Monday, February 26, 2007

Notes on Water Street

On a browsing expedition through the children's section of a local bookstore, I was stopped in my tracks by the cover of Water Street, by Patricia Reilly Giff. A quick read of the jacket synopsis and I had a feeling I'd find comfort in reading Giff's story. And comfort, it turns out, is exactly the right word for my experience with Water Street.

I've missed Giff's previous work, so I came to Water Street with no back-story on any of the characters, and no frame of reference for Giff's writing style or plot lines. I'm not sure if that made the reading better for being fresh, or if knowing more about the books before might have made the book feel even more comforting. Either way, I didn't feel that I missed anything, but now I'm eager to go back and read the books before just to know more about the family.

What I liked about Water Street:

- Bird, for her name (I have a weakness for great nicknames), for her courage, and for her ability to draw so much love out of all those who know her

- Thomas, for daring to write the world he wants

- The Bridge, for being the perfect backdrop and for anchoring the story in its moment

- The street, for its character and its characters

- The story, for fulfilling its own promise (see comfort comments above)

- The cover, for drawing me to the book in the first place

I recommend this book for middle-graders, possibly slightly more for girls than boys.

Tanga Puzzles: February 26 - March 4

Here are the daily clues for the Tanga puzzles this week. To see the hint, highlight the space to the right of the date.

I don't give away answers here, just a small hint each day to help get you started or past a rough patch. If you want stronger hints, you can check the blog on the Tanga site itself, which is chock full of spoilers.

While I avoid giving away the answers on this page, be warned that there may be spoilers in the comments to this post, so open those with care.

Good luck!

February 26: Say it out loud.

February 27: Look for a picture-hint on this one.

February 28: UGH. The key thing to know is that when you combine two parts/elements to get the first step done, you end up with a misspelled word. The misspelling is an accident. Fix the spelling and move on to the next step.

March 1: Ladies first. Oh, and I had to use a conversion calculator.

March 2: If you need to look things up, keep that reference source handy for all of it.

March 3: The background reminds me of the opening to Star Trek.

March 4: Take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself if you're up to the task.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Little Poetry for You: Updike

I'm heading out to Disneyworld this weekend, so will put up my Poetry Friday post early.

Somehow, when I hear a poem read out loud by the poet, or even by a very very good reader, I find the poem takes on a new aspect. It makes more sense, and in some ways, makes different sense, than it did when I had only seen it. I find the same is true when I read poems out loud myself.

When we think about children learning poetry, do we take this into account? Do we encourage children to hear the sounds of the poem, to think about how the simpleness of a comma's pause can have such great effect on what a line of poetry means?

Here's a bit of poetry I ran across tonight, that seems worth reading and listening to.
by John Updike

A gull, up close,
looks surprisingly stuffed.
His fluffy chest seems filled
with an inexpensive taxidermist's material
rather lumpily inserted. The legs,
unbent, are childish crayon strokes—
too simple to be workable.
And even the feather markings,
whose intricate symmetry is the usual glory of birds,
are in the gull slovenly,
as if God makes too many
to make them very well.

Click here to read the rest of the poem, or here to access the audio recording of Updike reading it himself.

By the way, if you missed my post last week (because I forgot to tell anyone I posted!), go here to listen to Gwendolyn Brooks read and comment on "We Real Cool." Her discussion of the poem is wonderful and interesting, and her reading made it a completely different poem for me.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Words on Wednesday: Word of the Day Puzzle

Just when I was wondering what my Words on Wednesday post would be, Douglas (of The Problem Site and Quote Puzzler fame) comes through with this toy.

Rearrange the letters to create a word. When you put the correct letters together, they will connect and then move as a chain.


Oh, and if you're looking for good logic and word puzzles to challenge your kids or yourself, please go check out Douglas' work. Again.

Word Of The Day Puzzle provided by Quote Puzzler

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Carnivalia at MotherReader's House

The 11th Carnival of Children's Literature is up-up-and-away at MotherReader's blog.

