Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What's in a name?

Yeah, sorry for the cliche title... but can you really expect me to resist Shakespeare when the opportunity arises?

I've been reading a lot lately about blogging, writing in general, and marketing, and that has led me to a lot of thinking about the name I use. Right now, everywhere on the Internet (except Facebook) I go by Clare-Dragonfly. Sometimes it is punctuated or capitalized differently, but that's the ideal form of the name. But if I want to promote myself as an author, is this the name I want to be using? I decided some time ago that to publish I would use my first initial, middle name, and last name. I really dislike my full first name, and though I'm okay with going by a nickname for it, I don't want to use the shortened version of it for publishing. It seems unprofessional. Just using a nickname would be bad enough, but I spell it in an unusual way, which would be worse. So my solution is to hide it mostly away. I'm also less than fond of my uncomfortably common last name, but I don't see a way to get around that without using an entirely different pen name, which doesn't appeal to me.

This would not be a problem, of course, if I could and wanted to keep the world of the Internet and the world of publishing separate. But I don't, and it doesn't seem like a good idea. I've been reading so much about how your blog is an essential marketing tool, and your name is your brand, which makes perfect sense to me. So I have to reconcile being Clare-Dragonfly and being my given name.

This would be easier to do, I think, if I were just starting out in the blogiverse. I could just start using my given name and make people who already know me as Clare-Dragonfly aware of it. But while I haven't really done much of what I'd call blogging (though I've been using LiveJournal, and now InsaneJournal, for years), I do a fair amount of commenting on other blogs. I usually do that as Clare or Clare-Dragonfly. If I suddenly switched to the other name, I would seem like an entirely different person starting to post on those blogs. The relationship, slight as it may be, with those bloggers would be gone. I've had some interesting conversations, and I wouldn't be associated with them in the same way anymore.

It gets even more complicated. I go by Clare in real life, too. My family calls me by my given name, and some of my friends do, but almost all of my friends from college know me as Clare. Of course, they know my real name as well since they're friends with me on Facebook, but I am associated with the name Clare to them.

Then there's the fact that if I went with first-initial-middle-name, people would assume I wanted to be called by my middle name, and I don't. That's kind of weird, as I love my middle name and always have, but I've never actually used it. It would be uncomfortable to have people suddenly start calling me by it. Plus, then I would have three names...

The above issues could potentially be solved by deciding to publish under the name Clare-Dragonfly. But that seems even less professional than using my nickname! The only author I know of who has successfully used an obviously created name to publish under is Lupa, and she's not publishing novels--she's publishing nonfiction otherkin and pagan books. If I were doing the same, or even publishing books on other aspects of spirituality, I would be perfectly comfortable with using Clare-Dragonfly. I could make it appear less made-up and replace the hyphen with a space, so it would appear that my first name is Clare and my last name is Dragonfly, but something about that makes me itch. I'd rather make them one hyphenless word than two. Two words makes it "Clare, a member of the Dragonfly family." But that's not right: Clare is Dragonfly. With a space in between, it's just not my name any more.

So yeah, long post. And I'll probably think about it more. But for now, feedback from anyone who happens to be reading this blog is welcome.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

This book is physically tiny, but packed with fun and information! All of the facts and tips about baking vegan cupcakes are interspersed with bits of whimsy--sometimes even educational whimsy. There's an A to Z list of why vegan cupcakes are awesome. Then there's a list of all the ingredients and tools you'll want for your adventures in vegan cupcake baking with explanations as to why. Even if you're fairly new to veganism or to baking, this book will be useful; everything is explained in great, but not boring, detail, and there's even a few pages of troubleshooting tips for specific problems with your cupcakes. Then there's the recipes! Plain vanilla, plain chocolate, gluten-free, and even diabetic-friendly cupcakes are included as the basic recipes. Then they get creative. There are so many different recipes it's hard to imagine having time to bake them all. And that's just the cupcakes. The book includes a multitude of different icing recipes (and tips for applying the icing to the cupcakes) as well. I imagine if you tried a different cupcake-and-icing combination every day, you wouldn't run out for a year.

