Showing posts from March, 2010

Suspended Animation

In Robert Montgomery Bird's 1836 novel Sheppard Lee, the title character (and narrator) discovers that he possesses an unusual ability: he is able to make his spirit leave his body and reanimate the body of another person who has recently died. In the third section of the novel, his current incarnation, a wealthy businessman, pulls a drowned young man from a river and wishes to be in the young man's place—he would rather be drowned than suffer the torments of gout and a shrewish wife.

Almost immediately, his wish is granted—although, at first, he thinks he might have ended up in hell. He smells whiskey and tobacco smoke, and perceives a group of "devils" gathered around to torture him:One of them, and I took it for granted he was the chief devil, stood by me, pressing my ribs with a fist that felt marvellously heavy, while with the other he maintained a grasp upon my nose, to which ever and anon he gave a considerable tweak; while another, little less dreadful, stoo…


This morning, the reflections on the water of Spring Creek, near the entrance to the Lower Arboretum, reminded me of a classic photo that my fellow Northfield blogger, Penny Hillemann, posted on Penelopedia two years ago (May 2008).  The Siberian squill is beginning to bloom along the banks of the creek.  On this date a year ago, Mary Schier, at My Northern Garden, blogged about seeing the first budding squill of the year.  If nothing else, our blogs may provide a kind of phenological record of the changing seasons here in Northfield.   

Reading Journal: "Balancing Act"

Meera Godbole Krishnamurthy, Balancing Act. Penguin India/Zubaan 2009. 236 pp. Available on

I met Meera Godbole Krishnamurthy at Oberlin College in 1985. Reading her excellent first novel, Balancing Act, it’s impossible for me not to feel the powerful presence of an old friend. I feel in her writing the same humor and quirky intelligence that drew me to her a quarter century ago, the same enthusiasm and passionate sense of the beauty and wonder of the world. It’s difficult not to see Meera herself in her narrator, Tara Mistri. Tara shares some of the essential features of Meera’s curriculum vitae. Born in India, she trained as an architect in the United States, and interrupted her career to become a stay-at-home mother. But this trajectory in life, from career to full-time parenthood, is familiar to many women—and to some men—and many readers who have never met the book’s author will see their own stories reflected in Tara’s struggle to reconcile motherhood and car…

"A Wretched Man"

Note: Below is a reposting of the feature I wrote for on the new novel A Wretched Man by Northfield writer R.W. "Obie" Holmen.
Northfield writer R.W. “Obie” Holmen’s newly-published novel, A Wretched Man, begins with a vivid evocation of the landscape of the ancient Middle East. Readers are often surprised to learn that Holmen has never visited the Holy Land, and that the landscape he so brilliantly evokes is the creation of the writer’s imagination, assisted by some meticulous research.

Holmen began working on his novel almost four years ago. He was interested in writing a historical novel about the Apostle Paul, a complex and controversial figure who, in Holmen’s view, was responsible for much of the development of early Christianity.Holmen spent three years researching the novel, working to get the history, the characters, and the setting “as realistic as possible.” At the same time, he worked at “honing the craft of being a storyteller.”Holmen, a former t…

Spring Biking Obstacles

The bike trail under Highway 3, Riverside Park, linking to the bike and pedestrian bridge to Sechler Park.


The roads aren't in any better shape.
Eighth Street between Water and Division Streets.

Another Sign of Spring

I love the latest seasonal variation of the logo that appears at the head of the website:
The site currently features an anthology of videos of the ice going out on the Cannon River in downtown Northfield, including large sheets of ice crashing over the Ames Mill dam. Meanwhile, the Cannon River, which seems to have peaked on Tuesday, has begun to recede a little.

Thomas Who?

From the New York Times (on the Texas School Board's new "standards" for American history textbooks):

"Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term 'separation between church and state.')"

There is so much that's wrong about this, but I have to enjoy the irony of Texas conservatives writing out of history the early republic's most influential activist for states rights, limited government, fiscal conservatism, and American exceptionalism.

This is what happens when you attempt to simplify history to promote your own narrow, self-serving agenda.

What's Next?

Yesterday was the last day of classes for the winter term, and my last day of teaching at Carleton College.  My intermediate Latin students surprised me with a cake and an enormous card.  After class, one of the students headed off to the library to work on a final paper, only to return a minute later to give me a big hug.  
"I just realized I might not see you again," she said.  
I've had a wonderful time teaching at Carleton off and on since 2006.  Carleton students are exceptionally bright and friendly and engaged, and I've enjoyed every minute I've spent in the classroom with them.  
Now it's time for something new.  Tomorrow afternoon, I'm heading down to Faribault to serve as a judge for the science fair at the Cannon River STEM School, and in two weeks I start teaching a class for the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium.  The class is called "America and the Classics," focusing primarily on the influence of the Greek and Roman classics on the Amer…

Reading Journal: "Nights at the Circus"

Angela Carter,Nights at the Circus. Penguin 1985. 295 pp.

Nights at the Circus is like a 295-page Decemberists song, a bizarre feminist fable about a circus aerialiste with enormous purple-feathered wings, a story that begins in a London music hall dressing room and ends in a shaman's hut in Siberia on the first day of the twentieth century. It's strange, meandering, often peculiarly florid, and frequently mesmerizing. New characters and situations materialize out of nowhere, perform their tricks, and disappear from the narrative. There are bravura set pieces, often involving clowns. There are hallucinatory episodes, also involving clowns. There is, in the last third of the novel, a spectacular train wreck, which the reader maybe tempted to take as emblematic of the entire novel. The novel often seems like a work of academic feminism reimagined by Tim Burton. Strange and daring, if not always entirely successful. Here's a sample of Carter's writing:
The Shama…

Marat/Sade at Macalester College

A production of Peter Weiss's 1963 play Marat/Sade is running for three more nights, Thursday through Saturday, March 4-6, at the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center at Macalester College.  The production, directed by Rachel Perlmeter, features powerful original music by Noah Keesecker, Joshua Clausen, and J. Anthony Allen.  The production is staged in a white box built entirely on the proscenium stage of the theatre, with tight tiers of seats surrounding the sunken stage on four sides, like an operating theater.  Though the script sets the action in the asylum of Charenton in 1808, this production sets it in a dystopic future, giving the play an Orwellian feel.  I found the production unexpectedly gripping, not just because I was transfixed by the beautiful performance of my friend Peytie McCandless as Charlotte Corday.  She was surrounded by a strong cast, especially Russell Schneider as Sade and Drew Callister as Marat. There's a chaotic little taste of the production in this vi…