in all blogs
Viewing Blog: So Many Books, Most Recent at Top
Results 1 - 25 of 1,214
the agony and ecstasy of a reading life
Statistics for So Many Books
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 2
The Wigglers have been in their new home for a little over a week and I can report that they have settled in nicely. Bookman puts food scraps in an old margarine container — coffee grounds, potato peels, banana peels, apple bits, carrot bits, broccoli bits, you get the picture — puts a lid on the container and every three or so days I open the wiggler bin and bury the scraps. When I move the bedding aside to put the scraps under it I generally disturb a few wigglers which is the only way I know they are alive. Even Houdini must be happy since he has not tried to make a second escape.
I got a couple more seed catalogs in the mail during the week. One of them was page after page of tomatoes. I had no idea there were so many varieties. It was rather overwhelming. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and tossed it in the recycling bin. We buy tomato plants in the spring, usually heirloom varieties, because it is so much easier. In Minnesota the growing season is not long enough and if I were to start my own tomato plants from seed I would have to do it in the middle of March. I have done it before, many years ago when heirloom varieties were hard to come by, but that has changed, thank goodness. It was during one of those years that I discovered I am very allergic to tomato plant sap. After handling several plants without gloves, potting them up, my hands and arms broke out in hives so badly I had to take steroids for a week and was out sick from work for a couple of days. So now I only handle tomato plants with gloves on, or better yet, let Bookman take care of it.
The other catalog was marvelous. It had all kinds of the usual garden veggies in it but it also had four or five pages of dried beans. I got so excited, I can grow my own garbanzo beans! But really, we use so many of them it isn’t practical. Nor would it be practical to do pinto beans or kidney or white or navy beans or any bean that is easily bought at the market. It’s all those other beans I’ve never heard of before that I was drooling over — painted pony, appaloosa, calypso, Jacob’s cattle, ying and yang — don’t those sound fantastic? I figure I’ll try two, maybe three varieties. I have a few months to mull over which ones those will be.
In thinking about next year’s vegetable garden and what we want the garden to be as a whole, Bookman and I decided that we will make two or three large raised beds for the annual veggies and the rest of the garden will be turned over to mostly perennial edibles and other plants. The reason we decided on this is because the annual veggie beds get dug in so often, disturbing the soil ecosystem, that it is best to keep them contained in a more controlled area instead of spread out all over the garden. In many of the permaculture books I’ve been looking at all the home garden plans have a designated annual vegetable area. So we are going to do it too. The beds will be in a completely different area of the garden than where we have been growing veggies. The raised beds will be closer to the compost pile and the rain barrel, making less work in their upkeep in the long run. We are going to do two, possibly three big beds. Maybe not all next year when we will do at least one, but that is the eventual goal. I am very excited about this as well as the polyculture planting scheme we will be using. But more on that in the spring!
I forgot to mention last week we had an animal visitor to our house. One evening when Bookman was working the closing shift I was curled up reading. I heard a noise in the kitchen and thought the cats were batting around a toy and had run into the dinner table leg or something. But then the noise came again and it sounded like a bucket being tipped over. I got up expecting to see that the cats had gotten into something only to find them both glued to the sliding glass door onto the deck. I looked out the window with them and there, right on the other side of the glass, was a possum! Bookman had left the recycling bucket out on the deck with paper and empty cat food cans in it. The possum must have been out scavenging and, even though the cat food cans are rinsed out, must have smelled them in the bucket. It had knocked the bucket over against the window so it couldn’t get into it and was trying to figure out how to turn it around. I turned on the outdoor light thinking it would scare the possum away but it didn’t even flinch. So the cats and I stood there watching the critter who finally gave up and ambled off into the darkness.
I returned to my book and a few minutes later Bookman arrived home. I heard him in the front yard yelling, “get out of here cat!” And then a sound of surprise. When Bookman came through the door a few seconds later I asked him if he met our possum visitor. Yup. He had seen it in the shadows and thought it was a cat but realized when it didn’t scamper off that it was no cat but a possum. We’ve seen raccoons but not possums around the neighborhood. I don’t know where our possum visitor lives or how far they range in search of dinner, but it has not returned as far as we know. Still, it was an exciting visit!
Filed under: gardening
It is just too cold to pull off a decent post this evening. It’s only 5F (-15C) with a brisk wind blowing making it feel even colder. My bus was late on my way home and I had to wait for close to half an hour. Brrr!
I thought I’d tell you about a fun book I just picked up at the library, Knitting for Nerds by Toni Carr. I don’t know if I have ever mentioned before that I knit. I don’t knit a lot, not as much as I used to because of the tendonitis in my wrist, but it is something I still very much enjoy when I can.
Knitting for Nerds is a hoot. It has thirty projects in it inspired by science fiction, fantasy and comics. There is a Doctor Who scarf, hobbit feet slippers, Star Trek Next Generation pullover, a Firefly inspired scarf, socks, and sweater coat, and space princess hats including Princess Leia’s iconic buns. I won’t be making the bun hat, but I do like the Firefly inspired coat and I am nerdy enough to make the Star Trek sweater too. However, given the rate at which I knit these days, it will be a very long time before either of these will be completed. But when they are I will be the coolest seventy-something old lady around!
Filed under: Books
Where did December come from? What happened to May? July? September? Did I do a Rip Van Winkle? The year can’t be almost done already!
So far setting monthly reading priorities has gone pretty well. I thought when I sat down to write this that November had gone terribly but looking back there is only one book I didn’t read, The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart. My excuse? A library book I had on hold came my way. That’s valid, right?
I am usually up to date with writing about books I have finished but there are two books from November I haven’t written about yet: Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse and MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. The Atwood was fantastic. The Hesse, I am still trying to puzzle it out. I think I should have read it while under the influence of mind-altering drugs and it would have made more sense. Write ups about each of the books are forthcoming.
Books for December. I am having trouble putting together my priorities. I have the week of Christmas and the week of New Year’s off from work, that’s two full weeks, and I am inclined to cram it full with books. But I know I have a tendency to cram it too full so I back off and then worry that I haven’t planned enough. What the heck. Let’s cram!
So while others binge on food this month, I’ll binge on books. Here’s the meal plan:
- Bicycles: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni. She will be giving a reading at the public library on December 12th and I am planning to go. While I know who she is a search through my reading history revealed I have never read her. I began the book the other day and what a delight! I look forward to hearing her speak.
- Burning the Midnight Oil edited by Phil Cousineau. The publisher offered this to me and I couldn’t refuse. It’s a little anthology of prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction about the night. The book is being published on the winter solstice. It is one of those perfect dipping books that has so far been very enjoyable.
- Vital Signs, this is a book of essays on psychological responses to ecological crisis. I am not planning on rushing my way through this and finishing by the end of the month. I am taking my time and plan on finishing in January so this one is a more long-term book.
- Singing School by Robert Pinsky. This is a book about poetry. I am next up in the hold queue at the library and it looks like my turn will come around the 17th.
- To the Letter by Simon Garfield is another book I am waiting for at the library. The library just purchased it and as soon as they have it cataloged a copy will be mine.
- The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke. This is the book that came in from the library that kept me from reading The Bridge of Beyond last month. It is a chunkster but so far so good. It is a science fiction novel that involves time travel and climate change. Bookman decided to read it too. One book, two readers. Watch us juggle and negotiate!
- Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett. I started this on my Kindle a week or so ago and am enjoying it very much. A nice antidote to the Hesse.
- The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore. Another book of comedy, this time Christmas comedy. Bookman read it last year and laughed all the way through and then foisted it on me. Seems like a good time to read it.
And if I manage all of that, there will also be The Bridge of Beyond and Trojan Women to dive into. Also on the back burner is Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot and a biography about him by Peter Ackroyd.
It’s a good thing reading binges are calorie-free!
Filed under: Books
, In Progress
After reading a slim book of essays by Edward Thomas earlier this year I decided to try his poetry. Thomas, born in London in 1878, was, by the time he began writing poetry, an established writer of prose. It was only after Robert Frost became his neighbor that Thomas tried his hand at poetry in 1914.
