Monthly Archives: November 2012

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

Posted by Anne Nelson

Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale, as anyone knows who has applied a magnifying glass to a snowflake.
-Rachel Carson

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is the campy title of a beautifully photographed, warm-hearted little movie that I borrowed from Saratoga Springs Public Library last week (Saratoga allows non-residents to borrow most foreign and documentary DVDs with their Crandall Library cards). The movie is about the loving relationship the Japanese have with flying insects: fireflies are revered as visiting ancestors, dragonflies are celebrated in poems, beetles and crickets are kept as pets by children and adults alike. Like bonsai gardens and haiku poetry, the little insects seem to appeal to a uniquely Japanese appreciation for beauty in miniature. It is the first film from director Jessica Oreck, who is an animal-keeper at The American Museum of Natural History in New York. Although she is not herself Japanese, she opts to use Japanese narration in her film and the limited dialogue is mostly in Japanese as well. The photography is outstanding and the human subjects convey a universal joy in their enthusiasm for their bugs, prompting us to question whether our own tendency to fear insects is innate or just a bit of unfortunate cultural conditioning.

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The Paris Wife

 November 19, 2012 marked yet another wonderful chapter in the ongoing saga of the Crandall Public Library Monday Evening Book Discussion Group.  The festivities focused on Paula McLain’s historical novel The Paris Wife.  It proved the perfect foil for an evening of literary love and learning.   Richard “The Professor” Schneider spoke about the relatively new paradigm of reader response criticism, which places heavy emphasis on perception of a work, and casts readers as co-conspirators in the artistic process. Although one might debate the value of reader response as a metric of a literary work’s value, it is, without any doubt whatsoever, the essence of a successful book discussion.

In fact, our discussions often remind me of the fable of the blind men and the elephant.  Each of us latching on to a portion of the prose pachyderm, feeling that we truly understand the whole of a written work, but much like the blind men, not fully understanding the business at hand, until it’s illuminated by the light of collaboration.

Of course, mutual respect for the notion that everybody brings something worthwhile to the table is a must, as it fosters the sort of dialogue where all involved feel safe to share their opinion.  Such a setting is capable of manifesting muse, of creating a shared synergistic understanding.  I think that famed photographer Ansel Adams spoke of much the same thing, when he explained that:

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.”

In any case, I don’t believe that the chemistry between members has ever been finer, and the conversation created was equal parts personal, passionate and profound.  Bravo!  Topics touched on during the course of the evening include the following:

  • The Paris Wife: Highbrow Chic Lit
  • Hadley Behaving Sadly
  • Polyamory Paris Style
  • The Lost Generation
  • Left Bank Literati
  • Polarity: Public Perception Versus Private Persona
  • Bullfighting as Metaphor
  • Hemingway’s Work: Technical Considerations
  • Midnight in Paris


Publisher’s Page

Ms. McLain Speaks

NPR Review

NY Times Review

Relevant Reads

Paris Without End by Gioia Diliberto

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway: The Paris Years by Michael Reynolds

Parting Thoughts…

 I am looking forward to our final discussion of 2012, which is slated for December 17, and will feature Robin Oliveira’s novel My Name is Mary Sutter.  It’s the story of a strong woman during difficult days, tends toward graphic at times, and the faint of heart may want to sit this one out.  In any case, I am hoping for a platoon of brave readers to soldier on, as this is a fantastic work of fiction.  According to Amazon:

“Rich with historical detail-including cameo appearances by Abraham Lincoln and Dorothea Dix, among others-My Name Is Mary Sutter is certain to be recognized as one of the great novels about the Civil War.”

Oh yeah, did I mention the drawing for a signed first edition of the new James Howard Kunstler book – Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation?  All I can say, is that you got to be in it to win it!

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The Gettysburg Adress

Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.  Lasting just over two minutes, Lincoln’s call for human equality resonates in timeless fashion.  Despite its prominent place in U.S. history, both the speech itself, and the circumstances surrounding it are shrouded in mystery.  For example, did you know that there are numerous versions of the address, and no one is quite certain which one is the genuine article?  Or that Lincoln may have been suffering from Smallpox at the time?  In any case, the resources listed below are meant to flesh out reader understanding of this powerful polemic, by exploring both the circumstances and thought that informed its creation.

The Gettysburg Gospel by Gabor Boritt

“As a nation and as individuals, we return again and again to Abraham Lincoln and his stunning address — for a sense of unity, conscience, and meaning. No one has parsed those magnificent sentences or that remarkable man as well as Gabor Boritt.”
— Ken Burns

Lincoln at Gettysburg by Gary Wills

“Dazzling . . . Wills is at his best, and his best may be the best that has ever been written about the Gettysburg Address as literature. Boldly revisionist and intoxicatingly original.”
— Chicago Tribune

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A Magnificent Mind

Marie Curie was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867.  It was a repressive era, when women were not afforded equal academic or professional opportunities.  Despite such obstacles, her’s was a magnificent mind, not to be denied its due.  Radioactive by Lauren Redniss is a celebration of Ms. Curie’s extraordinary life.

But it’s more than that.  It’s a mutant memoir about star-crossed scientists.  It’s an experiment in form, borrowing from graphic novels and collage, making use of exotic printing protocols and esoteric fonts.  It’s way cool.  It’s pure print alchemy.  I’m not the only one glowing with enthusiasm for Radioactive.  According to author Malcom Gladwell:

“Radioactive is quite unlike any book I have ever read—part history, part love story, part art work and all parts sheer imaginative genius.”

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