January 20, 2012

Women in Literature

Entirely without meaning to do so, there's a motif running throughout this post--books written about women.

Way back in the early fall, my book club chose to read Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff, a historically-researched nonfiction account of the life of the last pharaoh of Egypt.  I will admit that the first time I started the book, I stopped about 20 pages in for a break that lasted almost a month.  After our book club met to discuss the book, I decided that I just had to finish it, so I started it over from the beginning.  I'm the first to admit that "history" books don't always interest me from the beginning, one reason I enjoy Erik Larsen's work so much, since they read as novels vs. dry historical accounts.  However, there is so much mystery and controversy surrounding the life of Cleopatra that once I began, I couldn't put the book down.  Did she love Marc Antony or did she love Caesar?  Did she love either of them, or were her liaisons only a play for power?  It's also fascinating to read about the golden city of Alexandria which now only exists in written accounts.  Truly a worthwhile and well-written read.

For our October book club, I was the lucky gal who got to choose our next selection.  We take turns alphabetically by first name, and present a list of four to five titles which are then voted upon by the members.  My first choice, The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, won the round; however, since the book was only available in hardcover (shame on me for not checking that first), we ended up choosing One Day, by David Nicholls.  One Day has been adapted into a movie starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess (who is incredibly British and adorable), although I've heard it isn't a great movie.  The book, however, is wildly entertaining.  The story introduces us to Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew who first meet on July 15, 1988, and we revisit Em and Dex on July 15th for the next 20 years.  An engaging story that starts out fun and a bit sad, and ends as a moving and poignant tale of romance and friendship.  A good, satisfying read.

Next up for book club was One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd, by Jim Fergus.  I'll be honest, I wasn't very excited about this book initially, since it deals with the Western frontier in the 1800s; that makes me think of dust, horses, horse poop, and the Oregon Trail (which I would still play if I had the chance).  I am so glad that I'm wrong as often as I am, because I tend to learn things that way.  I really, really liked this book.  While Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States, the Cheyenne tribe of Native Americans approached him to ask for 1,000 white women in return for 1,000 horses; the thought was that integrating "white culture" with "Indian culture" would help assimilate the Native American population as the whites continued to steal their land.  In real life, the offer was declined, but this novel assumes that President Grant agreed to the offer, and tells the story of the "Brides for Indians" program from the first-person perspective of May Dodd.  Though the characters are a bit flat and one-dimensional, Fergus weaves an interesting story of the American West, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Lastly, since I thought the story sounded so interesting, I decided to revisit The Paris Wife.  I love to read about the roaring 20s, and particularly about the Lost Generation who escaped to Paris for a roaring time of their own.  This novel is historical fiction, based upon the life of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife.  I enjoyed reading about Hemingway as a young man, and in this novel we see the foundation for some of his best-known works, particularly The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast.  The writing is elegant, the story is heartbreaking, and I would recommend this to book to everyone, even if you're not a huge Hemingway fan.  From the Amazon website, which does the book far more justice than I could:
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. 
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for. 
A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

That's it for now.  I'm heading to Baltimore for the weekend to visit some friends--bon weekend to you all!

January 14, 2012

Sinking Cruise Ships and Anglophilia

When I was in Mississippi for Christmas, my family and I went to go see a movie (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  It won't win an Oscar, but I really, really enjoy Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, not to mention Rachel McAdams is in it, although I'd call her role a very long cameo.  I'd recommend it for a rental, it was very entertaining and included lots of witty banter.).

Previews shown before the movie included a trailer for the release of Titanic in 3-D.  (Yes, we can see Jack sketch Rose nekkid all over again, but in 3-D!  I will obviously be seeing this in the theaters.)  At first I wondered why the studio would re-release this movie, and in 3-D no less, but I realized that April 2012 will mark the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic.  I found this interesting and gave it no further thought.

Prior to Christmas and hence, I've noticed several bloggers and tweeters talking about some PBS show called Downton Abbey.  Apparently it won like four Emmys in 2011, and while originally conceived as a miniseries, its popularity has ensured that it will be come a full-season drama.  It's a family-centric drama set in Edwardian England--who watches that stuff, right?  Right.  Well, I was home sick earlier this week and since daytime television is absolutely atrocious, I thought, "Hey, maybe I'll watch that PBS show that everyone is talking about."  Since it's a PBS show, you can watch past episodes for free online.  Y'all, this show is good.  Not only does it have all sorts of intrigue, sex, death, and Maggie Smith, but it's different than anything else on TV right now.  I highly recommend you watch it, as I'm hooked.  The first episode starts with the sinking of the Titanic, effectively eliminating the heir to the wealthy Grantham family's estate, Downton Abbey.  Anyway, watch it, it's good.  The second season is just starting on PBS, so if you hurry, you won't be relegated to watching the entire series on your computer.

