Monday, January 21, 2013

TBR - New Additions to My List

I am taking the 2013 Goodreads Reading challenge and, just like last year, I am trying to challenge myself to only 60 books.  I learned in December that a short (very short -- only 400 words) that I had submitted for the Virginia Dehn Poetry and Prose Contest was chosen for publication (thank you Sherry Scot for telling us about it, and reminding us and reminding us).  That will be coming out sometime in 2013 through a Connecticut publisher Grayson Books; it was evidently a national contest but we knew about it through the Bonham Creative Art's Center where Sherry is currently facilitating The Artists Way.

Anyway, I really loved what I had written about one particular piece of art, so I submitted it then I promptly forgot about it and had such a pleasant surprise in the notification email.  It's an edgy stream of consciousness bit written from the view point of a young war widow (what can I say, it was November (see blogging here) and I was reading war book after war book after war book, so war was on the brain).   

But that reminded me that I had been spending more and more time reading/blogging in 2012 and less and less time writing, which has always been a love of mine, enough so that I still fondly remember my time as a briefing attorney at the Fort Worth Court of Appeals -- a one year writing job (can you say read and write all day, and opinionize and get PAID for it?!).  So I am TRYING to write more (and not just social blogging) which means I need to read less and I just don't know how I can do that.  My goal for 2013 is only 60, as it has started out being every year that I have done this, but I always overshoot; last year I read more than 100 books. 

I'm afraid I will overshoot this year, too, especially because I had to refill my TBR list (to be read) and after searching through every venue, I have substantially added to my long reading queue.   Here are the hardcover books I bought to read (may the odds be ever in your favor, authors!):

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2) 
Shadow of Night -- Deborah Harkness  (2012 -- sequel to Discovery of Witches, which I liked but didn't love, still I want to give this one a shot because they time travel back to Elizabethan England and I love that period.  And, it won the Goodreads Choice 2012 Award.  The audio voice got on my nerves which is the kiss of death for me, so thought I would just read it rather than listen).

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker -- Jennifer Chiaverini (2013 Because I loved Lincoln so much and because I was intrigued by the relationship of Mrs. Lincoln and her personal servant in the movie.  This author has written a number of the fun quilting fiction books, so I suspect she knows her sewing and her history).

The Last Runaway 

The Last Runaway -- Tracy Chevalier (2013 A brand new subject from the author of Girl with A Pearl Earring,  this one really calls out to me, about a Quaker who gets involved with the Underground Railway). 

1356 (The Grail Quest, #4) 

1356 --   Bernard Cornwell (2012 -- Historical War book master -- how the search for a holy relic set Europe on fire.  What war novel nut could pass up this hook:  "Go with God and Fight Like the Devil").  

The Aviator's Wife
The Aviator's Wife -- Melanie Benjamin
  (2013 -- married to famous pilot Charles Lindbergh, but an aviator of her own right, this sounds a little bit like The Paris Wife, except different people/situation). 

On the RoadOn the Road -- Jack Kerouac -- Of course I have a classic, I must have a classic because they keep me happy when I get frustrated with all these other books that don't live up to the hype.  How have I never read this??!   I think it is un-American that I haven't read this, so I will definitely remedy that failing ASAP.  Plus, it's being made into a movie.   

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

A Quiet Revolution -- Follow that link for my book review in The Paris News on Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.  It is one of the books that I read last year that I can’t quit thinking about.  As a part of her book, Cain explores some scientific data about why introverts may be hardwired for peace and quiet, and even for darkness. I find that very, very interesting. When I'm in relaxation mode, I want it dark and quiet. An extrovert very near and dear to me wants it bright and loud. ;)  We always kept the lights off at my family home, and I still don't like lights and TVs burning.  But Himself wants nothing more than lights and noise.  Is it because my family was more introverted? 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fall of Giants -- WWI Historical Fiction with Great Political Detail, And I Digress. . . .

I love inspirational speeches, although it seems that these days we spend more time making fun of speeches than revering them.  But then, maybe speeches to revere only come around once or twice in a lifetime.  I'm thinking a great deal about political speeches these days (I know you are too, I see you on Facebook).  Perhaps I am thinking about them more today because  I just renewed my membership in National Write Your Congressman.  It makes me very happy to have such an avenue to be immediately connected and in the know and to be able to give my voice (Kudos to NWYC for the new App).

I am also thinking of speeches because I am finishing up Ken Follett's EPIC WWI book:  Fall of Giants.    

Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy #1)It is one of the best big picture books of all the social changes in the world during and right after WWI that I have ever read.  I think it may be the best book he has ever written, although I was a huge Pillars of the Earth fan back in the day and I haven't read the stand alone sequel Winter of the World.  But in this book,  I am amazed at how Follett has been able to work in all the politics of the day (of many countries) through the lives of his characters, intertwined with their stories in such a way as to keep me completely hooked and somehow not overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. 