And the cupcakes aren't hurt by the lack of dairy and eggs. Not at all. Assuming you follow the recipes and instructions carefully, the cupcakes are light, sweet, spongy, and just plain delicious. When I baked a batch of the plain vanilla cupcakes with vegan buttercream frosting, they were devoured within days by my suitemates. The buttercream frosting recipe probably made three times as much as was required to frost the cupcakes, but that's okay--it was devoured as well. Yum!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting from this book. Whatever it was, I didn't get it--but I did get something wonderful. According to the introduction, it is a reconstruction (from notes) of a forged translation of a 14th-century manuscript by a Benedictine monk. Of course, it is actually a novel written by the talented Umberto Eco, and a mystery along the lines of Arthur Conan Doyle or Edgar Allan Poe--that is to say, the detective is a logician along the lines of Sherlock Holmes or C. Auguste Dupin. It is narrated by the supposed author of the manuscript, Adso of Melk, a German novice who is traveling with the detective, William of Baskerville, to learn from and assist him. It took me until about halfway through the book to accept that the novel was probably not fantasy--fantastical elements were certainly hinted at, but the style of such a logician does not lend itself to that genre!

William has been asked to an Italian abbey to help mediate a discussion between two opposing Catholic sects, but when he arrives, he has another task: solve a series of unlikely and possibly mystical murders. This task is made more complicated by the fact that the one place that seems to hold the most answers, the abbey's famous library, is the one place he is not permitted. Like any good detective, he gets his answers anyway. The main mystery plot is intertwined with monastic politics, political intrigues, and intriguing personal relationships. Sometimes the discourses on logic or heresy, which can get quite long, distract from the plot, but they are interesting and the only thing I have to complain about, with the exception of Adso's sometimes irritating lack of judgment, which can easily be excused by his youth. The novel is even, as far as I can tell, quite historically accurate. The monastery itself and most of the characters are fictional, but the politics and the heresies are real, which is quite impressive.

Unfortunately, I never figured out the import of the title. The last line of the book has the words "name" and "rose" in it, but as it's Latin (which is peppered throughout the monks' speech) I couldn't understand the rest. I naturally think of Shakespeare, but as he writes several centuries after The Name of the Rose is set and the only meaning I can think of is fairly weak, such a connection seems unlikely.

Restoring the Goddess: Equal Rites for Modern Women by Barbara G. Walker

I'll be honest: I did not read this entire book. I couldn't stand it. I tried to read as much as I could manage, but eventually had to give up.

This book is pretty much entirely a polemic against Christianity. I think it mentions the patriarchy of Judaism and also Buddhism a little, but it's mostly about how the Christian Church has been, and still is, keeping women down. Every chapter, from "What's Wrong with Patriarchy?" to "The New Age," focuses on that. There's also a strong veneration of science, which Walker seems to believe is never biased, and always prepared to change. Further, there is a great emphasis on how illogical Christianity is, with no satisfactory explanation as to why believing in the Goddess is any more logical. Such belief may certainly be beneficial, but you should be fair: apply logic equally or don't apply it at all.

Each chapter is comprised of several pages written by Walker, mostly poorly researched history, and then a number of pages containing anecdotes from women loosely relating to the chapter's topic. I didn't read too many of those. I'm not sure why one would need a book to showcase these things. It doesn't seem to include any women with slightly different perspectives, either.

If you want to read something by Barbara G. Walker, go for her knitting books. If you want to read about the Goddess, go for The Spiral Dance. However, if you are a woman who has been knocked about by patriarchal Christianity all her life and want reassurance that you're not alone and there is more out there, I would recommend this book.

(Oh, and there were no "equal rites" listed. I feel cheated.)

The Welsh Fairy book by W. Jenkyn Thomas

Exhibit A: My love of all things Welsh.

