Archive for July, 2011

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme held over at The Story Siren.  I generally do my IMM posts (not that I’ve done too many, but still) on Sundays, but my dad, David and I are going to Cooperstown, NY tomorrow to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Red Sox fans for life), so I figured I’d do my post two hours early.  I got a pretty big haul today (went to the bookstore with my neighbor, who is working in NYC during the week and needed more books).  I made out pretty well!

Delirium by Lauren Oliver.  Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love — the deliria — blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.  But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

This was highly recommended to me by a friend on one of the message boards I’m on.  I’m looking forward to it!

Russian Winter, by Daphne Kalotay.  When she decides to auction her remarkable jewelry collection, Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Instead, the former ballerina finds herself overwhelmed by memories of her homeland and of the events, both glorious and heartbreaking, that changed the course of her life half a century ago. 

Another book that came recommended by one of the bloggers I follow.

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, both by J.K. Rowling.  I KNOW.  I don’t own either of these.  I own books 3 – 7, but the first two I didn’t have.  Not anymore!  Both were on sale, so I grabbed them.  Plus I’m trying to convince David that he wants to give Harry Potter a try.  I haven’t convinced him yet, unfortunately 😦 

But my favorite find came right at the end of our searching through the shelves.  It was the LAST one there, and certainly not something I had intended on picking up.  But at $8.99, I snatched it.  I’ve always wanted a copy of my own, and now I have it.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  OMG, such a good book.  Everyone’s seen the movie (well, everyone who was a kid in the 1980s at least), but I assure you: this is better than the movie.  You’re probably thinking that isn’t possible.  But it is.  Such a good book.  And in a surprising twist, this might be the book that David actually gives a decent shot to.  I told him how fantastic it is, and he LOVES the movie, soooo…

Just see.  I’ll convince him that reading is fun yet.  🙂

Have a good weekend!  Next post: hopefully pictures from Cooperstown.


