I have had since the food poisoning event. When I checked my heart rate upon returning to my office, it was really high but dropped rapidly (it wasn't in a danger zone or anything, but still). I have been sitting at my desk for over an hour now and my heart rate is still a bit high. I hate this. Ugh. So, I am drinking lots of water, just in case I am a bit dehydrated. I am also going to do some meditation breathing tonight and see if that helps, should my heart rate continue to be high.

This is so frustrating!!!! Thank you, food poisoning, for making my body go nuts.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Books for October

I had a great time catching up on all of the blog time I missed while I was sick, and I especially enjoyed looking around Amy's I Ponder the Page. Her blog is much more focused than mine, and I love seeing all of the things she is reading. So, Amy mentioned all of the books she read for the "Southern Belle Challenge" and then mentioned that she was embarking on another reading challenge-- "Fall into Reading 2011." I hope to participate in these one day, but until the dissertation is complete...well, pleasure reading comes and goes.

Inspired by her blog and lists, however, I have decided that I am going to try to list the books I hope to read each month. So, for this month, I am reading (or rereading) the following for the dissertation:

For, I am reviewing:

And, for the book club:

Yes. I spend a huge amount of time reading. But it is fun!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Back to myself...nearly

Hi, everyone! Finally, I am feeling a bit like my old self again. The big change happened on Friday afternoon, around 1:00 (yes, I remember don't forget the ending of days-on-end nausea!). The dizziness remained fairly strong until yesterday. Though it isn't completely gone, it is livable! Thank you for all of your well wishes and support. I really appreciate it. I especially appreciate and love my parents, who were so wonderful through it all, and my cousin Jessica and Uncle Ron, who came to the hospital and stayed with me on Monday evening to give my mom a break. And thank you to everyone else who called or visited. I love you!

So, now that I am feeling better, I am reminded of how much work I have missed and how far behind I am on my dissertation! I missed my book club meeting, and with everything that has happened over the last few weeks, I also didn't finish the book for the book club (the book was The Palace of Illusions). It is a great book, but I am going to have to wait before I finish it.

The good news, after all is said and done, is that I now feel rested (heck of a way to get there, though) and want to resume my workout/running schedule. I am getting the urge to do another race. I don't know if I want to train for a half-marathon or not. The only thing that concerns me is that I would have to train on my own...and running 14 mile courses in preparation is boring if one simply runs a loop and dangerous if one runs solitary. So, I may just try for a solid 5 or 10K this time around. Still...I do love the half-marathon experience! I just don't know what to do!! I don't want to contact my old Team-in-Training coach and beg to join their running schedule if I am not raising money for the cause (something I just don't have time to do this year). So...I guess that I will have to suck it up and figure this out on my own!

Anyway, enough babbling! I am glad to be back, one week later, feeling so much better!