Friday, November 23, 2018

FILM: A Song to Remember

I have to admit that I am not a true lover of classical music, a term usually used in reference to music composed mostly in Europe during the Classical period, or the years 1750 to 1820, from Bach to Beethoven, but not limited to those years. I enjoy Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Pachebel's Canon in D, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, Rachmaninoff's Rhapsondy on a Theme of Paganini, and a few other well-known pieces. Overall, though, my knowledge is bush-leaguer when it comes to sophisticated music. I understand there are better films on Chopin's life and legacy, but I'm starting here.

The film is a gorgeous representation of the 1830s and 1840s and I'm a huge fan of the beauty of film. Filmed in 1945 in glorious technicolor, a color process used in the US from 1922 to 1952, celebrated for it's highly-saturated color, think The Wizard of Oz, the stunning costumes and sets are a delight for a lover of film. Several times, I have paused the film (I'm watching via Amazon.Prime) just to appreciate the subtle color and texture of fabrics. Yes, I am a nerd.

Also because I'm a nerd, I have also had to stop the film about a dozen times for references to contemporary artists, authors, other musicians and events from the time period who are mentioned or shown in the scene, including Franz Liszt, Honoré de Balzac, Freidrich, Kalkbrenner (one of my favorite scenes in the film), George Sand (of course), Alfred de Musset, the Greater Poland Uprising, and more. Of course, with the references to Polish, French, and European events in history, I had a highly productive time researching tonight. All of which made this film a rich vehicle for learning about the time and place!  😉

I'm finding it interesting to see how George Sands is portrayed. She is certainly shown to be the villain; she is not characterized as, in any way, anything other than a cold and scheming, pants-wearing ...woman, a woman who ruined Chopin's life! In real life, though, although she's not perfect, and we can't truly know a person or a relationship from the vantage point of 2018, George was a revolutionary woman for the 1840s. And, though Chopin can't be known either, he needed the strength of this woman and, I'm sure he benefited from her encouragement to become stronger and more independent.

Of course, I could be wrong, but we can't know from this film. WOW, she was portrayed as the most evil woman ever while Chopin was portrayed as incredibly immature and passive. He was a sickly man, however, and that was well-played in A Song to Remember.

There is one montage of Chopin playing a concert tour across much of Europe in order to get funds to send to his beloved Poland, currently in the midst of a revolution. The montage was richly filmed. About ten different concert halls and pianos, as well as rich clothing and costumes...the sets!

It is the music that was the true star of this film. Whoever played Chopin's music or Franz Liszt's music is a true maestro. You will love it if you give it a listen. Overall, while the film is generally not historical but theatrical, I will give it a strong five stars.

Bach is an astronomer, discovering the most marvellous stars. 
Beethoven challenges the universe. 
I only try to express the soul and the heart of man.
Frédéric Chopin 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

I don't always know what moves me to pick up one book over another. It's a mystery that most readers can relate to. In this case, I was at the local library, recently renovated, just walking down aisles and letting words and color guide me. The smells, the shushes, the search: I love the library. The other day I had used the handy dandy card catalog to find some post-apocalyptic fiction to read...and I found this one, Good Morning Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton.

After finding a book that I am interested in, and don't tease me about this, I then go to Amazon and read about the book, read the reviews, look at similar titles. Amazon or some other book review site. I do this same type of reading for a movie I'm about to watch! lol My husband tells me that I'm wrong to do this! lol I tell him he's wrong for not doing it. 😄 Time is too precious to read crap novels...unless I choose them.

Lately I've been reading books by female authors. I'm sure this has alot to do with the fact that I'm not interested in violence, overt sex, thrill, testosterone. I'm interested in quiet, deep, indulgent, penetrating, character-driven, exquisite tenderness, poignant, poetic, ...exquisite. Surely there are thousands of excellent books by male authors that meet these guides; I've just decided to read females for awhile. I feel fed by them.

Good Morning, Midnight is a sci-fi post-apocalyptic book by a female. 

This book runs two side-by-side points of view. Augustine is an elderly, learn'd, isolating astronomer. He has taken a job in the far reaches of the latitudes, a research station in the far north, when an unknown emergency causes all personnel to evacuate the station. Augustine elects to stay at the now-deserted station; perhaps he recognizes that his time is running out and that he prefers the solitude of his polar home. Once the station is cleared out, however, he discovers a young girl named Iris hiding in one of the crew cabins.

He grudgingly begins including Iris in his daily routines, taking care of her physical needs, paying attention to her presence. Together the duo weather the deepest of the dark all-night winter days with very little conversation, but a growing connections in their shared desolation of the Arctic. Plenty of time for research, reading, resting, the situation is comfortable and relaxed for this unwitting duo... Augustine and Iris are not at all concerned when all radio and contact with the outside world stops cold the very day of the evacuation.

