Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Bill and I spent a busy vacation week in NY. On the upside, we visited with friends and family--it was fun. There was far too much traveling involved though. We traveled for more than 40 hours in between Wednesday and Monday. We dealt with late trains, canceled trains, and more. Boo!

The traveling did provide me with time to have some additional hours of sleep and get some reading done. I finished The Princess Bride and Buttercup's Baby. It was impossible for me to read The Princess Bride without hearing and seeing the movie in my mind as a read. It was enjoyable, but it wasn't absolutely fabulous. Buttercup's Baby was just odd. William Goldman is one weird, brilliant guy. I have to say that without the movie, it would have been really difficult for me to have imagined what the story would look and sound like. The characters are realy one dimensional, and Goldman leaves a lot of room for interpretation. How incredibly odd to invent another author/narrator etc.

This brings to mind one of my fond memories from St. John's. I remember getting together with the majority of my dorm to watch The Princess Bride in a tiny little room in the student union. "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!"

We did get to see friends and family. Bill's parents are very kind, and it's always nice to spend time with them. Bill's Dad's family is hospitable and kind as well. We saw Bill's grandma--she's cute. Bill's sister is really blossoming into a lovely woman.

Shopping the day after Thanksgiving was a hoot. I've never seen lines to just get in the stores (midday)! Bill and I visited the Pommes Frites in the East Village. Wonderful--I still feel the fries hardening my arteries. We also visited the Strand again. Joe doesn't like it because of it's being ill-organized, but I do. When I enter a bargain store, part of the pleasure is searching through the shelves and finding treasures. I can always order something over the internet if I know what I want to begin with, but I like coming across jewels by chance. I've found favorites--like The End of the Affair that way. It's all the more delicious.

So, these are my new additions to my growing inventory:

  • Martin Amis, Night Train (Vintage, 1997). This is a psycholical play on the old detective novels. I've read about 121 pages of it, so I'll relate more on it later this week.

  • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Penguin, 1790). Odious commented on how Serenity was largely based in Burkeian philosophy. Having not read up on my Burke in quite sometime I thought this was a good find. Plus, not being a lover of the French (pre-Iraq invasion era), I can't ever resist a philospher exposing the faults of their political system.

  • Kenneth R. Timmerman, The French Betrayal of America (Three Rivers Press, 2004). I can't really count this one as my own. It's gift for my mother. Apparently, it documents how the French provided Sadddam with weapons and tools for nuclear war etc.

  • Marguerite Duras, The Sea Wall (Perennial Library, 1952). I've always liked Duras. Beautiful prose. Deeply absorbing. Incredibly dark, and yet uplifting.

  • Charles R. Morris, American Catholic (Vintage, 1997). Is it true that there are more Catholics in NY than in Dublin? Yup. I don't know if there's an agenda to this one, or whether its more factual than editorial.

  • J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan (Puffin Books, 1911). Yippee. Who doesn't like Peter Pan in their man? Do not make that into a dirty joke, Odious, Peculiar, Larissa, Kate, Joe, Carly, Cube or Proclus.

  • Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees (Penguin, 2002). This one I can't really count either since I have it on loan from Bill's sister, Kate.

  • Dorothy Dunnett, Niccolo Rising (Vintage, 1986). Having already purchased Volumes II and III of this series, I was happy to come across Volume I. Cheers!

  • Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Anchor Books, 2002). Joe called this one trash...but he calls anything popular trash. I don't happen to agree. Some very popular things are actually very good, like The Bible, candy, and love. :)

  • Haydn Middleton, Grimm's Last Fairytale (Thomas Dunne Books, 1999). Gothic. My latest genre obsession.

  • Adam Nicholson, God's Secretaries (Perennial, 2003). History. Always an obsession. If Christopher Hitchens endorses it, then I'll read it. No guarentee I'll agree with it, but I'll read it.