I also just yesterday got to have lunch with an amazing woman who lived through a political coup in her country. Something she said struck me: "I have come to decide that people, in their basic desires, are all the same.  We all want the same thing."    Hopefully she will allow me to write to you more of her story later, or perhaps she will guest blog and share her story, but the point here is that speeches and politics are just on the brain, and in the end, as demonstrated by Fall of Giants, and as stated by my friend, most of us really all just want the same thing.  I think it is best summed up by our very own Declaration of Independence:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."   

If you follow my blog, you know I recently saw Lincoln, so I also have his speech on my mind: The Gettysburg Address, which was not  to have been the speech that was remembered, but which in its brevity was the more powerful speech (as so aptly shown in Lincoln, by the men who recited it to Lincoln upon meeting him):

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war . . . testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated . . . can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. 

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate . . . we can not consecrate . . .  we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us . . . that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion . . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom . . . and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Now, the overall point in Fall of Giants was the responsibilities and failures of Nations and their Leaders to Humanity -- Lincoln's very point of government of the people, by the people, for the people.  (There are many character stories in it that will immediately have you interested and hooked to the very end, but I think this is the main point of the book). 

I confess that I was not much of a WWI buff before I fell in love with Downton Abbey, but now I am ravenous for full detail.  It is why I read some WWI books during my Military Month in November 2012 .  And with the beginning of  Downton Abbey's third season, it has made me, like many of you, want to read more about this fascinating period.  Fall of Giants was excellent for meeting this need.  There were many famous speeches or speakers and political giants effortlessly woven into it; for me that was just icing on the cake of an excellent story.  

P.S.  I listened to this book.  I am amazed at all the perfect accents the narrator had, great job John Lee! 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

More Les Mis facts -- FANTINE

Margaret Hall painting of Fantine

Complimentary to the following posts: 

My Year with Les Mis 

Some Things You Need to Know About Les Mis -- Jean Valjean and the Bishop 

P.S. Some Real Les Mis, Paris Texas Style 


1.  Who was she? 

Hugo calls her a grisette, which was defined by Noah Webster as a tradesman's wife or daughter. The Revolution had made her an orphan, but one that the State had apparently actually cared for, in its equality experiment.  She wasn't aristocratic, but she was still a far cry from her ending.   She was a young girl who fell in love with a boy student who was just having a lark, and who decided to go home to mama, leaving Fantine high and dry, with their child.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine
In this day and age of text message or sticky note break ups, we think that we are so crass, but in fact that type of break up has always been around and will always be around.  Of course, back then there was the added benefit of being able to well and truly disappear.  Fantine's student played a joke on her, and sent her a break up note instead of the surprise that was promised.  He walked out of her life and that was that. 

So she began her steady decline.  Yet, she remained very, very beautiful.  Hugo describes her in detail with luxurious blond hair and fine features, and her child, whom she playfully called her "Cosette"  was also a little china doll.  But when the student left, so did her support.  Unfortunately, Fantine had wasted her time in school and couldn't even write.  She was without skill of any kind.

2.  Work and shelter.  

Fantine in the factory
Fantine decided to return to her hometown, where Jean Valjean was mayor and had created an employment boom.   She couldn't claim to have been married, so in order to be the kind of upstanding citizen that could be hired, she had to hide the fact that she had a child, and that is why she found the Thenardiers to keep Cosette. (She literally ran into them on the road to town, where she came across Madame Thenardier  -- who, ironically, could read  -- with toddler Eponine in a rare Good Mommy moment).  It appeared to be a stroke of luck, Cosette was hidden but sheltered, and Fantine's virtue was intact so she was able to get a job at the factory.  But of course, there are always busy bodies.  And, we know that the Thenardiers were not what they seemed.

3.  So what?  What is the Big Deal?  

We don't really know what the importance of "character" (or the ruinous effect of the apparent lack of it) means anymore.   Thank heaven women are not tossed away for their "lack of virtue" anymore.  But in order to understand Fantine's tragedy, we must understand this point.  It is the one question that my kids asked me about Les Miserables:  Why were the women in the factory so mean to Fantine?

Here is what Hugo says:

[They had noticed that she sent letters (she paid someone to write them for her, but it was mainly money, always more, more, more money demanded by the Thenardiers).  The factory women, one in particular, had started asking questions, about the quiet, standoff-ish beauty, "Why does she. . . "]

"There are always those who, to solve one of these enigmas, which are completely irrelevant to them, spend more money, waste more time, and give themselves more trouble than ten good deeds would take -- and they do it for the pleasure of it, without being paid for their curiosity in any other way than with more curiosity.  They will follow this man or that woman all day long, stand guard for hours at street corners, under the entrance of a passageway, at night, in the cold, in the rain, bribe messengers, get carriage drivers and lackeys drunk, pay a chambermaid or bribe a porter.  For what?  For nothing.  Pure craving to see, to know, to find out.  Pure itching for scandal.  And often when these secrets are made known, these mysteries published, these enigmas brought to the light of day, they lead to catastrophes, duels, failures, the ruin of families, and make lives miserable, to the great joy of those who "discovered all"  without any ulterior motive, from pure instinct.  A sad thing."