Thomas was a great walker of the countryside and his prose about his rambles is beautiful and lyrical so it doesn’t seem like it would have taken a great leap for him to write poetry. And while his poems have a Frosty (Frostian?) feel to them, Thomas is also distinctly his own man. Sadly WWI broke out, Thomas joined up and was killed on the first day of the battle of Arras in 1917. Nonetheless, during his short time as a poet, he managed to produce 140 poems. Pretty amazing when you think about how productive that is. Makes me wonder what he would have been like should he have survived the war. Would he have continued as prolific? Or maybe he had a premonition that his time was short and he needed to write as many poems as he could. Whatever the case might be, I am glad for Frost’s encouragement of him and I am delighted by his 140 poems.
They tend to be on nature or humans in relation to nature, and while his voice is generally light and the verse sparkles along, an underlying feeling of darkness or death creeps in to remind us the birds might be singing and the woods bright and green but it is not always so. Take, for example, the last stanza of the poem “Old Man.” Old Man, also called Lad’s Love is a green herb. In the preceding stanzas he talks about his love of the plant and he imagines his child loving it too, and then:
I have mislaid the key. I sniff the spray
And think of nothing; I see and I hear nothing;
Yet seem, too, to be listening, lying in wait
For what I should, yet never can, remember:
No garden appears, no path, no hoar-green bush
Of Lad’s Love, or Old Man, no child beside,
Neither father nor mother, nor any playmate;
Only an avenue, dark, nameless, without end.
Along with whole poems that are wonderful, he has many standout lines too that just grabbed me and made me pause to think about them and read them again and again. Lines like, “When Gods were young/ This wind was old.” And:
And she has slept, trying to translate
The word the cuckoo cries to his mate
Over and over.
And yet I am still half in love with pain,
With what is imperfect, with both tears and mirth,
With things that have an end, with life and earth,
And this moon that leaves me dark within the door.
Once the war starts Thomas begins to shift his focus away from nature a little bit. I take that back, shifting away is not accurate, broadening his view is more like it. He writes a few love poems, missing his wife and family perhaps. And of course the war enters in to some of the poems too. Even though he only wrote a handful of poems about war he is still better known as a war poet than a nature poet. There are some fine ones that made my heart sink with their utter sadness. But I don’t want to leave this on a sad note because Thomas is not a sad poet. So here is one of his love poems, “Some Eyes Condemn”
Some eyes condemn the earth they gaze upon:
Some wait patiently until they know far more
Than earth can tell them: some laugh at the whole
As folly of another’s making: one
I knew that laughed because he saw, from core
To rind, not one thing worth the laugh his soul
Had ready at waking: some eyes have begun
With laughing; some stand startled at the door.
Others too, I have seen rest, question, roll,
Dance, shoot. And many I have loved watching. Some
I could not take my eyes from till they turned
And loving died. I had not found my goal.
But thinking of your eyes, dear, I become
Dumb: for they flamed, and it was me they burned.
Isn’t that wonderful? I take that last line as a positive thing, burning with desire and love, but it could be read differently. It’s a glass half empty, glass half full line, isn’t it?
You can read more details about Thomas on his page at the Academy of American Poets where there are also four of his poems to enjoy as well.
Filed under: Books
Tagged: Edward Thomas
There was a review recently on the Publisher’s Weekly blog on a couple of new collections of letters. I love reading collections of letters, there is something thrilling about snooping through other people’s mail. While I am not so very interested in the collections reviewed, the reviewer makes some interesting comments about letters as their very own genre:
Private letters as a literary genre are perhaps closest to essay, that which is literally ‘to try.’ They try to communicate; they’re a genre for pleasure and leisure; meandering is tolerated, even welcome. Even Amazon ranks the sales of letter collections under a category ‘Letters & Correspondence,’ a subset of ‘Essays & Correspondence.’ Unlike essays, most letters are not written for publication. This is especially true if we extend the definition of letter to those we ‘pen’ to friends and family via email. Yet the letter is a genre whose final public or private fate depends on the significance, judged by others, of the author and recipient.
I like the idea of letters as being a literary genre. Perhaps letter writing is the most democratic of all genres, something anyone can do and is guaranteed at least one reader. But while letters can certainly be essayistic, I wouldn’t call them a subset of the personal essay. A letter is its very own thing, encompassing many genres really if you want to get right down to it. Essay, memoir, fiction, creative nonfiction, diary even, they can all be there in letters.
I do love writing letters and reading them too. That might explain why I am excited about a new book by Simon Garfield, To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing. I disagree that letter writing is a lost art, there are still a good many people who do it and do it regularly. Nonetheless, Garfield’s book sounds like great fun, filled with anecdotes, letters and historical interest. The review of the book indicates Garfield takes a bit of an alarmist stance on the demise of the letter but it doesn’t sound so very off-putting that it detracts from the pleasure of the book as a whole. Which I hope is really the case because I requested a copy from the library. They are on order, I am number eight in line and the library system is buying 13 copies so as soon as they are received and cataloged, one will be making its way to me. I think the book will make for pleasant reading in what is already shaping up to be a very cold and snowy month.
Filed under: Books
The item that I had to pre-order last weekend was ready for pick up by Wednesday. Bookman had the day off from work, and, what a trouper, went and picked it up for me from the farm store so I wouldn’t have to go out and get it on Friday or Saturday which would involve me having to drive him to work so I could have the car and deal with sale shopping traffic. What is the mystery item?
A red bin filled with peat moss and some other materials and…worms. Red wigglers to be exact, also known as eisenia fetida. The worms do not go into the garden, the worms live indoors, in the snazzy red bin in a corner of the kitchen.
Bookman did not want worms. He is a bit squeamish about them. When I was setting up the bin and stuck my hands in to mix
them up he was a bit, um, bothered by it and didn’t want me to do it. I am on happy terms with worms, I loved playing with them when I was a kid. Worms and “roly-poly” bugs (also know as sow bugs
). They are cool bugs. And moths and ladybugs. And snails. Oh and I loved tormenting the big black “stink” bugs when we went camping in the desert. And grasshoppers were pretty fun too. And once there was a praying mantis — super cool. So I guess I like to play with bugs. But worms aren’t bugs, not technically, though they fall into the whole small wiggly/slimy/crawly creature category easier to just call bugs.
Bookman was not keen on having worms living in a corner of his kitchen. I teased him and said did he think they were going to get out and invade the cupboards and get everywhere like ants or something? Other than the blurry photo he took of a few of them in my hand he would never see them again.
The next morning when we got up and Bookman went into the kitchen to get coffee and breakfast going he calls me in, “Look,” he says in an accusing tone while pointing to the wiggler bin. Stretched about four inches across the top inside of the bin lid was a worm. I started laughing. Bookman demanded I get it off the lid and put it back in the bedding. We dubbed the worm Houdini and have been making jokes about it ever since.
Bookman won’t feed the worms, calls them mine, and casts worried glances at the bin now and then, but I have caught him lifting up the lid to look inside and putting his ear down close to the bin to listen. Except for Houdini’s escape attempt, they are decidedly uninteresting. They don’t like light so live below the surface of the materials in the bin and they make no noise. Waldo and Dickens, however, are fascinated by the whole thing. They check out the bin now and then and every time I add something to it they are both there supervising the proceedings.
The bin I got is a starter kit and was supposed to come with step-by-step instructions on the care and feeding of the worms. Obviously someone does not know what step-by-step instructions look like because a few stapled sheets of paper listing the materials in the bin, ideal temperature, and what is allowable food does not equal instructions to me. I turned to the internet and found much better information there.
I learned that what I am doing is indoor composting just like in my bin outside but the red wigglers speed up the process. They do not eat the food scraps I put in the bin. The worms eat the things that breakdown the food scraps. Just like outdoor composting where you want to be conscious of the nitrogen/carbon ratio, the same holds true for indoors.
The worms came with peat moss bedding which I learned is great for moisture retention but has no nutrition for the worms. Worms like shredded cardboard and newsprint. So I shredded up the black and white pages from my neighborhood newspaper, got them wet, squeezed them out, then spread them across the top layer in the bin. The newspaper is good carbon and will offset all the nitrogen from the food scraps. There are about 500 wigglers in the bin and I can feed them up to a pound of food scraps a week. So far I’ve given them some potato peels and coffee grounds along with the unbleached paper coffee filter. Yum. In four to five months I will need to remove the compost and give the worms fresh bedding to start over in. With luck they will be happy and healthy and multiply enough that I can eventually start a second bin. My garden is going to love the worm compost.
