Sunday, January 31, 2010

Photo Basics - Camera Controls and White Balance

So, this is part two of my "Lessons from Photography Class" series. Part one covered basic definition which can be found here. In this post I want to cover some of the basic controls on an SLR camera. Since I have a Canon XSi that is what I am going to work off of. Though there will be some differences between where you can find a certain feature or what that feature may be called (this is where your manual will come in handy), this info should still be helpful one way or another.

And if not, then I recommend searching for your specific camera on youtube. When I first got my camera I was a little overwhelmed to be honest. Youtube really helped me get a basic understanding of how my camera worked and even though I'm still learning, my camera no longer seems so daunting.

In regards to the Canon XSi specifically though, here is a really helpful video for learning the basic setup of your camera (it helped me a ton):



I talked about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed in the last post (and I will still be going further into each of these later on), but I want to talk about the white balance for a moment.

White balance is basically the way your camera compensates for the way different lights give off different color hues. Does that make sense? I’m sure everyone has taken a picture indoors that had a yellow tint to the picture. That’s because the normal every-day light bulbs people use give off a yellow light. Still with me? The point of the white balance is for your camera to capture colors accurately regardless of whether you are photographing under fluorescent lights or outside during sunset. Since you have a brain, you will need to tell your camera what light you're taking pictures in. From what I've seen so far, the automatic white balance setting is only really useful when shooting in sunny conditions outside.

Here's an example so you can see what I mean:


Holden asked me take a picture of his cars when he saw me with my camera. Simple enough. But as you can see, when I took the top picture with the white balance set as "auto" the picture came out very yellow. In the second picture I changed the white balance to "tungsten" (since it was night time the only lighting was from regular light bulbs) and was able to get a much more accurate photo.

Even though this issue can be fixed with any photo editing software, I still think it's important to mess around with the different white balance settings so you can get a better understanding of how your camera works. It's also important for me since I'm not allowed to edit any of my photos yet for my photo class.

Here's another example using all the different white balance settings on my camera:


I took this picture of bust of a Jesus I have on my bookshelf (I'm not religious but I like busts and buy them whenever I come across one at a thrift store) in my sunny living room. Even though the first picture is very accurate, the daylight white balance is perfect. The fluorescent and tugnsten settings are way off but I think it's interesting to see how exactly the white balance is trying to compensate in case I actually was taking photos in those light settings. I recommend trying something similar so you can get a feel for how your cameras white balance settings work first hand. I also plan on doing this at night so I can see how the different lights in my house make a difference.

(You can also find Canon's breakdown of its different white balance settings here (though I think it's much more complicated then it needs to be) and a custom white balance setting how-to here.)

But now you might be wondering what you're supposed to do with all the information in the last video. Well, here is another video that gives you instruction on how to set that up:


Now get out there and practice.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photo Basics - Basic Definitions

I am taking Photography I this semester and I thought it would be interesting to blog about what I'm learning as I'm learning it. Not only will blogging about what I’m learning help make sure that I actually understand what I’m being taught, but if I can help at least one person in the universe understand the basics of photography then even better.

And so this is the fisrt part of my "Lessons from Photography Class" series.

Obviously I am going to make some mistakes along the way. (I had never even picked up a camera more sophisticated then a “point and shoot” until two weeks ago.) This is a learning process for me and my posts can only reflect my wide-eyed inexperience. But I am not one of those pretentious people who think only certain people can take good photographs. Not everyone can paint a masterpiece but that shouldn’t stop anyone from giving it a shot. I do not have this burning passion to be the most awesomest photographer ever. I am approaching this with a laid back attitude. This is a hobby for me and I just want to take better then average photos. We’ll see where it goes from there.

So, you are welcome to come along on this little ride with me. I will post pictures from my assignments along with the lesson so you can see examples of what I’m trying to explain. If I find someone else who has already explained it better then I ever could I will link to them. I will try to post each lesson weekly unless there’s a holiday and we don’t have class. Hopefully by the end of this you and I both will see a big difference between the quality of photos I take.

And if not, well at least it’ll be fun.