  • Early Irish Myths and Sagas (Penguin, 1981). Folktales are a wonderful way to discover the sole of any given culture. Like science fiction, folktales allow the authors to say a lot about humans nature, perhaps even more than other types of stories. It's like Shakespearean characters who were most themseves when masked by costumes. Sometimes you have to hide a little to say the most.

  • Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (Penguin, 1999 ed.). So, I got confused an thought that Joe had recommended Collins, but it was actually Kate. No matter. I trust both sources. I look forward to reading a "Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism."

  • Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (Penguin, 1993 ed.). Mystery. An English detective novel. Yum.

  • Edited by Nicholas Griffin, The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, Volume I, The Private Years (Houghton Mifflin Co, 1992). Biographies. How many volumes could there be? This one is 532 pages.

  • Henry James, Daisy Miller (Penguin Books, 1878 ed.). I haven't liked the James I've read in the past, but this one's short so I thought I'd give it a try.

  • Alan Wall, The School of Night (Thomas Dunne Books, 2001). More gothic. This one is by a contemporary author, but the story is set in the past. I'll have to see how it compares with old Gothic horror/mystery.

  • Martin Amis, Time's Arrow (Harmony Books, 1991). Who knows? Joe recommended it.

      That's it for now folks.

    • Friday, November 18, 2005

      Gothic Novels

      What's a good place to start?

      What are a few of the gothic novels I've read, and why do I think they're Gothic novels? Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Bronte's Jane Eyre, Lewis' Monk, Bronte's Wuthering Heights, and Lemony Snickett. What do all of these novels share? Extreme emotion and situations. Ruins in the country side. Grit in the cities. Mean, sexual clerics. Obsession with the past. What part of the past? Preindustrialization...which means medieval (like Gothic architecture? Huge heroes and huge villains.

      Moreover, most of them are written by and/or are about unusually-bright young women falling in love with men who are unworthy of them. Most of those are written in the late 1800's or eary 1900's (I think)--that would have been smack dab in the middle of the Victorian era. What was the Victorian era like? Controlled?


      Thursday, November 17, 2005

      Who's Watching You Kid

      Just for kicks I thought I'd check in on who's reading my blog and how long they stay etc. It was nice to find that, at the very least, my friends check in with some frequency, but I was shocked to learn that random people end up here based on some interesting internet searches.

      Most vexing: type "penus" into a search engine, and my site's listed. I wondered, "Why?", and realized that it's those damned spammers who put HTML code in their comments. So, I started checking the other internet searches that lead people here and realized that many arrive here while searching for cliffs notes or free essays.

      I'm tempted to write reviews like, isn't terrible when Jane Eyre dies at boarding school (see, I suspect that people who pillage blogs for plot, theme, and mood info on great books, probaby didn't read much more than the book's jacket)--why name an entire book after a character who dies in the first few chapters?, or Troy's victory was long and hard fought in the Iliad, or it's so wonderful when Dante finally makes love to Beatrice in the final stanzas of the Paradiso.

      I'd like to see the reception those comments would receive from a TA.

      On the other hand, it pleasures me to know that someone might think that what I have to say is interesting enough to plagiarize and pillage for their own use.

      Monday, November 14, 2005

      So Tree-Killers

      ...otherwise known as literature-buffs, what's your definition of a "Gothic Novel?"

      Friday, November 11, 2005


      Well, I did ascend to heaven and fall back to earth. Thank you for all of the nice birthday wishes. My birthday was a wonderful one spent with friends and family.

      I really do like my inlaws, as unusual as that may be. I keep telling my fiance that I don't want to have a big wedding, but part of me wants to. If he and his parents and sister are any indication of what the rest of his family are like, then I'd love to have all of them at the wedding reception. His family is fun-loving, smart, and a joy to be around. I think my parents will enjoy having them all at the reception.

