Saturday, April 07, 2018

Next Challenge

Time for a new book. I'm kind of behind if I'm going to finish all twelve this year, but my first two selections were long, so maybe I will pick up the pace.

And the next selection is:

2. The Fall of Arthur

Time for some more epic poetry. I think I'll find Tolkien more readable than Virgil, though.

In other undertakings, we are ssllllooowwwwllllyyyy reading through Swiss Family Robinson. The twins seem to be enjoying it, but even Dash asked, "Why does the father know how to do everything?" It seems to work best if we envision it as an RPG in which the players are all overpowered, the GM is far too indulgent, and everyone always rolls a 20.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Kristin Lavransdatter, Mistress of Husaby and The Cross

Alas, I finished it. Now I have to move back to reality. I didn't die of the black plague, though, so that's good.

And I find it impossible to sum up. So much life. 

The middle novel details the years of prosperity--Kristin, finding herself mistress of a large noble estate in near-ruins thanks to Erlend's ineptitude, rises to the occasion in between birthing seven sons. Erlend wanders in and out, making himself a decent name as a border governor. They fight and make up, have another baby, fight and make up again.

Undset is incredibly good at showing the tangle of feelings, of desire and resentment, of missed cues and muddled responsibilities of a struggling marriage. Kristin's steadiness that gives her the ability to rise to being mistress of a noble estate--CEO, doctor, brewer, farmer, head of charity and society woman all rolled into one--goes along with a steady resentment that Erlend cannot be more like her even steadier father (though of course she never could love the steady man her father picked out). Only by tossing aside reality can she enjoy a bit of peace with Erlend, and that never happens for long once she has the heritage of her sons to worry about.

After a particularly nasty argument, Erlend has a brief revenge affair, which ends even worse than expected--it turns out he's been leading a plan which, had it gone well, would have marked him down as a hero of his country, but thanks to his idiocy the plan is discovered and he is tried for treason. 

Always at their best in a crisis, Kristin and Erlend reconcile and thanks to the tireless labor of Simon, Kristin's former betrothed (and now brother-in-law), Erlend is freed, but at the cost of land and titles. The family retires to Kristin's childhood home, which is her own property.

In the final book is the fallout. The fragile reconciliation falls to pieces again. Life goes on until it doesn't any more.  At the end, one son takes over the farm, the others scatter to seek their fortune or the cloister, and the widowed Kristin enters a convent. 

I saw one review commenting on the centrality of motherhood to the book and that is a major theme--and as I first read the book over a decade ago, when I was still in the baby stage and now revisit it as my children are entering their teens, I feel it with her--the constant loss, the fears, the joys that are only remembered in retrospect and the pain that is better than joy--even more than the first time through. 

But another theme that comes through is the journey of the soul to God--that all the things of life, the worries, the triumphs, the joys and sorrows--are not the main thing that most people think, nor distractions as people trying to be devout think, but the way through which God himself shows himself to us. On her way to the convent, Kristin gets sidetracked by a crowd of little boys: "And when the moment came that she had longed for all through her journey, when she stood below the cross on Feginsbrekka and looked down on Nidaros, it came not so that she could collect her thoughts for prayer or meditation. All the bells of the town burst forth at that moment to ring to Vespers, and the boys all talked together, wanting to point out all that was before her--"

Or, to put my favorite song with my favorite book, 

"Every heart--every heart to love will come/But as a refugee."

Here is my review from 2006. I will read this book again. Maybe in 2030. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Kristin Lavransdatter, Book 1: The Bridal Wreath

I don't know if it's cheating or overachieving to smuggle in a trilogy as one selection in the Back to the Classics challenge, but I will do it for Kristin Lavransdatter. If I had a cabin and a pot of soup and Kristin Lavransdatter, then that would be the best vacation ever.

So it is hard with such a book to sum up or critique. I don't read Kristin Lavransdatter; I move temporarily to 14th-century Norway. All the people and the life are so real, shown without romanticism or grotesqueness. The people live in their own world, unastonished at their own life for all its strangeness to us, yet still as real and ordinary as anyone you might know.

The Bridal Wreath gives a bit of background on Kristin's family and then tells her growing up years, from early childhood to her wedding. Kristin's doting and devout father, Lavrans, is a well-respected knight and a skilled farm manager; her mother is dedicated but melancholy, weighed down by many infant losses and a dark secret. In due course Kristin's father arranges her a good marriage to Simon, a perfectly suitable but rather boring young man, but Kristin is not so sure. At Simon's suggestion, she spends a year at a convent school in the south to get a bit more worldliness. What she gets instead is an introduction to Erlend, a dashing, higher-ranking, and not all that young man who is, in more than just Lavrans' estimation, not good for much but seducing women.

