Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor

Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor


Everything That Rises Must Converge is a set of short stories published after the death of Flannery O'Connor's death in 1964. At face value, characters in her stories are hard to sympathize with. If the main character isn't a know-it-all, he or she is holier-than-thou. Often, characters (main or minor) are a mixture of the two. They think of themselves as pleasant and well-mannered but their preening is hardly justified. Delusions of goodness are often supported by daydreams that reinforce their egotistical world view. The stories end with a comeuppance or a moment of shocking self-awareness for the main character.

Most of the stories are set in the rural south of the United States. The conflicts arise from the intersection of the richer and the poorer, the educated and the uneducated, Christian and atheist, Caucasian American and African American. Both sides of the conflict have their weaknesses and errors that are invisible to them because of their self-assurance. The writing is even-handed if a bit pessimistic. Resolution comes at least with harsh words but more often with harsh violence.

The bittersweetness of the stories' endings is amazing to me. They show a moment where the character's ego is broken and he or she is opened to the truth about themselves and the world around them. Conversion of heart or mind, so necessary for these damaged people, is suddenly possible. Whether they embrace that moment of grace or not varies. But it is always fascinating.

The stories are a bit unpleasant but they are so well written and give so much food for thought, they are definitely worth reading.

Check out more commentary from A Good Story is Hard to Find Podcast, which is publishing its hundredth episode today! Congratulations!!


Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Bit of Studley Royal, England

Fountains Abbey was united to the Studley Royal estate in 1767 when William Aislabie (owner of Studley Royal) was able to purchase the abbey ruins and Fountains Hall for eighteen thousand pounds. He began making improvements so visitors could come and he built ritzy gardens from the ruins to his home. We explored some of the gardens on one of our visits to the abbey.

We started in the Porters Lodge, which originally served as a gateway for visitors to the abbey. The small museum has displays about life at the abbey and some dress up activities for the children.

Jacob checks out the archeological finds

Jacob the monk

Lucy lost in her habit

A model of the abbey in its heyday

We followed a path down the River Skell. The river is peaceful, lined with some amazing trees along the way.

Leaving the abbey behind

The trail by the river

View of the river

Cool tree roots

One of the lakes

We aw a bit of the 18th century gardens, including a statue of Hercules fighting the giant Antaeus. Since the giant gained strength from standing on the ground, Hercules lifted him off the ground to crush him to death.

1700s-era gardens

Hercules vs. Antaeus

Nearby is a small artificial cave called the Grotto. Jacob enjoyed hiding in there.

The Grotto

A path near the Grotto leads up the hill to the High Ride, a path along a ridge overlooking the estate. A small shelter for looking down on the river and the abbey ruins is called Anne Boleyn's Seat. The name comes from a nickname for an old, headless Roman statue of a woman that stands nearby.

Jacob enjoys the view

"Anne Boleyn" statue

3/4 view of the statue

The hillside had plenty of stumps and critters for the kids to enjoy. The gardeners constantly maintain the trees and shrubs to ensure a good view, so it may be different by now.

Rooting for the trees

Jacob and Lucy and an over-sized stump

Another cool stump

A furry friend

Another nice view from the High Ride

On our way out we spotted a Victorian-era post box. You can tell it's from Queen Victoria's times because of the "VR" at the top which stands for "Victoria Regina" in Latin which translates as "Queen Victoria."

Victorian mailbox in a stone wall

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise - Part One by Gene Luen Yang et al.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise - Part One written by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru, lettering by Michael Heisler


This graphic novel picks up right where the TV show left off. Prince Zuko is now Fire Lord Zuko and he works to undo all the damage his father and the Fire Nation did when it tried to take over the world. The main project (for this story at least) is removing colonies from the Earth Nation. Avatar Aang volunteers to help the repatriation. Before they start, Zuko asks Aang for a favor--if Zuko ever starts acting like his father (i.e. like an evil tyrant bent on advancing the Fire Nation's cause against all others), Aang should kill him. Zuko realizes the pressure of leadership could change him and he thinks both he and the world need a safety net. Aang reluctantly agrees.

The story jumps forward a year later. Things have been going well on the surface. Zuko is a bit paranoid about being assassinated. His policy is unpopular with his people, especially the ones who have been living for generations as colonists in the Earth Kingdom. He has second thoughts about the colonies that have been in place for over a hundred years. People have integrated with the locals and they feel the land belongs to them as much as anyone else. Zuko gives in and announces he will stop the repatriation, but will that lead back to war?

The story has a depth casual readers wouldn't expect. The political messiness of the situation is quite interesting and isn't resolved with some simple moral platitudes like you'd see in Saturday morning cartoons.

The art is exactly the same as the TV series which is good. There's plenty of action and humor, also just like the TV show. I am looking forward to the next issue!


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fountains Hall Gardens, England

Across from Fountains Hall is a small formal garden recreated to reflect the history of the hall and Fountains Abbey, where the hall is located.

Path to the garden

A simple lawn

Another simple lawn

A more elaborate lawn

The gardeners grow various plants and herbs used by the monks. Angelica Archangelica was part of a cure for pestilence, though it was used in conjunction with fasting and bed rest and fervent prayers, so it's not clear what was the most efficacious part of the cure.

Angela Archangela

Arnica montana was known by the name Leopard's Bane. Goethe used it as a tea for his angina. The plant actually irritates the digestive tract and is used today for external wounds or sprains as "Tincture of Arnica."

Leopard's Bane

Hypericum Perforatum is known as St. John's Wart and was classically boiled in wine. For internal ailments, the wine was drunk. For external ailments, the plant was used as an ointment or in a bath. Nowadays it's used as a herbal remedy for depression. Right next to St. John's Wart is Tropaeolum  Majus or Nasturtium. It was used as a disinfectant and to heal wounds. An infusion from the leaves is supposed to help coughs. Nowadays the peppery seeds and flowers are used in salads.

St. John's Wart and Nasturium

The hedge of the garden is Taxus Baccata or English Yew, a common ingredient in witches' brews. The plant was often planted in graveyards due to its long life, suggesting the eternal life hoped for by the deceased. The wood is also used for bows in archery.

English Yew

The garden does have some more prosaic plants, including fruit bearing trees that go well with the climate.

Fruit!

A bridge at the back of the garden leads further into the estates but is not accessible to visitors.

Bridge over calm waters

A local fowl perched on a fence

Lucy enjoyed hanging out in the area, especially on a bit of the Abbey's ruins.

Lucy perched on rocks

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fountains Hall, England

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, Fountains Abbey was sold to a London merchant who stripped the property of its valuable assets. Later, the land was sold in 1597 to Stephen Proctor. He built a manor house called Fountains Hall on the estate, which is still in use today as holiday cottages offered by the National Trust. The main part of the hall is available for viewing, which we did on one of our visits to the Abbey.

Fountain's Hall

Detail of the entrance

The entrance hall features a cross that is a World War II memorial commemorating Charles and Elizabeth Vyner, eldest children of the last owners of the hall. The children died during the war at ages 18 and 19. The inscription reads "When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today."

Cross flanked by a serviceman and a servicewoman

The first large room is the great hall in the style of medieval entertaining halls, with a walkway above for minstrels to perform without mingling among the guests.

Medieval-style hall

Fireplace in the middle

The hall has some fine artistic decorations as well as fun things for the young or young at heart.

Face of the sun over the fireplace

A bust

Another bust

Doll house version of the hall

Mommy does the easiest dress-up ever

Jacob tries it out

Other, more modernly decorated rooms display exhibits of paints or provide a place to relax.

Waiting room with art and two sources of heat

Beautiful bay window

Cozier study

Jacob gets cosy