Movie Clip -- Fantine and the Factory Workers, "At the End of the Day"
And that is all that is was.  Fantine was watched and found out, so that her unmarried state of motherhood was enough to get her fired, no questions asked, when the busybody finally discovered the secret and told the overseer. 4.  A Downfall in Stages; All for Love of Cosette.   Lest we get wrapped up in the moment of the movie, it is important to know that Fantine survived for a time, her heartbreaking downfall took about a year.  If only she had just gone and gotten Cosette!  But she didn't want to bring the child into her misery, and, thinking Cosette was well cared for, Fantine continued to find ways to keep paying all the extra money demanded by the Thenardiers.   She learned to do without; her one luxury was taking care of her beautiful hairShe also had very pretty teeth.
For Clothes:
  Almost a year after losing her good job, Fantine was financially and personally sinking, unable to keep paying the Thenardiers their continuously higher fees, despite working 17 hour days in a low paying job.  But when she learned that Cosette had no winter clothing, and it was getting cold, she immediately went out and sold her hair for ten francs and bought Cosette a wool skirt.  Of course, the Thenardiers were furious, they had wanted the money!  So the skirt was given to Eponine, and the little lark (what the neighborhood had first nicknamed Cosette), now chief servant to family, did without any warm winter clothes.  
For Medicine
  Then, the Thenardiers wrote that Cosette had "military fever" and Fantine learned that without medicine, the child could die.  They needed the enormous sum of two Napoleans -- forty francs.  Here Fantine finally starts to lose her mind and can't stop laughing -- they are crazy, she can't find forty francs!  But she loves her baby.  She is walking the streets, laughing in unhinged despair, when she runs into a traveling dentist who tells her she's got great incisors, and he'll pay her a gold Napolean for each.  
Afterward, Fantine's neighbor sees her and knows that something terrible has happened, she has aged ten years overnight!  But Fantine isn't troubled because:
" . . . my child will not die from that horrible disease because I couldn't send help.  I am satisfied. . . . 
At the same time, she smiled.  The candle lit up her face.  It was a sickening smile, the corners of her mouth were stained with blood, and there was a black hole where her front teeth had been.
They had been pulled out.
She sent the forty francs to Montfermeil.
Actually, the Thernardiers had lied to her to get the money.  Cosette was not sick at all.  
Fantine threw the mirror out the window."
For Continued Care:  
And finally, Thernardier showed his true colors and simply demanded 100 francs, or he would throw convalescing Cosette out on the streets:
"All right! she said.  I'll sell what is left. 
The unfortunate creature became a woman of the streets." 
 And here Hugo says: 
"What is the story of Fantine about?  It is about society buying a slave.  . . . [T]hey say that slavery has disappeared from European civilization.  That is incorrect.  It still exists, but now it weighs only on women, and it is called prostitution].  
It weighs on women.  That is to say grace, frailty, beauty, motherhood. This is not the least among man's shames." 
As to Fantine,  he says: 
"She fears nothing now.  Every cloud falls upon her, and the whole ocean sweeps over her!  What does it matter to her?  The sponge is already saturated.
It isn't quite right, is it?  Fantine and Javert
So she believed at least, but it is wrong to imagine that one can exhaust one's destiny or fully plumb the depths of anything.
Alas!  What are all these destinies driven helter-skelter?  Where do they go?  Why are they what they are? 
He who knows that sees all darkness.
He is alone.  His name is God."  
What happens to Fantine?  She is taunted on the street one night and goes mad, attacks her taunter, and finds to her horror that the officer who came to his rescue was none other than Javert.  She shuddered in terror when she met him. 
5.  I Dreamed a Dream
And so,  you see,  Fantine's song, I Dreamed A Dream is indeed one of the best character adaptations I have ever encountered.  Here are the words to the song that Anne Hathaway portrayed so well as to actually become the wretched, miserable Fantine:
There was a time when men were kind When their voices were soft And their words inviting There was a time when love was blind And the world was a song And the song was exciting There was a time Then it all went wrong
 I dreamed a dream in time gone by When hope was high And life worth living I dreamed that love would never die I dreamed that God would be forgiving Then I was young and unafraid And dreams were made and used and wasted There was no ransom to be paid No song unsung, no wine untasted But the tigers come at night With their voices soft as thunder As they tear your hope apart As they turn your dream to shame
He slept a summer by my side He filled my days with endless wonder He took my childhood in his stride But he was gone when autumn came And still I dream he'll come to me That we will live the years together But there are dreams that cannot be And there are storms we cannot weather I had a dream my life would be So different from this hell I'm living So different now from what it seemed Now life has killed the dream I dreamed
Written / Composed by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil
To all of those  involved in getting Fantine's story right -- thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
P.S. -- Just for fun, and to end you on a happy note, here is the Susan Boyle tryout that brought all of this back to life -- 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

