It's a good book, but it's not my Typee...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

R.I.P., Ishmael

Today my goldfish Ishmael died. He was one of three Moby Dick themed goldfish living in a tank in my living room. He started out the same size as Ahab, but was quickly outgrown by his tankmate. Moby, the tiny white fantail goldfish, was added later on and is now Ahab's only companion, which is quite fitting. What is not fitting is that Moby is about one fifth the size of Ahab. Who's got the upper fin now, eh?

Anyway, Ishmael started out orange and white, with a cute little pattern on one side that made him look sort of like a cow. Over the course of the year and a half I had him, he turned completely white (which threw off the concept that Moby was supposed to be the only white fish in the tank, but I can't blame him). He was nothing spectacular, but he will be missed. And I will always be glad I rescued him from the feeder fish tank at a local pet store.

So now, Ahab swims around, gobbling everything in sight. And Moby wiggles his little back end for all he's worth (a fantail goldfish's only means of locomotion, once again lessening his terrifyingness). But there's an empty space in the tank tonight. Maybe I'll add another fish sometime. I have always wanted to find a little goldfish with a black pattern on his face and name him Queequeg...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Advent of Childhood

Reading The Age of Comfort by Joan DeJean, I came across the fascinating fact that the concept of childhood as we know it today began in the eighteenth century and was part of the same movement that brought comfort and privacy to the home.

DeJean's book chronicles the development of comfort, starting with its origins in Paris. Before the "age of comfort", homes were designed to display and impress, not to give their residents any sense of privacy or comfortable living conditions.

When architects began to develop rooms specifically for the family, children began to get their own bedrooms, school rooms, and space to exercise. They no longer had to be sent away to boarding school at a young age to prevent them from spoiling the grand effect of the enormous, stuffy rooms that had dominated palatial homes in ages past. When children were given their own space, they became a real part of the family for the first time in French memory. These innovations spread from Paris to the rest of Europe and continue to influence the way we live today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Good Earth

Pearl Buck's The Good Earth is one of those books I seem to have avoided during my school years. It's either no longer used often in curricula or my particular school path (public school followed by home-schooling and then private school) simply meandered around it.

Wang Lung is a simple Chinese farmer who's greatest ambition is to marry, have sons and work his land. During the course of his life he achieves great success as defined by land ownership and wealth. As with many people of sub-par character, Wang Lung's success makes him forgetful of minor details, like his wife's damaged pride and failing health.

O-lan came to her husband from a wealthy household where she had been raised as a kitchen slave. Per his father's request, she is not beautiful. Wang Lung's father is afraid that if his son's wife is beautiful she won't be a good laborer and will have been spoiled (physically and temperamentally) by the attention of the young men in the household where she was raised.

O-lan is as plain as can be and her training in the great house makes her an ideal mate for a poor farmer. She is uncomplaining and hard-working, birthing her numerous children alone, quietly and with a minimum of fuss. Her householding skills impress Wang Lung and save the family on more than one occasion.

Clearly, Buck knows that women who have been oppressed and overlooked often develop greater inner resources than women who are lavished with gifts and attention. O-lan and her rival, Lotus, are at opposite ends of the spectrum. O-lan is a silent workhorse who reflects on her tragedies and triumphs while rarely revealing her inner thoughts, even to the man who shares her bed. Lotus is the whore we love to hate. She is petite and beautiful, with only enough inner depth to plot for her own gain.

Even though The Good Earth is Wang Lung's story, I find that O-lan stands out in my mind as the most astonishing character. There have been millions of women like her throughout time and around the world. She is a woman who is able to survive the worst and drag her family into better times, often through sacrifices her husband and children will barely notice or understand.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I just bought a bag of groceries for $1.27, but I think I could do even better. I like the Coupon Mom's website and through Goodreads I found she has a couple of books.

The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half