Friday, December 25, 2009


Of all the gifts I could have gotten for Christmas this year, I never dreamed that the BSOD would be one of them. The past few days have been seriously chaotic, so I was looking forward to quiet time today working on a few writing projects with my laptop. Imagine my shock, horror, and dismay when my computer went through its WindowsXP startup and then flashed before me the accursed Blue Screen of Death. It suggested I do things like restart if I had never seen this message before, so I tried this more than once, but each time I was greeted by the BSOD. I think my favorite part of the computer lingo gibberish was the message that appeared at the bottom:
Beginning dump of physical memory
Physical memory dump complete.
Now, I don't know about you, but telling me my physical memory had been dumped was like watching a portion of my life disintegrate before me. I've been racking my brain, hoping that I backed up many files, but my flash drives are home so I can't check. I know I've lost quite a bit of music downloaded from iTunes and numerous digital images. The laptop was just over 5 years old, so I guess this was inevitable. But still, seriously aggravating. Fortunately for now, my father has Internet access here in Florida, enabling me to share this catastrophe with you, but who knows when bklynbiblio will be operating again from the comforts of a second-floor brownstone apartment in Cobble Hill. 2010 better start off better than 2009 seems to be ending!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas 2009

Even though the temperature today was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the sun was strong. I'm surprised (and perhaps a little disappointed) to say that a few inches of the snow have melted already. From comments on my post last night, it appears my friend CC and her family in Yorkshire, England have been contending with heavy snow, while Shermania in upstate New York barely got any snow at all. We wound up with just under a foot in my neighborhood and, yes, I was out there shoveling at 8:45am! Hopefully this means airport travel tomorrow should be smooth. I'm heading to the Sunshine State (where it's actually not very warm at the moment) to visit family for the holidays, so any bklynbiblio posts I do for a while will be from down there. I leave you with the above picture I took with my mobile phone of a wooden rocking horse that was a gift from my mother in 1991. The hand-painted horse is about a foot high and long. To me, it exudes a sense of Victorian sentimentality, which Momma knew I would appreciate. It seemed like an appropriate image to share since tomorrow also would have been her 67th birthday. Needless to say, this rocking horse is one of my most cherished holiday decorations. Buon Natale, tutti! Merry Christmas to you all!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

First Snowfall & Snowstorm: 2009-2010 Winter

A few minutes before 1pm today, I was walking to the laundromat when I noticed the first snowflakes of the season falling from the sky. In the suburbs they've had snow already, but this is our first snowfall for the season. The weathermen had been predicting that NYC was going to get a full snowstorm this weekend, which I think is always exciting because, for just a brief time, the City looks like it's covered in a beautiful, soft white blanket and becomes tranquil and still. Most of the afternoon, the snow was very light, so I didn't think much of it. I spent the evening drinking tea and watching the exciting new episode of Doctor Who (The Waters of Mars) on BBC America. When it was over, I figured I would shovel off our front stoop and sidewalk. Imagine my surprise when I saw that we had accumulated over 5 inches already and the snow was coming down quite heavily! (Yes, when you live in a brownstone without a superintendent, you have to do things like shovel your own walkway.) The picture you see above is a shot from the top of the stoop that I took with my digital camera about 10:30pm. The amber color is quite accurate; the streetlamps reflect off the snow and illuminate the sky with this lovely golden hue. But if you really want to get a sense of how hard the snow is coming down, check out the picture below, which is the same view but with the flash on. I'll have quite a bit of shoveling to do in the morning, I have no doubt! I only hope the airports will be back on track for when I fly on Monday morning (which, oddly enough, I was worried about last year too because it snowed right before I was leaving town).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

DSR Grant

Today was my last final exam ever, and I turned in my research papers too. I still have to complete my independent study project, which I will turn in after the holidays, but as of today I am officially finished with classes for credit! Even more exciting, the other day I received good news from my school. I've been awarded a Doctoral Student Research Grant. The award will help pay my expenses for a research trip I will be making to Liverpool, England next year. My proposal was to conduct research at the Walker Art Gallery and surrounding areas of Liverpool on the sculpture of John Gibson (1790-1866), about whom you may recall I gave a conference paper at Yale in November 2008. Gibson was born in Wales but his family moved to Liverpool when he was 9 years old. He received his early training in sculpting there, and his first patrons were all Liverpudlians. Despite his move to Rome he maintained a connection with this city, continuing to produce poetic subjects of gods and tomb monuments for many of its citizens. The image you see here is a photograph I took of Gibson's sculpture The Sleeping Shepherd Boy during my first visit to the Walker Art Gallery in April 2006 with my cousin HA in England. Gibson created the plaster cast of the statue in 1818 while he was studying with the great Antonio Canova (1757-1822), and he subsequently carved up to 3 versions in marble for different patrons. The Walker acquired this statue about 20 years ago, adding it to their already substantial holdings of sculpture by Gibson and others. It will be exciting to spend more time in Liverpool to do this research (in part also because a branch of my mother's family comes from this general area...I wonder if we're related?). I am very glad to have received this grant to help make the project happen, but since I probably won't be going until next fall, I will have to wait patiently until then.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review: Neverwas