      So anyhow, Bill and drove to Columbia, Maryland and went to Daedulus Warehouse. My parents drove up as well. I had a nice time chatting with them and going out to lunch at Bennigan's. They indulged my love of books, without question, which was nice because even though I tried to limit myself to only those books I REAAAAALLLLY wanted, I REAAAAAAlly wanted a lot of books.

      I had a great time rummaging through well-organized book shelves. I made many aquisitions--namely,

      • Patrick McGrath, Spider (Vintage, 1990). Thank God for new gothic. What would happen if I read all the old gothic novels and ran out of new ones to read? Apparently this one's soon to be a motion picture too.

      • Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose (Harcourt, 1980). Well, I know they're both brilliant economists, and I believe fervently in the connection between personal liberty and free markets, so I couldn't help but pick this one up.

      • Patrick McGrath, Dr. Haggard's Disease (Vintage, 1993). Gothic. Need I say more?

      • Louis Auchincloss, East Side Story (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). This is a fictionalized account of those fated-few who rose to fame on the east side of New York in the mid to late 1800's. Seems like a prolific author. That could spell disaster or something great.

      • Jonathan Kirsch, God Against the Gods (Penguin Books, 2004). Looks like an interesting history of one particular aspect of religion--namely, the battle between monotheists and polytheists. It seems to imply that religious intolerance stems from that one difference, even now. We'll see.

      • Edited by B.A. Botkin, A Civil War Treasury. I love moral allegories like those in folklore, so I couldn't pass this one up. This has newspaper clippings, folkstories, and so on that came out before, during, and after the civil war. It'll be interesting to see how the war affected literature.

      • Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil's Snare (Knopf, 2002). Carly read this and said it was good, but that it offers a very different account of the Salem witch trials from prior books concerning the same topic. She says she'll bring me one of the prior accounts to read first. Yipee!

      • Dorothy Dunnett, Race of Scorpions (Vintage, 1989). This is third in the House of Niccolo historical fiction series. Problem: I don't believe I own the first in the series. To the library we go! Don't you just love 15th century Italy.

      • Peggy Noonan, A Politcal Life in the Raegan Era (Encore, 2003). She has always written columns and speeches that were barbed with wit and yielded many delights, so this seemed worth a couple bucks.

      • John McWhorter, Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care (Gotham Books, 2003). Written by a linguist--at least it wont be poorly written--it looks like it confronts the possible derailment of democracy based on our lack of a large, vibrant educated populus...blah, blah, blah, and the consequences on our future intellectual life.

      • Nino Ricci, Testament (Mariner Books, 2003). Another historical novel cast as a "fictional biography." There's a beautiful reproduction of Ecce Homo by Vivente Juan Macip on the cover. It's, suprise suprise, an account of Jesus' life from four perspectives--namely, that of a Jewish political revolutionist, a female discipile, Jesus' mother, Mary, and a shepherd.

      • Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (Touchstone, 1983). Strangely enough, I was one of the few nut jobs who enjoyed natural philosophy in college. Kudos to Mr. Hans Von Breisen for his convincing me that it has a place in contemporary physics as well. I can't pass up religion and philosophy in the same book.

      • James A. Connor, Kepler's Witch (Harper Books, 2004). Ok, so Kepler, a witch, and the Pope walk into a bar. And Kepler says,...

      • Mike Dash, Batavia's Graveyard (Crown Publisher's, 2002). I read a book called The Company: Portrait of a Murder by Arabella Edge, which made Robinson Crusoe look lucky for being marooned on an island alone. That book made my skin crawl. I didn't enjoy it, but it did make me wonder how much of the book was historically accurate.

      • Craig Boreth, How To Iron You Own Damn Shirt: The Perfect Husband Shirt (Three Rivers Press 2005). Bill's sister tried to buy this book for him as a joke, and I recommended against her giving it to him for Christmas. Then, he ended up buying it for himself.

