How Earth Day Looks in Our Neck of the Woods

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!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

News Before I Sign Off for the Holiday Weekend

Ken's cousins are due early tomorrow morning from coastal Maine for the long weekend. It's hard to explain this, but they sometimes arrive before we're awake. Ken's cousin Tom likes to get going by two am and head west, not wanting to waste any of his limited time off. (If they were to wait for morning to depart, the trip would be many hours longer on the slim, two-lane back highways of central New Hampshire and Vermont.)

We'll have a big breakfast after they arrive and catch up. No doubt we'll be talking about our President's so easily proven falsehoods uttered during his press conference today.

And speaking of catching up, I'm concerned that I'll be finishing Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing in the next day or so, without much time to note my thoughts. (I'll have to jot them down on the fly and save for later to post later.)

My new book is Israeli writer's Ahron Appelfeld's  The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping, translated into English from Hebrew. I started this before bed last night and was so overwhelmed (in a positive way) by the first 30 pages that I nearly couldn't put it down. More to come on this reading adventure.

Tomorrow I need to sneak out of the house in the late morning to go to the post office to pick up my copy of the 2016 nonfiction title The Romanovs, 1613-1918 by Simon Montefiore. The Romanov Sisters barely whet my appetite for the hard-core history of this dynasty, and the history of the Russian Empire.

If I need a cozy read during the weekend, which is likely to happen if I become really tired, then I have M.M. Kaye's mystery Death In Zanzibar on my Nook. I need to check on the publication of this one, but I believe it was during the late 1950s or early 1960s. I'll check.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Currently Reading: Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing

I've been hell-bent, for weeks now, trying to get a hold of Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, a novel published in 2016. Ghyasi was born in Ghana and immigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was a child, to Huntsville, Alabama. This novel follows the descendants of a one African woman in the mid-1700s in Ghana, through many generations, through two separate lines of descendants. One lineage continues to reside in Ghana, both in the Asante and Fante tribes. This side of the family's story is fascinating, because it deals with all the ins and outs of the slave trade wars in Africa, and particularly the battles among tribes, each who vie to be the most prominent in providing slaves to the British, Dutch, and American slavers who transport slaves to the colonies. Gripping!

The other line of descendants follows those who have been transported to the U.S. and who struggle to keep their families together in slavery present on Southern plantations.

This is Ghyasi's debut novel, many years in the works, and she is an exceptional writer.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Books Are Getting Very Russian Around Here

My reading bed in the loft is covered with Russian history-related novels and nonfiction right now. After all, it is 2017 and the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.  Since age 14, I have been a Russian history and literature wonk. It all came about when on a dull, rainy Saturday in March, in my fifteenth year, my older brother took me to see David Lean's film Dr. Zhivago. My mind was blown away. After that, not only did I go out and buy a paperback copy of Boris Pasternak's masterpiece, I also became insatiably curious about Russian history from the Tsars through the Russian Revolution to the 1930s, a fascination that continues to this day. 

On the loft bed today I spent the day reading The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport (2014), which I purchased, but which I never got around  to settling down with until now. So now I am deeply within. It is the history and biographies of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, the daughters of the Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. Because Alix (Alexandra) was the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, and the third-cousin of the Tsar Nicholas II, I find myself in dire need of a number of family trees. Relatives of the Grand Duchesses are frequently mentioned, but without a family tree map, I am a bit lost. Perhaps I'll search online. At 387 dense pages, with dozens of pages of footnotes, and an extraordinary bibliography (!), it will take me time to finish it, especially considering I have novels I'm choosing to read at the same time. 

I have nothing but accolades to lay upon Helen Dunmore's The Betrayal, which I described in a previous post.  I finished it this past weekend and I am amazed by this book. It is not only an extraordinarily well-written novel with fully developed characters, exquisite dialogue, and settings, but the history is absolutely true for 1952-53. How do I know? In my early teaching years, in my 20s, I spent a year teaching 5th grade reading and writing and social studies in a Boston-area Jewish K-8 school, housed in a synagogue, in which 25 percent of the students were Russian immigrants, knowing very little English.

I'd had a post-graduate year of college Russian, which helped, and I became very friendly with one family, who had a son in my class. Over the sharing of mutual dinners, picnics by the sea, and coastal hikes, I learned that Yuli (nickname for the Russian equivalent of Julian), my student's father, had witnessed both his father's and mother's arrests, in their home, in the middle of the night, in Moscow in late 1952, at a time when many professional Jews were rounded up and sent to Siberia to labor camps. Yuli was a very young teenager (12-13), suddenly left on his own, out-of-his-mind bewildered. Fortunately, after several days, friends of his parents came and took him in to their home. His parents eventually returned, a couple of years after  Stalin's death in 1953.  From all of his stories, and my reading,  I know that Dunmore's The Betrayal is accurate, painstakingly so, if you consider her bibliography and contacts and websites that informed the background of the novel.
All very interesting. Dunmore is truly one of my favorite authors.

So! Update! Just today, Carson, our UPS friend, got stuck on the ice in our driveway, yet delivered a very recently published novel Patriots by Sana Krasikov, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to the U.S. as a youngster and is now a writer living in Brooklyn with her husband and children.  This is "a sweeping, multi-generational saga" that begins in 1934 with the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants living in Brooklyn, who returns to the Soviet Union, along with many other former immigrants to the U.S., because the Soviets have promised jobs and golden opportunities in their country. At this moment, I don't have the title of the work of history that details this reverse exodus during the Great Depression and its dreadful consequences. Due to the stellar reviews of this book, I snatched it up and have started reading it.