Bookman is not too upset about the worms because while he was at the farm store he got me an outdoor garden present:
Aren’t they fun? Not sure if that is the location they will stay in come spring, but wherever they end up, I’ll be planting some low growing things around them, some thyme maybe, low bunching grass, small flowers. Now all I need is a caterpillar with a hookah!
Filed under: gardening
Tagged: red wigglers
, worm composting
When I got into bed last night, perched my glasses on my nose and opened my book I exclaimed, “I forgot to blog today!” This has never happened to me before, forgetting to blog. It has always been a conscious decision when I don’t. But between being distracted by the arrival of the thing I had to pre-order and it feeling like a Friday because today is Thanksgiving, well, my brain just got all confused.
Bookman and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving today with phone calls to family who are all far away and with our own “traditional” feast. Ever since Bookman and I went vegan back in 1993 we’ve had enchiladas with a side of brown rice and refried beans. It wasn’t even until a few years ago that I had tasted Tofurkey, and yuck, was it terrible, too salty and bland for my taste.
While we don’t have a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, we do have pumpkin pie. I love pumpkin pie. That humble orange squash baked into a graham cracker crust, sweetened with agave, and spiced with cloves, nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon, definitely something to be thankful for. Even better is the pumpkin was grown in my own garden.
That I have a house with a garden where I can grow my own pumpkin is a blessing for which I am grateful. The older I get the more I realize that it is the small and simple things in life for which I am most thankful. It’s a roof over my head, food on the table, a garden, a husband who loves me, family, friends, a good book, a cat on my lap. This is what happiness is made of and it is right and good to dedicate a day to being thankful and celebrating these things.
My thanks and best wishes to all of you, whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving today or not.
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” ~Meister Eckhart
Filed under: Personal
I’m a bit unnerved. My Kindle seems to be developing an opinion about how quickly I finish a book and move on to the next. About two weeks ago I finished reading Willa Cather’s Alexander’s Bridge at the end of my lunch break. Stilling have a few minutes of my break left I thought I’d start reading Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse. Kindle freaked out. It froze, then unfroze, then kept trying to get me to turn on my wi-fi to go to the Kindle store. Did it not want me to read Hesse? Was it trying to get me to pick a different book?
I turned it off and then back on. I got my list of books and Kindle would let me page through the list but when I came to the page with Steppenwolf on it Kindle would not let me move my cursor down the page to select the book. I must have restarted the thing three or four times with not luck before I had to go back to work. I was feeling a bit panicky because what was I going to read on my train ride home? I don’t carry a paper book with me. I sought help from Google. Google told me about a secret restart command accessible in the menu while on the settings page. This was supposed to fix the problem. So I tried it during a quiet moment in the afternoon and it didn’t work.
Going home at the end of the day I sat down on the train and pulled out my Kindle and thought, well, I’ll just try it and see. And it was working just fine. Like nothing happened. Weird.
So yesterday I told Bookman I was almost done with Steppenwolf, would be finishing it today and could he put one of his Discworld books on my Kindle? So he did. And then he made the mistake of clicking out of Steppenwolf to make sure he’d put Reaper Man in the right place. And Kindle freaked out again. I tried restarting and Bookman tried restarting and Kindle refused to cooperate. The files are still accessible from a computer when the Kindle is plugged in so Bookman, what a guy, said I could take his Kindle to read on today and we moved Hesse to it so I could finish it.
This morning I checked my Kindle just in case and it was still in a snit. Bookman tried to comfort me by saying I could get a new one, but that didn’t help me at the moment. Off to work I went. Reading on Bookman’s Kindle was weird. It’s the first version, white and the buttons are all in the wrong places. But I could read, so that was something.
Now, when I got home from work this evening and saw my Kindle sitting on my desk I thought I’d try it and see if it would work and it did! Just like nothing happened.
Kindle must have decided that when I finish a book, or get near to the end, I need to spend some time thinking about what I just read, letting it sink in a bit before moving on to the next book. That after three years — or has it been four already? — Kindle should decide to start asserting itself is annoying. If it were a paper book I could throw it on the floor or slam it down on a table like I had the urge to do. But of course, if I do any throwing or slamming with Kindle that really would be the end of it.
Now I feel like Kindle is tyrannizing me. Do what I want, but not too fast, when I want you to, or else, Kindle seems to be telling me. Suddenly it is in charge and I am tip-toeing around trying to keep it from freaking out again. Curse you technology!
Oh, yes, I can hear you asking why I don’t just carry a print book. I have reached the age when, in order to read comfortably, reading glasses are required. To fiddle with putting on and taking off glasses on the train (it’s only a 20 minute ride) is a nuisance and cuts into my reading time. So on my Kindle I have the font just big enough that I can read without glasses.
I thought my Kindle and I had such a beautiful relationship, but apparently not. What could have gone wrong?
Filed under: ebooks
There was a wonderful article and review in the Sunday New York Times Book Review about poetry and a new book by poet Robert Pinsky.
The book Singing School: learning to write (and read) poetry by studying with the masters sounds like an easy going guide to poetry intended for adult, nonacademic readers. The book is so anti-academic according to the reviewer, that one can’t help but wonder what the university where Pinsky works must think of it. I am so intrigued that I have requested the book from the library. I am fourth in line for it so I’ll probably get my turn sometime in the middle or end of December. If it turns out to be as good as the review of it makes it out to be, I will have to buy a copy of my own.
The article mentions something about poetry that irks me to no end. That is the idea that some poets and poetry critics hold that poetry should be difficult and belong only to the initiated. To call a poet “accessible” is an insult. Billy Collins is lumped into this category which means, easy and not serious. But for all the regular, common readers who love Billy Collins, myself included, we don’t care. We love him for his humor and “accessibility.” I have to wonder if poets and critics who look down their noses at Collins and others like him (I’ve heard Mary Oliver so accused too as though it is a crime to be readable by someone outside the clique) are not really jealous because Collins has a larger readership. They must justify their small audience by placing themselves in the starry aether where the air is so much more refined and selective. Gag.
And here is Pinsky with his new book saying you don’t need a Ph.D and reams of notes covering every allusion and metaphor in “The Waste Land” in order to enjoy the poem and the experience of reading it. In fact, the untutored reader just might find things in the poem that the “expert” has overlooked. I must say I agree with Pinsky and I look forward to reading his book when my turn comes up.
Filed under: Books
Tagged: Robert Pinsky
After last week’s post, I think Bookman has resigned himself to me putting in a little pond in the spring. At least, he hasn’t said anything about it. Possibly he is instituting countermeasures. But if there is one thing Bookman is truly bad at, it is keeping a secret, so if he is planning pond-evasion maneuvers, I will winkle it out him eventually.
High on my triumph I went to the urban farm store yesterday to bring home something that Bookman had also said no to. Alas, they do not keep them in the store. I had to pre-order and I will be able to pick them up when they arrive at the store on Friday or Saturday. What am I getting? You’ll just have to wait and see! I am very excited about it, however, and Bookman, well, not so much. I think after this I need to leave the poor guy alone for a bit before springing anything else on him like how we might go about installing a gray-water system that diverts the dirty water from the washing machine and dishwasher out into the garden in the summer to water the trees and shrubs (planting the seeds my friends, planting the seeds!).
A few garden posts ago Cath left a quote in a comment from an essay in a book called Vital Signs: Psychological Responses to Ecological Crisis. The public library did not have this book but the university library did, so I borrowed it. The book is made up of essays by psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, specialists in education, ecologists, human geographers, and others. It is broken up into six sections each with a different focus moving from context to what to do in response to the crisis both as a layperson and as a clinical professional.
I’ve just finished reading part one today, “Context.” The essays here set the stage for ways of thinking about the environment/nature and humans. Viola Sampson in her essay “The darkening quarter” suggests one of the greatest difficulties with climate change is not knowing. We don’t know what to expect or when to expect it. We know things are changing but even with all the models and projections climate scientists offer, when it comes down to it, we still don’t know what the outcome will be. The uncertainty and unpredictability makes us feel powerless and vulnerable. She also talks about grieving for the things we are losing and will lose, honoring that grief, but then also using it to create a new relationship and understanding of our interconnectedness with the environment.
