Archive for January, 2008

Family portraits and the like

Thursday, 31 January 2008

34. Dogs by Catherine Johnson

There wasn’t so much reading with this book, but it’s a lot of fun. This collection is really a study of the dog as friend and family member as expressed in (all black and white) photographic portraits and snapshots from the first half of the 20th century. They are arranged thematically to a certain extent, with the informal change of theme signified by a new quote about the relationships between people and their best friends. I especially liked the quote that said something like “Every puppy should have a boy,” but unfortunately I forgot to note down who said it.

35. The Essential Edward Hopper by Justin Spring

I have actually read at least part of this book before, as my father gave it to me a few years ago, after he visited a major Hopper exhibition in London, but I think I may have got more out of it. I’m a lot better informed about art now, because of work, than I ever used to be, and I’m appreciating the knowledge. I really should get to some of the galleries more often than I do. I’m spoilt for choice here, after all.

I don’t remember all the information about Hopper’s relationship with his wife Jo, so I can’t have read that far into the book before. It constantly reiterated that she was his only female model from the time of their marriage, and that she felt her art was overlooked in favour of his, but then didn’t actually show us any of her painting either! The reproductions of the paintings discussed are small, because of the format of the book, but I think they are big enough to give the sense of what is being discussed.

Telling Tales

Thursday, 31 January 2008

33. Singing for Mrs Pettigrew: a story-maker’s journey by Michael Morpurgo

I haven’t read as much Morpurgo as I’d like, especially after reading this self-annotated anthology/memoir of his writing. I cried several times at his stories (and doing so made me forget a small bit of physical pain) and got a real sense of the author, man and boy. While it could easily be dipped into, this is certainly an anthology that rewards being read cover to cover.

Suffering holes altruistically

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

This evening saw my first really easily successful platelets donation in quite awhile, from arriving on time (no big traffic jams on the way home from work!) to accidentally passing the (stricter) male finger-prick iron test (my donor carer put the first drop in the wrong tube, so we had to repeat it in the right one) to the needle going straight into the vein with no fiddling about (both the nurse – one of only two there who will still attempt my vein – and I were happily surprised) to the donation going straight through with no pulling. The way, in fact, it goes for the vast majority of people every time.

There are lots of YouTube videos about platelets donation, but this one, while American-focussed, explains what the different blood components are and why they are wanted separately.

While I was there I pretty much finished my next book (I got right to the end on the way home afterwards).

32. Kaleidoscope by E. Toker

It’s not too badly written, although it suffers from a common malady of novels serialised in the Jewish weeklies: trying to tell at least two completely separate stories side by side, even though the original readership is having to take months over reading it. I really don’t get why so many of them have to do this. Surely this fashion should have had its day by now. Yes the tales will be brought together at the end, but in the meantime the poor readers have to try to remember multiple stories over months, for no excellent reason that I can see.

I could pick plot and research holes, but apart from a repeated reliance on unlikely coincidences of time and place they aren’t too bad. (Unlikely as much because for consistency some of them should have happened far far earlier as not at all.)

A Greater Pleasure

Monday, 28 January 2008

31. No Greater Treasure : Stories of Extraordinary Women Drawn from the Talmud and Midrash by Shoshana Lepon

This is a great book, fleshing out stories of women from (as stated in the subtitle) the Talmud and Midrash. It doesn’t claim to be doing anything it isn’t, or that its embellishments are THE way things must have happened, but it brings its sources and some likely characterisations from the original sparse texts. I had come across all of the stories before, bar one, but they are, of course, all well-worth revisiting, and inspirational.

Looking right

Sunday, 27 January 2008

I’ve got a good bit done on the FrouFrou over the past few days, so it is just possible I’ll get it finished by the birthday it’s for. If the yarn lasts out.

What I have might do the whole thing, or it might do all but the edgings, or it might not even do that; I really amn’t very good at estimating these things. I’m hoping I’m going to be able to get more the same, but amn’t sure when I should start buying. I don’t want a big gap in time, but I don’t want loads of this stuff over either. One day I’ll work it out.

(The sleeve to the right is the same size as the other, by the way, it’s just lying over the back of the sofa.)

It might just be time…

Sunday, 27 January 2008

My brother asked me awhile ago to write about computer games, and since I’ve just found out about another fun free (educational!) web game, I thought it was about time. The new one is a speed test of your knowledge of world places, and I need to practise, or learn some more, as I got to level six the first time and level five the second, but I hear of people getting to levels eleven and twelve, so clearly I have lots of space to progress.

In a similarly educational vein, but with the added benefit of donating rice to the World Food Program (through the modest adverts at the bottom of the screen is FreeRice. I’ve mostly given up on that now that I know I can get to level 50 (just did it now with only two errors holding me back along the way) but the words are good, as are most of the definitions/synonyms that come up. (I will argue that ‘pedantic’ in no way means the same thing as ‘bookish’ however, which was one of my ‘errors’ today.) The idea is to test and increase one’s vocabulary, and one can donate just as much cycling between levels 5-8 as between levels 45-48, so anyone who knows any English at all can learn from it. At the upper levels I’m often guessing at the multiple-choice answer based on my knowledge of parts of speech and probable derivations, meaning I might still might not get the exact connotation were I to come across the word in context, but then that would help in and of itself, of course.

For the sole benefit of relaxation (although there are some educational games there) I do have a Neopets account, although I don’t use it much these days (crocheting, Ravelry and blogging take up that function and time).

As for other types of computer games, I haven’t regularly played those for some years. One of the first things I do on taking possession of a computer is to disable the built-in games, because they are too easy time-wasters, unfortunately. (Which does mean I have played and enjoyed them in the past.) I have largely missed the cross-over of installed and online games, as I played the former before internet access became cheap and widespread enough for that interaction to be common.