Exhibit B: My obsession with faeries, fairy tales, and folklore in general.

Exhibit C: The title of this book.

The defense rests.

More seriously, this is a fantastic collection. There's a wide variety of fairy tales in it--mostly featuring actual faeries--and I felt that it gave me a really good feeling for Welsh folklore in 1907 (when the book was first compiled). One can't really judge on the literary merit of folktales, but they're well-told, and most are entertaining and intriguing. A few had unexpected similarities to folktales of other cultures that I've encountered, and I would be interested to find out where these tropes originated (if it can be pinned down) and how they passed from one to the other.

The Spiral Dance by Starhawk

This book is a classic of paganism and the Goddess movement for a reason, and the twentieth-anniversary edition, which is what I have, is an improvement on the original. I can tell because, except for a few minor things that Starhawk herself was extremely uncomfortable with, the text of the book is the same. The changes, made in both the tenth and twentieth anniversary editions, take the form of endnotes. Most of the problems I had with the text on my first reading were soothed by those notes. Basically, the book is a primer on the form of Feri witchcraft that Starhawk followed/follows. It includes chapters on the God and Goddess, Sabbats, spells, and initiation, among other things. While I do not follow Feri myself, I did agree with many of the beliefs in this book, and found a few that had never occurred to me but that I would like to incorporate into my own faith.

There were a number of things in the book that I did not agree with, of course. I think the biggest one is Starhawk's constant assertions that witchcraft is a religion. I do not have that view at all. I see witchcraft as a craft, separate from religion. True, the majority of its practitioners are pagan, but one need not be pagan to be a witch, just as one need not be a witch to be pagan. It was also a little disappointing to find that the book mainly focuses on coven work; I'd love to have a coven, but because I don't follow any path that's established outside myself, that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

I would also like to address the concerns mentioned in other reviews I have read. I have seen many complaints that Starhawk's witchcraft is not Wicca. This is a problem with the reviewers, not the book--she never claims that it is! I have also seen that ubiquitous complaint about anything relating to Goddess worship--that it focuses on women and the Goddess to the exclusion of men and the God. At times this can be a legitimate problem, but it is not so with The Spiral Dance. I may be somewhat biased as a Goddess worshiper myself, but Starhawk gives equal time to the Goddess and the God. If she focuses on women, it is because there are more women than men involved in feminism and the Goddess movement. She never denigrates men or masculinity. She does focus a big strongly on the heterosexual paradigm and on gender essentialism, but these are corrected in the notes.

The third complaint I wish to refute concerns history. I saw at least two reviews on Amazon that complained in their titles of the poor history in The Spiral Dance. Firstly, I do not feel that this is a legitimate complaint to focus on. There is only one chapter that includes history, and it is hardly the main thrust of the book. Secondly, this book was written when both Starhawk and the Goddess movement were quite young. She used the resources available to her. In the endnotes, she readily points out that it is not fully historically accurate, but that it still makes a good myth.

To sum up: The Spiral Dance is a good book, well worth reading, especially for Goddess worshipers. Don't be put off by the skeptics--but make sure to read the twentieth anniversary edition, or even wait a year or two, and if we're lucky there will be a thirtieth!

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

This short story collection is mainly retold fairy tales, which is a genre I adore, so I was naturally excited to read this book. Some of the author's takes on fairy tales were quite intriguing. I especially enjoyed the title story, Bluebeard with a quite a twist, and "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon," a sweet Beauty and the Beast. From there, though, it seemed to go straight downhill. The author's overwrought style, peppered with extremely obscure words, was enjoyable at first, but grating on the nerves after several stories. It never seemed to change, and a number of the stories, I felt, would benefit from a different style. Some of the stories had twist endings that made no sense, and some, particularly "The Lady of the House of Love," were just not interesting. (The last may have been more fun when it was first written, when the trope of the reluctant vampire wasn't quite so done.) I do recommend many of the stories if you enjoy the genre, but perhaps one at a time would be better.