Do go check it out.

And bring me back some funnel-cake, will ya?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tanga Puzzles: February 19 - February 25

NOTE: I'll be travelling Thursday through Sunday, so I won't be able to offer hints those days. Please feel free to put hints in the comments to help each other out.

Here are the daily clues for the Tanga puzzles this week. To see the hint, highlight the space to the right of the date.

I don't give away answers here, just a small hint each day to help get you started or past a rough patch. If you want stronger hints, you can check the blog on the Tanga site itself, which is chock full of spoilers.

While I avoid giving away the answers on this page, be warned that there may be spoilers in the comments to this post, so open those with care.

Good luck!

February 19: Opposites attract indeed.

February 20: Easiest to do with a map.

February 21: Almost too easy to deserve a hint. This is the type of puzzle I like.


Lives in Letters: Postcard - Toot

"In every city, on every street, there are forgotten buildings...."


Cities Service Building
New York’s Third Highest Skyscraper

New York, NY
August 11, 1932

Addressed to Mr. J. E. L-
Lebanon, Pa.

Everything going O. K.
up here. The floors
will all be painted by
the time they get back.
Orders from War Dept.
to close Post Exchanges.
Ft. Hamilton and West Point
are already closed. Uncertain
how it will effect this place.
Received your mail.

Is it from someone nicknamed Toot, or is Toot a way of signing off, like "Tootles?"

The Cities Services building is located in the Wall Street area, and was so-named for the petroleum company that made its home there in 1932. It is now the AIG building. Here's a bit more info (see # 15). And then there's this interesting article about the skyscrapers of the age ("In every city, on every street, there are forgotten buildings...") including this building. The most interesting part of the article? Near the end, when the author says:
Though now dwarfed by young upstarts, such as the World Trade center, these office buildings have lost little of their original beauty and interest.
The article was written in July, 2001.

Post Exchange (PX) or Base Exchange was the name for the discount store located on a military base. Here's a bit of history on that.

My big questions:

What base was the postcard-sender writing from? My best guess is either Governor's Island off the tip of Manhattan, or maybe Fort Schuyler in the Bronx.

Why were they closing the post exchanges? Most likely because it was peace-time and the US had a very small army. Not to mention the fact that we were in the middle of the Depression, so the government could not afford to subsidize the PX's.

Who were "they" and why were they having the floors painted? I have no idea.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Book-Delinquents Anonymous

Hello, my name is Nancy, and I'm hopelessly behind on my children's book reading.

It all started when I got hooked on late-19th and early-20th century American girls books. I read every one I could find, and when I realized that I'd pretty much run out, I started rereading. And rereading. I couldn't break away. I found it nearly impossible to try something new.

For a long time, I kept it a secret. I would politely sit silent while my friends talked about Narnia, His Dark Materials, Lord of the Rings, and (I am ashamed to admit) Bridge to Terabithia.

Then one day it happened. I read the Narnia series (late last year). I read Bridge to Terabithia (today!). I started putting the pieces of my broken reading world back together. I still have many missed books to catch up on, but I know I can do it.... One book at a time.

Are there any books you hear people talk about all the time that you haven't gotten around to reading yet?

Old-Fashioned Books

Do Books Fall Out of Fashion? Franki explores this topic over at A Year of Reading.

I have to admit I'm sensitive to this subject. My favorite books are late 19th and early 20th-century girls books. But I hesitate to recommend them to my nieces because deep down I worry that they are out of date.

Click here if you'd rather read An Old-Fashioned Girl than worry about whether you are one.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Higher Power of Lucky - Wonderful and Controversial

Yesterday I had the luck to spend a few hours driving for business meetings and a family visit, which gave me just enough car time to listen to all of the Newbery winning 2006 book from Susan Patron, The Higher Power of Lucky.

First of all, the book is very good. I laughed. I cried.