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The Demise of Borders

Last week, bookselling giant Borders announced that they would be closing their remaining stores, forever.  
And that’s it.  The end.  Borders, Inc. is no more.  The remaining stock will be liquidated, the stores will be closed, the big red lights reading “BORDERS” will turn off forever (and probably be sold off, like the bookshelves and the furniture).  The only giants left in the bookselling world are Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble — tellingly, the two chains with the most popular e-readers (the Kindle and the Nook, respectively).  It is anyone’s guess whether or not Barnes&Noble will be able to survive as a brick-and-mortar institution, if they will completely go over to online retailing (a la Amazon), or if they too will slowly roll over into obscurity, bankruptcy, and ultimate liquidation.
I write to you as a longtime patron of Borders and Amazon, who never really felt a tear in the loyalties of either.  I bought my books from Borders, but I received a Kindle for Christmas from my husband and if I could find cheap books on Kindle, I would buy them.  Still, I loved seeing the Borders coupons in my email, and barely a week would go by before I would be in Borders at my local mall, buying something for 30 or 40% off.  I was never a Barnes&Noble fan, so the news that Borders would be closing, though I knew it to be inevitable, hit me pretty hard.
My best friend, Leni, was a bookseller at Borders for years until her store was closed in the mass culling this past March.  She wrote about her reaction to the final liquidation on her blog, The Girl Is In:
“As a former employee of the chain, with many friends still employed by the company, the news was devestating. While I understand why physical book stores are on the verge of extinction, as a writing student and book-lover, it is terrifying.” 
Several of my friends sent me text messages or FB messages about going to Borders to the final liquidation sale.  People talked about the fabled “40% off” books.  The idea of going to Borders and scouring the aisles for the cheap books seemed to me like the actions of a vulture picking at the dying carcass.  I said that I wouldn’t go on Friday, and I didn’t.  But on Sunday afternoon, boredom and curiosity got the best of me, and I got in my car and drove to my local mall.
The parking lot should have indicated what I was in for.  While the parking lot outside of the Borders store has always been about half-full, it was absolutely mobbed on Sunday afternoon, a mere two hours before the mall was scheduled to close.  I could see the bright red-and-yellow “EVERYTHING MUST GO” signs from my parking space towards the back of the lot.  
When I went into the store, I was greeted with mass chaos.  Books were falling off the shelves, spilling everywhere, some of them even on the floor.  The harried Borders booksellers couldn’t keep  up with the mess; some of them were even being accosted by patrons asking them “where the best deals were”.  There were boxes of “bargain books” (mostly old stock that really didn’t have a chance of being sold off otherwise.  Patrons walked through with armloads of books, looking more like looters at a riot.
I managed to squeeze my way into the fiction section; I had a mental list of the books that I’ve been thinking of reading and purchasing, and I thought that I would see if any of them were on sale.  Of course, everything in the store was on sale.  But the “sales” were deceptive.  The best books — the fiction, the biographies, the YA fiction, even the arts and crafts books — were all labeled “10% off”.  I must have looked as puzzled as I felt.  For a store that used to hand out coupons for 30 – 40% off, plus the occasional 25% off your entire purchase, 10% was really not that much at all.  And in its heyday, you didn’t even have to pay any money to get those weekly coupons.  You only had to have a Borders Rewards card — which was free if you went the basic route, and only $20 per year if you wanted the Rewards Plus (which included 40% off hardcover bestsellers and 10% off almost everything else in the store, any day).  Why were all these people thinking that this was such a deal?  Even at Borders.com you could get a better deal than that.
I watched the mass chaos around me and I just felt sick.  KatieLeigh from Cakes, Tea, and Dreams wrote about her experience back in March at the Borders Closing Sale, and she said exactly what I was thinking on Sunday afternoon:
On my most recent visit, I scored three trade paperbacks for $23. This was after picking through shelves of disorganized books, shoved into crooked lines under scribbled-over signs with discounts larger than the section names. And though I was glad to score a deal, I felt a little like a vulture, picking over the remains of a carcass…seeing the unruly shelves and the crossed-out discounts (replaced by higher discounts) and the empty space on the second floor, cordoned off like a crime scene with yellow Caution tape, really got to me. It felt like taking part in the dismantling of the store, though I know Borders’ problems go well beyond my ken. Nevertheless, I won’t be going back there.”
I will not judge any of my friends for going to the sale, if they are looking for deals (as I said, I don’t think that they are such “deals” right now, though they might be in a few weeks).  It’s a personal choice.  I do know that as for me, I don’t think I can go back and pick over the shelves any more.  Borders was a special store for me, and for a lot of other people who said that it was like “home” for them, a place to peruse the shelves, to sit and read, and to relax with a good book.  I don’t want to be there to witness its death throes.  
RIP, Borders.  I’ll miss you.

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Since I read John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air back in April, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with Mt. Everest and stories about it.  So when I found out that Jeffrey Archer had written a fictionalized biography of George Mallory, who vanished in his attempts to climb Mt. Everest in 1924, I leaped at it.
Like a Quentin Tarentino film, Paths of Glory opens up in 1999, when climbers on Everest discover a body lying frozen on the landscape of the mountain.  A label, sewn in to the shirt of the deceased, reveals that this unfortunate climber is none other than George Leigh Mallory, the most famous Mt. Everest victim of all time.  Rewind backward, and Archer gives us scenes from Mallory’s life, starting as an adventurous child at the beach, with no mind for danger, and culminating in the fateful climb years later.

I started reading this book because I was interested in Everest, in hearing about George Mallory and his fateful climb.  I didn’t realize that the book was going to be mainly about Mallory’s life, his aspiration as a teenager, his relationship with his wife Ruth, etc.   And I’m not naysaying that!  It was a little offputting at first, but I started to enjoy it around the midpoint.  I do think several of Archer’s “childhood stories” of Mallory’s life are thinly-stretched at best — especially the idea of Mallory climbing a tower in Venice just to win the attention of his sweetheart — and they gave me the eye rolls several times.  You can tell when Archer is making up stories as filler in this book.  But there is definitely enough to make it stand on its own.