The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson

It's hard to articulate why, but this struck me as a very unusual fantasy book almost from the beginning. The story is about Tilja, the elder daughter on a farm where the country's magical defenses are kept up. But the magic is starting to fail, and someone has to venture into the evil Empire to find the man who can refresh them. The characters are tons of fun--Tilja's grandmother, Meena, and two people from the other magic place, Alnor and his grandson Tahl--and the magic is unusual. I wouldn't call the novel a work of genius, but it was a fun read. The one thing that really bothered me--almost throughout the book--was that the characters seemed to take too much for granted. I was very suspicious of certain characters, and it was all explained away too easily. However, I'm utterly fascinated by Tilja's strange ability and wish there were sequels to this. Actually, looking on Amazon, it looks like there is, but it's not about the same characters and frankly I'm confused--it sounds as though it's set in the future and the past. However, I have also discovered that this author also wrote a book I read many times as a kid, Eva, about a girl who gets her brain transplanted into the body of a chimp. It's actually really good. Also he's married to Robin McKinley!

Why I Let My Hair Grow Out by Maryrose Wood

I stopped reading this book (featuring an incredibly obnoxious sixteen-year-old narrator) after a talking horse named Samhain was referred to as "Sam."

The word "Samhain" is Gaelic, and it's pronounced "Sah-win." There is in fact no "m" sound in it at all.


That's an error I can forgive in ordinary people or new pagans, but not in authors, especially ones who have theoretically researched ancient Ireland fairly extensively in order to write the book. It sounded very promising; long hair, Ireland, faeries... and I really did want to find out the connection of the other world to this one. But after that, I couldn't read any more. Maybe if the narrator had been more interesting and relatable, I would have been able to stand it, but as it is, I couldn't.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Well, I was right about there not being another book like American Gods; still, this book was pretty delightful. I liked that it was about characters barely mentioned in the prequel--Anansi's sons. Fat Charlie is a memorable and sympathetic character, while Spider is the fascinating sort I'd never want to meet in real life. Rosie, Fat Charlie's fiancee, is also a great character, even if the way their relationship changes over the course of the book is fairly predictable from the beginning. The plot moves by increments that seem implausible from just a chapter away, but, by the time you reach them, are inevitable. Even the villains are fantastic, especially the wonderfully weaselly Grahame Coats. All in all, an excellent, satisfying book, told as only Gaiman can.

The Whispering Mountain by Joan Aiken

This was an interesting little fantasy novel. I enjoyed it, and somehow it had the feel of a classic, but I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It was set, I believe, in the early 19th century--the date was never made quite clear, and as one review described it, it is "unhistorical," so a sot of it doesn't make sense for 19th-century Wales anyway. I suppose I should say I quite liked the plot, the stolen harp and the strange groups of characters running about and meeting up in new configurations trying to find it, but the peripheral aspects seemed a bit off. It was quite silly, but didn't always seem to be aware of its own silliness. And then the ending, which I won't reveal but is decidedly not silly, rather threw me off. Oh, and the villain reminded me quite strongly of Voldemort. I wonder if J. K. Rowling's read this.

The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare

Ah, Shakespeare. What could there possibly be to complain about? I have just one thing: it would be so much better on stage. This is a hilariously funny play, full of sex and deception, but text is not an ideal way to consume it. While some of the jokes wouldn't make sense were it not for the glosses, that sort of thing is easier to pass quickly by on stage, and it's such a physical play that it would be vastly improved by being able to see the characters. I'm glad I read it, but now I know that I should absolutely snatch any chance I get to see it performed.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Having not seen the movie, I wasn't sure what to expect of this book--in fact, I thought that, like Spirited Away, it would start out in our world and move into a fantasy world. I was delighted to find that it was the other way around! (Okay, I won't give too much away--but it does take place partially in our world.) The main character, Sophie, is the eldest of three, and in this fairytale world, that means she's sure to amount to nothing. And in fact it seems to have disastrous consequences when the Witch of the Waste comes and puts a curse on her for no apparent reason. But Sophie sets out to seek her fortune, and finds one quite unexpected and fun.