Lastly, did you hear about the cruise ship that ran aground off the Italian coast?  The rest of this post is light-hearted, but I don't mention this lightly, it just fit the theme.  ABC reports:

The first course had just been served in the Costa Concordia's dining room when the wine glasses, forks and plates of cuttlefish and mushrooms smashed to the ground. At the magic show in the theater, the trash cans tipped over and the theater curtains turned on their side. Then the hallways turned upside down, and passengers crawled on bruised knees through the dark. Others jumped alone into the cold Mediterranean Sea.   
The terrifying, chaotic escape from the luxury liner was straight out of a scene from "Titanic" for many of the 4,000-plus passengers and crew on the cruise ship, which ran aground off the Italian coast late Friday and flipped on its side with a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in its hull.
It appears that most of the over 4,000 passengers have been rescued, although three deaths have been confirmed.  Naively, I thought that there wouldn't be stories of sinking cruise ships in the year 2012.

January 13, 2012


Friggatriskaidekaphobia is a real word, meaning a fear of Friday the 13th.  Here's advance warning that if you suffer from this phobia, we've got two more Friday the 13ths in the year 2012; another one in April and a third in July.  

Today also marks the day before a long weekend, at least for many of us.  It's turned cold in DC, so my plans for the weekend have changed a bit.  Seems like a good weekend for movies and staying in (by the non-existent fire... one day...).  I do plan to watch the Saints game with some friends.  My Crimson Tide just won the BCS National Championship (that's our 14th national championship win, if you're keeping count), and I'd love for the Saints to at least go to the Super Bowl, if not win the damn thing.  

Speaking of the national championship, it was an honor for my alma mater to win; but I think it's also an outstanding accomplishment for the city of Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama.  On April 27, 2011 an F-4 tornado ripped through the city and surrounding areas, demolishing several city blocks and killing more than 50 people in Tuscaloosa County alone.  The overall death toll from that day is 292, with countless others injured and left homeless.  Winning a football game in no way replaces those lives lost or the injuries sustained, but it does bring hope to a city that is, by all accounts, still recovering.

President Obama visiting Tuscaloosa after the tornados said, "I've never seen damage like this," and declared a state of emergency for the area.

In happier news, next weekend I'll be visiting some DC friends who recently moved to Baltimore.  I've only ever been to Baltimore when heading to BWI airport, so I'm looking forward to actually seeing the city.  I'll try to take pictures to document the trip, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the weather is nice since I've been elected to drive to our carpool there.

Have a happy weekend!

January 12, 2012

Happy 2012

I had planned to post last week, but I was in Arizona for a week for work travel, then I was sick and out of commission for a few days.  Can you believe that it's actually 2012?  I vividly remember New Year's Eve 1999 (involving copious amounts of champagne and Prince's "1999" on repeat) and can't believe that was only 12 years ago.  This year instead of attending a New Year's Eve party, I hosted one!  My two roommates and I threw a party at our house, and even though our house was a mess the next day, it was worth the fun and celebrating with friends.

I'm not a big fan of new year resolutions since I think you can resolve to change any day of the year, but there are some things I'd like to work on in 2012 an continue doing.  I need to remember to take the time to enjoy my life and not always focus on the "next step;" when that happens, you don't always appreciate where you currently are, and I happen to currently be in a great place.

Quick trivia: 2012 is the 4709th Chinese year and is the year of the Water Dragon.  The Chinese New Year doesn't officially start until January 23, 2012, so you've got a few more days to prepare/party/resolve if you need to.

January 2, 2012

Christmas 2011

I such a nice, fun, relaxing Christmas in Mississippi this year (technically, since this is January 2, it was last year).  Even though my sister and I live in the same city now, it was great to both be home together with our parents.  Per tradition, we had decorated our tree over Thanksgiving, so it was nice to return and see it again.  I had a whirlwind two weeks before I headed home, so I needed a break!  There were tacky sweater parties, JLW events, a book signing, and the annual Dirty Santa party that my girlfriends and I have.  After I had not one but THREE different gifts stolen from me, I ended up with my own gift--it was fortuitous that I bought a gift that I actually would have liked to receive!

Christmas decorations

gifts for Dirty Santa

sweet Maggie at home in Mississippi

Gus the Cat, who also lives in Mississippi

our 2011 Christmas tree

Also, I am super excited about my new Kindle Fire that Santa brought me for Christmas!  It's really cool, y'all--and it will save me mucho room on my bookshelf.  Unfortunately, since I don't yet own my dream home, or at least a home with an awesome library (at this point, I'd take a mediocre library), I appreciate having the option to buy books electronically and take them with me wherever I go.  

That said, I'm currently reading One Thousand White Women for my book club.  I'm about halfway through and really enjoying it so far.  I'll do a review once I finish it, and the next book on my list is The Paris Wife.  

I leave you with some images of my ideal home library.  You're welcome.