I loved the setting of this book -- the dusty desert town (population 43) with no restaurants, no schools, and only 3 jobs. The place is Hard Pan, California, where the daily entertainment is when the Judge hands out the mail (one of the 3 jobs). The folks in Hard Pan are wonderful and odd: an assortment of misfits and imports, where probably a good third of them are in some sort of twelve-step anonymous support group.

Lucky lives in an unusual town and in unusual circumstances. Her mother has died, her father has left, and her guardian (her father's first wife) is melancholy being so far from her home in France. Her best friend is destined to be President of the United States, or perhaps a champion knot-tyer. And Lucky spends three afternoons a week listening in secret to the confessions of alcoholics, former smokers, and overeaters.

But in many ways, Lucky's life is pretty typical. She is a ten-year-old girl, and she struggles with things that most girls her age do -- trying to understand the world around her, and within her, as she matures.

Okay, now about the controversy....

The book has the word "scrotum" in it. Surprising, for a children's book, I will admit. And yet, when you think about the things children hear and learn at the age of 10, this word is a pretty good example. Somehow, it fits as both something a young girl might overhear in an adult conversation she's not supposed to be listening to, and something the same young girl might be curious to understand. There are plenty of other words that might fit just as well, but none of them would strike me as any less startling to see included in a book like this.

There are people who want to ban the book from school libraries because of this word.

But I hope you don't let those people stop you from reading it -- it's simply a wonderful story, wonderfully told.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Little Poetry for You: Brooks

It's Poetry Friday!

Here's a poem I mentioned several weeks ago. It's short, and there's not much to it at first glance. But when you hear the poet talk about it, and hear her read it, it takes on a bigger life.
The Pool Players
Seven at the Golden Shovel
by Gwendolyn Brooks

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We...

Go here for the audio and the rest of the poem. It's a wonderful audio.

Did you know this poem was banned for the use of the word "jazz?" Click the link above to hear all about it.

As an extra note, "The Bean Eaters" is worth a read too, while you're browsing through the Brooks poems.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Words on Wednesday: Grammarphobia

Oh my my my my my!

Last week I posted about Visual Thesaurus. As a note, the VT folks send out a word-of-the-day email that I love. In the past week I've gotten emails on colleen, pernicious and insouciant, just to name a few.

But this is even better. From a link on the VT site, I found The Grammarphobia Blog.

I especially love this page of debunked grammar myths.

Awards and Praises!

The 2006 Cybils Awards have been announced! Go here to see descriptions of the winners in all categories.

Fiction - Picture Books:
Scaredy Squirrel
by Melanie Watt
Kid's Can Press

Fiction - Middle Grade:
A Drowned Maiden's Hair
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Candlewick Press

Fiction - Young Adult:
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Non-Fiction - Picture Books:
An Egg is Quiet
written by Dianna Aston; illustrated by Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books

Non-Fiction - Middle Grade and Young Adult:
Freedom Walkers
by Russell Freedman
Holiday House

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow
written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin

Fantasy and Science Fiction:
Ptolemy's Gate
by Jonathan Stroud
Hyperion: Miramax

Graphic Novels - Ages 12 and Under:
Amelia Rules, vol. 3: Superheroes
by Jim Gownley
Renaissance Press

Graphic Novels - Ages 13 and Up:
American Born Chinese
by Gene Yang
First Second

I'd like to elaborate on the winner in the YA fiction category (which I was a judge for). All of our short-list YA fiction books were wonderful, and here's what we had to say about this one....
Young Adult Fiction:
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist gives us a glimpse into one iconic night of new love. This fast, fun story is filled with heartache and romance, fear and discovery, and a healthy mix of sadness and exhilaration. The narrative gives the alternating perspectives of Nick (supplied by Levithan) and Norah (supplied by Cohn); these narrative voices ring true from the moment Nick and Norah first meet, through the starts and stops of discovering one another and figuring out how to trust in the feelings and each other and themselves. We loved the pace of the story, the development of the lead and supporting characters, and the music and city which served as the perfect backdrop to Nick and Norah's fabulous night.