Augustine's musings, memories, reflections are deceptively quiet and drama-free considering this is a dystopian novel.  Brooks-Dalton is a true poetess. One of my favorite of Augustine's musings is this:
Only the cosmos inspired great feeling in him. Perhaps what he felt was love, but he’d never consciously named it. His was an all-consuming one-directional romance with the emptiness and the fullness of the entire universe. There was no room to spare, no time to waste on a lesser lover. He preferred it that way.

On their way back from a Jovian moon scientific journey, the Earth space ship Aether* carries a crew of six, including the second voice in this narrative, Sully. Mission Specialist Sullivan is also in her idea of magnificent desolation: in a space ship two years from planet Earth. The crew had just visited several moons of Jupiter, leaving monitoring devices on the surfaces of some of those moons and Sully monitored those devices all day long, learning of the secrets of the Jovian system. During her regular monitoring of the sensors, Sullivan discovers that all radio communication from Earth has inexplicably stopped completely. 

The journey back to Earth takes two years, during which time Sully reviews the many points of her life that led her to choose such a solitary project at that point in her life, when she had a young daughter and a husband. These introspective months move by for the crew as relationships become sharp, sleepy, pointed, rarified in the dark of space. Sullivan finds some comfort in the desolation of space during the journey. One of my favorite quotes from the exquisiteness that is Sully's musings is: she took in the overwhelming, infinite space that surrounded her. No beginning, no end, just this, forever. From here, the idea of Earth seemed like an illusion. How could something so verdant, so diverse and beautiful and sheltered, exist among all this emptiness?

Lily Brooks-Dalton
Science, religion, spirituality, philosophy: all fodder for Good Morning, Midnight. Most action occurs in the cold, barren north or the cold, barren emptiness of space, yet we are cocooned in the minds of two gutsy scientists who are living their lives on their own terms...isolated and lonely. Both tormented with and reveling in the desolation of their choices. Both wondering what lies in waiting in the outside world, on the planet Earth, both quietly bravely, humanly, entering into strange, new relationships that bring some meaning to their lives and to unknown waiting for them.

I have to give this beautiful, haunting book eight stars.
You don't often refer to sci-fi as lovely.
I have not stopped thinking about it since I finished it.

According to ancient and medieval science, aether also spelled æther or ether and also called quintessence, is the material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Brooks-Dalton: Good Morning

I'm currently reading a book by Lily Brooks-Dalton called Good Morning, Midnight, a book that I KNOW I will have to give massive stars simply for the gorgeous language used by the author. I am well into the book and I have not stopped being moved by Brooks-Dalton's stunning prose of this sophisticated, compelling exploration of the likelihood of an unknown apocalypse on Earth.

I can't say why, but lately I've been reading tons of apocalyptic novels, post-apocalyptic. I don't find myself feeling particularly despondent or pessimistic in a general sense, but this type of genre often moves me, surprises me, emboldens me, even entertains me. It's kind of a philosophical place than I am rather than an emotional place, so it's possible that I may offer other sci-fi posts in the future.

As for this book, Good Morning, Midnight, I must talk about it here because of its unique voice. The primary points of view in the book come from two humans in varied self-imposed episodes of singularity or seclusion, living in places of magnificent desolation who have, nevertheless, found a surprising connection that change their lives. With very little conversation throughout the book, it is the musings and considerations of these characters that I am finding the most compelling. 

Check back soon because I'm nearly there!

Also, if you have any good books to recommend from this genre,
please post below!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Dreamers of the Day: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell

It all started when a friend was visiting and we were having a conversation about his passion, history. I had no knowledge or recollection of learning about the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference and Ron was explaining the reason the Cairo Peace Conference had everything to do with the current conflict in the Middle East. That made no sense to me until Ron explained it. I mean, Paris and Syria? What possible connection could there be?

Embarrassingly, I have a rather poor grasp of important moments in history. I'm trying to repair that. My conversations with Ron and my reading of this book  helped immensely.
Thank you, Ron. And Thank you, Mary.

So, the day following Ron's teachable moment with me, I picked up a book that I had had on my side table, a book that was simply next. I can't adequately express my surprise to discover that Mary Doria Russell's book Dreamers of the Day: A Novel was actually set during and around the freaking 1921 Cairo Peace Conference! Life is freaky and serendipitous and I just about shouted in excitement as I discovered more and more about this book and how prepared  I was to read it.

