Sunday, August 19, 2012

Okay So Far: The Twilight Series

For a while I had avoided reading any of the Twilight books, because I enjoy a good night's sleep and am suspicious of popular books. Sometimes people equate commercial success with boring, safe writing, and I am usually in that camp. My friends convinced me that I should at least give the Twilight books a chance before rendering a verdict.

Stephenie Meyer is inspired by literary classics such as Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice and the influence is very much apparent in the plot, characterization and setting of the first book in the series.  In Wuthering Heights, the moors provide a dark presence which almost serves as a character in an of itself.  Twilight features the scenery of the Pacific Northwest and its near-constant state of rain, is essential in creating the dreary mood of the novel.  Arguably this is is not executed as well as the Gothic Wuthering Heights, one still gets the general idea that this effect is what Meyer is trying to achieve.  

The other work which Twilight owes a debt to is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Clearly, Edward's character is deeply rooted in the tradition of brooding, aloof, but ultimately good heroes that was originated by Austen.  Though Edward falls short of the Mr. Darcy standard, an alert reader can definitely spot the similarities.  I see the appeal that such a character would have with grown women and teenage girls alike, and Meyer is clever to use a time-tested formula. Personally, I am not all that enamoured with standoffish, yet perfectly formed men, maybe based on the negative effect that they had on my love life before I hit age twenty-five.  After that, I basically went over to Team Jacob, before such a thing even existed.  

I was pleasantly surprised, however, with the character of Bella.  The movies don't really fully delve into her quirks and clumsy nature in the way that the book does, and it is a bit of a shame.  Her humanity and utter ordinariness are at the heart of the narrative and allow the average person to connect with what her character is going through.  I think that Bella is one of the rare rays of sunshine in this somewhat dreary story, although I think that she is a bit quick to set her sights on immortality.  I'm not sure how good an example it is that Bella wishes to give up her family and friends in favour of a boy that she hasn't known for all that long.  Maybe being close to death every moment she is with Edward serves to enhance their time together.  Who knows.  

I've only read the first book in the series, and I am under the impression that it is just a warm-up for the books yet to come, thus I don't want to be too hasty in passing judgement. At the same time, I have to be honest and I felt like the book was just satisfactory and borrowed a bit too much from classic works.  I would have liked Edward to be a more three-dimensional character, and for the scenery to be better utilized. The uniquely depressing quality of the Pacific Northwest (I live there and therefore I can say it) could be more thoroughly described and used to create a more mournful mood.  What I will say is that I plan on slowly making my way through the entire series, rather than making this my final verdict.  Though biased, I am still fair.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mixed Success: A Vegetable Garden Update

In my previous post on the subject "Trial and Error: Vegetable Edition", I talked about how I am learning how to garden with help from The Zero-Mile Diet by Carolyn Herriot. I thought that I would do a follow-up blog post so that readers can see the results of my toil.  
The results were mixed at best.  To be fair to Herriot, I have not yet totally followed her gardening advice for an entire year, and gone rogue several times due to my own impatience.  Clover has taken over my vegetable patch due to the lack of nitrogen in the soil, and this is a battle that I don't want to wage.  I also used a very ad hoc planting plan (and the robins played a part too) so my seeds grew all over the place, rather than in tidy rows.  Several veggies cropped up which I cannot identify (pictured below), and the phrase that I would use to describe it is "what the?" rather than "wow".This being said, I enjoyed some level of success with my tomatoes, rhubarb, Romaine lettuce, and apple tree and they made their way to the dinner table. 

Generally, my success in the garden is more consistent in the flower beds.  Luckily, one of the former owners of our house was a gardener by trade, and we inherited some stunning roses and lilacs.  The roses take very little effort on my part, just pruning off the dead after a flower is finished blooming, but look beautiful.  Our lilac trees caused me some anxiety due to the fact that our trees are late-bloomers which only began flowering a few months after every other lilac tree in the neighbourhood.  I thought that maybe they were having an off year, or that my pruning skills were lacking.  Then suddenly there appeared these beautiful blooms in a very vivid purple (see below).  

I am currently on vacation trying to get caught up on my household projects, and I wanted to tackle one of the borders around our yard.  I neglected this pitiful strip for some time because I had no concrete plan for what I wanted to plant there, and no time to put in the research.  Now that I was away from work, I looked into different shrubs and settled on hydrangeas.  Though Madonna may not like them, they seem to do well around the neighbourhood and the last thing that I wanted to be was the one house on the block with an overgrown garden.  

I tackled the project with gusto, enjoying the possibility that this patch would no longer be a nagging reminder of my failings. After I began a preliminary hatchet job on the existing grasses and random perennials, one of my neighbours stopped to ask me what I was up to.  I told her about my project, and she said that she admired my courage, admitting that she would have called a gardener to handle it.  This comment chipped away at the confidence instilled in me at the Canadian Tire Garden Centre, and I enlisted the help of my boyfriend to mow down the whole bed.  Fortunately he has little regard for his lawnmower, and agreed to aid me in the digging despite our understanding that gardening is my domain. 

Now that the project is finished and the hydrangeas have been planted, I feel a lot better and look forward to dealing with some other problem areas, including my so so vegetable garden.  If nothing else, I know what not to do.