Ok, let’s kick this party off with some basic definitions. A camera is basically a light tight box that contains photosensitive material (film in a film camera or a sensor in a digital camera). These are the main parts of a camera and what their purpose is. A lot of these I will go into more detail about as we go on. I know this seems like a ridiculously simple place to start, but I want to make sure I start from the very beginning.

photo details here

Camera Body: The casing of the camera which holds the camera parts. There are two different types of cameras; Single Lens Reflex (or SLR) cameras and fixed lens cameras (or “point and shoot”). I don’t want to get into too much detail about the difference between the two since I will be focusing on SLRs, but you can read more about it here if you’re interested. One of the biggest difference is that SLRs have detachable lenses and fully manual setting capabilities.

Lens: The lens is basically the eye of the camera. It draws the light into the camera and focuses it on the film plane.

Viewfinder: The "window" through which you look to frame your picture.

Exposure: The end result of light acting upon the photosensitive material (i.e. the film of sensor). The intensity of that light (controlled by the aperture) and the time interval it does so (controlled by the shutter) are what make up the exposure.

Shutter: The shutter is the piece inside the camera that blocks light from reaching the light sensitive material (the film or the sensor) until the photographer presses the shutter button. The shutter then opens, allowing light to pass through the lens and strike the film or sensor, recording the photograph.

Aperture: If the lens is the camera’s eye, then the aperture is the eye’s iris. It dilates and contracts to control the diameter of the hole that the light passes though, to let in more or less light. Similar to how your pupil dilates when there isn’t a lot of light; the aperture will do the same thing.

ISO: The ISO is a number used to express the light sensitivity of the digital camera. ISO has its origins in film photography, where the ISO setting measured the sensitivity of a particular roll of film to light. Even though the ISO doesn't let in more light like the aperture or the shutter, it does make your camera more sensitive to light (which has similar results).

With a digital camera, you usually can shoot at a variety of ISO settings. Higher ISO settings allow you to shoot digital photos in low-light conditions, but such photos are more susceptible to noise and grainy images than photos shot at low ISO settings.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Music Thursday

New music Thursday is an attempt to keep my goal of listening to some new music alive and kicking. These are the songs I'm diggin this week:

Wandering Around by Coconut Records:



I'd Like To by Corinne Bailey Rae:



Gentle Groove by Mother Love Bone:



Ironically we actually own this cd, but I've never listened to it. I will have to remedy that.

Listen by An Horse:



You & Me by the Beggars:



I also want to include Ordinary Song by The Little Ones, but the embedding has been disabled. Super lame but you can hear it here.

Favorite group of the week: The xx

Crystalised:



Their acoustic version is amazing as well.

Basic Space:



Heart Skipped A Beat:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jeux d’enfants (Love me if you Dare)

Last night I watched an interesting movie call Jeux d’enfants.


Jeux d'enfants (Love Me if you Dare) is a French film by Yann Samuell based around the friendship of two children, Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard), who become obsessed with their game of dares. Whoever posses the carousel tin box gets to dare the other anything they want. But what starts as harmless dares as children (like cursing in class), eventually evolvs into outrageous and mostly cruel dares as adults.

Almost anyone who talks about this film brings up the movie Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain (Amelie) for good reason. Not only is the whimsical nature very Amelie-esqu, but the use of color is also very similar. The narration also made me think of Pushing Daisies as well, but that might just have to do with my insanse amount of love for the show.



What I found most interesting about this film was how much I disliked the characters. This happens sometimes when I’m reading books as well, and I’m always surprised how I can actually want happiness for people I’m so bothered by. This is how this movie made me feel. I kept getting annoyed by how selfish Julien and Sophie were and how little they cared about the people they were hurting around them.

Because this is not a love story. This is a story about obsession. It’s a story about how love can make us unbelievably cruel and how sometimes we can’t see beyond our own wants.

That being said, I still recommend that anyone who hasn’t seen this film go out and watch it. Maybe it’s just my love for anything magical and whimsical, but this movie is at least something beautiful to look at. Even if you do want to strangle the characters sometimes.

Are you game?

The Laurentine Spy

Title: The Laurentine Spy
Author: Emily Gee
Genre: Fantasy (though it's really Romance in my opinion)

Publisher: Solaris
Publishing Date: April 28th 2009
Paperback: 416 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone.