Enter a completely average school teacher from Middle America 1920, Agnes, who, because of a minor inheritance, is able to take herself on a fabulous dream vacation to a place that is to become a major location of world events, a place where she will tangle with important people and major issues, a vacation that will embolden her and change her very identity, all in one hot season. Before the end of her first week in Cairo she will be supping with Winston Churchill and others who were the key players in these momentous weeks.

The location of this book, the beauty of Cairo and the Middle East, plays a character in this book. It turns out Mary Doria Russell has yet to step foot on Cairo soil, but the reader will be as surprised by this fact as I was because I felt completely transported. From the blistering heat and unpleasantness of air conditioner-free Egypt to dark, rich coffee houses and parties, boat rides down the Nile, to dusty pyramids, the reader will be utterly saturated in the sensory explosion of Egypt and the Holy Lands. Furthermore, Russell's understanding of and explanation of the issues of the time, just wow. She made it possible for me to understand why there is such fanaticism and fear in the Middle East in 2018.

Mary Doria Russell's love of research carries the reader forward into this intimate experience of the far-reaching concerns of the Cairo Peace Conference, which, you will learn, was a series of meetings in the spring of 1921 by Britain's higher ups to determine what was to be the policy for dealing with and managing the Middle East. In our online friendship, I asked her why she had chosen this particular time and place to set a book and she told me that she had found herself wondering, one day, how the Middle East had become such a stewing cauldron of complex conflict, characters, and culture. She was also fascinated that this historic moment in time had never been fully explored by any other author. Mary decided that this rich tapestry of historical things would be a wonderful setting for her next book.

One of my favorite things about historical fiction is when an author can take the reader on a journey with real people, during real events, giving us an insiders knowledge of the proceedings without losing the fiction part of historical fiction. Through conversation, musings, journeys, and asides, we gain a rich appreciation for this pregnant moment in time. In Dreamers of the Day, it is Agnes, the fearless narrator of the book, that is the fiction. From Agnes's vantage point of after-death, she is able to give us an insiders view as well as giving us the long perspective of looking back at the event, as well as looking back at her own empowerment as a woman of the time. Now, if that isn't brilliant writing, I don't know what is.

One of my favorite quotes from this book comes from a character that I have failed to mention thus far, a spy named Karl who becomes involved with Agnes. The two of them have lengthy and wonderful conversations as only those in the unexpectedly exotic romance of a foreign country that can have over coffee, tea, or more. Karl introduces Agnes to many ideas that challenges her and opens her mind and her life (for a woman from 1920s Ohio, this is an extremely rare opportunity!). 

At one point in an intimate conversation between Agnes and Karl, he delivers the line Frankly, I think the world will be a better place when science has swept all religion into the dustbin of history. What is religion but a shared belief in things that cannot be known? When we substitute concurrence for fact, fantasy quickly replaces knowledge. Why? Because knowledge is much more trouble to acquire!  Dear Agnes learns, not only of atheism and historical Christianity, but also of Islam from our intrepid, romantic, and learned cloak-and-dagger man.

Lady Gertrude Bell
While reading historical fiction of this caliber I love to research every single person, place, event, and thing that is real in history and I had a field day with this book. I especially enjoyed reading about TE Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia. I had no idea that this character that I think of as Peter O'Toole was such a pivotal part of the proceedings. Nor did I know about Lady Gertrude Bell, now one of my favorite political scientists, historians, cultural advisor, and feminists.

Although there was a section or two of the book that I found challenging to my attention span, I have to give this book a solid 7 stars and a recommendation to READ IT if you love historical fiction. Use it as a beginning place for your own research into the current conflict in Syria. I give this book a seven because I have read other books by Russell and I ADORE her writing and I thought this one was a lovely quiet book that clarified some complex issues. And remember to check out other books by Mary Doria Russell, one of THE best writers to come along in a very long time. She is the author of one of the top books on my top ten favorite books list, The Sparrow.

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Mary Doria Russell: Dreamers of the Day: A Novel

AW, the heck with it.
I'm doing it!

As a heavy reader, I'm not always sure what makes me run to this blog to post about books sometimes and what makes me just read other times. I'm sure it has something to do with being moved by a read, but there is more to it than that because I read some really enjoyable books.

After finishing Mary Doria Russell's book Dreamers of the Day: A Novel,
I knew I had to write about it here.

This author wrote one of my favorite books of all time The Sparrow. A book that has kept me awake many a night, both reading and reflecting. The depth and moving language and anthropology and philosophical discussion and character development and settings and before/after and revelations simply overwhelmed me. I read the book several times and it kept revealing and moving me. Listen, I don't gush about books much, (Oh yes I do!) but The Sparrow deserves all of it! So go and read it!  lol

I began researching some of Russell's other titles and chose to read a historical fiction book called Dreamers of the Day: A Novel and now I know I have to read everything else by her! And I can even partially say why!

