Monday, September 29, 2008

Heebie Jeebie Alert

We live in the country. I've always known that on some level, but it really became clear this weekend. The professor had been out doing some yard work when he came barreling in the back door, rushed to the study, then headed outside again with camera in hand. I was doing laundry, thusly it didn't take much to distract me from that tedious chore and follow him out the door, intensely curious. I knew one of his hobbies was taking nature photos - hummingbirds, interesting flowers, creepy insects, bizarre cloud formations - so I assumed he'd found something curious to photograph.

I should've stayed in the house. Because now I'm afraid to venture into the yard for fear I'll tumble into something like THIS:

Now I know, for-sure-without-a-doubt, that We. Live. In. The. Country. And I also know without a doubt that pure evil exists, and it takes the form of arachnids with skull-like yellow markings on its seemingly armoured abdomen. The web itself was beautiful, perfectly formed and about four feet across. And there's the real problem. It was spanning two trees. In a place where I sometimes walk. AAaaarrrrrrrgggggghhhhhh.

Now, here's the real question... what kind of spider is it? I have no clue. We couldn't find it in the library's Spiders and Insects book. I am positively convinced of its poisonous lethality, razor sharp pincers, and affinity for humans as an after-dinner delicacy. (That cricket in its web was just for show, I am sure.) So if you know what it is, let me know. And then I can have those warning and caution signs printed for our back gate!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

50 Greatest Villains in Literature

You just never know what you're going to find when you walk out the door in the morning. Or as Bilbo Baggins once said, "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Metaphorically speaking (of course) that can be applied to a few minutes of internet browsing combined with a hefty dose of serendipity. Today, while doing something completely different, I landed on an article that made my literature-major-antennae perk up and take notice.

The Telegraph (A London paper) got a few literary critics together and compiled a list of the 50 Greatest Villains in Literature. The article begins:

Compiling a list of the 50 Greatest Villains in Literature, without too much recourse to comics and children's books, proved trickier than we'd imagined - but gosh it was fun.

It's perhaps the nature of grown-up literature that it doesn't all that often have villains, in the sense of coal-black embodiments of the principle of evil. And even when it does, it's not always so easy to tell who they are. Is God the baddie, or Satan?Ahab, or the white whale?

Yet even writers as subtle as Vladimir Nabokov have spiced their work with a fiend or two. And here they are. We hope you'll furnish a few more we missed. These are the best of the worst: bloodsuckers, pederasts, cannibals, Old Etonians...the dastardliest dastards ever to have lashed damsel to track and waited for a through train.

So check it out. See where villains like Voldemort, the White Witch, Iago, Milton's Satan, Moriarty, and Sauron fall in the grand scheme of things. I'm still considering who I think was seriously overlooked. Certainly some Stephen King bad guys are missing - Randall Flagg and Annie Wilkes, and non-human characters like Cujo (who probably contributed to my deep-seated fear of large dogs!).

And the authors bring up a good question. Why is it that adult literature often has really distorted villains, such that we are never really sure they're a bad guy at all? And kids' books just nail it - you know exactly who the villain is and you rejoice in his ultimate downfall. Indeed, because you KNOW he's the villain you know, just KNOW, he will never triumph in his nefarious plans. Is it because the books for children have, as part of their structure, "life lessons" in the form of good guys and bad guys? With the implicit (or explicit) encouragement to be like the ones wearing white? And if so, is that really the ultimate purpose of literature? Should a book be read as an example of good and evil, a teaching tool for right belief, a way to discern and build upon a particular worldview?

Or, on the other hand, is literature simply a way to build upon more prosaic endeavours - the more you read the more you learn about good writing, the more you learn about good writing the better you write, the better you write, the better a student you become and so on and so on. The characters are interesting because if they weren't no one would read and ... well, you get the idea. (I'm not saying I have an answer here - it's an honest question.)

Well, I suppose I do have an ulterior motive, if not any kind of answer. The philospher is working on a book about classical education, and we've been having conversations about whether or not literature should be included as part of the trivium. And if it should be included... why? This summer we spent a large part of a West Virginia vacation with our favorite biologist debating this very question. We were talking about higher education, but the question applies equally well, I think, to juvenile literature. The philosopher managed to shoot down both of the theories I mentioned above, using his well-trained philosophic craft and deep understanding of the underlying issues. If I had a brain for that kind of thing I'd happily relate his conclusions, but I only vaguely understood him then and now that several months have passed the rhetoric is even more muddled in my mind. He tells me that he's come up with an excellent argument for the inclusion of literature in the classical trivium now, but I have yet to hear his exposition on that particular case.

So anyway, what do y'all think? Did you see any glaring holes in the villains list? And if you're so inclined to stretch your brain along the lines of my other train of thought, do you think there's a good argument for including the study of literature in the trivium?

Monday, September 22, 2008

[Enter 1000 Words Here]

The professor, my dad, and I went to Florida this weekend. Friday night we stayed at a hotel in Marianna (a very non-descript, hotel-at-an-interstate-exit sort of place). We drove over to Tallahassee Saturday morning. The professor headed for FSU's Strozier library, where he planned to spend the entire day working on his book about "the philosophic life and classical education" (the newest subtitle for his cranky book about philosophy).