Quote of the Day: Valentines

I've gotten out of the habit of daily Quote-of-the-Day posts, but it seems worth doing on occasion. I missed Lincoln's birthday, but may catch up for Presidents' Day. Meanwhile, it seems shameful to miss the easy opportunity of some good love quotes today.

Happy Valentines Day!

Amy Bloom
Love at first sight is easy to understand; it's when two people have been looking at each other for a lifetime that it becomes a miracle.

Albert Einstein
How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?

Blaise Pascal
The heart has its reasons which reason knows not of.

C. S. Lewis
Why love if losing hurts so much? We love to know we are not alone.

Henry David Thoreau
There is no remedy for love but to love more.

Song of Solomon
This is my beloved and this is my friend.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Clever and Funny

Looking for some laugh out loud fun? Or maybe just a new way of looking at the world?

Do yourself a favor and check out Indexed, the brainchild blog of Jessica Hagy. My favorite so far is Elementary.

I won't even bother trying to describe what she does -- you have to go see.

Oh, and she sells t-shirts too!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Lives in Letters: Valentines Postcard

Oh, this is too wonderful. A postcard from 1907, with a secret message hidden inside the red suede mitten.
I was barely able to open the note without destroying it, but I got it.

Message Cupid Never Sent
Lynxville, Wisconsin
December 28, 1907

Addressed to
Mr. Clyde H
Platteville, Wis.

Written on secret note:

Hello Cupid. How's this for a card?
You see we even have Cupids in L-.
We girls are having fine times; were
out to the Xmas trees last eve and Mon
night a crowd of us are going to Seneca
to a dance, tho of course I shall not
dance. How's Fritz making it. I bet he
don't care half as much about the
restaurant now. Ha! Ha! Well my
time is limited so Ta Ta Ellie Olsen the end.

You Mean the Eyeglasses on Top of Your Head?

From a recent telephone chat with my mom:

Nancy: (blah blah blah blah blah)
Mom: I lost the phone
Nancy: What?
Mom: I lost the phone
Nancy: Oh, okay, I said (blah blah blah blah blah)
Mom: I can't find the phone
Nancy: What? I don't understand
Mom: I can't find the phone
Nancy: Which phone?
Mom: The one that goes back in the kitchen
Nancy: Well... which phone are you talking on?
Mom: ... Oh.

Tanga Puzzles: February 12 - February 18

Here are the daily clues for the Tanga puzzles this week. To see the hint, highlight the space to the right of the date.

I don't give away answers here, just a small hint each day to help get you started or past a rough patch. If you want stronger hints, you can check the blog on the Tanga site itself, which is chock full of spoilers.

While I avoid giving away the answers on this page, be warned that there may be spoilers in the comments to this post, so open those with care.

Good luck!

February 12: You may need 411 for this one. It's a toughie. On the last step, use the picture.

February 13: The image is a little blurry, so you need to look closely to really get this one.

February 14: You gotta have heart, but watch out where those arrows are pointed!

February 15: Tough puzzle. If you use Wikipedia, you might fly through this pretty quick, but I had trouble getting off the ground.

February 16: What a great deal on this item!

February 17: It should be pretty easy to make the connections on this one.

February 18: So much for making it easy on us on a Sunday night. Yanni really messed this one up for me. I could not figure out how to get a number that would apply to Y-A-N-N-I. That's because I was trying to apply numbers to the wrong letters. Back to tanga fundamentals for this one. By the way, I'll put a bigger clue in the comments.

Lives in Letters: Postcard about Papa

I'm running late today, but wanted to share this postcard quickly.

Hooker’s Trout Pond,
Mt. Pocono, Pa.
Tobyhanna, PA
August 6, 1908

Addressed to
Mrs. Mary S
Haledon, N.J.