This book was quite an enjoyable read. There were a few plot holes, or at least spots where the story didn't seem to quite follow its own logic, and parts of the story were rather predictable, but I enjoyed it all the same. The characters especially were fantastic. I particularly admire Diana Wynne Jones' ability to create a character--Howl--who is both extremely flamboyant and inarguably heterosexual!

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

It's hard to say much about any of Gaiman's work beyond "Gaiman is a genius." But I'll try! This novel is quite, quite delightful. The characters are real and complete, the premise--the old god of religion warring against the new gods of technology--is compelling, and the plot is both surprising and masterfully crafted. I don't think there could ever be another book lite this--and I say that knowing that there is a sequel. The only bad thing I have to say about this book is that the end left me feeling a bit adrift, and I suspect that was done on purpose.

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

This book sets forth the principles of eco-effectiveness. Basically, the authors argue that being less bad is not enough: we must create products and buildings that are actively good for the environment, people's lives, and businesses as well. Instead of following a traditional cradle-to-grave paradigm, in which products are designed to last until they are worn out and then thrown "away," products should be designed to go from cradle to cradle. All components should not only be safe, they should be food: either biological or technical nutrients--recoverable in such a way that they can either be used to nourish the earth or can be upcycled, used to create products of the same or better quality as their previous incarnations.

This book simultaneously makes me really happy and makes me really sad. The former is because I love these concepts and they sound like a great, viable way to stop and even reverse the harm we've been doing to our environment. The latter is because I don't think they'll ever be widely adopted. One that seems particularly useless is the idea of products of service, which is having people sort of lease items like carpets, televisions, and solar panels, so that they can be returned to the company and their components recovered. It's a great idea in theory, but people like to own things. I can't imagine that any but the most environmentally conscious will do this. Some principles are obviously (from their examples) being adopted by some companies, which is great, but what about all the others? The authors can't innovate for every company out there. Can anyone else do it and will they be willing to try?

There's also the fact that I feel rather helpless. I don't see what I can do to help. I wish I was an architect, an engineer, or a chemist... but I'm not, and I have no idea how to apply these principles. All I can think of to do within my vocation--writing--is to write stories set in a utopia in which all of these concepts are in effect, and even then, I think I'd have to be pretty vague about it. (I guess I could also go for a dystopia in which we've destroyed our environment. That's something I could probably do real research for.) At least I was a bit affirmed by the end, in which the language strongly implies that the book is intended for business owners and others who can do something, and not necessarily for ordinary people like me to read.

I guess the one concrete thing I can do is to get my sister to read this book. She's a business student, and she cares about the environment. Maybe she'll get some ideas out of it, and maybe she'll pass it on to her friends.

Bone by Jeff Smith

I read a few pages of the beginning of this comic when they were in Disney Adventures magazine. I really liked it then, and had been hoping to find a copy of the book for some time. Well, now I have, and I have to say--wow! It's so much more than I expected it to be. Like with webcomics and other serially published stories, I have to wonder how much the author knew or planned from the beginning. Was this sweeping fantasy epic in the works when I read about three cousins run out of Boneville and met a talking leaf bug and a cow-racing grandmother, or did it evolve as Smith wrote? Either way, it is extremely successful at moving from humble beginnings to a world-changing tale. Sometimes, with such things as the "lost princess" theme, it does seem a bit stereotypical, but the characters and the storytelling make up for it.

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

In the ballad of Tam Lin, the daring Janet is warned not to go to Carterhaugh (which she or her father owns) but does anyway. There she meets Tam Lin, who takes the promised pledge and leaves her with child. She learns that he is to be a sacrifice of the Faerie Queen, but she can and does rescue him.

