Looking Forward to June

Monday, May 22, 2017

May Jaunts and Carol Goodman's The Widow's House

Just a very brief post to say I'm still hanging in, despite the fact I haven't been reading a great deal or blogging as much as I'd very much like to do.

My plan is to have a very busy summer reading and blogging.  I've been really bogged down emotionally and it has been very hard to keep up. I don't understand really why this should be, but it must be part of the grieving process, and I hope that after my mom's memorial service, I'll truly begin anew. I guess I can say quite honestly that I can't wait.

I just had a wonderful visit from a friend who now lives in North Carolina. We hiked over 22 miles in four days, and lots of it on rough trails. I'll admit I'm exhausted, but it's a really good kind of tiredness. Beautiful, really cool spring weather, which means that the black flies were not a problem. Lucky us!

I am reading a gothic-style thriller set in upstate New York in the Hudson River Valley. Carol Goodman's The Widow's House has all the traits of gothic suspense, which makes it excellent fodder for my appetites. A married couple, in their mid-30s, moves to a gate-house kind of place on a Hudson River Valley estate. Jess, the husband, is working on his second novel and getting nowhere, really.  His wife, although she has considerable literary talents of her own, has always subsumed them in working to support her husband, doing editorial freelancing for New York City publishers. Then, just a bit at a time, she begins to boldly stretch her literary wings on this estate, no longer playing the self-abnegating helpmate to her husband. That's where I am right now. It is becoming clear that Jess cares only for the support his wife can provide, in the form of meals  and general  household support and literary cheerleader.. Naturally, there is a ghostly presence on the estate--just as one might expect. I'm  really enjoying it.  Carol Goodman  has written a number of gothicky novels set in upstate New York.  I read The Lake of the Dead Languages, which was set at a women's secondary school--private academy, and which was excellent.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Internet Lost! Back Now, and Audio Memoirs

Being without internet service for over a week was much more than Ken and I could tolerate without losing our patience. Fortunately we had satellite tv to keep us connected to the world.

It's twelve miles to the nearest café or pub providing internet service, and even these spots have multiple days they're not open each week, because it's the "off season." Our problem resulted from a brief thunder squall that moved through on May 1st. It was no big deal, really. Hard to fathom.

Thank goodness I had several audiobooks downloaded, and plenty of knitting to do. The weather has been abysmal. We've had snow, hail, downpours, steely rain, and the cold wet and rawness that penetrate all  clothing. The dog sticks her nose out the door and, supposedly intrepid retriever that she is, then looks at me as if to say, "Do we really have to go for a walk?"

As soon as we get a couple of warm days all the wildflowers will blossom and all the trees will leaf out, all at once. It will be a dizzying splendor, though truly I prefer a more gradual unfolding of spring.

I'm nearing the end of Born to Run, written and narrated by Bruce Springsteen, which has been a revelation, and I will hate to let it go. He lets the reader into his deepest soul, into the passions and demons that drive him, and I'm grateful for what he has shared. An amazing audio experience.

I'm now reading one book and listening to two other audiobooks. My auto audiobook is the memoir The Pigeon Tunnel by John Le Carre, author of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and so many other novels of espionage. He, too, is the narrator of this memoir, and at 84 years of age, it is obvious that he is as sharper than any tack. His voice, and the nuanced reading of his memoir, is also extraordinary.  I highly recommend the audio performance--bravo!! Yet I find I wish I had a text copy to refer to, because at many points, he discusses complex events relating to the Cold War and his experience of it. I must admit that my listening skills are nowhere near the acuity of my reading skills. If I continue to listen to audiobooks, I think I'll develop keener listening, but right now I need a physical copy of The Pigeon Tunnel. Again, an absolutely extraordinary book! Springsteen and Le Carre are establishing a new standard for memoir.  

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

An Absurdly Long Interruption and Books

It may seem as though I've walked off the edge of the earth, but I am still in residence. I have been overwhelmed by home issues that have flared up and preparations for a major family reunion, which will take place following my mother's memorial service. It's hard for me to realize, but my brain has been so crammed with duties and errands that I've had nearly no space to reflect, to read, to be.

I have taken up knitting again, as a means to calm myself, and as I knit, I've taken to listening to audiobooks. Currently I'm listening to Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen's memoir, and it's a gem! Springsteen is the narrator, and I'm certain he wrote the book, though it's possible he had an editor help with structure. I can assure you there was no ghostwriter here!

Springsteen writes and narrates in the same passionate language as is present in the lyrics to his songs. His childhood is fascinating--as  the oldest grandchild, he lived with his grandparents until they were too old to cope, and only then did he move in with his parents, who lived a few blocks away. I'm less than halfway through, but his memoir also reveals the music scene of the early- to mid-1970s beautifully. I'm not yet beyond that era and am just now reading about the magic of the Born to Run album, an era that changed everything for Springsteen and his band who had labored so hard for years and years in the backwaters of New Jersey.

Have you ever wondered what life would be like living as a woman and a mother in a Hasidic Jewish community? This is the universe I discovered when I listened to Leah Lax's  Uncovered:How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home.

Hasids are ultra-orthodox or ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Jews. The largest community in the U.S. resides in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York. Other communities are scattered throughout a number of major U.S. cities, and although  the memoir did not discuss this, there are also communities in Europe. (Hasidic Judaism originated in eastern Europe early in the 20th century.) If you have ever read the best-selling classic novels The Chosen and The Promise by Chaim Potok, these novels portrayed conflicts in Hasidic life among young people raised in the culture, growing to maturity, then you are familiar with this way of life and religion.

Leah Lax was born into a Jewish family that did not practice the faith of their parents. They scarcely permitted themselves to ascribe to the views of  liberally-minded Reformed Jews. In the early 1970s Leah became extremely interested in conservative Judaism and sought out many opportunities to learn more about it and to practice her faith with other conservatively-minded Jews. Later, in college, she attended North Texas State University in Denton, which is where she really began to orient herself and commit herself to "God's Laws" as practiced by the Hasidic Community. At the age of 19, she agreed to an arranged marriage and began her life as a Hasidic wife, woman, and mother.

She portrays her life, her profound loneliness, the endless childbearing and housework, and, eventually, her realization as her seventh child grew up, that her soul and spirit were suffocating in this  life. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Brief Post: Whither Books? And Missing, Presumed

It is still wintry here, for which I am glad. I missed much of it in February, so March has given me a chance to catch up. Sasha and I have had some stellar snowshoe excursions. Not super-long ones, perhaps, but really fun.

My reading stalled at times this past month. I read over half of the Margaret Drabble novel Deep Flood Rises. It must go back to the library, because I have yet to finish it. I'm planning on buying my own copy in the immediate future. It is so good, and I feel as though as I want to start at page one and do it all over.

Most recently I've been reading Missing, Presumed by Sheila Steiner. It's an exciting police procedural set in Cambridgeshire. A very young ecological activist, Ellen Hind, goes missing--a woman whose father is a politically influential doctor. He has close friends who are tops in the British government. (Characterizations are a big plus here!) Manon, the primary investigator  interest in the novel is single, coming on forty too fast for her liking, and longing for a settled love relationship. This definitely adds lots of interest.  I'm just over halfway. I ordered it thru ILL because it had such good reviews, and I haven't been disappointed.

So what has made my reading collapse?
I am now full throttle in my political activism. I promised to myself that I would become politically active after November's election results. No, unfortunately, marching on Washington is beyond me at this point. So I've been concentrating my efforts, at least in part, on the Republican congresswoman in our district, Elise Stefanik, who is considered a moderate Republican. At age 32, she's just beginning her second term  in the House of Representatives. She is a hard worker, to her credit. But, as any junior member of Congress, she lacks direction and certitude. I'm hoping that other women members of Congress are mentoring her. Anyway,  I write a detailed letter to her on a timely topic, relating to upcoming legislations, that I've thoroughly researched once a week. I write many other letters, encouraging our New York State Senators, and to others on current topics in the legislature.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Time Warp: Crewel Embroidery and The Needle Arts

For the past few years, I've had a yearning to re-engage with crewel embroidery. Crewel work involves embroidering with woolen "thread" or "yarn," otherwise called "fibers."

Interestingly enough, crewel embroidery was extremely popular in the U.S. in the 1970s (and the 1980s)--in fact, it was a white-hot fad. Family Circle, Women's DayLadies' Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping  all vied to provide soup-to-nuts instruction for beginners and offer lovely designs as well. And  I can tell you that it was not just for older ladies, not at all! Women and girls of all ages were doing it.

