Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Quilts of Summer (2007)

I was destined to quilt, killing time in elementary school drawing cubes sprouting out in all directions for a center square, coloring different faces, and marvelling at the effects. Unfortunately, I never got around to learning to quilt until I had kids, which severely lengthened the learning process. When said kids were little, I would make each year's teacher some small quilted item, usually a wall hanging; it was a great excuse to take the time to quilt. We hit a point, though, when each of my sons had, gasp, a bad teacher or, at least, a teacher they didn't like. They respectfully asked me not to make anything for a teacher unless they asked me to. That was a bit over 10 years ago, and I have respected their wishes. When one of them asks me to make something for a teacher, I know the teacher meant a great deal to them. I take the commission very seriously and try to tailor the quilt to the recipient.

In July 2006, my older son, Don, tested for his black belt in Myo Sim kendo. About two weeks before the belt test, he asked why I had not made quilts for this three principal kendo instructors. I reminded him that I only did quilts for teachers in response to specific requests, and he had not made one. I told him that I would have quilts for him to present at the black belt test the following year. As it turned out, he tested again in 2007, for his second degree black belt, while his younger brother tests for first degree black. This post is about the three quilts I made for Don's kendo instructors.

The first one (that I made and that I show here) is called "Symmelaritries." The name came from Don's request that the quilt for one particular instructor, Rick, somewhat resemble one of the two quilts I made for his high school chemistry teacher and Ultimate Frisbee coach, John. Rick's day job is teaching high school science, and he mentored John when John first became a teacher. The blocks in this are what's called liberated log cabins, and the layout of blocks and black strips is identical to one of the two quilts I gave John. As you can see here, it fits nicely on the top of a queen-sized bed.

The second quilt, "Shooting Star," went to the head kendo instructor, Christian. Don didn't request anything special here, so I created this one from scratch. The name comes from one of the forms we do in Myo Sim kendo, shooting star. The blocks here are liberated stars, and the fabric contains kanji characters. One of the large red stars in the corner is the shooting star with red lines of quilting streaming away from it. Christian has told me that this now hangs on the wall of his office, and that people often comment on it.

The third quilt, "Another View of Mt. Fuji," went to our master instructor, who drives three hours (one way) every other week to teach class. Don initially asked that I try to translate Hokusai's Great Wave image to fabric, but then decided that might not be appropriate since Master Shaw is also a sailor. He still wanted it to reflect Japan in some way, which it does in that with the exception of the backing fabric, all the fabric is from Japan. I had great fun quilting the picture of Mt. Fuji, outlining and adding to the image. This one is wall hanging size, though I don't know if it's currently hanging on a wall. I had told Master Shaw that he was welcome to keep it on his sailboat if he liked, but his wife wrote me that she won't allow that. It's in their guest room along with many of the things Master Shaw collected while in Japan.

Finally, since I started this one in the late summer, I should probably include it here. This one is called "With Tigger Dancing in the Yard." It was done as a wedding present for what I call one of my "heart children." I met Kristy's mother when I was a grad student, and I babysat Kristy when she was a toddler and young child. When Kristy was in middle and high school, she babysat my sons. She went to the College of William and Mary, then worked at Disney World before going to grad school. She's working in Boston now and, believe it or not, met Jay, who is now her husband, on The wedding was in October, and this was our gift to them. Tigger was Kristy's favorite Pooh character when she was little and may still be part of one of her e-mail addresses.

These are my most recent quilting efforts. Since October, I've been playing with dyeing wool (silk is next!) with Kool-Aid, and various other knitting and felting projects. Come spring, I'll move onto discharging more bags like the ones I sent to Debi and Annie recently. I'll get back to quilting eventually, but for now in the cold of winter, it's wool that calls out to me.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Collaborator of Bethlehem (Review)

I seem to be attracted to first novels, so when I saw the New York Times Book Review quote, “An astonishing first novel” on the cover of The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees, I picked it up for a look. A note in the front pages intrigued me, so I decided to substitute this book for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as my “place” selection in the What’s In a Name challenge. The intriguing note? “All the crimes in this book are based on real events in Bethlehem. Though identities and some circumstances have been changed, the killers really killed this way, and those who died are dead just the same.”

As first novels go, The Collaborator of Bethlehem isn’t bad. It’s not in the league of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian or Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, but it’s good, and I’m not sorry I bought it. The main character is Omar Yussef, a 50-something history teacher at a U.N. school in the West Bank. He used to drink heavily (despite being Muslim) and, as a result, feels his age daily. Because Omar Yussef tries to teach students to study issues and form their own opinions, he’s not the most popular figure with the local Palestinian activists; indeed, the headmaster of his school would like for him to resign keep things running smoothly. Omar Yussef refuses to give the headmaster satisfaction until one of his favorite former students, a Palestinian Christian now grown and with children of his own, is arrested for the murder of one of the leaders of the local Palestinian Martyrs Brigade. Omar Yussef knows his former student must be innocent, and takes a leave of absence from his job to investigate the murder on his own.

The plot is complex, the characters are very human, and the ending is not necessarily a happy one, but the story is compelling and kept my interest. The author is the former Jerusalem bureau chief for Time, and the depth of his knowledge and research showed. I learned a lot about the intricacies of the situation in Israel and the occupied areas.

Quality Rating: 8 out of 10. Well worth reading, though not what I would call a classic.