Pamela Dean's retelling of this classic story is set in a small college in the Midwest in the early seventies. The role of the novel's main character is clear: her name, after all, is Janet Carter. The rest of the story, however, unfolds with intriguing slowness. She does meet a boy named Thomas Lane, but they are both dating other people, and her relationship with Nick Tooley seems so perfectly ordinary it's hard to question. Other things aren't so perfectly ordinary, such as the mysterious Fourth Ericson ghost, the strange behavior of many members of the Classics department, and the fact that Janet can't seem to think about them when she's on campus. The plot, moving through the four years of Janet's college attendance, moves so slowly that at times it seems not to be moving at all, but the characters and situations are so wonderful that it doesn't matter.

Finally, in the fall of Janet's senior year, everything falls into pace. I won't give away the ending, but I will say that everything I expected to happen does happen, in a perfectly wonderful and wholly unpredictable way. The verdict? An exquisite book that every lover of fantasy and English major should read ASAP. I'll certainly be rereading it when I get a chance.

Darkhenge by Catherine Fisher

Some fantasy authors seem to rely too much on their readers not knowing the myths that inspire their stories. This one seemed to have promise--the back matter made me think that the main character Rob's comatose younger sister Chloe had gone into Faerie, and I got even more excited when the novel opened with the term "The Cauldron-Born" and a quote from The Book of Taliesin. That was the high point, though. Taliesin shows up, but doesn't seem especially trustworthy. This impression makes me want even more to root for his antagonist, Clare, who is also the goddess Ceridwen. But she doesn't seem very trustworthy, either; in fact, the only person who does is the priest, Mac, Rob's godfather. He seems to know more than he should, and this is never explained--in fact, a lot is never explained, from how Rob (the POV character) suddenly knows Dr. Kavanagh's first name to, despite repeated hints that it is significant, the identity of the King of the Unworld. Returning to my original point, the author also seems to take strange liberties with the Taliesin legend and stories of the Underworld. So much, in fact, that I think I would have enjoyed it more were it stripped of its mythological references. I just don't understand the point of having them if you're barely going to use them. I also would have been more content if I only vaguely knew the myths and didn't expect anything based on them. So overall, not an awful book, but one I certainly wouldn't recommend.

Heirloom Knitting by Sharon Miller

This book is a true classic of lace knitting, and with good reason. It's chock-full of useful, interesting information about Shetland lace knitting, in addition to the patterns. I kind of skimmed over the sections on wool, but was pleased to see that it had information on other fibers as well. Lots of fun lace patterns--projects as well as motifs--and help for creating one's own. I can't wait to knit some of the patterns from this book. I love lace!

The Elves of Cintra by Terry Brooks

As always, Terry Brooks delivers. He's my favorite fantasy author for many reasons: intriguing, varied, abundantly realized characters; interesting and creative plots; and above all, masterful suspense. I can sometimes predict what's going to happen, but only because I know his style well--and even then, I'm never sure, because Brooks is so skilled at managing expectations and bringing surprises (the best kind--ones you should have predicted). The Elves of Cintra is the second in the Genesis of Shannara set, and it's really exciting! He has three series--the Shannara series, the Word and Void series, and the Magic Kingdom of Landover series. I've known that the first two were connected, the fantasy world of Shannara being what emerges from the collapse of the modern world of the Word and Void. This set connects the two--the modern world in chaos and dying, demons out of hiding, fantasy creatures evolving... the King of the Silver River, a faerie as old as the world, even makes an appearance, guiding a character in this book as he does so many of the series' heroes. The Elves are here too, in hiding now, but that will change soon. The end of this book was completely unsatisfying--I can hardly wait for the next one!