At that time, my town had several stores that carried crewel embroidery materials and other embroidery necessities.  I know it may be hard to imagine today, but cross-stitch embroidery was not at all popular the way it has been since the early 1990s, except as one of many styles of stitchery in historic sampler embroidery. It was a very different time. I imagine working women today love the simplicity and relaxation of picking up a cross-stitch project for the evenings and weekends without having to worry about mastering numerous complicated embroidery stitches. I completely understand that, because as soon as I was working full-time, embroidery went out the window! During those years I was only into very simple patchwork quilting and knitting.

As a young woman in her very late teens and early twenties, I was fascinated by the challenges of embroidery and crewel work; and most of all, I was astonished by how beautifully lush the inter-weavings of multi-colored embroidery wools and polished cotton threads were when created into a landscape or a flowery still-life. I grabbed the women's magazines and crafted samplers and designs all over. At that time, it was a relief from the mindless jobs I had during the summers as an undergrad. Cross-stitch has never grabbed me personally, although I have lots of friends and relatives who craft beautiful projects in cross-stitch and counted cross-stitch.

For me, I have never forgotten how beautiful and personally satisfying crewel embroidery is, and it seems that now might be a time to explore it and perhaps re-engage.

When I went searching for books and websites and materials, I discovered that in the U.S. there are very few stores that carry anything at all in the way of crewel embroidery materials, or any that are willing to order from British suppliers. As far as I can tell, very, very few books have been published about crewel embroidery and needlepoint and embroidery since 2000-2004 in the U.S.

Crewel embroidery is much bigger in the UK (and I believe it's also bigger in Australia than the U.S.), although I imagine it may not be as popular in both the UK and Australia as it once was. Tapestry embroidery is possible to pursue in the UK, which sounds fascinating to me, although difficult to pursue here without importing everything you need. And, as Josephine, one of Margaret Drabble's characters in Dark Flood Rises comments, tapestry wool (and crewel wool) have become extremely expensive.) Ridiculously so, really.

I have discovered that some libraries have hung on to their old books on embroidery, needlework, and crewel work. I'm so grateful for that. Ebay and Etsy have old kits and books available. I purchased a wonderful crewel kit on Etsy--it's a kit from the 1970s, in beautiful condition, produced by Avon Products. So reasonably priced--I'm lucky indeed.

Do you engage in needlework of some sort? Please discuss it, and please let us know of the state of needlework in your country or your neck of the U.S.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Just a briefie: A Great Book and Weather Notes

A very peculiar weather situation for this second weekend in March. Yes, it's a "polar vortex," according to meteorologists. Or, as Ken would say, "According to the guys with the ouija boards."
We'll be going to two degrees below zero Fahrenheit tonight, and even colder tomorrow night.
Saturday we'll have a high temp of 10 degrees F with a wind-chill temperature of minus 21 degrees below zero F, due to the high winds. To go out, which I'd really like to do because I'm enamored of wintry extremes, I will need to vamoose out to our downhill trails quickly, where we'll be surrounded by hills that block the winds from the northwest. Sasha usually wants to cop out quickly in such weather, so I may not bring her with me. I'll do something of the ten-minute variety with her.

Margaret Drabble's Dark Flood Rises is incredibly good. (Gee, even I am beginning to speak like our dear Donald.) A brilliant combination of her sardonic wit, mingled with serious probings of the very mature adult situation, with a touch of her ribald tongue-in-cheek. I find myself reading along, hanging on every word, and then out of nowhere I'm laughing hysterically, because the situations of her characters and their responses to them are all so true. My shrieking then wakes up the dog so that she lifts her head, and gives me her "You're bothering me terribly" expression.

I had a wonderful trip to Crandall Library today. I hadn't been to "the city" for over six weeks, so it was a lovely treat to feed all my current fascinations.  Yikes! Dinner is up. I do hope that I can continue this thread tomorrow

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Back on the Reading Train: Larsson, Godden, Drabble

I wasn't able to do any real book reading for about 5-6 days, other than magazines and the New York Times. But I'm back now, thank goodness.

As I searched all the bookcases and bookshelves throughout the entire house, the only book that demanded to be picked up was Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third book in the trilogy. Because it was about eight years ago that I read the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, I decided it would be helpful to read a synopsis of that one before conquering the third, just to get the characters and storyline straight. Wikipedia had a fine synopsis available, so I'm all set reading the third chapter of Hornet's Nest. It's a very hefty read, at about 537 pages, and I've got Margaret Drabble's latest to read, which must be returned on the 16th of March. So it looks as though I'll need to devote time to both.