Sometimes it's worth watching a movie you know absolutely nothing about. I had been looking for something different to get from Netflix when I came across Neverwas (2005), a movie they had listed as a thriller. I saw that it starred Ian McKellen, which suggested to me that even if the movie was bad, his acting would make it worth my time. The plot summary from Netflix reads: "After taking a job at the mental institution that once housed his father, a famous children's author, erudite psychiatrist Zach Riley befriends a schizophrenic who unlocks a string of family secrets." Needless to say, despite a forced beginning, the movie turned out to be amazing. It's certainly not a thriller in any action-packed sense. Rather, it's an adult fairytale, one which I'm realizing now as I write this probably appealed to me much in the same way A.S. Byatt's writing does. The movie invites you to question the blurred boundaries of reality, insanity, and fantasy, and unfolds in a way that makes you want to know more, and to feel more. The movie was written and directed by Joshua Michael Stern, and for his freshman outing in moviemaking, he accomplished something of which others would be jealous. The true accomplishment in the film, however, rests with the acting of some surprising stars. In addition to McKellen, who is superb, there is Jessica Lange, Nick Nolte, Alan Cumming, William Hurt, and others who round out an amazing cast. Aaron Eckhart plays the protagonist, and while his acting often seems stiff to me, I found myself warming up to him in this movie. Even Brittany Murphy, who plays the main female role (I shan't give away details), was surprisingly good. The soundtrack by Philip Glass was as haunting and disturbing as Glass's music can be, but it worked well, especially in the forest scene (see the picture above). Watch this movie. It's a great story with an emotional tug that borders on melodrama but fortunately never tips over, and when you finally feel it, you will feel it good. Here is the trailer for the movie, but be forewarned: it makes you think it's a kids' fantasy, but in fact it's very much a story for adults.

UPDATE (12/20/09): Brittany Murphy died today at the age of 32, apparently of cardiac arrest. As I mentioned above, she never was one of my favorite actresses, but she was surprisingly good in this film and certainly showed that she had talent. Very sad. Here is a link to her obituary in The New York Times.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Books of 2009

The New York Times has posted its annual list of books: "100 Notable Books of 2009." The first 50 are fiction/poetry, the second 50 are non-fiction. As I noted last year when I wrote about this, the list comes from all the books that were reviewed by the newspaper. They've posted on the website the following disclaimer: "It was not easy picking the winners, and we doubtless made mistakes. To the authors who made the list: congratulations. To the equally deserving ones who did not: our apologies." Interestingly, there are 12 collections of short stories on the list this year, which they call a "heartening development" in this form of storytelling. I must agree.

Whereas last year I had not read a single book on the list, at least this year I can say that I read one, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2009). Here is their summary: "In Waters’s novel of postwar [i.e. World War II] anxiety, members of a decaying upper-crust English family start to come to sticky ends in their creepy mansion." Waters is one of my favorite authors, and this book was quite good. It wasn't as much of a scary thriller as the book jacket implied, but it did have its supernatural moments. The author's amazing ability to create believable characters is definitely among her strong points. I can still vividly see Caroline Ayres reclining on a couch reading, her legs tucked underneath her with the slightest trace of unshaven leg hair just barely peeking out from the long wool skirt she wears. Waters writes with an amazing eye for detail.

If we include my last read of 2008 [Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, about which I posted a review], I read 35 books this year as of today. Following up on Waters's book, I then read her absolutely amazing novel Fingersmith (2002). It draws on all of Waters's trademarks: Victorian culture, lesbianism, and mysteries. It is unlike anything you will have ever read before, and you will not be able to put it down. One of my other favorite fiction reads this year was Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth (1905) [about which I posted a review], which still occasionally haunts me some mornings, financially speaking, if I stop to buy a $4 cappuccino at Dean & Deluca. Other notable fiction reads this year included Roderick Hudson by Henry James (1875), A Mercy by Toni Morrison (2008) [which was on the NYT's 2008 list], the mystery One Across, Two Down by Ruth Rendell (1971), and The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan (2001). The following were among the more interesting of the art historical books I read this year: 19th-Century Sculpture by H.W. Janson (1985), The Aesthetic Movement by Lionel Lambourne (1996), and Antoine's Alphabet by Jed Perl (2008), about which I may be writing a review soon. If you're wondering about the book cover you see here, it's for Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814), which I'm reading right now, along with the exhibition catalogue for Watteau, Music, and Theater (2009) and The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning by Ernest Kurtz & Katherine Ketcham (1992), but those will have to go on next year's list.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Library Bytes: The NYPL

My friend and fellow librarian SVH sent me a link on YouTube that is a video released by The New York Public Library celebrating their Library Lions, people who were honored for their outstanding contributions and support of libraries. The honorees this past November included author Annie Proulx and illustrator Hilary Knight. I'm embedding the video below because it's great in terms of helping promote library services, not just here in NYC, but anywhere in the country. I've used the services of the main research branch more than once. Not only is it a beautiful building, but it's an incredible "democratic" experience to think that anyone can go in and use any book in their collection. You can complain about how long the book retrieval service can take, but it's still a pretty amazing system. My friend DC works there, and I know they've been hit with financial cutbacks like everyone else. But they're striving to still provide the best services they can to the public. The line drawing of a lion that you see here is their new logo. It relates to the famous sculpted lions named Patience and Fortitude that rest on plinths outside the main entrance on 5th Avenue. You can read more about them by clicking here. In the meantime, watch this video. It's really well done.