She plays o' the viol-de-gamboys, speaks three or four languages word for word without book, hath all the good gifts of nature, knows a hawk from a handsaw, and can see a church by daylight. The rest is subject to fancy.

Civil Disobedience, Bibliophile Style

As unemployment rises, municipal tax bases and city budgets fall. That’s meant scores of libraries closing all over the world. In 2009, Philadelphia announced that they were closing all branches of the Philadelphia Free Library. The news of the closing spread, largely via Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and the decision was rescinded. Other libraries haven’t been so lucky; there have been reductions in hours and services, staff, and book collections, all over.
This week in Stony Stratford, near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, library patrons responded to the announcement that the library would close as a cost-saving, patrons responded by borrowing the maximum number of books allowed, until all 16,000 volumes of the circulating collection were checked out.

The idea was initially suggested in jest by a patron as a civil protest. Emily Malleson from Friends of Stony Stratford Library (FOSSL) said that after consideration, she decided to put the idea on the FOSSL Facebook page.

It’s a novel method of civil protest, worth remembering. You can read more here.

War for the Oaks — Emma Bull

Bull, Emma.
War for the Oaks.
Orb Books, 2001.
ISBN: 978-0765300348

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bull_war_for_the_oaks“Urban fantasy” is relatively new as a fantasy sub-genre. Certainly my first exposure to urban fantasy was via the deserved popularity of the Borderlands shared universe. Borderlands
created a new genre space for heroic fantasy in an urban setting. Bull’s work is often cited as an example of “urban fantasy,” but in War for the Oaks she makes Minneapolis as full of wonder as Tír nan Og. War for the Oaks is about an otherworld intruder, a pooka who shape-shifts into a large black dog, and Eddi McCandry, a mortal musician who becomes an unwilling pawn in a fairy civil war.

Bull draws on fairy folklore throughout her novel, and uses it to create fully realized characters rather then mere types. Bull begins with a solid foundation of traditional fairy folklore and makes it new, in large part because she has interestingly real characters. Eddi McCandry isn’t another calque on Janet from the ballad of Tam Lin; she’s Eddi McCandry. And the Pooka isn’t exactly like anything or anyone else either. Bull has also captured the essence of Fey game-playing and ethics here, and all of it in fabulous dialog. This is a book that you really should read if you have any interest in contemporary fantasy at all, since it has very much helped shape the genre. Plus, it’s really really good.

Emma Bull and Will Shetterly have co-written War for the Oaks: The Screenplay. I keep hoping someday Bull will record all the songs.

Sunshine — Robin McKinley

McKinley, Robin.
Sunshine.
Berkley Trade, October 2008.
ISBN: 0425224015

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It’s not that any of the Others are really popular, or that it had only been the vampires against us during the Wars. But a big point about vampires is that they are the only ones that can’t hide what they are: let a little sunlight touch them and they burst into flames. Very final flames. Exposure and destruction in one neat package. Weres are only in danger once a month, and there are drugs that will hold the Change from happening. The drugs are illegal, but then so are coke and horse and hypes and rats’ brains and trippers. If you want the anti-Change drugs you can get them. (And most Weres do. Being a Were isn’t as bad as being a vampire, but it’s bad enough.) And a lot of demons look perfectly normal. Most demons have some funny habit or other but unless you live with one and catch it eating garden fertilizer or old combox components or growing scaly wings and floating six inches above the bed after it falls asleep, you’d never know. And some demons are pretty nice, although it’s not something you want to count on. (I’m talking about the Big Three, which everyone does, but “demon” is a pretty catch-all term really, and it can often turn out to mean what the law enforcement official on the other end of it wants it to mean at the time.)

Robin McKinley. Sunshine.

Cover of Robin McKinley's SunshineSunshine is a baker. Sunshine is a very good baker, locally known for her cinnamon rolls as big as your head.

She is also the only person known to have survived a vampire abduction, not to mention having escaped with the aid of another abduction victim, also a vampire. In the middle of the day.

So yes, Sunshine’s unusual. To those more familiar with McKinley’s juveniles, this isn’t a juvenile. This is not your standard vampire book. Sunshine is a fully realized character without being truly like anyone else. She’s no Buffy, no Sookie Stackhouse and no Anita Blake clone. She’s completely herself. That said, well, yes, this is an “urban vampire” novel, and yes, I suspect “Buffy, Vampire Slayer” was an influence, but so were Bram Stoker’s Dracula and “Beauty and the Beast.” In Sunshine McKinley has, again, taken old myths and reshaped them. The vampires, and Sunshine’s world, are different from other vampires and not-quite-this-universe worlds. In addition to McKinley’s gift for story and character, we have her flexible prose, which is fully exploited to give Sunshine her own voice. It’s an interesting voice, and a very real voice, though not always an easy one to listen to.