My dad and I, on the other hand, headed down to St. Marks Lighthouse. It was absolutely stunning. It's right on the gulf at the headwaters of the St. Marks River, and offers a beautiful panorama of marsh, bayou, and coastline. As I stood looking out at this desolate landscape, I was in awe of God's creation. It is desolate at first glance, but as you stand quietly and watch, you see the grasses and palmettos blowing in the breeze, and then you start to notice the wildlife moving about - dozens of species of birds, and even a gator or two. The area is also a national wildlife preserve, and serves as a roost for over 250 species of birds. I wish I'd brought my binoculars, because we saw - I think - an ibis, a snowy egret, and a blue heron. There were many others, but they moved to fast to identify. Water birds are easy, because, well, they stand still near the water's edge for long periods of time!

As an aside, I won't really talk about the swarms of love bugs. There were so many at the lighthouse proper that dad and I only stayed a few minutes. They would land by the dozens all over your back and legs. If you stamped your feet they would fly about six inches away and land again. And our new car was positively covered in the things by the time we got back home. EEEEW.

Afer our jaunt to the coast, we headed back to Tallahassee for the REAL reason for our Florida Vacation. Dad and I had tickets to the FSU/Wake Forest football game. I won't go into detail. Dad's comment? "Wake wanted to lose this game. FSU wanted to lose MORE!" Still, we had good seats and we got to see Chief Osceola with Renegade and the Marching Chiefs. So it wasn't a total loss. (OK, the GAME was a total loss, but the trip wasn't!)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Do you sense a disturbance in the Force?

Over in Switzerland yesterday, they cranked up the largest supercollider in the known universe (I say "known" universe, because who knows what the little green men in other universes have done thus far!) CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) has assured the world's population that it is perfectly safe - the galaxy has been doing this for "Billions and Billions" of years so no need to worry that we're doing it underground in Switzerland. The skeptics, on the other hand, started wailing about miniature, invisible black holes and other destructive anomalies (though you'd think they could come up with a better name than "strangelets") consuming the earth and destroying all matter in its matrix.

Well, I've read that story already. It's by Stephen King, called The Langoliers. I'm not thinking so much about the time travel aspects of the story, but it's the description of the Langoliers themselves that strike a common cord. And if you saw that BAD made-for-tv version of this some years ago, visually they looked like black masses with teeth eating the world. (Yikes - now I sound like the cult of Cuthulu!) So these fearful folk should come up with a better description, otherwise King could sue them for infringement on his intellectual property!

Anyway, I thought of something much more practical and of real concern.... did you sense a disturbance in the Force yesterday? Could these "strangelets" actually be midi-chlorians, destined to overwhelm the world and create uber-Jedi? >(As an aside, in the linked article, doesn't the image of the Kennewick Man look at lot like Patrick Stewart??) So that, I think, should be our real locus of worry. I can see it now. There's going to be a huge influx of uber-Sith and uber-Jedi, fighting for supremacy in Manhattan, and - like Predator vs. Alien - we unfortunate commoners will be caught in the middle! Aaaah!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Meet Sterling...

I don't often post "silly" stuff, but after almost nine years the philosopher and I have purchased an (almost) new car. It's not quite like a member of the family, but still, we're happy.

Since he'll be teaching over an hour away this spring, it made sense to downgrade the aqua-blue '95 Dodge Dakota pickup (aka "Bismarck") to "local use only" and get another commuter car. We drove the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corrolla and the Hyundai Elantra and the Mazda 3 (zoom zoom!), but ultimately we decided to get a brother of our 2000 Focus (named "Fuzzy") and bought a 2007 Ford Focus. (I must say, though, that the professor really liked the idea of getting a Mazda. My worry was that he would say "zoom zoom" every single time we got in, for the next ten years. And I'm just not sure I could've handled that.)

So meet "Sterling", my friends! He has some features that we've never had in a car before, like automatic locks and power windows... and Cruise Control. Wow. I drove Sterling to work for the first time today, and it was quite nice. May he serve us as well as his older brother. (And another aside... for some reason all our cars have had boy names. What does that say about us?? And I'm not even going there about the fact that we name our cars at all!)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pimp My Booktruck

The coolest comic about a library (OK, the *only* comic about a library) has a yearly contest called "Pimp My Booktruck." I have a really beat-up book cart here at my library. It could really use some ... unique ... detailing. But my creative juices are at a low ebb right now, so I thought I'd solicit some ideas from my friends, family, and other assorted blog visitors. You can visit the site linked above and see this year's entries so far, and can look at the winners from past years. I don't think I stand a chance against some of the carts I saw but, heck, it could be fun anyway!

Some key points:

It should be literary, in some vague form or fashion. It should be really funny. And it should remain family-friendly. I keep trying to come up with a "Helm's Deep" or a "Orthanc" or a "Monster Book of Monsters" cart, though it's entirely inconceivable to me how to pull something like that off. So above all, it should be do-able by a librarian working alone on ten-hour days. Who isn't really gifted in the area of arts and crafts (unless my graphics arts designer sister-in-law comes up for a weekend?) Most winners have been public or high school libraries. We in higher education should stand up and be noticed! Who's with me??!?