Monday, November 30, 2009

Canongate Myths

All the Myths

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From the site:
"A bold re-telling of legendary tales — The Myths series gathers the world's finest contemporary writers for a modern look at our most enduring myths."

"Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives — they explore our desires, our fears, our longings, and provide narratives that remind us what it means to be human.The Myths series brings together some of the world's finest writers, each of whom has retold a myth in a contemporary and memorable way. Authors in the series include: Margaret Atwood, Karen Armstrong, AS Byatt, David Grossman, Milton Hatoum, Natsuo Kirino, Alexander McCall Smith, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Victor Pelevin, Ali Smith, Su Tong, Dubravka Ugresic, Salley Vickers and Jeanette Winterson.
The series launched on 21st October 2005 and is the most ambitious simultaneous worldwide publication ever undertaken."

According to wikipedia, Jamie Byng, owner of the independent foundation Scottish publishing firm Canongate Books, hopes to eventually publish 100 titles in the series. The first title in the series, Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth, was published the same day in 33 countries and 28 languages, in what the Washington Post called "the biggest simultaneous publication ever."

Here is the current list of all available titles in the series:

1. A Short History of Myth (Myths, The) by Karen Armstrong
2. The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (Myths, The) by Margaret Atwood - about Penelope and Odysseus
3. Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles (Myths, The) by Jeanette Winterson - about Atlas and Hercules
4. The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (Myths, The) by Victor Pelevin, translated by Andrew Bromfield - about Theseus and the Minotaur
5. Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson (Myths, The) by David Grossman - about Samson
6. Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams by Alexander McCall Smith - about Aengus
7. Anna In w grobowcach świata (Anna In and the Tombs of the World) by Olga Tokarczuk (not translated) - about Inanna
8. Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis (Myths, The) by Ali Smith - about Iphis
9. Binu and the Great Wall (Myths) by Su Tong, translated by Howard Goldblatt - about Meng Jiang
10. Where Three Roads Meet: The Myth of Oedipus (Myths, The) by Sally Vickers - about Oedipus and Tiresias
11. Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (Myths) by Dubravka Ugrešić, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac - about Baba Yaga
12. The Fire Gospel by Michel Faber - about Prometheus
13. The Myth of Izanagi and Izanami by Natsuo Kirino - about Izanagi and Izanami
14. Orphans of Eldorado (Myths) by Milton Hatoum - about the mythology of Amazonia
15. The Hurricane Party (Myths) by Klas Ostergren - about Norse mythology
16. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Phillip Pullman - about Christianity

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi"I have a story that will make you believe in God." - Pi Patel

"I know what you want. You want a story that won't surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won't make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality." - Pi Patel

This novel was easily one of the most unique books I have ever read and far from "dry, yeastless factuality". While reading it, I often wondered if it was not based off of a true story in some way simply because the story seemed too unbelievable to NOT be true! This book would appeal to a variety of literature-minded tastes as it covers topics that range from philosophy, religion, travel, and biology to suspense, horror, and even comedy.

On the surface, the story is about an Indian boy that survives on a lifeboat with a lone Bengal tiger after his ship sinks, taking the remains of a zoo and his entire family with it. Woven into the plot are threads of Pi Patel's passion for religion as a whole. He seeks to survive - both mind and body - 227 days at sea, using both the knowledge of three world religions and the experience of growing up in a zoo.

What makes this book rise above the general expectations of the fiction genre is that the main character's frequent monologues on his present circumstances inadvertedly cause the reader to evaluate his or her own life in light of Pi's words. Take for instance Pi's explanation of the battle between good and evil:

"These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart." (Ch. 25)

Page after page, chapter after chapter, Pi's personal philosophy is laid out as his life hangs in the balance. At one of his lowest points he discusses the power of fear:

"I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. ... The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it." (Ch. 56)

In the midst of reading this highly imaginative text, I realized that the musings of this castaway were reflections of what any person standing on dry land could be feeling at any given moment:

"When you look up, you sometimes wonder if at the centre of the solar system, if in the middle of the Sea of Tranquillity, there isn't another one like you also looking up, also trapped by geometry, also struggling with fear, rage, madness, hopelessness, apathy." (Ch. 78)

My favorite part of the book was when in the midst of a storm, Pi was nearly struck by lightning. The description of this encounter in chapter 85 put me in nearly as much awe as it did Pi Patel and reminded me of how the Holy Bible often described the voice of God as the voice of a great thunder, which completely fit in with the overarching theme of religion as a framework for life.

When at the end of the book, Pi Patel offers an alternate, more-believable version of his survival at sea, I realized that this novel could be read as an allegory to symbolize life and its survival. This is what truly allows The Life of Pi to make the leap from contemporary fiction to enduring classic.

*On a side note, if you would like further detail into how Yann Martel wrote this engrossing novel, here is a link to an essay on the subject:
How I Wrote Life of Pi by Yann Martel .