Dear Grandma,
We like it
here very much.
Papa is going home
to-night. Says he’s
gained 6 lbs. in
6 days and is
coming up again.
He’s very sorry he
has to go home.
Hope you are well.
Lots of love from all,


I love the name Mabel. It's such a wonderfully old-fashioned name that I think deserves a comeback.

I also love that she calls her dad "Papa."
This postcard was from the early days of summers in the Poconos. From a time when the mother would take the kids away from the hot city for the summer, and the father would come visit for a week, or even just weekends. Like "Seven Year Itch" but 50 years earlier.
I did some very quick research on Mt. Pocono, and found out that I picked the perfect Valentine-themed postcard. After all, it was in the area of Mt. Pocono that a very important invention came about:
I love that!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Harvard First: A Female President

I've got mixed feelings about this news.

I'd feel better about it if I didn't worry it was mostly a response to this.

She's got her work cut out for her:
Faust pivots from managing Radcliffe, a think-tank with 87 employees and a $17 million budget, to presiding over Harvard’s 11 schools and colleges, 24,000 employees and a budget of $3 billion. The Harvard presidency is perhaps the most prestigious job in higher education, offering a pulpit where remarks resonate throughout academic circles and unparalleled resources, including a university endowment valued at nearly $30 billion.

Creative Writing: Grandpa's Stanzas

Here's a bit of a poem I've been working on for a few months. It may turn into prose, or it may turn into nothing. For now these are just the middle stanzas of a poem in progress.
I remember how you stayed in the front room
While Grandma held court in her kitchen.
Queen Jeanne – your queen, regal in her bearing –
And you a loyal subject in the way you bore her.

I remember percolated coffee, and bourbon,
And those times you’d come to drink one or the other
And sit at the table, and listen to Grandma’s stories.
She was full of talk. You were full of listen.

I can picture you sitting to my left, in a smoke-filled kitchen.
I am tucked in between adults and like you, I am full of listen,
Willing myself to grow into the conversation.
You are gray and red and grave. We are silent.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Little Poetry for You: Dugan

It's Poetry Friday and, oh, Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Let the love-fest begin.

(Elaine's got the round-up over at Blue Rose Girls.)

Here's an interesting love poem. I've always liked it, but I've never been able to figure out why. It's a bit profane, but strikes me as quite honest, and the voice in this poem is very true.

Love Song: I and Thou

By Alan Dugan

Nothing is plumb, level or square:
the studs are bowed, the joists
are shaky by nature, no piece fits
any other piece without a gap
or pinch, and bent nails
dance all over the surfacing
like maggots. By Christ
I am no carpenter.

A little later, my favorite lines:

God damned it. This is hell,
but I planned it I sawed it
I nailed it and I
will live in it until it kills me.

Go here to read the rest, which is quite fun and has a nice denouement.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Strong Girls in Children's Books

Little Willow ponders the question of who the great "strong female protagonists" of children's books are. Alice in Wonderland and the His Dark Materials series provide a few examples, but here's my favorite from Little Willow's list:
The Anne Shirley series by L.M. Montgomery - She's an orphan. She's spunky and sassy. She's a dreamer and a daredevil. She's Anne of Green Gables. Read the eight books in order and see Anne grow up. From her days as a student in a one-room schoolhouse to going to college to becoming a teacher, her school smarts are just as important as her people smarts.

I'd add these....

Trixie Belden - So much cooler than Nancy Drew. She's a career-woman detective first and above all else. She has a temper, a strong will, an independent spirit, and a nose for mystery and trouble.

Meg Wallace - Especially in book 2 (A Wind in the Door), I think Meg comes into her own powers and finds her strength.

Turtle Wexler (The Westing Game) - Anyone who can inflict that many shin bruises in one book -- while solving a mystery and striking out on her own path in life -- is okay by me.

And of course, don't forget about this great Cool Girls list from Jen Robinson.

Who would you add?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Words on Wednesday: Visual Thesaurus

Thanks to a tip from BigWindow, I found a site where I can create funky word maps like this one.

