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Sassy, Fruit-Inspecting Gila Monsters March 12, 2012

Posted by nrlymrtl in The Grapes of Wrath.
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At the half-way mark for The Grapes of Wrath, I have found a few other points that click or make me go, huh?

Ma Joad is such a powerful character in this story. She keeps everyone going forward, but more than that, she keeps them decent. I don’t me clothed and tucked in, but acting charitable even when they have so little to give. At one point the family was considering breaking into two groups and she would have none of it. They don’t really have a final destination in mind, cell phones were non-existent, message services were really for the big cities; all that means they could very easily loose touch with one another if they were to part ways. Now Pa Tom Joad doesn’t like a woman saying what the family will and won’t do. It ain’t natural. Hmm…..So Ma Joad gets out a nice piece of metal, something I think of as an equalizer. Pa Joad gives up, calling her ‘sassy’. Through that entire exchange, I am eagerly waiting to finally hear what Ma Joad’s first name is. Do we ever learn it? Did I miss it? Why doesn’t she have a first name in the story?

Next up, the Gila Monster. I’m a desert rat and have a secret yearning to see one of these beauties just once in the wild. The preacher goes on about the Gila Monster, using it in a comparison of gripping and not letting go and eventually having to pry the jaws apart. I think it is a cool thing to include this reptile in the story, but I had to scratch my head a little. Gila Monsters are deep desert beasties. The Joads are from Oklahoma, outside the stomping ground of the Gila. I believe the preacher had not been west, so I have to chalk this Gila story up to author’s privilege.

As the family crosses into California from the desert of Arizona, they stop in Needles. I was born a short drive from Needles in Bullhead, AZ. My maternal grandfather lived in Needles, CA for years. His job was a vehicle inspector at one of the fruit and plant inspection points, just like the one described in the book (which was situated in Daggett, CA). Shortly after I was born, my grandfather found a stray dog in a parking lot and gave him to my mom, and he was named Daggett. Too funny. I have to wonder if my paternal migrant worker grandparents happened to pass through my maternal grandfather’s checkpoint on their way to California.


Spermaceti and Elephants March 10, 2012

Posted by nrlymrtl in Moby Dick.
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Tanuki, a little bored with Moby Dick.

At roughly 2/3rds of the way through Moby Dick, I have found a few more interesting things. Now I have the audio version and these whalers kept using the term ‘spermaceti‘ and I had to wikipedia it to figure out what they were talking about. Specifically there is this graphic scene where one of the whalers actually falls into the head of a slaughtered whale. He had been bailing out this precious spermaceti and his perch was quite slippery.

This no longer being a whaling age, by and large, I was not sure what us humans would do with spermaceti, nor why it would be worth so much effort and money. I can see what the whale was doing with it up to the point of it’s demise and I would vote to leave it in a live whale where it was doing some good. But this is not a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story. This is a historical classic. In short, in a live whale it is wax in the head cavity of sperm whales. Harvested by humans it was once used for pharmaceuticals, ointments, perfumes, and a few other things.

I was amused by the section where our narrator, Ishmael, compares elephants to whales in size. He found no other connection between the two. Genetics and evolutionary science has draw the lines between these two species for us since this book was published. Clikc HERE for more info.

One of the aspects I found interesting was how the whalers petted and played with females and baby whales (cubs?) while fellow whalers slaughtered a few of the larger whales on the edges of the group.

New Words: binnacle March 1, 2012

Posted by Elizabeth Campbell in Uncategorized.
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“Lighting the pipe at the binnacle lamp and planting the stool on the weather side of the deck, he sat and smoked.”
–from Moby Dick, (Chapter 30: The Pipe), Melville

bin·na·cle \ˈbi-ni-kəl\
: a housing for a ship’s compass and a lamp
Origin: alteration of Middle English bitakle, from Old Portuguese or Old Spanish; Old Portuguese bitácola & Old Spanish bitácula, from Latin habitaculum dwelling place, from habitare to inhabit — more at habitation.
First use: 1762

A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy March 1, 2012

Posted by Elizabeth Campbell in Uncategorized.
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March 2012 selection for YOBC: A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

Yes, I hear all you Literazzi sputtering your indegnation.

“Not a Classic”, indeed. Piffle, I say.

Sticks. Out of your ass. Take a load off and enjoy your March selection.

“But I already read this one!” whine, whine, read it again.

March Short Story selection: “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote“, Jorge Louis Borges

Half a Whale February 25, 2012

Posted by nrlymrtl in Moby Dick.
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I just passed the half-way mark in Moby Dick this morning while I made breakfast. I don’t think I would have gotten this far in this book without the audio version. That whole chapter on the color white probably would have been the end of the book for me if I had to put eyeballs to paper. Just saying.