It is interconnectedness that is stressed in the other essays of the section, how we as humans are part of ecosystem even if we refuse to acknowledge it. We have always been part of it. Paul Maiteny in “Longing to be human” argues that our consumerist society and our constant search for meaningfulness by buying more things is because we have mentally set ourselves apart from the environment. In fact, he says, our desire to consume is a pre-human biological biological need; the more resources you have, the likelier you are to survive. Instead of getting back to nature by asking what we have in common with other species, Maiteny wants us to look at how we differ. The biggest difference, we have the ability to consciously choose what we are going to do with this planet. In order to feel interconnected with other humans and the environment and to get off the mindless cosumerism treadmill, he advocates a return to the basic ideas contained within all spiritual practices, the idea of the sacred, of divinity within and without, of contemplating the wonders of creation and our place in it.
Lots of interesting food for thought in these essays so far. Section two is called “Other-than-human and more-than-human” and looks to to be just as interesting and thought-provoking. I happen to also be reading Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam, talk about an interesting reading conjunction!
Filed under: Books
Today seems like a good day for a poem. To my mind every day is a good day for a poem, but I thought I would share an Edward Thomas poem with you to whet your appetite for when I finish the collection. This one was written in 1915, a very prolific year for Thomas.
There’s nothing like the sun
There’s nothing like the sun as the year dies,
Kind as it can be, this world being made so,
The stones and men and beasts and birds and flies,
To all things that it touches except snow,
Whether on mountain side or street of town.
The south wall warms me: November has begun,
Yet never shone the sun as fair as now
While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough
With spangles of the morning’s storm drop down
Because the starling shakes it, whistling what
Once swallows sang. But I have not forgot
That there is nothing, too, like March’s sun,
Like April’s, or July’s, or June’s, or May’s,
Or January’s, or February’s, great days:
And August, September, October, and December
Have equal days, all different from November.
No day of any month but I have said –
Or, if I could live long enough, should say –
‘There’s nothing like the sun that shines today.’
There’s nothing like the sun till we are dead.
Filed under: Books
Tagged: Edward Thomas
First published in 1912, Alexander’s Bridge was Willa Cather’s first novel. She had been publishing short stories for years and even had a couple of collections, but this novel, novella actually, was her first long work.
Cather has such an easy, beautiful voice that carries a reader pleasantly along. And even though this is not even close to the wonderful complexities of her later stories, her voice made it so I really didn’t care.
The story is about Bartley Alexander. Alexander
stood six feet and more in the archway, glowing with strength and cordiality and rugged, blond good looks. There were other bridge-builders in the world, certainly, but it was always Alexander’s picture that the Sunday Supplement men wanted, because he looked as a tamer of rivers ought to look. Under his tumbled sandy hair his head seemed as hard and powerful as a catapult, and his shoulders looked strong enough in themselves to support a span of any one of his ten great bridges that cut the air above as many rivers.
Aged forty-three, married to a beautiful woman, at the height of his career, he seemingly has it all. But something is making him start to feel a little dissatisfied. A mid-life crisis awaits!
On a business trip in London a friend takes him to see the play that is currently all the rage. The rage is more about a beautiful actress than the play itself. It turns out Alexander knows the actress, Hilda Burgoyne, quite well. In fact he had a youthful fling with her while he was studying in Paris a very long time ago. Seeing her again reminds Alexander of his youth and all its freedoms and suddenly the vague dissatisfaction crystalizes and he feels overworked, trapped, bogged down by tiny details he has no interest in:
He found himself living exactly the kind of life he had determined to escape. What, he asked himself, did he want with these genial honors and substantial comforts? Hardships and difficulties he had carried lightly; overwork had not exhausted him; but this dead calm of middle life which confronted him,—of that he was afraid. He was not ready for it. It was like being buried alive.
He goes to Hilda’s flat and discovers that while she has plenty of admirers, she has never committed herself to any man. It doesn’t take long for Alexander to discover that Hilda still loves him, and, because she is the bridge to his past, his youth, all the things he no longer has and wishes he did, Alexander rekindles their long ago affair.
Of course the clock cannot be turned back. While Hilda returns Alexander to his youthfulness, he realizes he does not want to abandon his success or his wife whom he loves. The transatlantic affair goes on for a number of years. Each time Alexander makes the trip to London he determines to break off the affair. He is feeling like he is living two lives and the deception is getting in the way of everything, keeping him from being happy with either life. But even though he feels “as if a second man had been grafted into me,” he cannot break off with Hilda.
And here is where Cather’s youth shows through. Instead of making Alexander face up to his situation and forcing him to make a choice, he gets an out. I won’t tell you what the out is in case you haven’t read the story; I don’t want to spoil it for you. Then after Alexander escapes having to make a decision, we get a sort of moral:
No relation is so complete that it can hold absolutely all of a person.
While this may be true, it is done a bit clumsily. Two novels later Cather writes Song of the Lark where there is barely a slip, no easy outs, and no obvious moralizing.
But even here in Alexander’s Bridge, you can see Cather’s interest in a certain type of character, in music, in strong women. It is still an enjoyable read because even when the story falters, there is still that marvelous Cather voice carrying everything confidently along.
I read this along with Danielle, so be sure to hop over and read her take.
Filed under: Books
Tagged: Willa Cather
You probably don’t know who Mary Mallon is but I bet you have at least heard of Typhoid Mary. Mary Beth Keane’s novel Fever aims to tell Mary Mallon’s story.
Mallon was an Irish immigrant. She came to the United States as a girl. She lived with her aunt and took work in service. She began doing laundry but, already having some skill at cooking, soon learned enough to become a very good and in demand cook for rich families. At seventeen she met Alfred Briehof, a German immigrant and they moved in together, living happily (more or less since Alfred was an alcoholic) for years unmarried. In March 1907 she was taken into custody by the Department of Health and held in a New York Hospital while doctors did tests. Mallon became identified as the first healthy carrier of typhoid and people who ate her cooking were in danger of coming down with it.
Not everyone became ill who ate Mallon’s cooking but there was enough of a trail that the DOH found her. She never had typhoid but she carried the bacilli in her body. The doctors had no idea how this was possible. They decided she was too much of a threat to allow her freedom so they moved her to North Brother Island, a quarantine hospital for tuberculosis and other diseases off the coast of Manhattan. She was not allowed visitors and she was forced to submit to frequent humiliating tests.
Mallon was not a retiring and compliant woman. She was angry and combative. Doctors thought she should willingly do whatever they wanted her to and not complain but Mallon had other ideas. When she finally found a lawyer who would help her and got a court hearing, her uncooperativeness would come back to haunt her. She was denied release.
Eventually she did attain her freedom when other healthy carriers were found. None of these people were forced into quarantine. One of them, a dairy farmer, was allowed to continue working on his farm he just couldn’t come into contact with the milk. At this news, Mallon’s lawyer once again pursued her release and this time obtained it under the condition that Mallon never cook for anyone again and check in with the DOH every three months when she was also required to provide bodily fluid samples for the doctors.
She was given a job at a Chinese laundry, a huge step down in status and wages from what she had obtained from her skill as a cook. Working in a laundry day after day is back breaking and exhausting work and Mary was desperate for something else but there was no other work for her besides the cooking she was not allowed to do.
She kept her promise not to cook for as long as she could but eventually broke it, taking work at a bakery. She got caught, escaped, went into hiding. Eventually she got work again as a cook in a maternity hospital by using a fake name. The pay was good, she loved the work and things seemed to be going pretty well. Until typhoid broke out at the hospital. This time she was not able to escape. She was taken back to North Brother Island where she lived out the rest of her life as a “guest” of New York City.
Mallon’s is a fascinating story and I will never joke about Typhoid Mary again. Unfortunately the book could have been so much better. There were good parts though. It is a question whether Mallon knew in the beginning that she made people ill. And then later, whether she understood about her condition. Mallon often questions whether what the doctors told her is true especially since most people who ate her food didn’t get sick.