One of the things I love about Robin McKinley’s books is that I can count on her to surprise me, and she did with this book. I’ve read Sunshine twice, and am looking forward to a third reading. This may be my favorite of McKinley’s books, (so far) but I really wish she’d included recipes for some of Sunshine’s bakery creations. Especially the cinnamon rolls.

Turtle Cookies

Now that I have reached my “Golden Years”, I look back on the years of raising my three children and one of the things I remember as being very special is being in the kitchen with my girls. They were always in the kitchen with me when I made meals or did dishes or churned butter of made special things, like cookies and breads and desserts. They were my helpers from the time they were tall enough to stand on a chair and reach the cupboards. They learned their fractions and to read from recipes. One of my favorite things was cooking with the girls. It was just fun, but they were learning life skills.

I’d like to share this recipe with Moms with young children. More . . .

NYT Editorial on Medicare Costs

There will likely be no real solution until the American health care system moves away from unfettered fee-for-service payments that encourage doctors to perform unnecessary and costly tests and procedures and pays them instead for better management of a patient’s care over time.

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

The article notes that the assumptions behind the formula are based on health care in 1997, and are hampered by an overwhelming trust in the divine wisdom of physicians; the formula has no checks to limit the services doctors provided or distinguish between valuable and needless treatments. Individual doctors poor decisions affect the aggregate costs of everyone. Driven by natural greed, and by fear of making a mistake, there’s a tendency for some physicians to try everything, whether or not it’s medically appropriate.

Grilled Fresh Pacific Northwest Salmon

I admit that I’m really loving easy access to fresh, locally caught, salmon. At this time of year in particular, when it’s simple to buy a fillet or a couple of salmon steaks, and take them and a bottle of wine to a local park for grilling, it’s pretty hard not to love salmon. For those of you interesting in grilling your own fresh salmon in a simple, but delicious fashion, go read MacAllister Stone on do-it-yourself salmon grilling:

When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, I could not eat enough salmon to suit me, and at the time, salmon was extraordinarily reasonably-priced, in-season.

Salmon cooked outside, in the fresh Northwest air, on a charcoal grill has to be one of the finest culinary experiences available, anytime, anywhere. If you’ve been in the Pacific Northwest for any amount of time, you’ll already be familiar with the popularity of good local fresh “salmon bbq”—it took me a little while to realize that doesn’t actually mean salmon smothered in a tangy catsup-based sauce; rather, barbecued salmon is simply salmon cooked on a barbecue grill. The best part of that, of course, is that there’s no need to wait for a special occasion. Salmon is healthy, delicious, and remarkably easy to prepare.

Read more here.

Pompeii and Herculaneum: Abandoned to the Ravages of Time

Peter Popham of Prospect Magazine asks:

Pompeii and Herculaneum have been listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites since 1997. So why isn’t the world’s culture policeman keeping the world’s most important Roman sites in order?

Popham details the rapid decay of two of the richest and most important archaeological sites in Italy—including the virtual abandonment by the Italian government, and the efforts of a millionaire donor to make the sorts of structural repairs that forty years of neglect—and two million tourists a year—mean to an ancient site. Less than half of the 70 or so excavated buildings are open to tourists, or even safe to enter, since they are in advanced stages of decay.

Whedon, Rimbaud, and Cicero: Introduction to the Angel Rewatch

The central question informing the character of Angel is asked during season 3, first in the episode “Amends.” Angel’s been having really bad dreams. Except they’re also teh sexy and over-the-top with all the blood and pain and dying and the—wait for it—decadence of Angel’s sordid past. So a suicidal and tormented Angel asks Buffy (BtVS, season three, “Amends”), “Am I a thing worth saving, huh? Am I a righteous man?

You can read MacAllister’s response in this introduction to a series of re-watching Joss Whedon’s Angel.

James Fallows: “If the TSA Were Running New York . . .

James Fallows at The Atlantic writes:

The point of terrorism is not to “destroy.” It is to terrify. And for eight and a half years now, the dominant federal government response to terrorist threats and attacks has been to magnify their harm by increasing a mood of fear and intimidation. That is the real case against the ludicrous “orange threat level” announcements we hear every three minutes at the airport. It’s not just that they’re pointless, uninformative, and insulting to our collective intelligence; it’s that their larger effect is to make people feel frightened rather than brave.

Read the rest here.