I don’t often cry at books, but reading Mallory’s final letter to Ruth made me tear up at the end.  Like with Into Thin Air, I found myself enraged at Mallory and the other Everest climbers several times.  They had their whole lives ahead of them, they had families back at home, and why did they set out to climb a mountain that nobody had ever climbed before?  Just because, as Mallory put it, “it is there”?  That sort of mentality is alive and well in a lot of people; Krakauer wrote about some of them.  But to a nobody like me, I guess, it’s going to make no sense.

Rating: ****

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“Spin Jams” are the colloquial in our group of friends for evenings when a bunch of us get together and fire spin, usually in someone’s backyard.  Last night, our friend Matt was kind enough to throw a spin jam, and everyone braved the obscene heat and came out to spin.
This is Nick, juggling fire torches (small batons with lit wicks on one end).  Nick can do all manner of fire-related entertainment…this is one of his specialties.
Joe, doing both fire poi and fire breathing.  In fire breathing, the individual takes a mouthful of paraffin or lamp oil (which I am assured is tasteless, although I refuse to try it and find out) and blows it into the fire, creating the burst of flame you see here. 
Lyndsey, executing fire staff.  Notice the incredibly clean circles, which come with experience.  I assure you that mine look nothing that neat!
David doing fire staff, mid-toss.  He went twice, once doing staff simultaneously with Joe, and then once by himself.
Jim, breathing fire.
Jim (left) and Matt (right) experimenting with LED poi, which are generally used in practice and for people like yours truly who aren’t ready to use flame poi yet. 
Matt spinning fire poi.
Me spinning fans!  I had an awesome night last night spinning with my new fans.  I’m definitely getting used to the weight of each of them.  And and and…most exciting…I managed a toss and catch!  I tried three tosses during my spinning, with the fans lit.  I missed two, but I caught the third!  It was really exciting and made me feel really great.  I definitely want to get in more practice and get more comfortable with tossing the fans while lit.
All in all, a great spin jam.  Although spinning in 95 degree weather is rough (we were all really sweaty when we were done), we all had a fantastic time.

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Up until recently, when I did fan-spinning, I borrowed a pair of fans from my friend Lyndsey, which were three-prong, three-wick fans occasionally referred to as “bat fire fans” due to the distinctive shape, which resembles a bat wing (see right).  The one showed at the right is sold by Fire by Riz at $40 per fan or $80 for the pair.  The “wingspan” of each fan is 18″ x 18″ and each fan weighs 9 oz.  These are widely considered “practice fans.”  They were great to get started on, because with only three wicks, they are much less hot, and they are lighter and easier to handle.
Compare these to my fans, which I wrote about in a previous entry.  The fans that David purchased for me for my birthday are sold by FireMecca, as I’ve state before, and they are called “passion fire fans”.  They have five spokes and wicks per fan, and their prices vary (David bought my fans on sale, for much less than advertised now).  The wingspan on these fans is 17″ x 26″ and the weight is 2.2 lbs.  
My first reaction to these fans is that compared to the bat fire fans, these are heavy.  Each fan weighs twice what the bat fans weigh.  Also, it’s unbelievable how much more heat is supplied by just those four extra wicks.  You can certainly feel the difference in the temperature after only a few seconds of spinning.
But.  There is no denying that these just look better.  Their wingspan, combined with the extra wicks, illuminates the dance better, and looks more professional.  When I tried them out last night, a friend who was watching me said that I “looked like Kitana from Mortal Kombat” (which I took as a compliment, because I’ve played MK, and Kitana was badass).
(I’ll also mention here that I had my first “fire-related incident” last night, when I swung one fan too close and singed my hair.  David was my safety, and made sure immediately that nothing on me was on fire — I haven’t lit myself up yet! — but there was a nasty smell of burned hair, and I had a bit of a burned patch later when I checked it out.  Fortunately, I have short, layered, curly hair that covers up such things easily — and I’m not too vain.)

Obviously they are going to take some getting used to, and I was prepared for that.  I was also prepared to be ridiculously hot when I was done trying them out, because we’re having a heat wave all over the United States these days, and it was 98 degrees at 9:30 PM last night when I was spinning.  I’m hoping that after Sunday, once the heat finally breaks here, I’ll be able to try them out more comfortably.  But for a first-time out, I really enjoyed using them!