Then there is the uppity female thread. It does seem likely that she was treated the way she was because she was a woman. It was also clear the city did not understand what it meant for Mallon to not be able to work as a cook anymore. She had to earn her living, she and Alfred spilt for some time and even when they were together Alfred couldn’t keep regular work because of his alcoholism. Working at a laundry she had barely enough to get by and she knew the work would eventually wear her down physically to the point she would no longer be able to work at all. She did not have a man to take care of her and it seems like the city assumed that she should in placing her in such a difficult position.
But in spite of all these interesting things, the book was far too long at only 304 pages. Less than halfway through the book it felt like the best part of the story was over and there was a very long and very saggy and dull middle in which I kept wondering why I was still reading. Part of the trouble is that the middle of the book turns into a love story. Or it tries to. Mallon and Alfred together and not together. They still love each other but can Alfred quite drinking? And it just went on and on. Finally, when Mallon gets caught at the maternity hospital it gets interesting again but by that point it is too late to recover and the book comes to a limping conclusion.
Fever is not a terrible book, but it is flawed. There are good bits and not so good bits and it balances out to be an ok read. I bet it would make a good vacation book when you want an interesting story but something that isn’t mentally taxing, a book you don’t have to pay close attention to. Take that as you will. I read this for my historical fiction MOOC and the author will be making an appearance in class. I suspect she might have some interesting things to say.
Filed under: Books
Tagged: Historical fiction
, Mary Beth Keane
, Mary Mallon
, Typhoid Mary
A few weeks ago I declared the end of gardening season and thus the end of my weekly gardening posts. Ha! What was I thinking? Just because I am not outdoors in the garden doesn’t mean I am not thinking about the garden. That’s how I ended up writing last Sunday about gardening and climate change. During the week I found a great blog called My Climate Change Garden. It’s by a UK blogger but still relevant. One of his recent posts is about how important it is to plant trees and another about how gardening can have a positive effect on climate change.
But wait, I am getting off track, burbling away.
Just because I am not in the garden doesn’t mean I am not gardening. Reading about gardening and making plans for next growing season are all a vital part of the process. In other words, I am making up excuses to keep writing about gardening stuff every week or so! Do you mind?
Remember how early this year I wanted a pond and Bookman said no way? And then I bought a solar frog fountain to sooth my no pond sadness. The fountain was a lovely addition and the sandy beach I made around it was a popular bird destination. They even held a beach volleyball tournament on it one week in July. And the gentle splashing of water from ceramic froggy’s mouth was a pleasant sound while outdoors. But darn it, it was no substitute for a pond.
Well next spring I am going to get my pond and I can do it without Bookman’s help. I discovered a video on how to make a small pond using a plastic storage bin. See how easy it is?
I love you internet!
I have even already decided where to put it. It is going to go on the side of the garden that still has some grass (but not for much longer will the grass be there). We will be adding a rain barrel at the downspout on that side of the yard this spring and I am going to place the pond in a sunny spot not so very far away from the barrel and the barrel’s overflow will be directed into the pond and then if there is pond overflow, that will get directed into a small “wetland.” The wetland probably won’t happened next year, the pond will be enough and I will need to see if there is enough overflow that I even need a wetland. As much as I want to go all out, even I have to admit that patience and one-thing-at-a-time is a good idea especially when it comes to “big” things like a pond and a wetland.
Can you also say slippery slope? Because, don’t tell Bookman, but you know as soon as I get my little pond going it will be good for a year, maybe two, and then I will decide it needs to be bigger. Maybe by then I will have been able to convince Bookman what a great idea that would be. But for now, let’s just keep that bit of intel on the down low. I don’t want to scare Bookman.
Last week on Tuesday I got the first 2014 seed catalog in the mail. Bookman got the mail from the box and put the catalog on my book table next to my reading chaise. How exciting! I am not going to look at it until January though, I told myself. Yet I left it on the table. And every day I told myself I am not going to look at it until January. Friday I thought, well if I am not going to read the catalog until January, I had better put it away somewhere. Imagine my surprise on Saturday afternoon when I sat down to read and the catalog was still sitting on my book table on top of all the books!
I picked it up. I’m not going to read it until January but it won’t hurt to just flip through it. A little over an hour later I emerged from “flipping through it” with all kinds of ideas buzzing around in my head. New plants to try, different varieties of things we’ve already grown that might be good, and lots of “I wonder if we could…” and most of all, “where could I plant …?” And it quickly became clear that I am going to have to dig up part of the backyard belonging to my neighbor-of-the-perfect lawn in order to accommodate everything. Do you think he’ll mind? What if I promise to share? And he won’t even have to weed or water, I’ll take care of it all. Yup, I’m sure he won’t mind.
Filed under: gardening
Last night Bookman and I went with a friend to see Amy Tan at the public library in downtown Minneapolis. It was quite a large crowd. We filled the auditorium and two overflow conference rooms. Whether there were more people than could fit I don’t know since I was squeezed into a seat in the auditorium. I am not a huge fan. I read and enjoyed The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife. I have also read A Hundred Secret Senses and felt it was just meh, felt like her books were all about the same thing, so then lost interest. She now has a new book out, The Valley of Amazement. It is her first book in eight years.
After all the introductions were made, Tan stepped on stage. She is a small woman but she has a big presence. Instead of launching immediately into reading parts of her book she started talking. She explained that she has done a lot of things in the last eight years in order to avoid writing a book. On the long list is writing a libretto for an opera (she is a classically trained pianist) and, with her husband of 44 years, designing and building a completely accessible home in Sausalito, California. The house sounded gorgeous. Tan does not have children and she said she and her husband planned the house so they could live there for the rest of their lives. It has elevators, bathrooms large enough to get a wheelchair into, showers with grab bars and no edges, and all sorts of other features to accommodate every possible mobility issue.
And then she began talking about her grandmother and her mother. She has a photo of each of them on her desk. Her grandmother married the richest man in Shanghai at the time. They lived on an island just out from the city. There are two versions of the story of how she came to marry her husband. Tan’s grandmother and her half sister were staying at his house and at some point during the night the sister got up and left the room and the man came in. In one version of the story he held a knife to Tan’s grandmother’s throat and said if she didn’t marry him he would kill her. In the second version he held the knife to his own throat and said he would kill himself.
Tan’s grandmother was wife number four in the house, the youngest and the favorite. She had already had Tan’s mother and was pregnant again. She asked her husband if she had a boy would he please give her a house of her own in Shanghai. He said yes. She had a boy but her husband did not keep his side of the deal. Grandmother was 36 at the time and Tan’s mother was nine. She watched as her mother committed suicide by taking an overdose of opium. It took her three days to die. Tan’s mother was left with a father who was not kind and whom she did not love.
Tan said her mother always blamed Grandmother for all the hardship and unhappiness in her life. If she had not killed herself, Tan’s mother was convinced her own life would have been happier. Nonetheless, Tan’s mother thought she had done something to anger her mother and when Tan was a child and misbehaving, her mother was convinced that Tan was her mother come back to torment her for whatever it was she had done to anger her.
So it is no wonder Tan writes so much about mother-daughter relationships with such a family history and dynamic!
During Tan’s eight years between novels she had actually begun writing one but it wasn’t going all that well. She went to Shanghai to do some research and while there came across a photo of a group of courtesans. She was surprised to see that several of the women in the photograph were wearing the exact same outfit her grandmother was wearing in the photo Tan had of her on her desk. Curious, she began doing some research about courtesans and while she didn’t find any direct evidence, all the circumstantial evidence suggests that her grandmother was a courtesan. This discovery took her away from the book she had been writing and sent her off in a new direction leading to the writing of The Valley of Amazement.
Tan told the audience some of the really interesting things she learned about courtesans in Shanghai during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Then after 40 minutes of talking, she read a short piece from her book.