The Mabinogion translated by Charlotte Guest

Considering how obsessed I am with Welsh language and culture, it certainly took me long enough to read this! Of course, I'm glad I did. It's a collection of medieval Welsh hero tales--many of them are quite a bit older than that, of course, but they're first found written down in the twelfth century. It's actually fairly obvious which only survive in more recent forms, between the Europeanization and the Christianization. The first four, I think, are the most interesting. They are the least Christian, feel the most Welsh, and certainly have the best female characters (plus, they're the only ones in which the term "mabinogi" actually appears). This translation also includes part of the tale of Taliesin, which was fun to read, but unfortunately in a very Christianized version--Ceridwen is represented as an evil hag and Taliesin is always talking about how he serves God and Jesus. I also had a slight issue with the translation of the whole thing--many of the names seem to be partially Anglicized, so that I can't really tell how they're properly spelled or pronounced.

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DeTerlizzi

What a delightful little series! I'm a huge fan of Holly Black, and as usual she didn't disappoint, with a thrilling tale of true-to-life (and -legend) faeries and children. I was delighted that they took a classic story, unhappy kids moving into a strange new house, and--well, didn't exactly turn it on its head, but created an engaging and original tale. The protagonist, Jared Grace, is a well-drawn and very sympathetic little boy whose parents' divorce has led to anger issues as well as a move to a house owned by his Great-Aunt Lucinda, where hides a very special book. His twin brother Simon and their older sister Mallory are also unique and fun characters, and the interactions between the siblings are quite believable--they squabble a lot, but when it's important (and when they have to hide things from their mother) they stick together. The story is also populated by faeries of all types and sizes--a brownie, some goblins (and one hobgoblin, thank you very much), a griffin, a phooka, elves, and more. I was happily surprised by some of the story's twists and gleefully predicted others. I really look forward to the movie. Of course, it will be lacking Tony DeTerlizzi's delightful illustrations, but I'm sure it will be wonderful anyway.

Vive le Vegan by Dreena Burton

While I admit to not having much basis for comparison, it's my opinion that this cookbook is perfect for people like me who are new to vegan cooking and want easy, tasty meals, snacks, and desserts. There are a ton of good recipes as well as lots of useful information, such as cooking times for grains and beans and a whole section on the benefits of hemp. I made the "Peanut 'Better' Cookies" and the "Homestyle Chocolate Chip Cookies" and they both turned out delicious. I'd like to make the banana pancakes and lentil soup soon, too. I'll have to go shopping to make a lot of the recipes in this book, but that's more a reflection on my family's pantry than on the book! I love that it's all whole foods and there's a great variety of grains and protein sources. Though I don't have any trouble with wheat, I think it's great that most of the recipes are wheat-free or could easily be made wheat-free. It's also really cool that very few of the recipes use "fake" vegan products. A couple of them use vegan cheese and/or vegan ground round, but for the most part there's no attempt to imitate non-vegan food--the recipes are great, healthy meals on their own.

There's also a large section on raising vegan infants and children, explaining how and when to introduce different kinds of solid food (based on advice given by the author's midwife). I don't have reason to use that yet, but I expect to someday, and it seems like a really good resource. Overall, I'm thrilled to have received this book as my first vegan cookbook.

Confessions of a Knitting Heretic by Annie Modesitt

I quite enjoyed this book--but then, as a Combination knitter myself, I was sure I would. I really liked what she had to say about knitting. I agree with her thoughts on being an adventurous knitter and on letting people understand their options and decide for themselves. There's also a lot of good information on knitting techniques, including basics like casting on and more complicated things like colorwork. I enjoyed the personal essays as well. Not all of the patterns are my style and I have no interest at this point in knitting with wire, but I definitely want to do that plaid bag at some point.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell

This was quite a long read and I'm not sure I quite got all the information in my brain, but it was pretty interesting. I was, however, expecting far more actual myths and less blather about them. It seemed that the stories were thrown in randomly--sometimes to illustrate a point, sometimes not--and there was much more summary and generalization than otherwise. I had a hard time following some of that. The part about shamans and their role in ancient society was, I think, my favorite part--there were illustrations in that section, which made it more vivid to me.