      • Deborah Coates, Cat Haiku (Arrow Books 2003). Bill bought be this quaint little book. How could it fail to appeal to my love for bad poetry with
        I think that the new
        Kitten makes a fine punching
        Bag and trampoline.
        I'm waiting for you to contribute Billy.

      • Craig Harline, The Burdens of Sister Margaret: Inside a 17th Century Convent(Abridged edition) (Yale Nota Bene, 2000). I've read a couple of novels and plays that take place in convents that involve the theme of of madness versus divine inspiration, e.g., Anges of God.

      • Frederick Buechener, Speak What We Feel: Four Who Wrote in Blood (Harper 2001). This is about what G.K. Chesterton, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mark Twain, and William Shakespeare say about religion and spirituality. Hm.

      • David McCullough, Brave Companions (Simon and Schuster, 1992). I like McCullough's other books in spite of the fact that he attended Yale.

      • Henri Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe (Harvest Book, 1936). Girls not only like bagels, but Medieval History.

      • Anton Chekhov, The Duel (Modern Library, 2003). I hope the translation is good.

      • Terence M. Green, Shadow of Ashland (Forge, 1996). Sometimes I'll take a chance on a book just because of who endorses it. For insteance, the Atlanta Constitution endorsed this one, so I'm gonna give it a go.

      • Dorothy Dunnett, The Spring of the Ram (Vintage, 1987). Second book in the House of Niccolo series.

      • Paul Auster, City of Glass (Picador, 2004). This is another one of Bill's. He likes the artwork and thinks it sounds like an interesting adaption of a graphic novel.

      • E. M. Forester, Aspects of the Novel (Harcourt, 1927). A dear friend of mine was recommended A Room With A View. Given my experience with that book, I'm willing to read his literary criticism.

      • Peter Nichols, Evolution's Captain (Perenial, 2003). This is a biography that graces over Charles Darwin and favors the less well-known Captain Robert FitzRoy, the captain of the first voyage of the HMS Beagle.

      • Chris Van Allsburg, Ben's Dream (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1982). I adore Van Allsburg's books, such as The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, Jumanji, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and The Polar Express.

        It's a wonderful feeling not knowing which one to start first.

      Bonkers for Britten

      Doesn't everyong love Benjamin Britten?

      Tuesday, November 08, 2005

      Catching Up

      I am Charlotte Simmons was great, but I want a complete explanation from Joe, who said I reminded him of the main character. She did indeed do something foolish--lots.

      The book indicts American higher education as being shallow, booze-filled, purposeless, and filled with immorality, detailing the corruption of an intelligent, naive girl.

      I certainly experienced some of the things that he shares as "the gospel truth of what occurs in America's colleges;" however, my own college experience was actually filled with reading and learning, as well as boys and drinking. There were no cliff notes in my dorm room!

      The story is well-considered and mature. I felt like the characters were well-developed, and they behaved in internally consistent ways. It's a little like a tragedy. Wolfe stretches all that is normally small into bigger and bigger proportions. She experiences a spiritual crisis and is both victim and perpetrator of cultural snobbery, i.e., morality is simply for the little people who fail to understand the complexities that are innate to human nature.

      To Joe: I did see myself in the main character, in her naivete and her inability to make good decisions. She likes the guy she shouldn't. She can't like her intellectual equal. She gets hurt, so on and so forth, but the story isn't as clich├ęd as I make it sound. It's fleshy and new, interesting.

      In the end, the novel is multi-layered. It's about higher education, but it's also simply about one girl (I don't say woman, because she isn't one) being startled by the absence of morality at her ivy league school. It's about the brilliance of a star growing dim. She cannot achieve without being constantly admired, so she settles for being liked instead of being good. She lacks moral judgement and courage.

      Thumbs up from me. If you can stomach the copious amounts of sex, drinking, poor English, disrespect for all things beautiful, and general debauchery, then give it a go.

      By the way, right now I don't feel like being all political and editorializing about the current lack of educating that goes on in schools but--I shall just say--it's not a baseless indictment.