Summary: (from Angieville)
Deep in the bowels of the Corhonase citadel, among catecombs and crypts and crumbling columns, three cloaked and hooded personages meet in secret. They utter their passwords to the mysterious Guardian and enter. Known to each other only as One, Two, and Three, by day these three spies masquerade as nobles and servant in an enemy court, while by night they plot to steal top-secret code books on behalf of their homeland of Laurent. Different spies rotate through Corhona and there have always been a One and a Two. A noble and a servant. But now, for the first time, there is a Three. A woman. Saliel is Three and it is her job to stay close to the women of court, to the Prince's Consort, and feed her fellow spies and their Guardian any information she can glean about military movements, plots, and maneuvers. It is Saliel's dream to earn enough money to quit espionage and settle down in a solitary cottage by the sea and never have nightmares of her dark past or her danger-fraught present. Though they have no idea just who the other masquerades as during the day, One and Three develop a tenuous bond forged of mutual respect, curiosity, and a desire to protect the other from harm. But when the prince brings in a professional Spycatcher, that bond is stretched to the breaking point as Athan and Saliel are unwittingly pitted against one another, forced to tiptoe through their days, terrified of being caught, and uncertain as to whether or not they will ever escape Corhona alive.

Review:

Warning: There be spoilers ahead.

I have mentioned my love for the Book Smugglers before. They tend to give the type of book reviews I dream of writing but am just too lazy to ever do. Any book they give a 9 or 10 rating to goes directly on my “to-read” list (unless it’s romance) and I’ve loved every one. Even though Ana had reviewed this book last year though, I had never read it or heard about it when I decided to check it out at the library. (What can I say? There was a table of fantasy books by the children’s books and Holden can take a while.) It turned out Ana had loved the book and gave it a solid 7. So, I patted myself on the back for choosing wisely since the Smugglers have never steered me wrong and jumped right in.

There’s a first time for everything I suppose.

I hate to start out on such a dour note, but this book is the worst book I’ve read in quite a while. I almost always read my books in one sitting and will often stay up till all hours of the night (or morning) to finish a good book. But this book? I barely found the energy to keep reading it.

First off, I do not understand why this book is labeled as fantasy. Right off the back it’s very clear that this is a story about two people and that one of those people already has feelings for the other. Seriously, I feel like I was duped. I can’t see why the Gardella Vampire Chronicles (which has a much more engrossing fantasy element) was considered romance but this book wasn’t. The magic in this book was essentially blah and I found myself even getting bored with the small amount of actual subterfuge that happened in this story.

Maybe some back story would have helped. I never got a clear picture as to why I, as the reader, was supposed to want Laurentine to win or why the spying was necessary. Besides some vague references in some parts of the book, no history is really mentioned. If the only reason I’m supposed to hate the people of a country is because their women are supposed to be chaste and while their men are allowed to screw whores then that list would be mighty long. (Oh yeah, and they wear drab colors. The bastards.)

And about the women, how many books need to be written about how wonderful and sacred it is to be a virgin? Give me a freggin break. Maybe it’s the humorless feminist in me, but those kinds of stories just don’t appeal to me. I don’t want to read page after page about how the men control the women by controlling their sexuality. I don’t want to read about hymens breaking either. It’s just ridiculous. I also feel like the author didn’t give an explanation as to why Saliel was still a virgin. (I know it seems crass to bring it up, but believe me the book makes sure we’re quite well aware she’s a virgin from the beginning.) If she was born of low birth and spent time working as a governess before becoming a spy it seems odd to me she would have never dated. It’s this dichotomy of naiveté and kick ass spy that bothers me because instead of adding nuance to Saliel’s character it seems forced by the author.

This schism of competence and incompetence is the probably the most irksome thing about Saliel. First she is a kick ass spy. Then she needs Athan to protect her. Rinse and repeat over and over again. And Athan’s constant need to try and protect Saliel is the second most annoying thing about this book (the first being the deification of virginity). I would have kept track of how many times he said something about protecting her but I don’t think I can count that high and it’s making me angry just thinking about it to be honest. It reminded me of Twilight in that regard actually (the endless, "I just want to protect you" crap). I wish Saliel would have, just once, told Athan to back the fuck off and let her handle her business. But there I go with my silly notions of female empowerment again.

Can you see why I don’t read these kinds of books?

Beyond that, I thought the plot was slow and two dimensional. The most interesting relationship in the whole ridiculous story was between Saliel and her friend Marta. The parts where Saliel was questioning how her actions were hurting her friend were the only honest thing I read in this book. Everything else seemed too contrived or artificial. The fact these spies couldn’t figure out the identity of one another or figure out a way out of the country pretty much sums up what a lousy excuse for secret agents they were.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

They spent their days indoors, now that it was autumn. Saliel disliked the Ladies’ Hall, with its heavy ceiling and narrow, shuttered windows. Two hundred women sat and sewed, but the Hall seemed to swallow them. They shrank, becoming doll-sized. She raised her head and looked around, seeing tapestries, sofas with brocade cushions, ornate side tables. The colors she wanted to see—warm reds and yellows, vivid blues and greens—weren’t there. The noblewomen wore the colors of virtue: dark colors, pale colors, dull colors. And gray, the color of mourning. The seamstresses had been busy in the past three weeks; fifty ladies wore gowns of ash-gray silk. And for each gown, a dead man. Saliel bent her head over her embroidery.

Verdict:

Ultimately this book was a succession of events that I was just waiting to happen. There was no surprise or mystery in this book for me. From the beginning to the end (and even that ill-conceived pregnancy) this book was just blah.

Rating: 4. Bad, but for some reason I still needed to know what happens in the end

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tuesday Tumblr

Just a roundup of things I've recently hearted on Tumblr:


I do not take credit for any of these graphics or photos.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Anatomical Heart Locket

I am so in love with this anatomical heart locket by Peggy Skemp:


I am bummed the locket it out of my price range (over $200 bucks), but if you're not so monetarily restrained you can find Skemp's esty shop here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Name. New Look.

As you can see things look different around these here parts. I spent more time today then I’d like to admit giving this blog a much needed update. While the old template had the benefit of being silly, I really prefer a much cleaner look to my blogs.

You will also notice that my blog has a different name. Essentially, what I did was combine a blog I had called Sunshine and Bones (which I wasn’t actually using and was merely holding the url) with artful illusions. Not only do I like that my url address now matches my title, but I think it’s a bit silly to have my fingers in so many pies.

Hopefully, after the initial confusion everything will work much better.

And in case anyone is interested, the name “Sunshine and Bones” actually comes from my friend Jennifer and a summer we both worked at a Salvation Army day camp. Instead of using our regular names, we decided, as a group, that all the counselors would use nicknames instead. Around this time (I was fifteen I believe) a neighbor had started calling me “sunshine” due to the outrageous amounts of glitter I would wear all over my face. Seriously, my head was like a disco ball and I'm surprised people could stand to see me out in the sun light. As you can probably guess, Jennifer’s nickname was “bones.” Not for any particularly scandalous reason, but because of her insatiable love for Bone Thugs N Harmony. It’s as simple as that.


I always imagined a day when Jennifer and I could work together on some project. I think most teenagers think along these lines at some point, but I could really see us doing something creative together (at the time I thought it would be t-shirt printing or jewelry making).

I still harbor these hopes to be honest.

Beyond that, I also think "Sunshine and Bones" is a good representation of how I feel about life and the direction I want to move in (in regards to the things I create). And let’s be honest, it is pretty catchy.

So, for all those reasons I plan on going by the name “Sunshine and Bones” for now on.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Genre: YA, Speculative Fiction

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
Publishing Date: April 29, 2008
Hardback: 266 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone.

Summary: (from Goodreads)
Who is Jenna Fox?

Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a year-long coma, and she's still recovering from the terrible accident that caused it. Her parents show her home movies of her life, her memories, but she has no recollection. Is she really the same girl she sees on the screen?

Little by little, Jenna begins to remember. Along with the memories come questions—questions no one wants to answer for her. What really happened after the accident?

In this fascinating novel, acclaimed author Mary E. Pearson presents an unforgettable look at one human life and a glimpse into a possible future that may be closer than we think.
Review:

I’m having a hard time summing this book up into a tidy little paragraph because it has a little of everything. The story is set in the not-too-distant future and, as the summary says, follows the difficulties of the character Jenna Fox who has just awoken from a coma. But it’s also so much more then that. This book makes you stop and think about what it is that makes us who we are and if our humanity is limited by the cells in our body. It also takes a deep look at family and how perspective can make all the difference.

I have to say right off the bat I’m not very enamored with first person narratives. When they’re done well they’re great, but most of the time they fall flat for me. So when I say this book has one of the best first person narratives I’ve ever read, I really mean it. In fact, Jenna’s POV is what makes this story work. It lends a haunting sort of appeal to the story and I think everyone will relate to Jenna’s search for who she is. Some people will find the choppy narrative off putting, but I don't think it would have worked any other way.

Throughout the book there were poems that often illuminated the internal struggle Jenna was going through and I found them to be exceptionally poignant. Example:
Pieces
Isn’t that what all of life is anyway?
Shards. Bits. Moments.
Am I less because I have fewer, or do the few I have
mean more?
Am I just as full as anyone else? Enough?
Pieces.
Allys saying “I like you.”
Gabriel snorting out bread, freeing me to laugh.
And Ethan reminding me how much I do know.
Pieces.
I hold them like they are life itself.
They nearly are.
Pearson also included word definitions at the beginning of some of the chapters and I think it was a nice touch. I know it’s kind of disjointing, but language is such an important part of who we are as people that I feel like it just makes sense for Jenna to cling to that.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:
But with all the scenes, the birthdays, the lessons, the practices, the ordinary events that should have been left alone, what I remember most are Jenna’s eyes, flickering, hesitations, an urgent trying. That’s what I remember most from the discs, a desperation to stay on the pedestal. I see that in her eyes as much as I see their color. And now, in the passing of just a few weeks, I see things in faces I didn’t see before. I see Jenna, smiling laughing, chattering. And falling. When you are perfect, is there anywhere else to go? I ache for her like she is someone else. She is. I am not the perfect Jenna Fox anymore.
Verdict:

Right away you can tell something is different about Jenna and it’s not too hard to guess what. But that’s not really the point of the story. Jenna’s journey to self-discovery is really the gem here.

This book also brings up some interesting ideas about ethics in medicine and how the good thing and the right thing are far too often two much different things.

I do think there were some issues left unresolved at the end of the book (like Dane) but I thought it was great overall.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Music Thursday

New music Thursday is an attempt to keep my goal of listening to some new music alive and kicking. These are the songs I'm diggin this week:

After Hours by We Are Scientists:



Hummingbird by Wilco:



I have to say I'm not completely sure about Wilco yet to be honest. I definitely don't not like them, but I'm not sure if I do like them either. And apathy is pretty much the cryptonite to love. We'll see though.

Big Love by Lindsey Buckingham:



I'd never heard any of Lindsey Buckingham's solo songs till this week and this one is great.

Back by Pac Div:



House of chains by Future leaders of the World:



I've noticed that I either love or hate the songs Future leaders of the World comes out with. This song appeals to my love of 90s music, but if its not your thing then I would check out some of their other songs. You pretty much get something different with every one so you're bound to like something.

Be Be Your Love by Rachael Yamagata:



Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros:



Favorite artist of the week: Phoenix

1901:



Girlfriend:



Lisztomania:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente

Title: Palimpsest
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Genre: fantasy
“You bare your belly to a great beast and endure trials and it all works itself out. There is a treasure or a sword. Or a woman. And that thing is yours not because you defeated anything, or because your flesh was hard and unyielding, but because you were worthy of it, worthy all along. The trials and the beast were just a way of telling the world you wanted it, and the world asking in her hard way, hard as bones and hollow mountains, if you really and truly did.” (148)
Publisher: Spectra
Publishing Date: February 24th 2009
Paperback: 384 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone.

Summary: (from Goodreads)
Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse—a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important—a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.
That quick little blurb isn’t really enough to understand exactly what this book is about so I thought I would include this interview with Valente that someone included in their Goodreads review:
“It [Palimpsest] exists on the flesh of those who visit it, in a black mark that looks something like a streetmap,” Valente said in an interview. “When you sleep with someone bearing the mark, you can enter the city in dreams—but always limited to the part of Palimpsest that your lover carries on their skin. The novel follows four people: November, Ludovico, Oleg, and Sei, from all over the world, who become infected and then obsessed with Palimpsest, as they try to discover the nature of the place, and how to emigrate there, permanently.”

November is the most prominent of the four protagonists. “She is a young woman living in a suburb of San Francisco and working as a beekeeper,” Valente said. “She has extreme social anxiety and lives as a recluse until a single night in the city leaves her with a black mark on her face. Unable to hide what has happened to her, she begins an odyssey through the decadent clockpunk city of Palimpsest and through the real world, driving the others together. In Palimpsest, she becomes involved with Casimira the matriarch of the city and the instigator of a mysterious war in whose last battles November entangles herself.”