P. S. Some Real Les Mis, Paris Texas Style

I wasn't planning this post, but I do like it when life throws me a post script


On Sunday, December 30, 2012,  my family slept late, so instead of going to "Big Church"  (as we call it, which means the traditional service at  First Methodist Church, Paris), we went to Connections, which is the contemporary off-site ministry.  Now, Connections is a place of worship, but, as its title indicates, it is more than a place of worship, it is a place to connect.  As a part of its mission, it incorporates actual service, even on Sunday morning.  So every time there is a "5th" Sunday in a month, everybody gathers and does hands on work, as needed in Paris, Texas.

This Sunday was a 5th Sunday of the month Sunday and the Connections ministry, unbeknownst to my family until we showed up, was to go stock the local food pantry, called the Downtown Food Pantry. When I heard this, I couldn't have been more thrilled, for many reasons.

This picture and all other pictures taken from the Downtown Food Pantry's Facebook Page

You would think in this day and age that we would be light years away from the needy.  And frankly, many of us  are -- we live sheltered lives.  We socialize with, work with, go to school with, and live with (or near) people just like us.  We don't have to see any of the needy if we don't want to.  We don't have to know what it is like to truly be in need.  

But as a lawyer and being married to a lawyer, I've never had that luxury.  I am so glad we got the opportunity to help, especially with Les Miserables weighing so heavily on our minds.  

Les Miserables is one of the few novels that I know of that retains its foreign name.  But translated, it can means any of the following:  The Miserable, The Wretched, The Miserable Ones, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, or The Victims.

We still have too many who suffer in this world, and Paris Texas is no different.  Before we began helping restock the Food Pantry's shelves, we were reminded of some facts by the Director, Chuck Burton.  First, Paris has 23% at poverty level.  Last year, the Food Pantry fed  over 10,000 households in our county, Lamar County, which is about 20% of our total population.  Although a household could obtain food from the Food Pantry a maximum of 26 times a year (twice a month) and some do, the average is about 7 times a year.  If you don't live in Lamar County,  you cannot obtain groceries, except perhaps the one time that you first come in our doors (this is monitored by a computer system), but then you will be provided information about the food pantry in your area.  And people do come from all over -- it is no wonder because our Food Pantry is really very innovative.  

 The Downtown Food Pantry grew from a closet in our church and in many churches in our city, into a well stocked building that is manned by about 30 volunteers each day it is open (twice a week).  The volunteers range from regulars to special groups such as our group on Sunday, or other area groups, such as the Paris Junior College Dragons Baseball team, pictured below.  

It is also supported by donations from many businesses and individuals, as well as by the North Texas Food Bank.  

The building is amazing, with loading docks and even a donated fork lift. 

But the best part about it is the dignity that has been put back into the process by the creative genius of some people who truly care for their fellow men, some Jean Valjeans of our time.  They conceived of a "shopping" area, rather than just a prestocked bag of food items, and they made it happen.  

The person in need gets a shopping list that tells you how many grains you may have, meats, fruits, vegetables, etc, and then they get a shopping cart, so that they get to choose which of those items they want for their quota.  When they check out, the "checker"  helps them load their items in recycled plastic bags (yes, PLEASE donate yours).  The checker also makes sure that the shopper obtained the correct number of the foods of their choice.  

As the recession hit harder and harder throughout the country and in our area, the need for food was on an extreme rise; at the same time that the Food Pantry obtained the building through a grant, which was remodeled with the talent and sweat of many volunteers, and the rest is history.  

Look at what it was like before!
It truly was special to get to volunteer down there as a family, as we put our faith to work for others. 

I was still basking in the glow of my happiness over our luck when we returned to our truck and realized that, through a comedy of errors, we had failed to lock it, and my purse -- (with many of my Christmas gifts foolishly in it) had been stolen.  Another Les Mis moment itself, but with so many silver linings even in that ordeal that I wouldn't go back and do it any differently.  Well, I would have made sure the car was locked or left the purse/gifts at home, but otherwise, I wouldn't have changed a thing. 

So I guess what I am saying here is, if you experience Les Mis, I hope you get the opportunity for a P.S.  And the thing is, I know that you all purposefully do, I know I am preaching to the choir.  That is what I love so much about Paris, Texas, and that is the truth.  This place is amazing.