Sunday, May 23, 2010

Almost three

The Bug turns three this week, and where the time has gone I couldn't possibly guess. We have quite the series of events planned; as the Bug says, she's having three birthdays this year.

Today we took the cousins, Aunt Katy, Pop-pop and Uncle Nick to the Bradley Zoo - we have a great time there, and the Bug considers it to be "her" zoo. The kids - and the grown-ups, too! - had a blast. Big animal news is that we now have three bald eagles, and we got a close-up view of a mother duck sitting on a nest filled with eggs. We ate cupcakes outside after a carousel ride, and at our post-zoo pizza lunch the Bug actually ate a few bites of 'za! (No, that's not a mistake - she usually just eats tomatoes and olives from the salad. Embarrassing, a kid who doesn't like pizza. But I digress.)

On her birthday proper we are going to have presents in the morning and her favorite dinner (which is whatever Joker and I determine to be her favorite dinner - all she wants is more cupcakes).

And next weekend, we'll do a reprise of her second birthday at the farm - baby animals, driving the tractor, enjoying the family and (hope, hope!) playing in the mud.

To kick it all off, I took her to get her first pedicure yesterday. No, it wasn't the relaxing treat I usually savor, but damn! was it cute:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is a feminist dystopian novel set in the near future in the Republic of Gilead, formerly a part of the United States. The narrator of the book is Offred (as in "of Fred" or Fred's woman), who was forced to become a childbearing handmaid of a local Commander. The ruling totalitarian regime has stripped women of essentially all rights and freedoms, with the Wives of Commanders retaining a figurehead role in the household, Marthas relegated to cooking and cleaning, Handmaids to having sex once a month and with luck quickly conceiving and bearing a child, and Aunts training the Handmaids in piety and propriety.

Offred's story is told through narration of current events and flashbacks to the time before the military coup. She had once been the happily married mother of a five-year-old girl. The three of them had tried unsuccessfully to escape to Canada; after that time she never saw her daughter again, and never even learned whether her husband was still alive. Having proven her fertility she was categorized as a handmaid. As Offred, she was on her second posting; three unsuccessful attempts to conceive would leave her an "unwoman" and fit only to be shipped off to the Colonies for a short but brutal life of hard labor.

The book is compelling and interesting, actually an easy read, but it lacks the force of Nineteen Eighty-Four. I appreciated the different perspective the feminist angle provides, but it doesn't stick with me the way that Orwell's masterpiece did. I'd still recommend it pretty broadly, and I plan to read more by Atwood, but it's not a classic in the same right.

Next up: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. It's the Fearless Readers selection for our June 17 meeting. Yeah, book club is back again - join us! 100-ish pages into the book I can tell you it isn't remotely up my alley (though like 500 people on Amazon rave about it), but it should at least be quick, and if you come to the meeting you have input in the next selection.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

One-half birthday

Today was the Bunny's six-month birthday - I can't believe how quickly the time flies! She's a delightful little baby: happy, grinny, super smiley. She adores her big sister, and the Bug absolutely loves the Bunny, too. We still aren't getting the best sleep in the planet, but I chalk that up to our terror of the girls waking each other up in the middle of the night - either of them makes a peep and we immediately run to their room to comfort her. A second kid's bedroom sounds like true luxury.

While the Bunny's six-month check-up isn't for a week or two, I can assure you she is gigantic. Not in a rotund way, though she does have the requisite folds in her wrists and thighs. She's super tall, and I estimate her weight at approximately a million pounds. I really cannot wait for her to begin holding on to me with her legs and arms so that she feels baby-sized again! No teeth yet, though she's been working on them for a while now. Just this week she learned to sit up on her own, and she finally started to eat her oh-so delicious baby food with true gusto.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas received nearly universal acclaim when it was published in 2004. The book is comprised of six stories nested within each other, such that the first story cuts off half-way through and the second begins, and so on until the sixth; the sixth story is told straight through; after which the second half of the fifth story picks up, the fourth picks up when the fifth/seventh ends, and so on. The book is very ambitious in scope: the stories span centuries of time and take place across the globe. While I found it to be entertaining and I enjoyed each story as a stand-alone and as a whole, I found the nesting-doll-story device to be a bit too clever for its own good.

There is no denying Mitchell's excellent storytelling. Each of the stories is interesting and compelling and exciting on its own. The connection between them only increases these merits, and makes for an epic novel. The first/eleventh is the diary of a young man returning to California from Australia on a cargo ship in 1849. The second/tenth is a series of letters from a bisexual composer, living in Belgium in 1931, to his friend Rufus Sixsmith. In the third/ninth, a journalist in 1970s California attempts to bring major corporate corruption to light. The fourth/eighth is a comical account of a present-day publisher who flees a vengeful client, only to end up accidentally institutionalized. The fifth/seventh, set in near-future dystopian Korea, is about the effort of a genetic "fabricant" (a clone) to achieve true humanity. The sixth is set in Hawaii in the far future, after the complete destruction of civilization across the globe.

I won't tell you exactly how these stories are connected; that would ruin it for anyone who wants to read it. But I will say that the central message is that it's a dog eat dog world out there; eat or be eaten. While I suppose I understand why Mitchell chose to lay out the narrative in this format, I think it could have been more powerful if told in a straightforward - and less confusing - manner. Complicated and ambitious books do not intimidate me (War and Peace, Infinite Jest and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle are all in my top 10!), but complicated should never be just for complicated's sake.

Next up: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood