Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Snake, The Crocodile and the Dog

The title: The Snake, The Crocodile & The Dog
The author: Elizabeth Peters
Publication: Warner, 1992
Got it from: Vancouver, 2001

My project of reading one Amelia Peabody a year continues with the seventh in the series, which picks up where The Last Camel Died at Noon left off. Having rescued the daughter of missionaries from the Lost Oasis in Nubia, the Emersons leave young Nefret and their son Ramses (who is obviously infatuated with their new ward) in England. Once in Egypt, they find word of their adventure has spread and unscrupulous archaeologists are willing to do anything to learn the location of the Lost Oasis. While selecting this year's dig site, the usual excitement occurs and Amelia, then Emerson, get kidnapped. When Amelia eventually rescues him, she discovers her husband has forgotten her and must attempt to win his love all over again. Meanwhile, their friend Cyrus Vandergelt has arrived on the scene to help Amelia and may be developing feelings for her as well.

As usual, it's becoming impossible for me to not love an Elizabeth Peters book. I kept laughing on my lunch break at work, much to the annoyance of my co-workers, I'm sure. I enjoyed watching Amelia and Emerson stumble into love all over again and seeing Emerson fight his bad temper to grudgingly admit Amelia is not such a bad archaeologist. I also loved the appearance of one of my favourite characters (can't say who, it would spoil everything) who, as usual, is present throughout the story but not revealed until the end. There's not as much archaeology going on in this installment, but who cares? This book was just too exciting to put down. My only regret was that it had to end.

10 royal tombs out of 10

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Dark Is Rising

The title: The Dark Is RisingThe author: Susan Cooper
Publication: Atheneum, 1973Got it from: ??, 1998

I have recently been re-reading The Dark Is Rising, one of my favourite books from years ago, to put myself in a Christmas-y mood. I had forgotten how good this book is, and how crappy the movie "loosely" based on the book was. This book is actually the second in the series, but can be read as a stand-alone. It's Midwinter's Eve and 11-year-old Will Stanton's birthday. Strange things begin happening to him and he discovers he's the last of the Old Ones, ancient people who protect the world against the Dark.

It sounds like an ordinary fantasy, but it's not. It's chock full of British mythology, set in contemporary (or at least 1970's) rural England at Christmas, and it's fantastic. What I love about this book is the juxtaposition of the everyday and the supernatural. Will is an ordinary boy with an ordinary family, but he's also someone with great power and ancient knowledge. A snowstorm is no longer just a snowstorm, it's the work of dark forces.
Neighbours Will has known for years are not what they seem. It's a wonderful bridge to fantasy for people like me who don't necessarily want to read about completely different worlds and creatures. Will's world is entirely recognizable, but the forces at work within it are not. It's also classic Arthurian legend, bildungsroman and quest fable rolled into one.

I am looking forward to re-reading the other four books in the series in 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation

The title: Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation
The author(s): Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
Publication: St. Martin's Press, 2009
Got it from: The library

"In this hip, hilarious, and truly eye-opening cultural history, menstruation is talked about as never before. Flow is a fascinating, occasionally wacky, and sometimes downright scary story." Scary is right.
If just reading the title of this book makes you queasy (and you know who you are), you need to read this book, stat. The first thing you'll notice is that it's chock full of hilarious and horrifying ads from the femcare industry spanning back to the 19th century. But you'd be mistaken if you thought this book was just a repository of those wacky old ads from the dinosaur days. Instead, Stein and Kim provide a comprehensive history of where we were and why we're here today - and why, in so-called enlightened times, we still can't talk openly about our periods.

This may just be the best non-fiction book I've read all year. It's certainly the most sensible, coming as it does from a feminist perspective that's witty, intelligent and skeptical of anybody who's looking to make a quick buck off women and their "problems." I almost cheered when they talked about how ridiculous it is that menstruation is still so taboo, as if it's an abnormal disease, or how horrifying it is that millions of women still douche despite how dangerous and upsetting it is to our vaginas. (Noses, it should be pointed out, are dirtier and secrete more mucous, but you don't find anybody telling us to stick tampons up them and wash them out with dangerous chemicals that cause infections). In fact, their argument (and I've been saying this for years) is that despite what femcare companies keep telling us, periods are NO BIG DEAL. In fact, they're a sign that everything is just fine.

What struck me most about this work, and it should come as no surprise to any feminist, is that there has been so little research done on periods that scientists can barely explain the most basic of functions. I had no idea, for instance, that the ovaries actually select about twenty eggs a month but only one gets to grow to maturity and be released, while the rest get killed off. Or that when the follicle bursts to release the egg, it leaves scars on our ovaries until by the time we reach menopause, our ovaries look like they've been through battle. (I don't remember this from grade seven sex ed!) And here's the really scary part - there have been almost no studies on the long-term effects of chemicals in tampons, taking horse urine medicine to treat menopause (millions of women do) and chemically stopping your periods. What we DO know is that the effects aren't good. Women still get toxic shock syndrome from tampons, cancer from hormone replacement therapies and a whole host of problems from lowered estrogen levels that stopping your periods brings.

And can somebody please explain how menstrual products are still considered "luxuries" and taxed? I'm still mad about this one.

I urge you to read this book and make it your feminist act of the year. (Mine was tearing down "men's rights" ads in front of the library that wanted to stop funding to Amnesty International because the organization supported women who were beaten by their spouses. This apparently "made men look bad." Look, people. Amnesty International doesn't make men look bad. Men being assholes makes men look bad). At the very least, read this book so that you can feel better about your period, or help you realize what's going on with the ladies in your life if you're a man. We all need to be better informed about menstruation.