Friday, June 29, 2012

Before and After

I got super motivated the other day and decided it was time to do some pruning on the lime tree in our front yard. I know it's still a little lopsided, but I can't reach all those high branches on the right side, so it's just going to have to be crooked until the left side can grow in. At least now I can walk underneath it without getting smacked in the face by all the thorny, low-hanging, downward-growing branches.

From here, I walked around to the left side of the tree and took some more pictures.  

 From this angle it doesn't look lopsided at all!


Monday, June 25, 2012

I'm Taking A Stand!

Not really. Actually, I'm taking up The Stand, the 1138-page 1141-page* (at least in the version I'm reading) Stephen King chunkster classic that Trish and a bunch of other people are reading for this summer's group readalong, which Trish has dubbed the Standalong. I don't know if I'll hit the half-way point in a timely manner, but we have until July 27th to finish the book, and I think I can handle that. Hubby's gone for a week, so I've got plenty of time to a big scary book all by myself in a house that only makes weird noises when no one else is around to help you fend off the creepy.

Anywaaay...Trish wants to know a little bit about all the folks crazy enough to sign up for this, so she has asked us a few questions. Here are my answers:

1. What makes you want to read The Stand? I've always heard this lauded as one of Stephen King's best works, so it's been on my radar for a while, but it's always been such an intimidating read! Knowing that others are slogging through it along with me (although, honestly, if it gets too sloggy, I'll probably stop slogging) is encouraging.

2. Describe your preconceived notions of The Stand. Long! Also, probably scary, but not in the blood-and-guts horror movie kind of way, more along the lines of making you realize how scary the potential for disaster is in the real world with a little bit of paranormal/supernatural/good v. evil creepiness thrown in. Also lots of walking across dry, barren landscapes. And cornfields.

3. What was the last scary(ish) book you read or movie you saw? I think the last scary book I read was The Fall, book two of The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. The strain refers to the virus that turns people into vampires and, so far, I think the series has been done incredibly well. It also fits in quite nicely with a discussion of The Stand (hmm..The Stand, The Fall, killer flu virus, killer (sort of) vampire virus...I'm seeing a connection here!) This is no sparkly, romantic vampire tale. This is a tale of a virus that lands in major metropolitan areas and spreads quickly and violently. Scary stuff.

4. Which version of the book will you be reading from? I'm reading the complete & uncut edition because that's what was on my bookcase, yo! Actually, this is probably the one I would have gone with anyway. If I'm going to read the 641 pages originally published in 1978, I might as well read the additonal 500 pages that were published in 1990. I don't want to miss out on anything! Besides, after reading Part 1 of King's Two-Part Preface (Part 1: To Be Read Before Purchase) I'm convinced that this is the way to go. This is the story he wanted to tell in the first place, not a new story added on purely as a sales gimmick.

5. What are your previous experiences with Stephen King? Ahh, Stephen King...where to start? I consider myself a Stephen King fan even though I can only name one of his books as among my favorites (The Eyes of the Dragon). Most of the rest of his stuff that I've read is...all right. I've read a lot of short stories and started several novels that I never finished. So why the love? I think it stems from my childhood. I was a big fan of scary movies, and things like The ShiningCujo, Silver Bullet, and Creepshow made their mark--these were slumber party favorites for years! (BTW, I still love Silver Bullet-Cory Haim was such a cute kid, and Gary Busey as his crazy Uncle Red is spot-on.) My mom would probably still tell you that Pet Sematary and It are the scariest things she's ever read; I've heard a lot of people say that his non-fiction book, On Writing, is fabulous; some of my husband's favorite books are The Dark Tower series; and some of my all-time favorite movies are also based on King's writing: The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, The Green I don't quite know where I stand with King as an actual novelist. I'm hoping that after I read The Stand I will finally be able to add another King book to my list of all-time favorites.

6. Anything else you'd like to add (bonus points for being extra random). My copy of The Stand is full of mildew and it makes my throat hurt and makes me cough. Or else it's covered in plague. Check in with me in a couple days to make sure I'm still here!

*7/27/12-Corrected page number counts and the (several) misspellings of the author's name. Sheesh!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What I'm Reading Now-The Hairdresser of Harare

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu--First, a thank you to the author and to The African Books Collective for sending me a copy of this book, and, secondly, an apology to the author for taking so long to get to this review. I actually finished reading this about three weeks ago, but then I never got around to reviewing it. I kept putting it off and putting it off because I wasn't sure what I wanted to say about it. Finally, I had read so much other stuff recently, that I couldn't really remember any of the finer points, so decided that I needed to re-read I did.

