lunadelcorvo: (Books - never have too many)
1. Favourite childhood book?
Tough one, because I had so many, and they varied by age. When really small, I remember Santa Mouse best, but then it was the Hobbit, then Watership Down, then the Prydain series, and of course Nancy Drew and…..

2. What are you reading right now?
Well, quite a few. More's Utopia, Eliade's Sacred and Profane (teaching those), Inferno (again, teaching that in Spring), Machiavelli: A Biography (for fun) and Black Swan Rising for lighter fun.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
Amazingly, none at present!

4. Bad book habit?
Well, if it's something at all academic, I write in my books, like a LOT. I don't usually dog-ear, and treat them well otherwise. I do tend to keep them too long, especially inter-library loans.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Also nothing, but then the semester just started, and I already own the ones I end up teaching. I also have way too may I have yet to get to!Questions 6-55 (yes, 55) under the cut! )
lunadelcorvo: (Books - never have too many)
The BBC believes that the average person will only have read 6 of these books* - how many have you read? Put an 'x' next to those you have read.

Here's the list (sorry it's not cut, DW is eating everything inside my cut tags... :/

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (x)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (x)
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte ( )
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (x)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (x)
6 The Bible - (x)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte ( )
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (x)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (x)
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens ( )
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (x)
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy ()
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (x)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare ( )
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier ( )
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (x)
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk ( )
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (x)
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger ( )
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot ( )
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (x)
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (x)
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens ( )
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy ( )
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (x)
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh ( )
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky ( )
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (x)
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (x)
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (x)
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy ( )
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens ( )
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis ( )
34 Emma - Jane Austen ( )
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen (x)
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (x)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini - ( )
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres ( )
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden ( )
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (x)
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell (x)
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (x)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - ( )
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins ( )
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (x)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy ( )
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood (x)
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (x)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan ( )
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel ( )
52 Dune - Frank Herbert (x)
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons ( )
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen ( )
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth ( )
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon ( )
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (x)
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (x)
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon ( )
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez ( )
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (x)
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov ( )
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt ( )
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold ( )
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (x)
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac (x)
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy ( )
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding ( )
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie ( )
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (x)
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens ( )
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker (x)
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (x)
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson ()
75 Ulysses - James Joyce ( )
76 The Inferno - Dante (x)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome ( )
78 Germinal - Emile Zola ( )
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray ( )
80 Possession - AS Byatt ( )
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (x)
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell ( )
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker ( )
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro ( )
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert ( )
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry ( )
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White (x)
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom ( )
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (x)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton ( )
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad ( )
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery (x)
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks ()
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams (x)
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole(x)
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute ( )
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas (x)
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (x)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (x)
100 Perfume: The Story of a Murderer - Patrick Suskind ( )

I come out at 41, just under 7 times the BBC's estimate. How about you?

(*Clearly the BBC has a very dim view of it's audience.... What's really sad, is that it may not be wrong, and I suspect it's even worse in the US...)
lunadelcorvo: (Badass is in!)
And some of them are awesome! I got another class for fall, and the chair told me it was up to me if I wanted to just do another section of the same course, or, in his words "try something different." (That kind of trust and freedom is why I LOVE LOVE LOVE teaching at this university!) So I gave it some thought, and decided to try something completely new and different. Here's the 'official' course description:
Utopia/Dystopia
Literature is full of imagined worlds, some appealing, others terrifying. In this course we will survey Utopias and Dystopias from a variety of sources ranging from Greek myth to Thomas More’s Utopia, the plays of Henrik Ibsen to George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four. We will also look at selected examples of utopia/dystopia from popular film and television. The emphasis will be on critical reading of literature, and a thoughtful, unbiased cultural interpretation of utopian/dystopian fiction as revealing social commentary.

In terms of contemporary relevance and critical thinking, we will consider both what an ideal world might look like (and whether such a thing is possible) and what the dystopian visions we encounter tell us about our own fears and the dangers of the societies we hold dear.

In addition to extensive in-class discussion, and several short response or reflection essays, students will apply research skills, thesis selection and argument formation to the completion of a research paper. The research project will include the preparation of a proposal and presentation of their work to their classmates in addition to the final paper.
I haven't quite decided what sort of film/TV I will bring in yet, but I am thinking Blade Runner and The Matrix for film and Dollhouse and Firefly for TV are all top contenders. For Ibsen, I think I will do either A Doll House or Hedda Gabler together with The Master Builder.

The chair said it sounded wonderful, and I am really quite psyched - these are some of my favorite works, so I am totally jazzed to be teaching them! So yeah, sometimes, life is grand!
lunadelcorvo: (Summer Violets)
To all those moms out there, I hope you had a happy Mother's Day, and I hope you got even a fraction of the recognition you deserve! And to my mom: I miss you, and I feel your loss every day, but I'm doing well. I'm proud of what I'm doing lately, and I am proud of how much of that comes from you. I hope you are proud of me, and I know you're proud of your grandson. Peace.

Mother's Day was lovely - my two gentlemen took very good care of me! From the Niblet I got a book on home repairs (100 Things You Don't Need a Man For) and a keychain that looks like a grenade, but opens up into a screwdriver with 6 different bits. (Man, I have an awesome kid!) Hubby, not to be outdone (and in addition to financing Niblet's choices, after all), gave me a nifty novel and a really fascinating book on contemporary Christian martyrdom.... We also went out for desserts (chocolate chess pie with mocha chip ice cream, yum!) and the in-laws gave me a gorgeous rosebush for the house. (Now where to put it....)