Audience Rating: Probably not for too young an audience. One of the deaths in the book is staged to look like a rape-murder, and there is a scene I can’t reveal without spoiling the book, that would probably frighten younger kids. High school kids could probably handle it, though I’m not sure they’d find the book as interesting as someone who has grown up through the various stages of Mideast conflict.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Not It! (my first reading meme)

Debi tagged me for this (gee, thanks ... no really ... thanks). It was started by Eva, who may or may not like my answer to a couple of questions based on her own answer to the first one.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

This one is easy. Anything by Stephen King. (Sorry, Debi, who tagged me for this.) Mind you, I’ve never really tried to read anything by him, but from what I know of various of his works, I’m assuming I wouldn’t like them no matter how well written thay might be. (I could also say Moby Dick, but some of the “reviews” I’ve heard from English majors who had to read this were not what I’d call positive, which is why I've never even tried to read it.)

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

I would invite Dov Landau (Exodus), Ender (Ender’s Game and sequels), Harry Potter (Harry Potter series) on a hike in the mountains, away from other people. They’re all young people who were called on to do very heroic things they otherwise would not have done. I think it would be interesting to hear them talk about how they dealt with the battles they did not look for but still won. And all had to take the lives of others along the way—how did they deal with this afterwards?

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realize it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

Something by Faulkner maybe? Actually, how about A Night to Remember by Walter Lord, the story of the sinking of the Titanic. When it comes right down to it, that’s a pretty boring book, especially if you’ve read it aloud to a three-year-old night after night after night.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

I’m sure that I must have nodded knowingly in some conversation on Stephen King at some cocktail party, dinner, or similar gathering. Other than that, I can’t really recall a specific incident.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (If you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead and personalize the VIP).

Let’s go with the book most often lifted from middle school libraries, Ender’s Game. It deals with so many universal themes—young people and how we treat them as well as what we assume about them, education, war, our inhumanity to things we cannotor do not seek to understand, the power of the media to influence thought. The list goes on and on.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

It would probably have to be Aramaic or Greek so as to be able to read at least parts of the Bible in the original. Why take someone else’s word for the translation?

A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

Only one? Okay, let me make this an either-or. If it has to be prose, let’s go with The Little Prince. If it can be poetry, I’ll pick Hailstones and Halibut Bones.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

I’d heard of dance marathons (They Should Horses, Don’t They?), but never of a reading one. Read for 24 hours straight? I’m not sure I’m ready to do it myself, but maybe I could work my way up to it. The problem is that there are oh so many things I could think of to try to do as much of as possible in a 24-hour period.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leather-bound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favorite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

My dream library has to have a turret with lots of windows and natural light streaming in. That’s where I can sit in a cushioned chair and read or sit at a large oak table, references spread out around me, and write. I step down from the turret, and books line the walls. I actually prefer the Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress one, because I love prowling the stacks. Aha! There’s the book I’m looking for. But wait! This book beside it, on the same or a related topic, also looks interesting. And this one. And that one on the other side! While it would be nice to have some autographed copies, leather binding, first editions, and the like really don’t make a difference. The fantasy would be having them all in one place and easy to trawl through. Oh yeah, and the turret—that’s a must have in my dream library.

Tag 4 people for this meme...

Come on! I just got here and haven’t made a lot of friends yet! Can I just name one? I’d love to hear Annie’s answers to these questions.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters (Review)

I bought The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters by Chip Kidd for three unrelated reasons. First, it had “monkeys” in the title, and the monkeys included in the cover illustration were cute, even if they did look a little on the sad side. Second, since I essentially grew up on college campuses as the kid of a single-parent college prof turned administrator, how could I resist “A Novel in Two Semesters”? Finally, I liked the design of the page side of the book (the side opposite the spine). Looking at it with the cover down, you can read “GOOD IS DEAD” on the edges of the pages. Looking at it with the cover up, you can read “DO YOU SEE?” on the same pages. Very cool, and it should not have surprised me that a course in graphic design played a big role in the story and the author is himself a graphic designer.

I finished this book several days ago and am still trying to decide if I liked it, not a usual reaction for me. If I like a book, I keep reading. If I don’t, I stop. I never stopped reading this one, but once I finished I felt, and still feel, very ambivalent. Parts of the story were outright hilarious, especially given my perspective of having spent many years in the company of pompous professors, lascivious lecturers, and other campus characters. The problem was, I think, that I never developed any attachment to the narrator and his leading lady, one Himillsy Dodd (accent on the “ill”). The story was set in the late 1950s, but the main characters seemed somewhat out of place and time. I so never warmed up to them that I now find myself feeling guilty for thinking, after the fact, that if the narrator had not rescued Hims (as he called her) from the drunken frat brother near the end of the term (and novel), would I have been upset? I feel guilty that there’s a part of me that thought she had it coming.

Quality Rating (on Annie’s 10-point scale): 5, because I still sort of feel as if maybe I should have liked it more even though I really didn’t.

Audience Rating: Definitely for mature audiences. Though there’s nothing in the description on the back of the book or in the front pages that would so indicate, there’s material here that I would not have wanted my kids to read before they were, say, college age, or at least late high school.

In the beginning ...

I needed a place to publish my book reviews for Annie's What's In a Name reading challenge. Yesterday, Facebook. Today, a blog. Now that the blog is apparently created, the challenge will be making the time to post the first book review. Oh well, we all have to start somewhere.