Monday, February 23, 2015

Reviewing George Eliot's "The Mill on the Floss"

I just finished listening to the audio version of George Eliot's novel, and will warn you now that I have basically recounted everything in the book below. Therefore if you're the kind of person who hates knowing the end of the book until they've read it, don't read past the page break because I've not blacked out most of the spoilers. 

The Mill on the Floss is essentially about two siblings: the practical, unimaginative but hard-working Tom Tulliver, and his emotional, dreaming, and misfit younger sister Maggie. As I read the story, I began to suspect each sibling might be symbolized by the two things in the title: Tom is the hardworking, stolid Mill, Maggie is the turbulent, changeable river Floss.  The story opens when they're children and follows them into young adulthood, through all their family tragedies and personal conflicts with one another.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thoughts on William Cullen Bryant's "A Winter Piece"

From William Cullen Bryant's poem "A Winter Piece":

But Winter has yet brighter scenes—he boasts
Splendors beyond what gorgeous Summer knows;
Or Autumn with his many fruits, and woods
All flushed with many hues. Come when the rains
Have glazed the snow and clothed the trees with ice,
While the slant of sun of February pours
Into the bowers a flood of light. Approach!
The incrusted surface shall upbear thy steps,
And the broad arching portals of the grove
Welcome thy entering. Look! the massy trunks
Are cased in pure crystal; each light spray,
Nodding and tinkling in the breath of heaven,
Is studded with its trembling water-drops,
That glimmer with an amethystine light.

If you're like me, a resident of the northern hemisphere and thus trapped inside for several freezing
months at a stretch, then like me, you may need a reminder that even when Winter is bitter in its cold,
it is beautiful as well.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Learning About Things, And Learning About Yourself, Through Books

I find that nonfiction is sometimes a great way to "shake things up" when I get into a literature rut and start mixing up fictional characters, relationships, and plot points.  It's also a legitimate way to read books that have quite a few pictures in them--as some nonfiction have lovely full-spread photography or information graphs--while also learning a lot of new information.  And, as I discovered recently, nonfiction is a way to discover new things about yourself, explore possible new hobbies and interests, all from the safety and ease of your armchair (or wherever you happen to be reposing whilst reading).

I thought reading about caves would be a good idea.  It was a bit of a random scientific field I chose, and I have learned a lot, such as:

1) Most caves are formed out of limestone, but there are also caves created from volcanic activity. 

2) Things like stalactites and stalagmites are called speleothems, and are formed out of calcite, the same mineral that comprises limestone.

This one is called "Cave Bacon."

3) There are three "levels" of caves: the Entrance Zone (which has basically the same conditions as the surface), the Twilight Zone (no, not that one!), and the Dark Zone.  Aside from some fungii that don't need sunlight to survive, no plants exist beyond the twilight zone.  

4) "Chimneying" is kind of like that thing that Pacha and Kuzco do in "The Emperor's New Groove" when they're stuck in the ravine.

5) But in my opinion "Laybacking" is actually way cooler, though since it is a one-person climbing technique I can see why they didn't use it in a movie about cooperation and friendship.

6) "Crimping" is not to be confused with "crumping."  In fact I'm pretty sure you'd get hurt if you get the two mixed up when you're actually trying to climb something.

7) I love bats, but

8) Bats can be massively gross if they're just hanging around and not flying about eating all those nasty mosquitos.  Apparently if you're under them you shouldn't look directly up at them, due to guano reasons.  But then, I don't know why you'd want to be under them at all in this case.  

9) An area of flooded cave is called a "sump."

10) Always carry three methods of light: one main, two backups.

11) That whole "bioluminescent" stuff in movies is apparently not true.  Caves are completely dark in the (aptly title) Dark Zone, and the only phosphorescence is in glow-worms, which are actually the larvae of a certain species of fly.  

12) "Phreatic tubes" are tunnel formations made in rock by a lot of water under a lot of pressure.  While looking to find photos to illustrate this I ran across this site for the Dudley Caving Group which has a lot of photos in one place.

13) "Prusiking" is the method of using a Prusik knot in order to make a controlled descent down your rope. There are also a lot of newer, high-tech contraptions called "descenders."

14) The sport is "caving."  Only posers call it "spelunking."  

15) I am claustrophobic and afraid of heights.  I am so very, very glad I did my research before attempting to go caving myself, or else I might have learned the hard way.

Monday, February 2, 2015


Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier.  ~ Kathleen Norris

Lately I've been struggling to keep up my usual stamina with reading. It isn't that I don't still love it. I genuinely enjoy reading once I've started. It's not even that it's too hard to start reading in the first place. It's the idea of "making time" so I can start in the first place.

It's a simple thing to say "How to read a book? Why, just do it. Start and don't stop until you've finished." This is partly true, of course. If you're not quite sure what your priorities are in life, just look at what you make time for--not what you have to do (this includes work, grocery shopping, laundry, etc.) but what you sacrifice sleep in order to do AFTER you've done what you needed to do.

I've taken to reading at night. I have a very strict bedtime or else I honestly would never STOP reading, so this is a special, relaxing time as I gorge myself on literature and try to stuff as many chapters into my head as possible in about a twenty minute timeslot.  

Weekends are the obvious choice to make any headway in reading. But then, weekends are also the obvious choice in making any headway on all the other things I need to do weekly, but end up not doing weeknights because I'm too tired. Then again, books are more relaxing a past-time than, say, yoga or base-jumping.  

I've always prided myself on the volume of my reading. Reading a hundred books a year? Piece of cake. Reading a page a minute? Yep, I've timed that. Reading several books at one time? How could I restrain myself?  

Now that I'm having to budget my time more wisely, however, I'm seeing the value of reading for quality more than quantity. I choose my books more carefully, weeding out some of the titles I only wanted to read on a whim or from peer pressure or because it was made into a movie. I'm focusing on reading for instruction, yes, but the emphasis is also on pleasure

Because life is too short to read ho-hum books.