Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Winter break

And I'm home for the holidays. . . . I put in a full day at the library yesterday then went out for fish tacos with co-worker buddies current and old, and will not be returning to work until next year.

I brought home—because they were available and I can't possibly have enough already at hand—a few books from the new book cart and a few videos and dvds freshly released from course reserves and the av collection:

The Pagoda in the Garden by Wendy Lesser

The invitation sat propped between the silver triangles of the toast rack. One of the charms of this small, well-run hotel—one of the charms of London, she always reminded herself—was that one could get breakfast and the day's first post at the same time. Not that the invitation had arrived precisely in the toast rack: that degree of levity would have struck the management as unseemly. No, she had set it there herself, after reading it once; and now, as she thoughtfully eyed it from a distance, over her second cup of morning coffee (a French habit that had becomeimpossible to break), she seemed to ask of it a degree of communication that went beyond the mere explicitness of black scrawl on cream pasteboard.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blond Ukrainian divorcee. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside.

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

When I was young, my mother read me a story about a wicked little girl. She read it to me and my two sisters. We sat curled against her on the couch and she read from the book on her lap. The lamp shone on us and there was a blanket over us. The girl in the story was beautiful and cruel. Because her mother was poor, she sent her daughter to work for rich people, who spoiled and petted her. The rich people told her she had to visit her mother. But the girl felt she was too good and went merely to show herself. One day, the rich people sent her home with a loaf of bread for her mother. But when the little girl came to a muddy bog, rather than ruin her shoes, she threw down the bread and stepped on it. It sank into the bog and she sank with it. She sank into a world of demons and deformed creatures. Because she was beautiful, the demon queen made her into a statue as a gift for her great-grandson. The girl was covered in snakes and slime and surrounded by the hate of every creature trapped like she was. She was starving but couldn't eat the bread still welded to her feet. She could hear what people were saying about her; a boy passing by saw what had happened to her and told everyone, and they all said she deserved it. Even her mother said she deserved it. The girl couldn't move, but if she could have, she would've twisted with rage. "It isn't fair!" cried my mother, and her voice mocked the wicked girl.

Schlepping Through the Alps by Sam Apple

If you're traveling the Alps with a Yiddish folksinger who also happens to be the last wandering shepherd in Austria and he assigns you the task of walking behind his flock of 625 sheep, you'll discover that the little lambs sometimes tire out and plop down for naps. Since your job is to make sure no sheep is left behind, you'll approach the sleeping lambs, your shepherd's stick firm in your right fist, and shout, "Hop! Hop!" You'll have learned to make this noise, which rhymes with "nope," from observing the shepherd and his sons. On occasion, when a lamb is in a deep sleep and not responding, you'll look around quickly to see whether the coast is clear. If the shepherd is far ahead or busy singing Yiddish ditties to himself, you'll kneel down next to the sleeping lamb and say, "Come on, little cutie. Time to move on." Then you'll attempt to give the lamb a quick pat on the head. Usually the lamb will wake up before you touch it and scurry ahead in search of its mother. When this happens, you'll let out several angry hop hops, as though you're completely in charge.

To watch we have In Search of Shakespeare, which comes highly recommended by C.; the Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh versions of Hamlet (S. has seen only parts of Gibson's and none of Branagh's, because these are usually on reserve); the three-part BBC version of Winter's Tale; and Birth of a Language, from the Films for the Humanities and Sciences.

Sure beats Nancy Grace.

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