Read for: 101 Fantasy Reading Challenge

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp Gumbo

I made another cajun favorite of mine today - Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp Gumbo. I've watched my dad make it so many times I don't bother with a recipe card, I just go with my instincts. I haven't been able to perfect it yet, but today's meal was pretty close. I find it turns out better when I make a large quantity of it. I need to get my dad to ship up some File (pronounced fee-lay), which is simply ground sassafras leaves. Most recipes I find online include okra in the ingredients list, but I find okra slimy and disgusting. My sister compromises by cooking the okra down until all you see are the seeds, but if you are going to do that, then why even bother? So here is my work-in-progress recipe for Gumbo.

Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp Gumbo
(Made in a 14-L stock pot)

6 stalks celery, chopped
1 whole onion, chopped
1 whole green bell pepper, chopped
several cloves garlic, chopped
3 lbs. chicken
1 whole smoked sausage link, sliced
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
poultry seasoning
poultry spice
dill weed
red pepper / Cajun seasoning
black pepper
1 C oil

1. Fill large stock pot with water and set over high heat to boil. Add bone-in chicken pieces to cook. Should cook 30 minutes to an hour before removing skin and bones. Pot should always be at least 2/3 full with water or broth, so add as needed.
2. Chop vegetables and add to cast iron frying pan with oil to cook down at low heat until vegetables are clear. Should take 30-45 minutes. Add to stock pot.
3. Pour cup of oil into hot skillet and mix in flour a little at a time until all the oil is absorbed. This is called the roux (pronounced roo) and can burn very easily, so be sure to stir it constantly or it will burn and you will have to throw it out and start over. Some people prefer melted butter to oil - I can't taste the difference. Stir until the mixture browns to a dark brown color. When you feel like your arm is going to fall off is a good measure that the roux is dark enough.
4. Next you need to combine the roux with the boiling broth mixture - how you do that is up to you as the roux can burn you very easily. Adding the roux to the stock pot can produce large, very hot splashes, so some recipes will suggest adding some broth to the roux first to cool it down a little. If your skillet is not large enough though, this won't work without risking burning the roux and/or producing a very unappealing sludge. I've tried both methods and can't decide which works better for me. Do what works best for you and your kitchen.
5. Add chopped sausage and seasonings to taste. Add shrimp about 15 minutes before serving to prevent toughness.
6. Serve over a bed of rice in a bowl to resemble soup.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Shrimp Etouffee

Today for supper I made one of my favorite dishes from back home - Shrimp Etouffee. It's basically shrimp in a tomato-based sauce over rice, but when it is cooked right, this cajun dish is fantastic. It's better with crawfish, but the remoteness of where I live makes obtaining crawfish impossible.

Shrimp Etouffee
1/4 Cup + 2 tsp. butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
clove garlic, pressed
1 1/2 lbs. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 Cup + 2 tsp. chopped fresh mushrooms
2 3/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 can tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
crushed red pepper or hot sauce to taste
Worcestershire to taste

1. In a large skillet, melt butter and saute onions, celery, and garlic for about 45 minutes or until they are cooked down.
2. Stir in flour, but do not brown. Pour in 1/2 cup of water or broth and mushrooms. Stir in tomato paste and seasonings.
3. Add the shrimp and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring often. The sauce should be thick and have a gravy-like consistency.
4. Serve over cooked rice or pasta.

Twenty-Ten Challenge

My third book challenge for 2010 is the twenty-ten reading challenge, which aims to read 20 books over 10 categories, 2 books per category. Here is the sign-up link:
Twentyten Challenge.

Here is my tentative book list:

1. Young Adult
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Glass Houses by Rachel Caine
2. T.B.R.
I Can Only Imagine by MercyMe with Jeff Kinley
The Best of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine Edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley
3. Shiny and New
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
The Lightkeeper's Daughter by Colleen Coble

4. Bad Blogger’s
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
5. Charity
Contact by Carl Sagan
The Elvenbane by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey
6. New in 2010
The Hidden Flame by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
Havah: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee
7. Older Than You
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
8. Win! Win!
Ash by Malinda Lo
Prada &  Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
9. Who Are You Again?
The Season by Sarah Maclean
Between Two Kingdoms by Joe Boyd

10. Up to You!
My Fair Lazy by Jen Lancaster
The Proper Care & Feeding of Marriage by Dr. Laura Schlessinger

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Biblical Fiction Challenge 2010

My second book challenge for 2010 is reading six Biblical fiction books, or fiction books that are based on stories or characters from the Bible. I have read many books in this genre, so this challenge fits right in with my interests. Here is the sign-up link: Biblical Fiction Challenge 2010. I can also link any reviews I write back to the host site.

1. The Centurion's Wife by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
2. The Hidden Flame by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
 3. Havah: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee

Library Reading Challenge

So I've decided to sign up for a J. Kaye's Book Blog Challenge, now known as Home Girl's Book Blog. I will likely do another challenge in conjunction with this one, as the vast majority of my books come from the library. I am aiming for the second level, "Just My Size", which is 50 library books in one year, since that is roughly a book a week. Here is where I will post the list as I complete them.
If you would like to sign up, here is the link:
Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge.