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Image from firegroove.com

A lot of people have commented on my FB about fire spinning — what it is, how it works, why anyone would ever decide that THIS is the hobby that he or she wants to take up?  Isn’t it dangerous?  And so on and so forth.  So I’m going to give a little background information about fire spinning, particularly fan spinning.  (Please keep in mind that these are my opinions, and not necessarily the opinions of the whole fire-spinning community)

Fire spinning (otherwise known as “fire dancing” or perhaps more accurately, “fire performance”) is a performance art that involves the manipulation of objects on fire.  Its page on Wikipedia is relatively informative, especially if you are looking for broad coverage of all the elements.  In fire spinning, the object of the performer’s choice is made of metal, with thick (usually more than 1′) Kevlar wicks.  The wicks are dipped in fuel (David and my friends and I use white campfire gas, usually used found in sporting goods’ stores). 

The following are different elements of fire spinning or fire performance (this is not a complete list):

Fire fans are made of welded metal with the Kevlar wicks, and come in a varying range of sizes and shapes.  Unlike some of the other fire spinning disciplines, fire fan spinning is closely associated with dance, rather than sport or tech.  Granted, there is a rather large technical aspect to fan spinning (a lot of it is based on handling and grip techniques) but fan spinning is a lot like fan dancing or belly-dancing, which is what drew me to it in the beginning.  I love the fluid movements and the dance — I used to take dance and figure skating lessons as a teenager, and that was a big part of my life.  I love expressing myself through dance.
A lot of fire-spinning techniques are largely technically based, rather than dance.  Fire staff (link to a terrible Wikipedia page) involves a metal staff with two large Kevlar wicks at each end and (usually) a soft grip in the middle.  Staff involves a lot of turning, contact motion, and tosses.  David’s forte is fire staff, and his signature move involves bouncing the staff off of one knee, over his head, and catching it behind his back.

Fire hoop is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — hula-hooping (or just hooping) with a metal hoop, from which extend spokes and Kevlar wicks.  Hooping employs both technical and dance elements.

Fire poi are two large wicks at the bottom of metal chains (in varying lengths, according to the height of the performer) that have small finger holes.  Fire poi are easily one of the most dramatic mediums for fire spinning, and have the least amount of performer control, since the chains allow the lighted wicks to go in all directions.  Poi spinning is another medium that, like fan spinning, utilizes dance.

Fire torches are small pins, almost like juggling pins, with Kevlar wicks.  They are juggled or used in other fire performance skills, such as fire eating or fire breathing.

There are two people involved in a fire spinning performance.  One, obviously, is the performer.  The other is called a “safety“.  The safety stands nearby with a 2′ x 2′ (or about that size) piece of fire-retardant cloth.  David and I use a piece of Duvetyne, which is 100% cotton treated to be flame-retardant.  Frequently during spinning, the performer may miss a toss, or misjudge the distance between the flames and his hair/clothing/skin/etc.  The safety’s job is to ensure that the performer does not catch on fire.

If at any point, the performer catches on fire, the safety’s job is to shout “DOWN” (not “fire”, because hey, obviously things are on fire) and then to pat out the flame with the cloth.  If the performer chooses to end his or her performance before the flames on the object burn out, the safety may also wrap the object with the cloth to extinguish the flames manually.  (I will be doing a post going more into fire safety in another post)

For those people who have said, on my FB wall, that “I could never do that” or “I would set myself/my dog/my house/my neighborhood on fire” — if I can do it, you can.  I promise you.  I’m about as uncoordinated a human being as they come.  As David assured one of our friends last night — it is not easy for the fire to catch and actually burn you.  We have a friend who has been doing poi spinning for 10 years, and he has never lit himself on fire to the point of injuring himself.  So if you are interested in fire spinning, and you’re afraid of burning yourself — please don’t let that stop you.  Join a class, find some friends who are trained, have a good safety, and have fun!

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SPOILERS (for those of you who, like me, are the last people on earth to see this film)

 Last November, everyone and their mother was buying tickets to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I.  I had originally planned to go see the film as well, but that was before I discovered two things.