She is a true lover of language, a student of culture, an anthropologist, a skeptic, a polemicist, a contemplative mirror, an appreciator of complexity, a pragmatist, a lover.

I'm going to give this book a little bit of thought and be back soon to say more. Stay tuned. Furthermore, I am friends with Mary Doria Russell, the author of this book, on Facebook. She and I spent some time talking about the writing of this book and, because she feels this book didn't get the readership that it deserved. I agree with that. So, I'll be back with more!


I would be willing to consider switching this blog to a reading and books blog if my readers would be interested? To give you an idea as to what I would be writing, here is a sample from my actual writing and books blog called Out of My Own Mind:

A Canticle for Leibowitz

I've got a good one for you.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. is a real treat for the grey matter. If you're looking for book to really sink your teeth into, this book might be next for you, ahead of all of those other books on the pile next to your bed.

Written in 1961, Canticle is shockingly current and provocative. Let me tell you a bit about the story. It is starts out set a few hundred years after our current day politicians did the unthinkable: unleashed an apocalypse of nuclear weapons that decimated most of the population of the plane, an event now known as The Conflict. 

The survivors in the bleakness of the 26th century were (will be?) pissed. At the scientists.

It was the scientists and thinkers who created the bombs that made the devastation possible at the time of the nuclear holocaust. So for hundreds of years, generations upon generations of people burned and destroyed every single book, paper, written document, and every stored record of knowledge. They call this The Simplification. Everyone is illiterate. Everything scientific is deliberately expunged except for those rare, undiscovered bits of flotsam paper. Many people are physically deformed from the high levels of radiation. Somewhere in Utah the monks who live at the monastery are devoted to honoring the memory of Isaac Edward Leibowitz, a Jewish scientist at Los Alamos who was martyred for his efforts to safeguard scientific knowledge in the aftermath of the conflict. They collect and transcribe the “Leibowitz Memorabilia,” including shopping lists, technical documents, and circuit diagrams that they cannot even begin to understand.

The monks secret away the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz for centuries, occasionally attempting to fill in the blanks on some missing words or phrases, studying the words and phrases, often memorizing texts in case there is another burning of paper. All of the protected pages are kept in total secrecy as all knowledge is suspect.

Although this Dark Ages replica time period is bleak and...well, dark, the continuation of the Catholic church is interesting. The church is fairly barbaric and, somehow, funny. Always there are people attempting to do the right thing for the right reasons and discovering that religious dogma and the institution of the church will always find ways to undermine one's humanity. Humans are a weak species. Many people are born with unusual deformities and these deformities become quite normal to see among the sparsely-populated towns and villages.

As the centuries pass and knowledge is slowly being rediscovered, we observe three distinct periods of time in Canticle, time periods that might be akin to Medieval times, a Renaissance time, and a Scientific time. Time periods where the human race progresses through rediscovery of technology and knowledge that was so very deliberately destroyed in centuries prior. Centuries where the darkness of ignorance slowly dies to the light of knowledge.

About eighteen centuries pass in the book! Each new epoch of time brings about greater and greater scientific discoveries by mankind and new challenges to the Abbey of St. Leibowicz that seeks to protect the knowledge that is archived there in the Utah cloister. The development of political climate, the evolution of Catholicism, and the development of technology plays an active character in this novel and definitely kept me turning the pages. Superstition and ignorance is generally celebrated during times of fear and anger while technology begins to appear during times of plenty.

Again, in the final epoch mentioned in the book, the human race is again on the edge of nuclear Armageddon. It is the year 3781 and civilization has not only recovered but has developed beyond the level it was at in the mid-twentieth century. Nation-states once again have nuclear arsenals. Space travel between earth and distant colonies has become common.

A war is threatening. Will we have learned from our past? Can we humans avoid repeating our appalling and flagrant mistakes of the past? Only the bicephalic woman with the lolling tomato-like second head knows as The Tomater Woman knows for sure.


There were times I literally laughed out loud because this book is surprisingly funny and times I had to shake my head at the ridiculous rules and human foibles of both the church and of the people in power. There were many times I had to stick my finger into the pages, close the book, and really think about what I'd just read. I find it amazing that a book written in 1961 could be so very modern, thought-provoking, humorous, and fresh. I've not traditionally been a sci-fi reader, though I have devoured several excellent sci-fi books within the last year or so. 

This book? This book I recommend. You might lose your interest a bit in the beginning, but stick with it.
I give it an honorable eight stars.


If you are interested in this type of blog post, 
PLEASE comment below and I will continue to use this blog in this new way.