This was followed by questions from the audience. Someone asked for advice for aspiring writers and Tan talked about keeping internet distractions away. Someone else asked if she thought being bi-racial and bilingual helped her be more creative and she replied that she thought it did. Not that it made her smarter or better than anyone else, but that it gives her a bigger playing field. Another person asked about Tan’s father and what he was like since she never talks about him. Tan said she was a daddy’s girl, that she loved her father dearly. Tan was in her early teens when her father died and she felt like he had abandoned her to the crazy woman who was her mother. To Tan her father was perfect and perfect characters aren’t interesting to write about.
a page from my iPad notes
I have no plans to read Tan’s new book, but I found her really interesting and her stories fascinating. I enjoyed the evening very much. I even got to test out taking notes on my iPad. I had downloaded an Evernote app called Penultimate that lets you take written notes with a stylus and save them to Evernote. Bookman found me a stylus that looks like a number 2 pencil, it even has a fake eraser. I usually take a small notebook and a couple of pencils (in case the lead breaks) to events like this but the stylus on my iPad worked so well it is my new go-to. Plus having the iPad also let me tweet, look something up on the internet, and keep Bookman occupied playing Plants versus Zombies during the hour we waited for the event to start while the friend we went with and I chatted. It was all good.
Filed under: Books
, Field Trip
I have never read Geraldine Brooks before but have wanted to, have heard good things about her books, especially People of the Book. I always figured that would be the one I read first, but it hasn’t turned out that way. Brooks’s book Year of Wonders is one of the contemporary historical fiction books on the reading list for my historical fiction MOOC. She will even be attending one of the classes to talk about the book.
I was expecting a lot from this book which might explain why I finished it a bit disappointed. Not that it wasn’t good, I did enjoy it, but I was not wowed by it. Before I explain that further, let me give you a bit of plot summary.
The book is based on the real village of Eyam in Derbyshire, England. In August of 1665 a tailor living in the village received a bundle of cloth from London and was dead of plague a week later. The village made the momentous decision to quarantine themselves so as not to spread the disease to other villages and towns. The infection spread through the village, never leaving its precincts, and by the time it ended 14 months later only 83 of the 350 villagers had survived.
Year of Wonders begins a few weeks before the plague comes to town. The narrator is Anna Frith, the widow of a lead miner and housekeeper to the minister and his wife. Anna married when she was about fifteen to get away from her abusive father. She had two sons with her husband before he was killed in a mining accident. She is still quite young, twenty perhaps.
When a new tailor came to town and needed a place to stay she took him in as a lodger. Just as they were starting to romance each other, he gets the cloth from London with the fleas that have the plague and then the rest of the book is death after death after death.
The village has quarantined itself so no one leaves and no one enters. It becomes a microcosm of what happens during times of extreme crisis. While the minister is preaching fortitude and faith in God, the villagers are stringing up the midwife and herbalist as a witch. Meanwhile the entrepreneurial among them are charging extortion rates for burying the dead, even going so far as to dump one poor soul into his grave before he is dead. While others succumb to superstition and still others go completely insane.
Our narrator is generally in the thick of things. She finds herself elected the new midwife since she has experience birthing lambs from the small flock of sheep she keeps. She also helps an orphan girl extract enough lead from her dead father’s mine so no one can take it away from her. And because the minister’s wife Elinor takes a liking to her, she is also taught how to read. She is an altogether too good to be true sort of woman. This was one of the causes of my disappointment with the book, Anna was not entirely believable, especially with what happens at the end. It boggled my mind.
But that was not the only thing I had a hard time with. Brooks’s style also made me grind my teeth from time to time. She wrote the book in modern English but so we would know it was really supposed to be 1665 – 66, she’d throw out some odd phrasing now and then that was meant to sound old. And then there were certain word choices. She’d use words like “chouse,” “whisket,” and “boose.” I ignored it at first but they started catching me up and bothering me. Okay, I thought, if you are going to toss out old words I am going to check the OED and make sure you chose ones that would really have been in use. While she did pretty well, I did catch her out a few times like with “jussive,” a word not known to be in use until 1846. To my mind you either go all in with the phrasing and the word choice and you get it right, or you don’t do it at all.
But it wasn’t a bad book in spite of all the things that annoyed me. The story moved along at a good clip but would slow down for some introspective moments too and these things were nicely balanced. It was also interesting watching the different ways faith in God changed. For some it grew stronger and stronger, for others God ceased to exist, and for many more there was much confusion and doubt. What really got my attention and made me think how horrible it must have been was this passage:
I had words with the carter over it, but he told me we were lucky to get as good as we got, and I suppose it’s true enough. There are so few people to do the picking. So few people to do anything. And those of us who are left walk around as if we’re half asleep. We are all so tired.
What do you do when suddenly the people you relied on for daily goods and skilled services are gone? Mines went unworked, fields unplowed, crops unplanted. No blacksmith. No one to buy winter hay from to feed your sheep and horse. A bustling village decimated and not a day goes by when someone doesn’t die or become ill. And suddenly a mild cough or fever becomes a thing of terror. Should it turn out to not be the plague, what a relief!
That passage is what saved the book for me. The plague was an end-of-the-world scenario that really happened. Between 1347 – 1351 the plague reduced the population of Europe alone by about one-third. And there were regular and continuous outbreaks. The plague is still with us and people still die of it, though, thanks to modern medicine, not in the numbers they once did.
I am looking forward to what Brooks has to say about the book in my class. If she says anything particularly interesting, I’ll let you know.
Filed under: Books
Tagged: Geraldine Brooks
, Historical fiction
The book that lifted my spirits from the climate change funk into which they had sunk the other day is The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. Sent to me not long ago by my friend Cath, it could not have been more timely.
It is a heartwarming and hopeful story about Elzéard Bouffier. In 1913 our narrator is walking through the Provence region of France and comes into a desolate and empty area. The small village he walks through is in ruins, the fields are brown and dusty, there are few trees and the wells and streams had all gone dry. But just beyond this area he comes upon a shepherd living alone with his small flock of sheep and his dog at the edge of a small forest.
It turns out Bouffier had planted all the trees in the area. Each day when he gets up he sorts 100 good acorns to plant as he walks. He had, single handedly planted one hundred thousand trees over the course of three years. He was also studying beech tree reproduction and had a small nursery next to his tidy cabin.
Our narrator returns after WWI to see what time had done to Bouffier’s trees and to discover if he was still alive. Alive and well, Bouffier’s forest had grown ever larger. He had given up keeping sheep because they threatened the tree seedlings and turned to bee keeping. And he was still planting trees. The forest Bouffier created now measured eleven kilometers in length and three kilometers across at its widest. Water and animals had returned to the dry land and now nature herself was helping plant trees too.
Eventually the state was alerted to the existence of the forest and eager to protect it, a ranger knocked on Bouffier’s door in 1933 and told him he was not allowed to have any fires as a precaution to keep the “natural” forest safe.
The forest grew so large that Bouffier moved house twelve kilometers away to the edge of his forest so he didn’t have to walk so far each day in order to plant more trees. The deserted village was revived and rebuilt, people took care of their forest and even planted trees in their gardens. And Bouffier died peacefully in 1947.
It is a simple story and when I began reading it I thought it was fiction but then the style of the telling made me think that maybe it was nonfiction. And I kept vacillating between fiction and nonfiction. Finally, by the end, I wanted it so badly to be true I decided it was nonfiction and Bouffier had been real. Only to learn in the Afterword that the story is indeed fiction. Apparently I am not alone in my confusion. Giono, the story’s author, was asked in 1953 by some American editors to write a few pages about an unforgettable character. Giono created Bouffier but the editors had wanted the story to be about a real person so ended up rejecting it. Giono decided to give his story away to anyone who wanted it. In 1953 Vogue published it as “The Man Who Planted Hope and Grew Happiness.”
Giono was a well-known author and wrote many books and stories but of this one he said:
It is one of my stories of which I am the proudest. It does not bring me in one single penny and that is why it has accomplished what it was written for.
But I was pleased to learn the story of Bouffier is based on a real person. Giono was on a walking tour in Provence in 1913 and discovered a deserted high plateau where the wind growled like a lion. Afraid and suffering a bit from exposure, he saw mirages. He did meet a shepherd who planted trees and who eventually switched from sheep to bees. This shepherd’s forest was not as extensive as Bouffier’s in the story, but it did heal the land, reviving dry streams, promoting the creation of meadows and the germination of flowers.
The Man Who Planted Trees is a hopeful story, simple and, while fiction, true at its foundation. It is a reminder of the great things one person can do, day by day, a little at a time. It is a book I will be always keeping at hand when my spirit needs a lift and I feel like nothing I can do will make a difference. It will remind me not to give up, that it does matter, and I do have an impact. I highly recommend the book for anyone else who feels in need of an uplifting story.