1. Hunted by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast
2. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
3. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
4. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
5. Glass Houses by Rachel Caine
6. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
7. Specials by Scott Westerfeld
8. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
9. Dead Girls' Dance by Rachel Caine
10. The Centurion's Wife by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
11. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
12. Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs
13. Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs
14. Tempted by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
15. The Season by Sarah MacLean
16. Midnight Alley by Rachel Caine
17. Ash by Malinda Lo
18. Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
19. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
20. Feast of Fools by Rachel Caine
21. Hannah by Kathryn Lasky
22. Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs
23. The Proper Care & Feeding of Marriage by Dr. Laura Schlessinger
24. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
25. Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison
26. Urban Shaman by C. E. Murphy
27. Lord of Misrule by Rachel Caine
28. Burned by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast
29. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
30. Carpe Corpus by Rachel Caine
31. Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey
32. Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr
33. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
34. Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr
35. In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms by Dr. Laura Schlessinger
36. Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr
37. Thunderbird Falls by C. E. Murphy
38. Quatrain by Sharon Shinn
39. Shalador's Lady by Anne Bishop
40. The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey
41. Winter Moon by Mercedes Lackey, Tanith Lee, and C. E. Murphy
42. The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

My Sister's Keeper

My Sister's KeeperI watched a movie this evening with my husband titled My Sister's Keeper. I had downloaded the movie previously, thinking it was the newly-released movie of the same name based on the book by Jodi Picoult. The movie we watched was not the same movie, but a different one made in 2002 about two sisters, one of which who is diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder at the age of sixteen. While it was not what I originally wanted to watch, we watched it for the reasons that I have two aunts who have similar disorders and my husband has both friends and relatives with similar disorders. The woman who plays Chrissy, the sister with the disorder, did an excellent job portraying the illness. Much of her behavior reminds me of memories I have of my aunts, and one scene in particular brought me to tears. In the scene, Chrissy is in the depression stage and her apartment is in complete disorder and filth when her sister Judy comes to visit. Such a scene played out in my own life in which my family went to visit my mother's eldest sister in her own apartment, and the place was so terrible that roaches infested the building and my aunt was afraid to touch the white towels my mother had gifted her with. There was little my parents could do for her at the time because the social worker assigned to my aunt basically stone-walled them, and the hopelessness we all felt for her is hard to express in words. Thankfully, my aunt is in a much better living situation now and receiving the care she needs.I recommend this movie to anyone with friends or relatives with mental disorders in order to better understand the illness.

Sleep Deprivation

Have you ever noticed that each milestone in life can be marked by the amount of sleep one can achieve? As a child, sleep was an accepted thing. I didn't really think about the whys and hows of too much or too little sleep - it was simply a part of life. As a teenager, sleep was like a drug that I couldn't get enough of. I stocked up on the weekends and tried to sneak it in during classes when you thought the teacher wasn't looking. I can even recall a yearbook photo displaying my entire English class asleep at our desks while the teacher read us Shakespeare. In university, sleep came in short bursts in odd locations - the library, the park, the common room of the dorm - just enough to get by, but never enough to feel truly rested. As a single adult in my own place, I felt like I had finally achieved the ability to sleep when and how I saw fit. With a steady job and only myself and my cat to care for, I received the regularity of sleep that modern medicine would be proud of. Sleeping with my spouse was much the same way, only with the added benefit of extra warmth and the white noise of his snoring. I imagine I am one of the few women on this planet who actually enjoys her husband's snoring. As a mother, being tired seems to take on a life of its own. When I pregnant with my first girl, for nearly the entire nine months I slept in sets of 2 hours at a time - as if mother nature were preparing me for the next nine months once she was born. After I gave birth, I felt like a narcoleptic - falling asleep anywhere and everywhere, thanks to the oxytocin my body produced everytime I nursed my daughter. When Abigail was 11 months old, I finally resorted to "sleep-training" her so that I could catch some shut-eye. When the sleep-training took root, Abigail was sleeping 12 hours through the night with 2 daytime naps and I was in sleep heaven. Alas, it was too good to be true. In only a short time, I was pregnant again, and the regulated bathroom trips were back. Shiloh was born premature and for 3 weeks I slept in the hospital, my sleep schedule being dictated by how long I could endure the pain of too much milk before I dragged myself out of bed to hug the hospital-grade pump. The one blessing I got out of that experience was that Shiloh came home sleeping 4 hours at a time instead of Abigail's two hour cycle. The downside is that the hospital's "Land of Perpetual Day" flipped Shiloh's nights and days, which meant that my husband and I now have to sleep in alternating shifts. I operate most days in a haze of sleep deprivation punctuated by the occasional burst of caffeine to create the illusion of normalcy. I can't remember who told me this, but I'm hanging onto the hope that it's not completely true - that I can sleep when the children move out, but not until then.
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