Some interesting bits:

– At ~1/2 way through, the whalers finally kill a whale.

– Whale oil was once used for all sorts of things, like anointing kings and popes.

– Sometimes whalers would also harpoon porpoises. A good size porpoise will provide ~1 gallon of high-priced oil.

– The attitude that if an animal fights back (whale, tiger, bear, etc.), then it is malevolent. Really? Huh? Self-preservation doesn’t carry over to animals? This probably is the hardest cultural concept for me to accept. That all animals are put on earth for humans to use as we wish and they should, if not happily, at least with no fuss give up their lives when required.

So where are you and what have you found interesting?

Why the Title? February 23, 2012

Posted by nrlymrtl in The Grapes of Wrath.

I have wondered for many years why it was titled The Grapes of Wrath. Wrath denotes anger, futility, despair, and perhaps revenge. All that, in a purple or green, oval-shaped package. Yeah, right.

So besides that mystery, I had more personal reasons to delve into this story. My dad once said growing up for him was like The Grapes of Wrath. I asked what that meant. He said it meant I needed to read it. His family were migrant farmers that ended up, at least for a few years, in California, traveling out from the East – Tennessee, Mississippi. He was number 9 out of 10 kids. He didn’t have shoes until he was 13. I am the first in my family to have a degree. I am sure you have a picture of it now. And that is pretty much all I have.

That, and an great big hint to read The Grapes of Wrath.

I started this book this week, an audio version from the library. It starts a bit slow and then we get a dirty joke, involving the word ‘proboscis’, which takes us right into a vocabulary lesson. Well, hell, wasn’t expecting that. So far I have met a dude who just got out of prison for man-slaughter, a former-preacher who often laid with a lady after a particularly rousing sermon, and a very stubborn grey-ghost of a man.

This might be a better book than I had feared. And my family history might be more colorful than I had thought.

Modern Reference to a Classic February 18, 2012

Posted by nrlymrtl in Moby Dick.
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Heldig uses Tofu as a warm, kushy pillow every chance she gets.

OK, so you are wondering what this pic has to do with the Big Beautiful Classics that us Darkcargoites have decided to take on. And if you are not wondering, and really you only stop by to look at the cute cat pics, that’s OK too.

Two nights ago while reading this modern mystery set in Montana, there was a reference to Moby Dick. I was pleasantly surprised. And had I not been reading Moby Dick and known who Queequeg was, the reference would have been lost on me. Instead, I felt quite smart. +4 for Ego Boost.

Moby Dick Chapter 19 February 17, 2012

Posted by Elizabeth Campbell in Uncategorized.

How’s everyone getting along with Moby Dick?

A question to take with you as you read this book: It was condemned and ridiculed when it was published. Melville never wrote again. Why?

Here’s an interesting discussion in the Longman Critical Edition, edited by John Bryant and Haskell Springer.

Moby Dick was heavily edited and quite stunningly modified to suit the puritanical audience of the time. For example, in Ch 18, “His Mark”, Queequeg is getting signed on to the Pequod. Captain Bildad wants to see his papers and proof that he is a member of a local Christian Church. Ishmael argues that Queequeg is a member of the first Congregational Church (lowercase “f”) and Bildad can get stuffed. Cap Bildad is confused as he’s never seen Queequeg at the First Congregational Church (capital “F”). Captain Peleg is more tolerant than Bildad. He gets the reference here that Ishmael is trying to make: that Queequeg is a member of the “Church of HumanKind” and tells Bildad to calm down.

This very long passage, which takes up most of the chapter, was edited down to a mere

“Why,” said I, “he’s a member of the First Congregational Church;” and I entered upon a long rigmarole story, touching the conversion of Queequeg and concluded by saying that in the grand belief we all joined hands.”

Some important aspects of this revision:

  • In the original, Queequeg never changes his religion, he is never a convert to Christianity, as is proposed by the revised paragraph above.
  • In the original, Ishmael is both comical and irreverent, calling the Captains’ intolerance and exclusionary views onto the table.
  • Despite the resolution in the original, Captain Bildad still can’t be bothered to get Queequeg’s name right, calling him Quohog* (a type of clam)

I thought this was all interesting. Moving to these small towns in SW VA, I was confronted with this idea of social exclusion via local church. “Which Church do you go to?” is often the first question in an introductory social setting.

So, where are you at in M.D.?

*Yes, that’s the name of the town in Family Guy.

Down, Down, To the Bowels of the Earth February 15, 2012

Posted by nrlymrtl in Vintage Sci-Fi.
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Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne was one of January’s YOBC. While I couldn’t easily get my hands on the Tim Curry audio version mentioned on Darkcargo, my library still had a pretty decent verison by Chris Pebble. An added bonus was that Brendan Fraser’s face was on the cover. Alas, I have not yet seen the movie.