Filed under: Books
Tagged: Jean Giono
We had just over 2 inches (5 cm) of snow early in the week. The ground has not yet frozen though and within a day it was melted. Until yesterday most of the leaves were still on all my trees. This is the latest I have ever seen the leaves drop; we are usually done before the end of October. We had a cold, hard wind blow on Saturday and I looked out my front window at one point in the late afternoon to see this poor little squirrel sitting in the maple tree, back to the wind. It has a nest there in the crook of the tree behind it. I watched it make it this summer with green leaves. As much as I dislike squirrels in my garden, it was an interesting thing to watch, the nest building. And with the wind blowing so hard yesterday I did feel sympathy for the squirrel. Not enough to invite it inside out of the cold wind though!
I was surprised but not surprised by a recent post on Updraft, the weather blog at Minnesota Public Radio. In it, Paul Huttner, a local meteorologist, recounts a conference held on November 7th at the University of Minnesota, the first Minnesota Conference on Climate Adaptation. There were experts on climate, the environment, energy, economics, health, and transportation.
Climate change in Minnesota is not a long-term prospect, something that won’t begin for another 20-30 years. It is already happening. Over the past 10 years, Minnesota has seen catastrophic losses from extreme weather increase significantly and it is only going to continue.
By 2050 Minnesota will be 2 to 6F degrees warmer than it is now and by 2100 it might be as much as 5 to 10F degrees warmer. Doesn’t sound bad, right? I mean what Minnesotan doesn’t wish for warmer or shorter winters at some point during the season? But that warming comes with a price. It means the summers will also be hotter and while it is not unheard of for the thermometer to top 100F (38C), it is not a regular occurrence. But it will be. Combine that with high humidity and you have lots of people in danger of heat related illness and death.
It also means the prairie-forest border in the southwest of the state will shift as far as 300 miles (483 km) to the north where we currently have a protected wilderness of boreal (pine and spruce) forest. What will happen to the forest that requires long, cold winters? It will disappear. And what about the animals that live in these very different areas? They will migrate or disappear too.
I got really depressed.
I remembered an article I read earlier this year, Native Plants are a Moral Choice:
As gardeners we have first hand knowledge of environmental change – birds, butterflies, soil, rain. We are also the first and last line of defense. How we garden is how we see the world. Gardening is an ethical act, like shopping locally, going to farmer’s markets, et cetera. We make the choices as gardeners, and we are powerful — there are tens of millions of us in North America. Gardening has become much more than an aesthetic hobby – it’s now also a protest (you front lawn converters know what I mean!).
Because the climate is changing, because habitats are disappearing, because the animals that live in those habitats are increasingly threatened, the article suggests choosing native plants becomes a moral choice.
Okay, I thought, but that is not going to stop the climate from changing. And what happens to my carefully cultivated native plants when my climate becomes too warm for them? How do I plan for that? How do I garden for climate change? How do I choose plants? Do I worry about the warmer future or do I instead continue choosing native plants based on my current weather? And when the temperatures get warm enough will what constitutes a native plant for Minnesota change? Will I be thinking of plants native to the plains in Oklahoma now native to Minnesota in the future?
It is overwhelming and sad and makes me feel so completely powerless. Part of me says I am overreacting and being silly. Deal with it when it happens, don’t worry about it now. But I am a planner by nature so I cannot help but look ahead. And for a while it looked so bleak, the little Eden that Bookman and I have been working so hard at creating in such danger, that I got myself into quite a funk.
I was saved by a book. I will tell you about it tomorrow.
Filed under: gardening
Tagged: climate change
The Junie B Jones pumpkin is great! Is Hello Kitty from a book? In any case it’s cute, too. I used to carve pumpkins (and I am talking about the recent past here… like just four or five years ago), but I’ve been too cheap the last few years to buy any. They are fun to carve, though…. Too bad about the hist fic book–sometimes those glaring mistakes are just too much and they distract a reader. Maybe your instructor will address those sorts of things (so important in historical fiction) in your class. Hopefully the next will be better!
I read The Physick Book back when it first came out, and although there were parts of it I enjoyed, I thought others parts of it were just… dumb. I don’t remember noticing that particular gaffe, but there was a lot of other stuff about the story that niggled at me. From what I recall, I did like the historical bits pretty well. (To be honest, the presence of that book and Year of Wonders on the syllabus are one of the reasons that MOOC didn’t tempt me. I had a lot of problems with both of those books.)
That’s so interesting that the magazine editors decided not to produce a digital version. They make a good point, though. In addition to print, the magazine I work for now is available in five different formats, and it’s not a simple matter of taking the print files and saving them in a different format and posting them. Each version has to be proofed to make sure nothing gets lost or messed up in the conversion. Each one by itself doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time, but it adds up, especially when you’re trying to do them all at once so as many readers as possible will have their favorite format available at the same time. It’s crazy! I see the value in doing it, especially for a professional association publication like the one I work on, but we’ve had to accept that we can’t put as much time as we’d like into fine-tuning every detail, as we do in the print version, which has the most readers. And so far, our readers have shown little interest in giving up print, and I don’t think that’s likely to change anytime soon.
Happy November! Did October just fly by? Why is it spring arrives so slowly and fall careens in, teeters for a moment on the precipice, and then plunges right into winter? Winter hasn’t arrived just yet but my local weather forecaster reminded me the other day that we average 9 inches (23 cm) of snow in November. We did have a little snow a week and a half ago but it melted as soon as it hit the ground so I just pretended it was really thick rain.
Autumn’s arrival in early October and the end of gardening did help my reading speed along. Once the snow becomes something more than thick rain, imagine all the reading I will be doing! My October reading plan was a great success. I read everything I planned to and even read Hecuba, my reserve book in case I finished all the others. This also allowed me to get back to my NYRB subscription books and read the July book, In Love by Alfred Hayes, which I just finished this afternoon. Woot! Look at me go!
Now, planning for November, here is what’s in store:
- The Selected Poems of Edward Thomas. Last month the plan was to read ten poems a week and finish up the book the first week of December. I am right on track. I have also read some really lovely poems. I am looking forward to sharing this book in more detail with you.
- My MOOCs are still going. I am in deep right now with T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Including this week there are seven more weeks to go, I think. So that will continue for November. Also continuing for the month is my historical fiction class. I am in the middle of Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks and at the beginning of Fever by Mary Beth Keane. Both of these books will be finished this month.
- Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather is also in the cards this month. I will be reading it along with Danielle. I suspect I will be starting in on it sometime next week.
- I also plan on reading The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. The book is a gift from my friend Cath. It is the story of Elzeard Bouffier who moves to southeastern France with his sheep and dog and plants one hundred acorns a day. I am really looking forward to reading this one.
- Since I get a four-day holiday at the end of November for Thanksgiving and won’t be traveling over the river and through the woods to anyone’s house nor will anyone be traveling to mine, I will have some extra time to indulge in reading and have high hopes of being able to partake of MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. I am very much looking forward to this and finding out how the story begun in Oryx and Crake ends.
- And, should I have another blockbuster reading month, I will plunge into The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart. This is my August NYRB subscription book. It is, according to the back of the book, “an intoxicating tale of love and wonder, mothers and daughters, spiritual values and the grim legacy of slavery on the French Antillean Island of Guadeluope.” Sounds good, doesn’t it?
So there is the November plan. With that my mind has skipped over December entirely and has already begun thinking about next year. I know! But I can’t help myself!
Filed under: Books
, In Progress
My days of poking fun at ancient Greek plays are over. Hecuba is too awesome to make fun of. Euripides wrote Hecuba in 424 BCE. The play takes place not long after the fall of Troy. The Greeks are camped on the shores of the Thracian Chersonese. Hecuba, wife of Priam king of Troy, is among Agamemnon’s prizes. She has gone from Queen to slave, her husband is dead and all but one of her sons are dead. That son, Polydorus, was too young to fight in the war and was sent off to Thrace with a cartload of gold. Here he has been a guest of Polymestor, the king and a friend of Troy.