Writing Palimpsest was the first time Valente had written a novel set largely in the real world, rather than a secondary fantasy world. “That proved to be a terrific challenge—it’s easy to make a character interesting when they are a centaur, or a pirate,” Valente said. “Harder when it’s a lonely woman grieving for her dead father. These things are commonplace in our world, and it took a lot of time and thought to make November and her compatriots as compelling as their more colorful counterparts in Palimpsest. Palimpsest is a novel of internal worlds, and even in this life, our internal worlds are never drab.”

Palimpsest’s technology is best described as clockpunk. “[Its:] political era might be called belle epoque,” Valente said. “Casimira is the foreman of a vast factory that turns out clockwork insects by the millions—they form her army and her spies. Throughout the city, half-human, half-animal war veterans roam, mute, cared for by public works projects. The city is surreal, decadent, sensual, a conglomeration of the warring dreams and passions of its inhabitants.”

Valente said that the novel was terribly personal. “It is simultaneously a story of a fantasy world and the burning desire to get there, and of lonely people trying to find connection on the edges of society,” she said. “Being a child of the internet and various subcultures, and also someone who has been often solitary in my life, I found myself writing an almost confessional novel about the places where many people can come together and create an entirely new space, a new country, sheerly out of their desire not to be alone.”
Review:

Even though you have to have sex to get into Palimpsest, the book itself is not overly erotic or gaudy with its sex scenes. The sex in this book is more of a transaction and for the most part its simple and to the point. And ironically, I think that made the sex much more real compared to some of the over the top scratching/biting/clawing/sweaty/smelly sex I always encounter in books. While over the top sex scenes have their place, there is something more authentic about the lonely private sex Valente writes about in this book.

Beyond that, I guess you could say this book is like the abandoned love child of Juliet Marillier and Simon Green’s Something from the Nightside series. I couldn’t get into Valente’s Orphan's Tales, but this book has the same lushness. So while the Nightside books kept popping in my head, the language is what makes it stand apart.

This is the kind of book that makes you want to read out loud so you can feel the velvety texture of the words on your tongue. That’s how great the writing is.

I do have to admit that by the end I was skimming over some of the Palimpsest history that precedes each chapter, but that has part to do with the fact that I read the book in one sitting (I always end up skimming when I do that). The book was also slow getting into. While the characters had me hooked right away, I was starting to get annoyed at how little I was learning about the city itself. In the end the wait was very much worth it though. Not only because it is always better to have to wait for something you want, but also because it made me feel connected to the characters more. In a lot of ways I was filled with the same questions and anticipation as they were and when each character was given a little glimmer of information I felt the same hope as they did.

I also loved the ending. For some reason I’m often let down by the endings of books. It’s like the more I love a book the less happy I am with the end. None of this is through the fault of the author (usually), but because I just don’t want to let go. This book wasn’t like that though. The ending was satisfying and just perfect in my opinion.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

From Chapter 2:
There is a place on the interstate where the last black fingernails of Los Angeles fall away and the whole of the San Joaquin valley spreads out below the mountains, impossibly golden, checkered in green and wheat and strawberry fields and orange groves and infinitely long rows of radishes, where the land is shriven of all the sins of palm-bound, artifice-mad Southern California.

November knew that place, knew it so well that her bare foot on the gas pedal throbbed as it approached, as her little green car, heavy with produce, crested the last rise in the tangled highways of the Grapevine, and the light began to change, gratefully, from raw, livid brume to a gold like the blood of saints. Her throat caught as the great, soft fields unfolded below her, yawning, stretching all the way to San Francisco and further still, to the redwoods and Oregon, all the way up.

She had often imagined, as a girl, when her mother drove back and forth between the two great cities of the west, that I-5 went on simply forever, past Canada to the North Pole, where the center divider would be wrapped up in ice and the bridges cut out of arctic stone. Even now, charting the coast in her own right, she sometimes thought of ignoring the off-ramps and speeding up and up, to the cold stars and fox-haunted glaciers. But in the end, it was always the city of St. Francis that stopped her, and the rest of the world was lost behind a curtain of fog and gnarled red trees.