Otherwise, I am Gardening Mamma! more garden related stuff under the fold )

For now, off to the garden center! Whee!
lunadelcorvo: (Manuscript in hand)

The Visconti Hours, National Library, Florence (Slipcase Edition)

by Millard Meiss


This is a gorgeous volume, not quite a facsimile edition, but a richly reproduced selection of plates from one of the most lavishly illustrated Books of Hours. There is a brief but very informative introduction, which presents not only the manuscript itself, but the background of the Visconti family. It is always good to know background, especially with Books of Hours, as they tended to be customized for their owners, but in this case, the background adds immeasurably to the experience of the illuminations.

The Visconti family employed one of my favorite coats of arms: a basilisk devouring a human child. Not only is this a delightful commentary of the rather ruthless nature of the Italian clans in the middle ages, it survives today, on the front of every Alfa Romeo ever made. So it is particularly interesting that the Viscontis, and this Visconti in particular, motivated by an intense desire to legitimize his position (not quite legitimately attained) as Duke, saw fit to plaster that very insignia all over his personal prayer book, making it rather like a game of ‘Where’s Waldo,” assuming of course, that Waldo is a suitable name for a child-devouring basilisk.

On a more serious note, however, the commentary which accompanies each plate makes this an excellent volume for the study of manuscript illumination, and of Books of Hours. If I have a quibble (and it is a minuscule one), it is that the metallic ink, intended to accent those areas which are embellished with gold leaf in the original, cannot begin to convey the glory to which it refers. I might almost prefer to have the unaccented image, lest the poor pigments available damn the original with faint praise. Then again, photographing gold leaf reliably is notoriously difficult, so perhaps the spot ink serves to clarify rather than dim, in which case, I am happy to have it.

In any case, this is a beautiful book, lovingly crafted with regard to both content and production. It’s a volume that should appeal to those with artistic as well as historic interest in medieval manuscripts.

lunadelcorvo: (Remain calm! I'm a Historian)
So I was out at the bookstore the other day, browsing the history shelves, when I found The Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom. Now one would think this would be right up my alley. So I grabbed it, ordered my mocha, and sat down in the cafe to look it over. (I am always suspicious of scholarly history I find in mainstream bookstores.)

On first look over I was impressed. Written by a professor of history at Washington University in St. Louis, published by Oxford University Press. Nice! Then I got to reading, and soon realized that even names like Oxford and Wash U are no guarantee of quality, or accuracy.

For those who may not be familiar with the Albigensian Crusade, it was a Crusade much like those to the Holy Land, but waged by Christians against Christians, albeit heretical Christians. It was preached (instigated) by Pope Innocent III as a desperate measure to address the growing problem of Cathar heresy in southern France. One of the principle strongholds of one particular variety of Catharism, the Albigenses, was centered, not surprisingly, in the city of Albi. While it was a long, bloody mess which raged from 1209-1229 and left southern France devastated, it was neither the first Crusade, nor (by a long shot) the first instance of sectarian violence in Christendom. It was due in large part to the utter disaster of the Albigensian Crusade that Pope Gregory IX created the Episcopal Inquisition (not at all like the Spanish Inquisition of which we hear so many horror stories) as a better method (better than war, to be sure!) of addressing the problem of heresy.

So, there you have the short version. This guy makes some extraordinary claims, however. Note, that I have not read the whole book, but I will share some of my favorite quotes:
  • The Cathars, according to this author, did not exist. "Everything about the Cathars, down to the name, is utter fantasy. (p. x)
  • Cathars, in the index, have a separate entry "Cathars, as historiographic fantasy" (p. 245)
  • "The town of Albi was never considered a heretical stronghold by the crusaders, and 'Albigensian' does not derive from it." (p. 117)
  • Only AFTER the war (10 years or more) were "Albigenses" implicated in it. (p. 171)
  • The Albigensian Crusade was responsible for the introduction of genocide into the west. (p. 189)
  • (my absolute favorite) "Anti-Semitism (rather, anti-Judaism) in the Middle Ages only occurred after the Albigensian Crusade" (p. 190)

No, no, a thousand times NO! OK, when he first says the Cathars didn't exist, he says it in terms of there not being a Cathar church with a similar structure as the Catholic church. Well, no, it wasn't *quite* like that, but it was damned close! Hell yes, the Cathars existed! Sure, there were political factors both leading up to and playing into the Crusade, but the whole business was still, at its heart, about the Cathars. And if "Albigenses" doesn't come from "Albi" where in heck does it come from, and can anyone explain the amazing coincidence that Albi was one of the towns that the Crusade was raised to regain?

And while I do appreciate the distinction between "anti-semitism" and "anti-Judaism," this bit about anti-Judaism not occurring before the Albigensian Crusades? WTF do you call the massacres of Jews in the First Crusade???? Or that of 1197, ten years before the Albigensian Crusade? Or any of the other dozen or so instances of anti-Judaism before then? Hello? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

I can appreciate daring scholarship, challenging long-held notions, and reexamining old sources with new eyes. But come on, folks. There is a point at which it becomes clear that the author is really just making stuff up! I mentioned this book as a cautionary point to a student who is working on the Cathars, and he made an interesting comment: "If I ever really need to make money, I will write a book on history that is so wrong, and so outrageous, that I know everyone will buy it, just so they can get angry with it."

I think he hit the nail on the head.

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Things I need to remember:
• Asking for help is not, as it turns out, fatal.
• Laughing is easier than pulling your hair out, and doesn't have the unfortunate side effect of making you look like a plague victim.
• Even the biggest tasks can be defeated if taken a bit at a time.
• I can write a paper the night before it's due, but the results are not all they could be.
• Be thorough, but focused.
• Trust yourself.
• Honesty, always.

Historians are the Cassandras of the Humanities

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