The site is Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus, and it offers many fun word-things to subscribers. Including a cool word of the day. Today's word is teutonic.
The Visual Thesaurus page I have to check out next is "Department of Word Lists." Just glancing, I see lists of Food Words, Wine Words, Spelling-bee Words, Jazz Words.... I could fall in love with this site.
There's a fee, but I think the site offers enough to make it worthwile.
Explore your inner word geek, and Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

How's the Weather?

Heard on the radio Monday, this Swedish saying:

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

I wish I had heard that before I left the house. Then I might have thought ahead and dressed like this.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Lives in Letters: Postcard of Alarm

Sometimes I come across a postcard like this one.

Clinton Square
Syracuse, NY
February 20, 1913
Addressed to
Miss Laura J-
Clifton Springs, NJ

Scribbled at top:

is ill.

Dear Laura
Where have you
gone to – Are you
ill or what has
happened to you –
Ada N

Isn't it interesting to see this kind of message in writing? Today, if we were worried about not hearing from someone for a while, and concerned they might be hurt or sick, we'd pick up the phone. But in 1913, they sent postcards.
And then they waited.
Whose mother was ill? Ada included her last initial, so I doubt Ada and Laura were sisters.
That picture was Clinton Square in Syracuse in 1913. Today you can see Clinton Square in real time via the clintoncam. Or you can take the virtual tour and see some better shots of how the square has stayed the same and how it has been updated.
From penny-postcards to virtual tours? One thing's for sure, the times they have a-changed.

Tanga Puzzles: February 5 - February 11

Here are the daily clues for the Tanga puzzles this week. To see the hint, highlight the space to the right of the date.

I don't give away answers here, just a small hint each day to help get you started or past a rough patch. If you want stronger hints, you can check the blog on the Tanga site itself, which is chock full of spoilers.

While I avoid giving away the answers on this page, be warned that there may be spoilers in the comments to this post, so open those with care.

Good luck!

February 5: Once you start filling this in, the second step becomes very clear. If you start with the 4-letter spot and work around that, you can probably guess the answer with just a handful of the spaces filled. Don't let this one make you cranky... or irritated ... or annoyed ... or ....

February 6: Mind-boggling. I flipped over this one.

February 7: I thought at first I was missing something, then I realized I was right.

February 8: Two clues tonight -- first, think about a Hungarian toy-maker; second, pay attention to the food picture, but ignore the background (I found it misleading).

February 9: Keep it simple. You may see that the answers have something in common, but don't let that take you down the wrong path on step 1.

February 10: Everyone seemed to get this quickly except me. My big problems were that I thought the melon was a kiwi, and I didn't recognize the toe sucker. Or rather, I recognized it, but I was in denial because those things freak me out.

February 11: Don't sort alphabetically. It helps to look at the second step from an angle.

Like the Bermuda Triangle, but Not

I was strangely sad to see this bit of news today, even though I've never been to Wisconsin and have no idea how cool this particular Wonder Spot might be.

I have been to the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot several times -- did the crooked walk up the hill, stood in the wickedly-built cabin, got the whole vertigo thing going. And there was a place up in New Brunswick I visited once, where I put the car in neutral and let "gravity" pull my car up a hill.

Have you been to any "wonder spots?" If so, you're in the minority according to AOL's poll.

Here's the money quote from the AOL article (in the category of maybe this would have been better left a mystery):
One woman, after stumbling through the cabin, sprinkled her mother's ashes on the ground.... She just said, "This was mom's favorite place and she wanted to be here."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Creative Writing: Stumble

I spent the day in New York today -- brrrrr! A friend was in from California, and we went to see Spamalot together. Much fun and a little frostbite.