1. The film was being split into two parts.  I have never liked nor understood this idea.  One book = one movie, right?  If Peter Jackson could turn the Lord of the Rings trilogy into…well, a trilogy, then the myriad directors of Harry Potter should be able to do the same.  Yes, yes.  I am aware that I have to eat my words now, since Peter Jackson is splitting J.R.R. Tolkein’s famous prequel The Hobbit into two films. 
2. David and I got married on November 5th, and were on our honeymoon until November 14th.  At the end of that weekend  of festivities, followed by a week in Montreal, we were just too damn tired.  Neither of us wanted to leave our apartment, much less drag our lazy butts to the movie theatre and deal with lines, screaming fans, etc.  David also hasn’t read a single Harry Potter book (I know right?  It’s a sore point), so he definitely wasn’t going to fight me on waiting to see the movie until it came out on DVD.

But eight months later, and with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II finally released into theatres, my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked David to put Part I on our Netflix queue, so I could finally see it.  We watched it over two days (Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, due to some interruptions and visiting my parents) and here are…I guess, some thoughts on the whole thing?
What I Liked About Part I
The opening scene with Hermione modifying her parents’ memories in order to protect them before they went into hiding.  Obviously, since the book is told mostly from Harry’s POV (and occasionally, Voldemort’s), we didn’t get to read about this in the book, with the exception of a brief explanation by Hermione.  It was really heartbreaking, and I thought very well done.
Every scene at the Malfoys’ manor.  I realize that the most difficult thing about reading the book first is that you will constantly compare the movie to what you imagined in your mind while reading.  But that scene was exactly how I pictured it.  Loved it.
Recurring, awesome characters.  Snape.  Fred and George.  Bellatrix Lestrange.  All of them were so good.  Alan Rickman makes me actually love watching the films.
The animation of the “Deathly Hallows” explanation.  Really interesting use of animation, and it broke up the movie a bit.  I loved it.
The characters pretending to be Harry/Ron/Hermione using Polyjuice Potion.  I know.  I’ve already explained my hatred of that stupid “cure-all for every major plot-point”.  But I love watching actors pretending to be other characters, and doing it well.  The scene at the Ministry was very well done.
And now…
What I Didn’t Like About Part I
No redemption for Dudley Dursley.  What?  The kid’s been an asshole for all six of the preceding books.  He gets one moment of shining goodness in book seven…and it gets cut?  Fail.
Too Much Exposition.  I wondered how they were going to work Bill and Fleur’s wedding into the film, considering that, in the first six films, we haven’t seen Bill at all.  Never fear!  We’ll just throw six books’ worth of exposition into about 30 seconds.  While we’re at it, we’ll also talk about Lupin and Tonks’ wedding, and maybe hint at the baby (but we won’t directly say it).  Sheesh.
Major deaths are only hinted at.  I had to explain to David why Mad-Eye Moody’s eye was stuck into the door at the Ministry, almost two hours into the film.  Because Mad-Eye’s death is completely glossed over.  I hear it gets worse in Part II.  But since Rowling did that in the books, I wasn’t completely surprised.
Wormtail’s death.  In the book, Wormtail is forced to kill himself when Harry recalls that Wormtail owes Harry life for sparing his own.  Very dramatic.  In the movie…Dobby fires a spell at Wormtail’s back, Wormtail goes “…Oh”, and drops to the ground.  David didn’t even know that he was dead until I told him.  And that is the one thing I will never understand about these movies.  Why take out perfectly good drama and put in…something seriously less dramatic?

IN CONCLUSION: I feel the same way about Part I as I expected to feel about it, and the way I regarded all the other movies.  Taken alone, they are okay.  They just aren’t on par with the books.  I will admit that I do see the merits now of cutting the book into two films, considering how much they are actually cramming into the films, and staying true to the story as much as possible.  (I’ll never understand why they are cutting Mockingjay into two parts…but that’s a story for another time.)  I do want to go see Part II, but we’ll see if I get to it in the theatre before it leaves, or if I wait until it comes out on DVD, like I did with Part I.

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