Today is New Year's Day at our house. We celebrated New Year's Eve yesterday with Isabella and the urban planner. What with holidays having been moved around lately at the will of the US government and midnight being a matter of where you are and the calendar being an arbitrary human construct anyway, we decided that we could celebrate whenever we liked.
So we celebrated a day early on a weekend, which is more convenient for us, and we declared Greenwich Mean Time as official. At midnight (4 PM Pacific Time) yesterday we blew on our noisemakers and wished one another a healthy and prosperous 2008. We would have toasted but we had drunk all the wine in the earlier festivities. Everybody was home and in bed by 6 AM GMT (10 PM PT.)
That makes today New Year's Day at our house. In the old southern tradition I always make hoppin' John on New Year's Day. I need to find me a ham hock pronto.
A librarian friend told me last Sunday about Brian Selznick's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I immediately requested it from the library.
The book is intended for children in grades 4 to 9, so I was startled to discover that it's 533 pages long. A bit thick for your typical 9 year old. But I found that the thickness comes from the intriguing use of many detailed charcoal drawings along with the text, with an occasional movie still thrown in.
In 1931 Hugo Cabret lives in a tiny room behind the air ducts of a Paris railroad station. He repairs the station clocks and in his spare time he tries to recreate an automaton that his father, a clockmaker, found in the attic of a museum. Hugo runs into trouble when he tries to steal a mechanical mouse from a mysterious toy shop owner.
He meets the toy store owner's god-daughter who is fascinated with photography and with her he sneaks into a movie theater to watch a film. And he continues to work on his mechanical man. The second half of the story moves on to the early history of French film.
This is a story with hidden identities, secret messages, and the fundamental mystery of the automaton. The alternating text and pictures move the story quickly along. I am stunned at the creativity of Selznick's conception -- a blending of a conventional book with a graphic novel. The book is unlike anything I've ever seen and it's superb.
I've begun reading books from the Mock Newbery lists that libraries and bookstores create every year at this time.
The first book I read is The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis, a book for children aged 8 and up.
Born just after World War II, Sis was raised in Communist-controlled Cold-War Czechoslovakia, being indoctrinated at the state school, joining the Commnist youth organization, and not thinking much about the way the world around him worked. He spent his time and creative energy drawing.
The book shows some of the things Sis drew as a small child and then as a young man. There are brief quotes from his journal. He tells us what life was like in his country. Slowly over the years Western culture filtered through to Prague and he learned about blue jeans and the Beatles and rock music. He realized there were many things that the Czech people weren't being told by the government.
Sis devoted himself to his drawing. He grew increasingly skilled and eventually had a chance to travel in the West. He was in London when the Prague Spring, as the easing of Communist control was called, came to a sudden halt as the Russians sent tanks into Czechoslovakia and again the iron curtain rang down.
I was excited about this book and about to declare it, a bit prematurely, my choice for the medal. But then I picked up another book, and suddenly my perspective changed. More about that tomorrow.
Few are altogether deaf to the preaching of pine trees. Their sermons on the mountains go to our hearts; and if people in general could be got into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish. -John Muir
A move to the inland west from the east coast is among other things a move to a to a semi-arid place where people are constantly searching for water. The east is a place where the problem is getting rid of it.
That water is the key to what would happen in our world if human beings were to disappear suddenly from the earth. If you want to get rid of a barn, says a farmer, cut an 18-inch square in the roof. A decade later the barn will be a pile of decaying rubble.
It might seem that a city such as Manhattan would be more sturdy than a wooden barn, but "water's retaliation for being squished under all that city cement" would take its toll there as well. Acid rain, pathogens, the alanthus tree (an aggressive non-native invader), fire, freezing and thawing, and other elements of nature would join water to do much of the work of razing New York City.
An unintended example of this process in the city can be found in an abandoned LIRR track that has become a garden of crocus, Queen Anne's lace, and other flowers and its beauty has led to its being officially designated a park called The High Line.
I'm "reading" the audio book of Alan Weisman's wonderfully shocking and frightening book, The World Without Us. The waiting list at the library for the paper book is so long that on a whim I requested the book on CDs. That was a good move. I love to be read to and a charming man named Adam Grupper is reading this book to me this morning What a treat!
When Mr Grupper finishes Weisman's book, a fellow named Holter Graham will be reading me David Michaelis' Schulz and Peanuts I'm going to go looking for more books on CD. This is a perfect way to read while knitting!