The play opens in an unconventional way for Greek tragedy. We have the ghost of Polydorus, the son Hecuba believes is still alive and safe, explain to us his fate. When Troy fell Polymester killed him and took all his gold. Polymester didn’t even give him a burial, but tossed his body into the ocean:
He killed me and flung me into the surging salt sea so that he could keep the gold in his own house. And I lie sometimes on the shore, sometimes in the rolling waters, carried on the constant ebb and flow of the waves. There is no one to weep over me, no one to bury me.
Until someone gives Polymester proper burial rites, he will remain a ghost.
But he is not the only ghost in the story. Achilles appeared above his tomb and demanded the sacrifice of Polyxena, Polydorus’ sister and Hecuba’s daughter. Until this is done, there will be no winds to sail the Greeks home. Nice bookend that, since Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia so the winds would blow the Greeks to Troy at the start of the war. Achilles demanding Polyxena be sacrificed was a shocking request and the Greek army argued over whether they should obey Achilles’ demand. They weren’t going to do it until Odysseus
logic chopping, sweet-tongued courtier of the people
convinces them otherwise.
I never much liked Odysseus, and in the play my dislike of him is justified. He goes to the tent where Hecuba and her daughter and some other Trojan women are being kept and is a perfect unfeeling bastard. Hecuba, however, has nothing to lose and she goes at him toe to toe, trying every angle of verbal attack to get him to back down. Valiant as her efforts are, she cannot win. The good hearted Polyxena steps up and says she will go willingly since she no longer has any reason to live anymore. She chooses sacrifice with honor over spending the rest of her life as a slave.
Just after Hecuba hears the details of her daughter’s death and we think she can’t slip any deeper into despair and grief, her serving woman arrives to tell her that the body of Polydorus has been found on the beach. She cries out
All is over for unhappy Hecuba — I no longer exist.
Agamemnon takes pity on her and summons the Thracian king and his small sons to the camp where he arranges a meting for them with Hecuba. She takes her revenge after Polymester lies to her face. Hecuba kills Polymester’s sons and then blinds Polymester. In his grief and blindness he crawls on all fours on the ground, crying out his agony and asking to be avenged. But no one will come to his aid because he violated the sacred guest-friend laws by killing Polydorus.
The play ends with the winds beginning to blow. Agamemnon orders the army to dump Polymester on an island somewhere. And Polymester foretells Hecuba beng transformed into a dog and Agamemon’s death when he reaches home.
The play focuses on Hecuba but it also has moments in which it acknowledges the fate women face when men go to war:
From one man’s folly came evil for all,
bringing destruction on the land of Simois
with disaster for others too,
and the rivalry was settled
when the herdsman judged
the three daughters of the blessed ones on Ida,
settled with war, with blood and the ruin of my home.
And by the fair-flowing Eurotas
a Spartan girl laments at home, with many a tear,
and a mother beats her grey head with her hand
and tears her cheek, rending it with bloody nails,
for her children are dead.
One of the most groundbreaking things Euripides did was make his characters speak in everyday language. They do not talk in ritualized ways or formal speech, but as regular people talked. This, I think makes his plays so very powerful because it erases the distance between the characters on stage and the people in the audience so there is no escape from the pain of Hecuba’s grief and the force of her vengeance.
Filed under: Ancient Greece
In Love by Alfred Hayes was first published in 1953. Set in post-war New York it isn’t really about being in love at all. Rather, it is about how we go about convincing ourselves we are in love and then using that so-called love as a weapon. That makes the book sound dangerous, doesn’t it?
The story begins with our main character, approaching forty, sitting in a bar and having a drink with a young, pretty girl. It’s a bit confusing at first because the man is narrating and slips between talking to the pretty girl, addressing her as “you,” and being in his head which amounts to talking to the reader though we are never addressed directly. Along with this we slip between present and past as he begins to recall another pretty girl he used to know and thinking that he made a big mistake that he will always regret. Then he tells the story of that other pretty girl. This is the bulk of the book and it is told from our man’s perspective in a straightforward narrative style.
He and the girl, I don’t ever recall that they either of them get named, were seeing each other for sometime. The girl, not a girl really but a young woman in her early twenties, has a daughter who is being raised by her grandparents after the woman and her husband divorced. She is trying to work in the city and earn money but it is a grim sort of life. Our narrator is a nice enough fellow and the pair convince themselves that they are in love. But they aren’t, not really. They use each other to make their lives less miserable, to fill the void of loneliness.
And then one evening, out with some friends, the woman meets Howard, a wealthy businessman who asks her to dance. Howard takes a shine to her and as they dance he offers her $1,000 to spend the night with him. That is a lot of money to her and even though she is tempted she refused. Still, Howard gives her his number in case she changes her mind. From here the relationship between our narrator and the woman enter into a death spiral that neither of them wishes to acknowledge until both of them are so messed up that there is no chance to set things right again.
If you are thinking, wow this sounds like that movie with Robert Redford and Demi Moore, Indecent Proposal, you are kind of right. Except the movie was based on Jack Engelhard’s 1994 novel by the same name and besides the offer of money the two books are completely different.
Our woman of course, calls Howard. They go out but nothing happens immediately. Howard actually likes her and instead of just going to bed with her, he treats her like a lady, wining and dining, buying her presents, making her feel loved. And our narrator, all along he knows that if he’d only say something to her, say he loved her, she would stop seeing Howard, wouldn’t have called him to begin with. As she slips farther and farther away from him he gets bitter and angry and places all the blame on her. And when she tells him she won’t be seeing him anymore, it pushes our narrator to over the edge:
I began, too, to experience the conceit of suffering. it conferred upon me a significance my emotions had previously lacked. It seemed a special destiny. Because I suffered I thought I loved, for the suffering was the proof, the testimony of a heart I had suspected was dry. Since happiness had failed me, it was unhappiness that provided me with the belief that I was, or had been, in love, for it was easier to believe in the reality of unhappiness when I had before me the evidence of sleepless nights and the bitterness of reaching in the dark for what was no longer there. The strict constriction of the heart was undeniable; there was a melancholy truth in the fact that it was suffering which made me, I thought, at last real to myself.
Since the story is told in hindsight, our narrator makes it clear throughout that he has thought long and hard about what happened and why and how it is that he finally ends up hurting her with his desire to destroy any hope for happiness she might have. It doesn’t make the story any less emotionally brutal, nor did I end up having much sympathy for the narrator. I understood him and his motives but understanding did not melt into sympathy.
In Love is a slim book, more novella than novel and it is astonishing just how much is packed into it. I feel like I read a much longer book. Kudos once again the the NYRBs Classics folks for another good subscription selection.
Filed under: Books
Tagged: Alfred Hayes
, NYRB Classics
View Next 25 Posts
Or so one Steve Lightfoot claims. He even wrote a book about it in 1995, Stephen King Shot John Lennon. It is scandalously out of print, or perhaps that is also part of the conspiracy that has Nixon and Reagan collaborating to take out Lennon and end his peace protests. You can read more about this conspiracy in the delightful article 10 Crazy Literary Conspiracy Theories. There you will also learn that J.K. Rowling is not a real person, Lewis Carroll was Jack The Ripper, and Charlote Bronte, jealous of her sisters’ success conspired with Arthur Bell Nicholls to poison them and Branwell. I dunno, by all accounts Branwell did a pretty good job of poisoning himself.
It is hilarious the things people decide are perfectly logical explanations. You know, Jane Austen is often criticized for not mentioning the Napoleonic War in her novels. I am pretty sure that is because her novels were actually code books for the British army and to mention Napoleon in them, well, that would just be a tip off, wouldn’t it? Nah, I’m not buying it. Obviously I am no good at conspiracy theories.
A blind date with a book, on the other hand, would be totally awesome (via Library Stuff). Drake Memorial Library at College at Brockport selected a variety of books and films from their stacks, wrapped them in brown paper, wrote clues on them like “I’m good in bed,” and then created a display. It’s been a big success. What a great idea! Too bad we can’t do something like that at my library. No one wants to go on a date with A Guide to Toxic Torts.
If you are looking for inspiration rather than love, you might find it on this list of 50 Books to Inspire Artists of All Kinds.
Or, you can just forget about all that and get yourself over to peruse the latest issue of Ada. It’s all about feminist science fiction and the articles look fantastic. I know what I will be reading this weekend.
Filed under: Book Lists