I liked Tetris, and its offshoot Welltris quite a lot (and got very good at the former), and it’s puzzles or tests of knowledge that I generally prefer. I was never that good at SimCity, nor at Phantasmagoria, which I was given when it came out but probably would never have chosen. Thankfully I never got far enough into it to come across the horrific bits.

And that’s all I can remember right now. I’ll have to ask my brother to remind me of any others he can think of.

Extra Information

Friday, 25 January 2008

Thanks to one of my colleagues, I have further information on Jan Steen‘s The Christening Feast (here listed as Celebrating the Birth. Apparently the Wallace Collection Live website will work now/at home (it wouldn’t when we looked a few days ago from work). The commentary there agrees with what I thought, which is that the woman stirring the pot is one of the maids. It doesn’t say which woman it considers to be the mother. While I can quite see why some of the other details would be extraneous in a children’s book I still don’t understand why such an interpretation was put there in the first place!

Today was busy, but less hectic than yesterday at work, so I actually got to finish another of the books I’ve been needing to read there. (It’s taken me a few days, despite being relatively short.)

30. Great Rivers of the World: The Rhine by Tony Allan

It discusses the history and geography of the riverside populations over thousands (but mostly hundreds) of years, as well as looking at the forces affecting the river itself (including river traffic, damming and pollution. I don’t know how many people would read it cover to cover, but it’s interesting that way and would be easy to dip into as well. I haven’t looked much at the rest of the series yet, but they look good too. I am surprised the Danube wasn’t among the rivers chosen.

Doing things for other people

Thursday, 24 January 2008

I didn’t really get any of what I wanted to finish at work done today (although there were some successes nonetheless), because I had people coming to ask me to do or find things for them every few minutes all day. I spoke to my line manager at the end of the day about setting firmer boundaries of appropriate times and requests so that I can get the strategic things done, as well as responding to immediate needs and desires, so it should be better in future. (I didn’t even get a drink of water till 1:30pm.)

And then when I got home (after shopping for Shabbos) I proof-read something for my house-mate. Which I don’t mind at all, and had freely and eagerly offered to do, and otherwise I’d probably have been making her FrouFrou, so it works out. (I enjoy proof-reading too.)

But it didn’t lead to productiveness in either of the areas I normally write here about.

Artful Progress

Thursday, 24 January 2008

I do believe I’m halfway through the FrouFrou! I can’t be exactly sure how long the edgings or sewing up will take of course, but I got lots done at the knitting group tonight, which is good, as I’m in the ‘boring bit’ (32 long rows with no increases or decreases or anything) so distraction and encouragement are all beneficial. (It would be far worse if my housemate were larger – more longer rows! I’d probably do it anyway, though.)

I’m just under halfway through the yarn I’ve got, so it looks like it will be enough after all. I may have to unravel some of the swatches for their yarn, but that would be okay. The Amelie doesn’t much like being frogged, but seems to cope with it fine. I’ll try to post another picture tomorrow, since there has been an appreciable difference since the last one.

I read three different art books at work today, which were all pretty good, and very different from each other.

27. The Art Book for Children: Book 2 by Amanda Renshaw

This volume follows the layout of the first Art Book for Children, with the same quality as the rest of the Art Book series. My one qualm is that I found at least one interpretation, or at least the argument given for it, rather unconvincing. No-one would deny that Amanda Renshaw and her team know far more about art than I ever will, so I’ll presume there are more pertinent details I don’t know how to interpret, but I’d hate to think that the readership of this book are being given sloppy reasoning.

The painting was Jan Steen‘s The Christening Feast and the question, which of the many women in the painting is meant to be the mother of the infant? The father is assumed to be the only man in the picture, who is holding up the baby.

The book says the woman on the right gesturing expansively from the cooking pot must be the hostess and therefore the mother.

However, considering this woman seems to me to be dressed more like one of the servants on the far right, I personally wouldn’t have thought that. I might have taken her for a wet-nurse. The father and the women seated around the table all look rather better dressed. My own assumption on studying the picture would be that the mother is one of the two women to the left who are being cosseted, although the seated one does still look pregnant. It could be the one in bed.

One of my colleagues at work thought it might be the standing unbonneted woman with her back to the viewer, because she is dressed in the same red as the baby.

28. Seashells by Josie Iselin (photographs) and Sandy Carlson (text)

This is a beautiful book in both its photographs and layout. It’s concise-but-very-clear descriptions of the shells were most interesting.

29. Artists in Their World: Salvador Dali by Robert Anderson

It’s very descriptive of the artist and his influences, without mud-raking.

Back to the Books

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

25. Frida Kahlo: The Artist Who Painted Herself by Margaret Frith

While this short biography of Frida Kahlo is aimed at primary school children it has enough interest and information to give an overview to older children and adults. It’s written as if reproducing a report on the artist by a little American girl called Frieda, but doesn’t quite cloy. It’s beautifully illustrated with reproductions of paintings by Kahlo and cartoons of little Frieda.

26. A Place in History: The White House by Karen Price Hessell

I actually really like how this volume mixes the history of the building itself with the stories of the presidents and their families who lived there and some of the major events during their ‘administrations’. I’m looking forward to reading some of the others in the series if they’re this good. It only mentions the initial architects, and then the Presidents and First Ladies who had further work done – not the architects and surveyors who did the later work. (I sought in vain for B. Henry Latrobe.)

It really is too dark still to do complicated crochet stitches in the car on the way home, unfortunately. Hopefully I’ll get some good work done tonight.