But not all day! There was something about reading all day long that made me feel as though I didn't have a life. And that's really very, very strange, because it has never bothered me before when I've had personal read-on-and-on-and-on-athons. I'm wondering just perhaps if the aura of Barbara Pym's characters in Quartet in Autumn have been casting a spell upon me? I do think so. And yes, the review for this book is coming. I've been working on it, but am finding it hard to do it justice.

Today I was able to purchase another of my Classics Club books for a mere $2.99. It's Greengage Summer by the English novelist Rumer Godden. I hope to get going on this one soon as well. My original intention for the Classics Club was to buy paperback or hardcover copies of all my classic books read, but this Nook Edition was such a good price, I have made an exception.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

February's Eight Reads, Barbara Pym, and On the Reading Horizon

I managed to read eight books in February, which I think is a record for me, though I'm not proud or happy about it, all because the stupid influenza visited us this year and is wholly responsible for the number of books read. Geez. What a way to ruin a nice wintry month.

The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore was the best book by far, Appelfeld's The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping was equally stellar and will be forever memorable. Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing was another book that I would highly recommend and even might say should not be missed. (See the posts below for information about these books.)

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym, which I read for The Classics Club, was both utterly fascinating and depressing, as well as being at times, extremely funny. It deserves its own post, which is forthcoming.

On the 27th of February, in utter desperation, I declared a reading moratorium.
I allowed the reading of magazines and the New York Times (Aw, shucks--Sorry, Donald!) and other online websites.
And now, on the evening of March 1st, I finally have a number of books lined up that I'm looking forward to tackling.

Barbara Pym does not seem to have had a biography written about her, I've found. (See below for my error, here.) Yet excerpts from her journals and letters were collected in a volume in the early 1980s, several years after her untimely death. After reading Quartet in Autumn, I'm extremely curious about Barbara Pym's life and her thoughts in general, so I'm waiting for the arrival of the out-of-print A Very Private Eye. And, wouldn't you know it, I've come across a biography this evening, although not available in any library here. It's Hazel Holt's A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym (1990).

Margaret Drabble has a new novel. As some of you know, I am partial to her writing. Dark Flood Rises, published in the U.S. just this past month, is about a social worker, aged 76, whose job it is to drive all over England visiting residences for elderly people and analyze them for a huge report she is compiling. The conflict, naturally enough, is that the social worker is approximating and equal to the age of the residents. I'm dying to read this, knowing Drabble's  sharp,  devilish wit. Can't wait. I still have numerous novels of Drabble's  which I haven't read.  Need to get kicking.

Ali Smith is a Scottish writer whom I have never read. The first book in her new series of four novels has just been published here. Autumn is the title. She plans to write a novel for all four seasons. As one might expect, Autumn does include characters who are in the "autumn" of their lives. I have the chance to pick this one up and will let you know. Have you read Ali Smith?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Book Passion in Translation: Appelfeld and Petterson

I was absolutely unprepared for the Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld's novel published in the U.S. in January 2017. The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping was, at first, inexplicably mesmerizing to me, and as I read on, it became a transformative reading adventure that spoke directly to my heart and soul.

Appelfeld's novels, of which there are many, are translated from the Hebrew into English.  Yet Hebrew is not Appelfeld's "mother tongue." He was born in 1932 in Bukovina, which is today part of Ukraine. After a horrific war, during which he was separated from his parents, he emigrated to Israel. German was his "mother tongue," and Hebrew is the language he adopted in his late teens, which he deliberately chose to write in, after much laborious work and study. This book is a work of art about how a young man, recently repatriated to Palestine, bears his crippling Palestinian War (1947-48) wounds to become enmeshed in the Hebrew language of the Bible, as a means to help him be a writer in Hebrew. Each character  in the book is without a family and is alone in Palestine. This novel is about how Erwin's deep sleeps reconnect him with the past and the strengths of his former family life and culture before the war, so that he can move forward to become a writer.
For those interested in this book, none of the horrors of the war years are revisited. The focus is solely on his travels to Palestine and his life there. In memory, he returns over and over to his pre-war life for sustenance and the will to claim his life as a writer. Extraordinary. I borrowed a library copy and must purchase it for my library--so many gems of wisdom.

Well, I certainly thought I was going to be able to write about the book I'm reading by my favorite contemporary writer of Norwegian fiction, Per Petterson. But, as it turns out, the beef stew is done, and I must move on to serve it. More soon!