Well, things go much as one would expect in any century. Or again, not, because no one here is a stock character. Even the minor characters, like the saintly Brother Edvin, or the enigmatic witch Lady Aashild, are very real. The actions of a 28 year old who seduces a naive 16-year-old girl out of a convent to a brothel are as despicable to the medieval Norwegians as they would be if it started in an online chat room today; yet Erlend does genuinely care for Kristin, after his own weak-willed fashion. And while Kristin learns to lie and sneak and is as utterly short-sighted in romance as a teenage girl can be, yet her devotion has its own greatness and beauty to it.

Two quotes from either end of the influences in Kristin's life:

Lady Aashild: "In this world they call him a fool who wastes his heritage that he may make merry in the days of his youth. As to that, each man may deem as he lists. But that man only do I call a fool and a very dolt who rues his bargain after it is made . . . "

Brother Edvin: "There is no man nor woman, Kristin, who does not love and fear God, but 'tis because our hearts are divided twixt love of God and fear of the devil and fondness for the world and the flesh, that we are unhappy in life and death. For if a man had not a yearning after God and God's being, he would thrive in hell, and 'twould be we alone who would not understand that there he had gotten what he desired."

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Next Selection

And now it's time for me to roll again, hoping for a selection a little easier to get through than the last . . .

First I rolled a 5. But that's Swiss Family Robinson, which is a family read aloud (and we've already started). At the rate we've been having read-alouds, it's going to take us all year to get through.

So a re-roll for a personal read, and it's a 4: Kristin Lavransdatter. Which may take me as long to get through as the Aeneid, but if memory serves me right it's a process I will enjoy far more.

The Aeneid

Well, I made it. And it took me the first two months of the year, but it was probably the toughest read for me. I'm not very quick with epic poetry. I keep getting lost and having to backtrack or give up on following entirely. Especially during the battle parts (which was basically the last six books) I was pretty much like Alice reading Jabberwocky, "Well, somebody killed something, that's certain."

I did get a bit of an aha about why ancient poetry is so dang tedious, though. Even though the Aeneid was written, it still takes its form from the oral tradition. And if you really wanted to remember an important war and all the important generals and battles, without writing it down, you'd want to turn it into poetry. Now that we have catalogs and history books we can skip all the lists and focus on the action, but if we didn't no doubt we'd still be recounting the Civil War in a similar fashion.

The parts with the gods and goddesses interfering were more interesting. Basically it all came down to a feud between Juno and Venus; Venus who apparently was Aeneas' mother by a mortal, and Juno who favored Carthage and thus had it in for the Romans before they could even become Romans. (In one scene Venus gets her immortal husband, Vulcan, to make Aeneas special armor. It never explains how Vulcan came to be so chill with the situation, but I suppose they'd had a few decades to work it out and maybe he figured that it was part of the price of being married to the goddess of love. On the other hand, you never see Juno acting so calmly about Jove's sidelines.)

Really the interference of the deities was depressing. If they decide you need to do something, or die conveniently, or turn on your nearest and dearest, then do it you will, whether they have to resort to persuasion, trickery, or brute force.

In other reading, I also re-read the entire Anne series while sick with the flu. It was strange to revisit after quite a while. I don't think I'd read it since the children were tiny. It was a little depressing to realize that after a lifetime of expecting I would grow up to be Anne as a mother with a house as well-ordered and supportive as Ingleside, the best I could hope to emulate was the Merediths, domestic chaos and nearly absent parents with the kids mysteriously turning out pretty OK anyway.

Read The Clockwork Boys (it's by Ursula Vernon, but her adult novel pen name which I can't remember off the top of my head) and was very annoyed to realize Bookworm had tricked me into reading the first book when the sequels weren't out read. Read The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and liked it once I got into it. Feel like I read some other fun fantasy, but can't remember what right now.

Oh, and I got a whole lot of graphic novels for the kids that were new to us, most of which I didn't read because I find graphic novels hard to follow, but I also realized that there are two sequels to Hereville out now, and was very very happy to read those.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

A Series of Unfortunate Events

We cleared the strep--actually Dash and I never got it, thanks be--just in time for a round of flu. This time I'm pretty sure Dash did get it, though he stoutly denied it. Still, when a 9 year old boy heads straight for the couch after school without even a sideways glance at Roblox, something is definitely up.

Deux had a really bad time of it and I didn't feel so well myself, especially since I had a contested hearing and a bar dinner the second day of it. (I did win, though. The flu seems to be lucky for me.) Then we had a much-needed weekend to be sick in, and the internet went out all weekend (for reasons entirely unrelated to the reason the internet had been going out at the office every day all month) and the washing machine broke and the dogs dug a new hole under the fence.