I enjoyed the book both times, so that was good. Although there was plenty of foreshadowing of bad things to come, there wasn't any hard-core suspense, but I was always interested to see how everything was going to play out for the main characters. Vimbai is the star hairdresser at Mrs. Khumalo's salon, so when Dumisani, a charming, good looking young man, walks into the salon and quickly outshines her, her world is turned upside down. She has lost all her leverage as the salon's big draw, but business picks up so much because of Dumisani that everyone is benefitting from his being there. The fact that he is so likeable makes it even harder to resent him. Eventually, Dumi ends up becoming Vimbai's tenant, they become friends, and everything seems to be rolling along great. Vimbai realizes that she is attracted to Dumi but she is extremely guarded because of her past. Dumi introduces Vimbai to his family, who are crazy about her, but he has some secrets of his own.

I don't feel like I can talk a whole lot about the things that I found interesting about this book without spoiling it; although, for me, the spoiler-y stuff was no surprise at all and, in fact, I suspect it is part of the draw of the book...

OK, so non-spoiler-y stuff first: This story takes place in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. It took me a while to date the story-at first I thought it might be set in the '60s or '70s--a man walks into a salon to try to do a woman's job, and people are slightly scandalized.  There is some talk about AIDS and condom use, so maybe the '80s or '90s? Eventually there were references to cell phones and even Sex and the City. So, while I'm still not sure exactly when this story is set, it's a fairly modern tale. Just goes to show how one's preconceived notions of "modernity" can get in the way!

I've never read anything set in Zimbabwe before, and if you had asked me, I couldn't have really told you anything about it until the author started talking about the currency. The characters carry around bricks of cash, and even then it can be hard to come by what they need. Bartering and trading are much more effective. Oh, yeeeaaah. I do remember hearing something about Zimbabwean currency. At one point in the story, the Minister's husband comes into the salon and talks to Dumi about setting up a spa day for his wife a couple of months down the road. Dumi is happy to do it but tells the Minister's husband, "We'll have to charge you on the day because anything you give us now will be worthless by then." Wow--I never realized that things were so bad that it wasn't even worth being paid today for a service being done tomorrow (well, a couple months from tomorrow, but still...). Apparently things are changing, but there's still a problem with currency in Zimbabwe. Anyway, getting this peek into modern-day Harare was interesting, and I'm glad to have read it.


OK, spoiler-y stuff: So, as you may or may not have guessed, Dumi, the charming, good-looking male hairdresser with a secret, is gay. Chalk this up to stereotypes, but to me this was pretty obviously the Big Secret of this book from the very beginning, but Vimbai is completely shocked when she finds out. To be fair, Dumi does lead her on a bit, but her reaction to this discovery was another reality check for me about how my assumptions about modern-day attitudes are based on a pretty insulated view of the world. I was shocked by the fact that Vimbai didn't even suspect that Dumi might be gay, and the results of her discovery--both her inner dialogue and her physical actions--were heartbreaking. As much as I like to think that we are making progress in this country, sometimes I watch TV and have to wonder if there aren't a lot of Americans who would still react the same way as Vimbai.

There is a part in the book where Dumi and Vimbai attend a service at Vimbai's church and the pastor talks about morality and how "You must be on the lookout for homosexuals and sexual deviants. Perverts shall burn. How can a man and another man sleep together? God mad Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve." (Really?? Ugh. Cheeseball as hell, but I guess people fall for that stuff.) It becomes clear that although Vimbai may not have spent a lot of time considering her stance on homosexuals (because how likely are you, really, to run into one of these creatures of myth and legend in the real world??), when faced with one in her presence, her innate response is that they are bad and wrong. After a cooling-off period, she does realize that perhaps her initial response was brash--after all, Dumi has been kind to her and her daughter; in fact, homosexual tendencies aside, he seems like an incredibly decent human being. Of course, this consideration comes a little too late for Dumi. The results of Vimbai's initial anger are already irreversible.  The fact that she comes to regret her choices leaves one hopeful, but sad nonetheless. Vimbai seems to be a good, considerate person as well, perhaps a little bit self-centered, but then again, aren't we all sometimes?  So her reaction to Dumi is that much more painful.

So, while this book is mostly an easy read about the romantic complications of a single-mother hairdresser in Harare, it does bring up some serious issues. It makes the reader question his or her own beliefs and examine the basis of those beliefs. At the same time, it doesn't come across preachy or judgmental. Vimbai's reactions, although harsh and ultimately harmful, are understandable from the point of view of a scorned lover, orientation aside.

Have you read The Hairdresser of Harare? If you have, I'd be happy to add a link to your review. I'd also love to hear your thoughts below!