Monday, August 23, 2010

for your reading pleasure

Reading with Olivia has been a lot of fun this summer. I could listen to her reading Hop On Pop all day long, her laughing after every reading of, "NO! PAT! NO! Don't sit on that!" And though she loves her new skill, she still prefers us on the couch reading to her. Much like a conversation between Olivia the pig and her mother, our version goes something like this:

"Only one book tonight, Olivia."






"Oh, alright, two."

Four favorites of late:
I shared our love for Underwood's Quiet Book a few months ago, and she's charmed us again with this one. Isabel the porcupine wants to get a balloon for class graduation, just like everyone else in her class, but because of the quills, she and her porcupine friend Walter have to settle for bookmarks. My absolute favorite passage:

Isabel gazed out the window. "Sally told me that when you first get it, a balloon can bounce
on the ceiling. If you pull the string and then let go, it makes a soft, thumpy sound," she said.

"I heard that after a few days, a balloon floats halfway between the ceiling and the floor," said
Walter. "It just hangs there like a ghost."

Isabel's determination to figure out a way to solve the problem is inspiring, and it very much reminds me of a couple of other strong-willed girls I know quite well.

Salma and Lily are best friends who do everything together, but they let their different tastes in sandwiches drive a wedge into their friendship. What started as confusion and hurt feelings turns into anger. This is a great book about celebrating our differences, and it took me back to a high school lunch period when hummus first entered my world through the coaxing of my friend Amy.

Olivia took to this one immediately. I think it spoke to her anxiety about the start of kindergarten (tomorrow!). Willow has a lot she wants to say, but she hasn't yet found her voice, and so she's often misunderstood. Who among us can't relate to that? She seems to gain the necessary strength from a tender moment with her father at bedtime:

But Dad was an expert at hearing Willow's whispers. He never said "What?" or "Pardon?" or
"Who?" He just wrapped Willow tight in a big bear hug and whispered right back...

This one came across our path this summer just as Olivia's own interest in drawing was taking off. Bridget is "drawn to drawing," but only if she's wearing her beret. When her beret gets lost, she experiences artist's block, but ultimately the artist within triumphs. I really liked Lichtenheld's short sidebar with suggestions to cure artist's block:

1. Make up a funny animal
2. Draw people with funny hair
3. Draw something REALLY BIG!
4. Make a scribble, then turn it into something.

These were all found at our local library. Perhaps they'd be at yours, too. If you've come across a favorite, please share.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

... but I digress

"Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; -- they are the life, the soul of reading."
-Tristam Shandy

I've recently learned that the use of the timeline as we know it is just a little over 250 years old. Apparently, until the mid 18th century, chronologists (one whose name happened to be Joannes Temporarius!) had used tables, charts and matrices of varying forms to convey the passing of time with a visual image, but were admittedly stumped as to how to create a "common visual vocabulary for time maps."

And just as a fellow named Joseph Priestley and his chronologist buddies were playing around with the idea of the timeline, Laurence Sterne was publishing his satirical novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentlemen, in which Tristam, the main character digresses throughout his entire narration. In Sterne's novel, Tristam offers this wonderful diagram, similar to a timeline, to illustrate his pattern of digression.

My brother Joel, the best and most effective digressor I know, will arrive here tomorrow for a weekend visit. I've always held that my passing the World and U.S. History portion of the PRAXIS test had more to do with my regular exposure to his offshoots in conversation than any formal history instruction I ever received. The content of his digressions is always worth hearing, and I'm looking forward to a weekend filled with them. His late birthday present from me will be Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline, by Daniel Rosenburg and Anthony Grafton. In our family, we have the habit of enjoying the presents we choose before actually giving them to the recipient, and I've been enjoying this one immensely. Here are a few of my favorite images from the book:

Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg's Chronographie universelle. He referred to it as a "time machine." It actually folds up.

Emma Willard's Temple of Time.

The Long Now Foundation's comparative time scale of the concept of the long now.

In the "nowadays" it's become increasingly difficult to work out schedules and find time for trips to see loved ones, and living so far from those who know me best, I am very happy that my brother is coming to visit with us here, and "now."

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Evolution of the Signs of Friendship

In the beginning (early 80's) were friendship beads. The less sense they made, the better.

Then came the friendship bracelets. Actually, they came before the beads, but I didn't really know about them until my friends and I were old enough to master the art of making them. They were handmade and took a lot of time, the level of difficulty in the pattern conveying the depth of the friendship. To honor the hard work of it's maker, the recipient was expected to wear it until it fell off naturally, and even then, it was usually displayed on an overcrowded bulletin board in the recipient's bedroom.

And now we have the aptly named "silly bands." No labor required, except perhaps to untangle them. I'm not sure what this suggests about the quality of young friendships these days, but I think Lewis Hyde would have a thing or two to say on this subject.

Yesterday at the pool, Olivia gave away two and came back with three, one of which broke before the end of the day. And today I'm not sure that she'd be able to tell me the names of any of the children involved in the exchange. They're cute, but I think it's time to pull out the beads and the yarn.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Berry

"There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say 'It is yet more difficult than you thought.' This is the muse of form.
It may be, then, that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings" (96, 97).

- Wendell Berry, "Poetry in Marriage," Standing By Words