She could never escape the feeling of strange Spanish holiness that California bestowed—the cities named for saints, angels, benediction. The capital itself a sacrament. Like communion wafers she tasted the places on her tongue, the red roof tiles blood-vivid. Her own blood bisected the state, her mother, retired, warming her bones against the southern sea, her father, dead ten years, buried in the wet northern moss.

They met in the south, on a dock far out in the frothing turquoise Pacific, her young mother in rolled-up olive overalls with a great long knife in her hands, slaughtering a small blue shark she had caught by accident, trying for salmon. She was bloody to her elbows, her clothes a ruin, arterial spray across her cheek. Her father tied his little sailboat to the pier and she looked up at him over a carcass of silver and scarlet. They had both laughed.

Long before he died, November's father was gone, up north, away from his wife and the sea. They could not bear each other, in the end, and perhaps a thing begun in blood and death and salt must end that way. They could not live with less than three mountain ranges to separate them. And between them they strung their daughter, and like a shining black bead counting out refutations of love, she slowly slid back and forth, back and forth. Finally, she had settled on her father's country, and left the loud blues and golds of the south, unable to bear them herself.

She did not live in San Francisco, of course. She could not afford it. But she was drawn to it, rising up from the bay like the star of the sea, resting in a shell, all blue veils and promises of absolution. And at night it was a mass of light at the end of all those bridges, all those highways, looking east with huge black eyes.

November kept her father's grave in Benicia, holding tenuously to the town's boldly proclaimed blessings, and with the grave she tended sixteen hexagonal beehives. She had named all the queens. She kept for them pristine and intricate gardens to flavor their feet, and the honey in turn, and it was this golden science that occupied the small and guarded territory of her interior, even as she traveled the long, slow road out of the desert, her trunk full of sleeping yucca bulbs and infant jacarandas, their roots bound up in earth and linen. Even as she found herself turning from the last scrap of highway and into the interminable column of cars creeping across the great iron mass of the Bay Bridge.

How we are willing to wait, she thought, like a line of penitent adulterers at a white altar, to be allowed into the city. How we gather at this dull gray gate, knowing that the golden one is a lie. It is only there for show. The faithful know that God lives nowhere near gold. The tourists gawk at the orange cathedral, while the wise gather here, in the low and long, waiting patiently to hand over their coins and be permitted, for a moment, to look upon, but not touch, the mass of jewels and offerings in which San Francisco wallows.

November drove slowly in, and the water below her was black. She sought out Chinatown reflexively, found a shop cashiered by a spectacled biology student which sold star anise and scallions. She loved Chinatown at three in the morning—the reds and greens were muted, shadowed into black by the gaps between streetlamps. It was secret, lonely; every pink neon character seemed brave against the dark.

It took skill, a mapmaker's skill, to find an open restaurant that would not turn a lone woman away, sure that her cup of coffee and wonton soup are hardly worth the effort of clearing a table. But on that night of all nights, November needed only a half an hour's cartomancy before she found one, and the starchy benevolence of a plate full of steaming soup dumplings, braised pork, and peppered oysters.

The booth was hard, cracked vinyl the color of a Chevrolet interior left in the sun for twenty years. A television mounted in the ceiling corner flashed the news from Beijing without subtitles. Thus, her attention wandered and fell on a young woman in the next booth over sipping soup, her bright blue eyes belying Chinese features. The two women watched each other for a space, the only customers in an empty cafeŽ, until finally, the other woman placed one delicate finger against her iris and deftly slid the contact lens aside like a curtain, quirking a smile as the wrinkled lens showed black beneath.

When November tries to remember this night a year from now, she will think the woman's name was Xiaohui. She will be almost sure she can remember the ring of the name, falling into her ear like a little copper bell. She will remember that they shared dumplings, and that the woman was a Berkeley student, a historian who knew the names of every one of Mohammed's grandchildren, and could recite the drifting census data of the ancient city of Karakorum, where the Khans raised tents of scarlet.

November had only her bees. They suddenly seemed paltry to her, poor and needy.
Verdict:

I loved it and I’m sad I have to return it to the library. I can see why this book was voted the best new fantasy book of 2009 by amazon. It's everything you can want in a book. It’s entertaining and yet has a way of being honest in a way that you don’t expect.

Rating: 10. One of the best books I have ever read and you’re crazy if you don’t run out and get the book immediately

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday Tumblr

Just a roundup of things I've recently hearted on Tumblr:


I do not take credit for any of these graphics or photos.