Pretty Rock from Journey to the Center of the Earth

This classic gets both my thumbs up. There was adventure and the unknown, plus cool Icelandic cipher, rocks and more rocks, plus fossils – living and dead. I’m glad YOBC kicked my butt into gear and got me to finally read some Jules Verne.

The Mastery of Conan February 8, 2012

Posted by nrlymrtl in Vintage Sci-Fi.
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In honor of Vintage SciFi Month, inspired by Little Red Reviewer, Lady Darkcargo picked the original Conan story, The Phoenix on the Sword, by Robert E. Howard. Personally, I think she also picked this to torture me. Some of you may remember that I openly admitted this to be a intimidating work for me during last year’s Explorer Challenge. And, No, I had not gotten around to it.

Reading Conan with my little lion, Tanuki

The original Conan and Kull stories by R. E. Howard inspired a whole sub-genre, Swords & Sorcery. And his works fit snugly in between WWI and WWII, right along with the other Darkcargo selections. R. E. Howard was a single child that spent most of his life in Texas growing up during the big oil boom. His father was a doctor and Howard grew up seeing all sorts of interesting oil field, country farm, and drunken brawl inflicted wounds stitched up on his kitchen table. His mom contracted tuberculosis and fought the illness for many years.  Robert Howard became interested in what we might call body-building today and boxing during his late teens. He started publishing his works in pulp magazines in his 20s; and not just Conan-type stories. There were also sailor stories, and the Solomon Kane series, and several short story romances, along with westerns. In 1936, his mother took a downward turn with her illness and fell into a terminal coma. Robert Howard, upon hearing this prognosis, took his own life at the age of 30.

Why is this lady smiling?

Some years ago I tried to read some Conan stories by some author other than R. E. Howard. My Main Man (M3) has been a Conan fan for a number of years. But I failed to get past the first chapter. It was just too freaking sexist for me. I want to be the one to wield the sword, defeat the monster, and rescue the guy or lady in distress (I’m not picky because I am not going to be expecting sexual favors in thanks). So every time I heard ‘Conan’, I rolled my eyes.

Lady Pirate with clothes & weapons, neither of which she has in the story.

Then the Explorer Challenge came around and I put it down, planning to weasel out of it. I mean, Lady Darkcargo is on the other side of the country from me, so her ability to torment me is limited. Then she had the gall to list a Conan story on the Vintage SciFi YOBC, and M3 was nearly jumping up and down in his excitement for me to FINALLY read some original R. E. Howard. Yes, I caved under all that loving pressure.

What are these ladies up to?

And unfortunately, I really, really enjoyed the first few Conan stories. The Phoenix on the Sword is an all-male cast, with great tight, descriptive writing, and a worthy plot. I was hooked. I zipped through several stories in my collection, enjoying each one (except maybe The Frostgiant’s Daughter) until I hit the Bimbo Stories. Each story in this collection is illustrated, which is cool. But for these Bimbo Stories, the ladies are often, though not always, drawn with more clothes than described in the text. I think that at this point in Howard’s life, he was writing to get paid and perhaps made some compromises. The women are always weak, in need of rescuing, want to bed Conan, and believe in a clothing-optional rule no matter locale or circumstances. The writing is still greatly descriptive and flows well. But the plot has gone to hell – becoming ludicrous and eventually very predictable. Sigh. Full-grown women are often referred to as ‘girl’ no matter their age or station in life. I find this extremely condescending. I mean, if I walked up to Conan and called him ‘boy’ all day, I would probably get my nose broken. If I start on the racial biases, this will be a really long post. There was one tale that I almost couldn’t finish because of the derogatory language towards folks who happen to have more melanin than a Texas white boy. You all get the point. Enough said.

I have learned some new vocabulary from reading R. E. Howard.

Food-related: drinking-jack, guzzled ale like a toper

Horse-related: spahis, caracole, curvet, gambades, shagreen

Armor-related: sollerets, jambes, pouldron, sallet, cuisses, brigadines, jupon, habergeon, burgonet, morion, Mostly a bunch of fancy words for ‘helmet’.

Everything else: menhir, murrain, guidon, mangonel, mantlet, teocallis, boma, angareb

Conan often runs around with minimal clothing. Nice.

With all that said, this has generated some discussion between M3 and myself. He adores Conan and was very happy that I enjoyed the first few stories so much. But these Bimbo Stories have created a different kind of discussion for us. Gender roles and expectations. We were both born in the 70s and grew up with Transformers and My Little Ponies, Wonder Woman, and Aqua Man, The A Team, and Care Bears. By and large, the men get the body armor and real weapons. The women get high heels, whip or lasso, and the indestructible bra. I’ll end with this funny video which captures very well my thoughts on the matter.

One woman’s frustration with finding quality armor