Anyhow, I've been away all day and haven't thought about posting till just now. Not much to offer I'm afraid, but I'll post it anyways. This is a bit of poetry I wrote that I can't read without adding music -- I think it's meant to be a refrain to a feel-good top-40 hit. You saw it here first.
We are not gods.
We are not perfect – not at all.
We stumble through this world.
Sometimes we fall.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Quote of the Day, 2/03/07: Using Language Well

Wandering from link to link... to link to link to link... I come across so many things worth mentioning that I'm often too overwhelmed to mention them. Especially when faced with the daunting task of crediting all the right people with pointing me the way to whatever gem I found.

So for this, never mind how I got there, but consider this fabulous quote I found over at Poynter Online. The quote is from David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster, which I now have to go check out on my next book run.
The reality I care about most is that some people still want to use the language well. They want to write effectively; they want to speak effectively. They want their language to be graceful at times and powerful at times. They want to understand how to use words well, how to manipulate sentences, and how to move about in the language without seeming to flail. They want good grammar, but they want more: they want rhetoric in the traditional sense. That is, they want to use the language deftly so that it's fit for their purposes.

I think that's (a) wonderful if it's true and (b) beautifully written.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Little Poetry for You: Groundhog Day

It's Poetry Friday, again!

It's Poetry Friday, again!

And it's Groundhog Day.

Question: Did you have groundhogs, or woodchucks? I never knew they were the same animal until about a year ago.

Want to understand the history behind the holiday?
Want to find poetry about the holiday, perhaps some poems for kids?
It's a good day to look forward to Spring, but also a great day to celebrate Groundhog Day, the movie. This Bill Murray classic is one of the top 50 funniest movies according to the American Film Institute. But even while it makes you laugh till you cry or till you shoot soda through your nose, it has some pretty great currents of philosophy, ethics, and culture running through it. And it has a little bit of poetry.

The poem Rita (Andie McDowell) quoted to Phil (Bill Murray) was The Lay of the Last Minstrel (Canto 6) by Sir Walter Scott. It's a great excerpt from the longer poem, and it's pretty brilliant in saying a lot about both Phil and Rita in that moment.

Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonor'd, and unsung.
The poem Phil quoted to Rita was actually not 16th-century French poetry, but rather a song by Jacques Brel called La bourrée du célibataire (Bachelor's Dance). I had trouble finding translated lyrics, other than this from wikipedia: "The girl I will love is like a fine wine that gets a little better every morning." I did use a web translator on the French lyrics, but they came out pretty shaky. If you try it, you'll be able to get the gist of the lyrics. Pretty good stuff. Of course, if you can read French, it will probably sound even better.

Know how many times Phil had to repeat his day in the movie Groundhog Day? We only saw about 30, but according to many sources, he repeated the day thousands of times. I think I have to rewatch the movie now with that in mind. I always knew it was more than what the movie showed, but I was thinking hundreds, not thousands.

Want to learn more about the connection between the movie Groundhog Day and Buddhism?

How about this write-up about Groundhog Day as "a movie for all time" from Jonah Goldberg at the National Review?

In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film's clown makeup. ... Countless professors use it to teach ethics and a host of philosophical approaches. Several pastors sent me excerpts from sermons in which Groundhog Day was the central metaphor. And dozens of committed Christians of all denominations related that it was one of their most cherished movies.

When the Museum of Modern Art in New York debuted a film series on "The Hidden God: Film and Faith" two years ago, it opened with Groundhog Day.... In a wonderful essay for the Christian magazine Touchstone, theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is "a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim's Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos." Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, has cited Groundhog Day more than once as one of the few cultural achievements of recent times that will be remembered centuries from now. He was quoted in The New Yorker declaring, "It is a brilliant moral fable offering an Aristotelian view of the world."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

By now you've probably already heard this 20 times, but I'll tell you anyways.

Harry Potter book 7, the final book in the series, is going to be released on July 21.

Barnes and Noble and Amazon both invite me to pre-order. I will not pre-order. I will not pre-order. I will not pre-order. (I repeat that to remind myself.)

Every time I pre-order a book like this, I end up too excited to wait for the book to get to me, and I go buy a second copy on the release date anyways.