I never actually missed a day of work, but I was dragging pretty badly by the end of the week. So Friday morning DOB offered to get the kids to school--he had morning court--and let me sleep in a few hours. Sound in theory, but Duchess in a moment of exuberance knocked Dash's glasses and a lens fell out and then DOB, in an attempt to superglue it back in the frame, had superglued himself to the glasses. So I got up and got DOB unstuck so he could get to court. At this point the lens was in but so covered with superglue that it was useless for its intended purpose, so we took it out and I tried to put in the lens from his old, even more broken frames. I managed it without supergluing myself, but still got the lens hopelessly covered in glue.

After about an hour of applied nail polish remover, we finally had a functional if not very beautiful pair of glasses for Dash and I took him to school and gave up on the resting and went in to work.

We are mostly better now, although Dash is napping again. And a friend who came over to give an opinion on the dog fence issue has suggested an approach that will allow us to avoid buying more fencing and take advantage of something we do very well--grow eight-foot tall Himalayan blackberries with thorns like razors. If a few of these are relocated to the fence, it should be ample deterrent for digging and if a few of them take root (and they always take root) the solution should be self-perpetuating.

Sara Jones maintains that February is the evil month, but I am sincerely hoping that February can have a bit of mercy on us.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Loathsome Diseases

This time of year people are posting uplifting things on Facebook about magically ridding themselves of negativity and drama to face the new year which will bring nothing but uplift and positivity.

What I find is that the new year is laying in wait with its own new store of negativity and drama. Such as, say, two-thirds of the family getting strep, some of them in places one did not even know it was possible to have strep.

Apparently Duchess actually had it last month and I didn't notice. Well, she did complain her throat was pretty sore a time or two, and one day she felt bad enough to stay home from school, which is pretty bad in her world, but I made her some tea and figured it would pass. I tend to take after my grandmother who reputedly refused to believe my father was particularly ill when, as it turned out later, he actually had polio. She made him go out and play anyways. The doctor later told her he probably was all the better for it.

Then DOB was ill, but DOB generally is ill this time of year to some degree or another. His sinuses do not care for winter.

Then Deux and Dot had the first week of school derailed by mysterious and unpleasant symptoms. Unfortunately things reached a head just when I was scheduled to take Rocketboy to a endoscopy appointment in the early morning, so DOB had the fun of dealing with miserable children overnight and emergency doctor appointments in the middle of court while I was semi-guiltily enjoying a ferry ride all by myself and order-in ramen and other such luxuries of city life with Rocketboy and Bookworm.

But I returned home with lots of books from Bookworm and everybody has medicines and ointments and after a few days are starting to feel semi-human. And I cleaned the fridge.

Chesterton on Being a Lawyer

" . . . we should always be much more inclined to trust a solicitor who did not talk about conveyancing over the nuts and wine. What we really desire of any man conducting any business that the full force of an ordinary man should be put into that particular study. We do not desire that the full force of that study should be put into an ordinary man. We do not in the least wish that our particular law-suit should pour its energy into our barrister's games with his children, or rides on his bicycle, or meditations on the morning star. But we do, as a matter of fact, desire that his games with his children, and his rides on his bicycle, and his meditations on the morning star should pour something of their energy into our law-suit. We do desire that if he has gained any especial lung development from the bicycle, or any bright and pleasing metaphors from the morning star, that they should be placed at our disposal in that particular forensic controversy. In a word, we are very glad that he is an ordinary man, since that may help him to be an exceptional lawyer."

~G. K. Chesterton, Heretics

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

First Post

Well, it is the new year and I have started the Aeneid. Turns out I actually really like it. It's not as gruesome as the Iliad, and not as discursive as the Odyssey, and spends less time on the sunrises.

It's still about the Trojan War, though. Apparently it took several centuries for everyone to get over that one. Only this is the story of the losers. History may be written by the winners, but poetry is written for the losers--or in this case, the current winners who want to remind everyone how they started out as losers.

Besides Troy, the thing these books have in common that is almost impossible for modern retellings to recreate is the sense of the gods as the primary actors. Moderns may try, but we cannot entirely take it seriously; we think they must just be putting it on and revert to cynicism as soon as they are offstage. But it's not really about the adventures of Aeneas; it's about Juno's and Venus's plans to check and counter-check each other and poor mortals just get caught in the middle.

Maybe they were wrong, but then, maybe they had a better appreciation of their limits than we do.

I'm not great at reading epic poetry--there are a lot of allusions to other places and people that I certainly don't want to bother digging out, so then I start skimming and then I realized I missed a key clue as to who is talking or doing something because they will use three or four names for the same entity. Poetic variation is overrated.

In other readings, I'm still finishing up Heretics by Chesterton and Napoleon's Buttons by Penny Le Couteur. And I just got Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency in from the library, but I haven't started it yet.