Monday, August 23, 2010

Moby Dick!

Call me astounded.

Moby Dick is epic, and I don’t mean in just in the literary sense of the word. It is epically over the top, full of terrific lines that have been adopted into the geek lexicon thanks to Star Trek. It has grand characters, unexpected detours, and, eventually, a whale of an adventure tale.

That there will be an adventure story I’m taking on faith as so far -- and I’m not quite half way into it -- the action can be summed up in a couple of sentences. Ishmael meets Queequeg, they join the crew of the whaling ship Pequod and sail out of Nantucket. Ahab announces he wants to hunt a particular whale. I’ve just summed up over 300 pages!! No wonder people give up on reading this book.

But I’m not reading it in print form. I’m listening to a wonderful recording of it as read by, actually performed by, Anthony Heald. Talk about epic. (And I’m not just referring to the 24 hours of audio!) He can take the most clause-choked sentence and make it sound natural. Make it interesting and worth listening to. Melville’s writing is made lively and brilliant. The Shakespearean nature of Ahab’s speech comes to life, lines that the average reader would miss because his eyes had glazed over suddenly pop out in all their poetic drama. Even the chapters detailing whaling life or the natural history of the period are a good listen. It is simply brilliant.

I find myself taking notes, looking things up on the internet, pulling out the print copy to reread a particularly interesting passage. And I’m getting a kick out of all the literary and mythological references that I now get thanks to all the reading of classics my kids and I have done while homeschooling.

My 15yo son is also listening to Moby Dick and loving it. I often hear him in the next room chuckling over speech by Ahab, not because it is comical, but because it is unexpectedly familiar. We are constantly asking each other “have you read the part yet ....” and comparing reactions. He keeps saying, “This is soooo much better than the Iliad!!” Sorry Homer, you just don’t make the cut!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

(Not Very) Wordless Wednesday

First a short explanation of last week's WW. The bubble men were part of an advertising campaign that was outside of Comic-Con. That it took us 2 days before we figured out what they were advertising shows that the ad campaign was cool but not effective in its message! Anyway, the bubble men were made by Flogos, a company that specializes in large bubble figures. You can read the FAQs for the company here.

This week's (Not Very) Worldless Wednesday features "Chinny", the Black Chinned Hummingbird who has taken on the mission of guarding our backyard from any and all hummers who are tempted by my feeders.

Can you find him in there? He likes to perch on a small twig that gives him a view of the whole yard.

There he is! He knows us, so doesn't even flinch when I'm right on the other side of the fence.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer Reading

I’ve managed to read at least 15 books since mid-June, putting myself ahead of the book a week pace after being behind for so long. Here’s a brief summary of the hits, and luckily, no real misses.

The happy new discovery of the year for me and for my son Mike, has been all the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. I know we’re late to the party as everyone else seems to have read them already, but we’re awfully glad to be here! I’ve only read 4 of his books so far as I’m also reading other genres, but Mike is on a steady diet of the things, impatient for me to get to certain titles. I love the dry humor, the absurd situations, the colorful characters, but I especially love that there there is a story that draws me in keeps me turning pages.

I finally got to Laurie R. King’s 2 most recent installments in her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mysteries, The Language of Bees and The God of the Hive. I also went back and reread the first from the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Maybe I’m outgrowing these books, because while I like the writing and the pacing, I’m starting to find them a little too fan-fictiony. Mary Russell is a good character, and her meeting Sherlock Holmes in the first book makes perfect sense, but the books could have been just as strong with her as the only detective and without her marrying the man. I also tried Laurie R. King’s other detective series, The Art of Detection, that happened to have a Sherlock Holmes tie in. Really good mystery, good characters, a real police detective book. Nice to know there another series by this author I can turn to now.

I’ve finished the 3rd Temeraire book by Naomi Novik. The Napoleonic Wars! With Dragons! It sounds bizarre, but it works, and she manages to weave in some interesting themes, such as the issue of slavery, making these especially good reads, I think, for teens. Fantasy loving adults have lots to enjoy too.

Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco was terrific, but depressing as could be. His realistic depiction of Medieval life was just a tad too much for me -- I couldn’t focus on the mystery as I was too upset by knowing a poor girl was going to be burned at the stake. I came to realize that I prefer a more romantic version of olden times than a realistic version, hence my enjoyment of fantasy lit.

Simon Tolkein’s The Inheritance was a great page turner suspense/mystery.

My favorite book of the summer, though, is one I picked up at Comic-Con. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is a terrific beginning to a fantasy series. The prose is lovely, the characters are slowly revealed in a clever manner, and the world is believable. There is none of the clunky exposition that bogs down many fantasies. The passages where he puts us inside the mind of a musician transported when making music are poetic yet realistic. A dragon getting high on opiate trees is a funny adventure romp. It isn't an epic hero quest, but there is an epic hero whose story we are learning almost in a backwards fashion. Now I have to wait until March for the next installment.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Beginning of the End...

I made a list at the beginning of the summer of all the books I thought I'd get to with my son before he graduates. Too many books for one last year of homeschooling and he has a long reading life ahead of him, so I winnowed the list down to a manageable number. Recently I've been organizing the titles into somewhat logical groupings. My plan is to have us do all the grouped books together, but we can do the groups in what ever order feels right.

I've got the Southern grouping, featuring civil rights, integration and race relations:
Huck Finn
To Kill a Mockingbird
Flannery O'Connor short stories
Invisible Man.

I've never read Flannery O'Connor nor Invisible Man, so am looking forward to reading them myself. Mike expressed an interest in re-reading Huck Finn as he had read it when he was 10, I think, and was disappointed that it wasn't more like Tom Sawyer.

Then there's the Shakespeare fest:
Bill Bryson's Shakespeare book
Macbeth along with Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters to liven things up
Midsummer's Night Dream along with another Terry Pratchett book
The recent BBC Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart

Mike has been exposed to Shakespeare since he was a wee lad, either attending Old Globe plays, acting in kid versions, or reading them in class. I'm not entirely sure what Terry Pratchett will bring to the study, but everything is better with a bit of Discworld thrown in!

Back to American Lit, we've got some early American authors to explore:
Moby Dick (which we should be starting this week)
Nathaniel Hawthorne short stories
Edgar Allen Poe short stories

Moby Dick we are reading just because it seemed like a terrific summer project. It is already August and we haven't started, so clearly we weren't that enthusiastic about the idea...

I'm going to inflict more poetry on the lad. I have yet to pick out which poems, but I am going to make sure he writes an academic paper on a poem, just to stretch his writing muscles.

I've got a couple of chemistry titles for him, too. If these were available at I'm sure he would have read them already:

Uncle Tungsten
The Disappearing Spoon

Because Mike enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, and a good parody, I thought I should introduce him to gothic literature by way of:

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.

I can't bring myself to assign something by one of the Bronte sisters -- I myself have never been able to get through Wuthering Heights.

I may add other titles to the final short group:

Animal Farm
Fahrenheit 451

Or I may decide, due to homeschool guilt, that he needs to read Steinbeck or Dickens before he graduates and assign Grapes of Wrath, or Great Expectations.

I've got my list of related Teaching Company lectures to go with most of these titles, and have happily spent many hours reviewing SparkNotes before deciding on a title. I just love the planning part of homeschooling. I'm going to be lost next summer when I no longer have to plan, no longer will have an excuse for searching the library catalog and Amazon for hours on end in order find the perfect works to assign my kids.