A Snowy November Skiing at Garnet Hill with Friends

Thursday, November 23, 2017

I Do Hope I'm Back! At Least That's My Intention

My sincerest apologies to everyone for disappearing these last two and a half months without notice.

What happened:
In mid-September my literary self went AWOL and so far has not been found.

Oh, yes, I'm still reading as much as ever, but without my literary self as director,  I've succumbed to
reading mostly light-weight stuff--romances, light crime with happy endings, and celebrity memoir, with just a few exceptions. If you examine my "Books Read in 2017" sidebar, you will see what I'm talking about. I must say that I've read a number of light reads and romances that have been satisfying. More about that in another post.

I recently finished one of my exceptions, a history/crime combo entitled Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Dawson Winkler, which was published in early November. Winkler is a journalist, and this book is what I'd  call a popular history. It does lay down the facts of the circumstances, causes, and impact of the London Smog of December 1952, but not with great authority. The serial killer aspect is interesting--only three of Christie's victims were murdered during the Great Smog. The rest of his history is also included. I found it very interesting and worth reading.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Early last week we had a few nights that dropped into the mid-thirties Fahrenheit. I didn't think too much about it--it was a much cooler than normal summer--but did I ever wake up when a day or two later all the red maples or "swamp maples" (acer rubrum) in our area started to turn to their autumnal reds and oranges. What a shock! Two weeks too early. I haven't  organized my schedules and my life to take advantage of these beautiful moments before the leaves fall to the earth. I'm not ready! Help!

I'm too busy this month, busier than I like to be, though it's for a beneficial cause.
Reading has had to assume less prominent proportions.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I have a day to recharge batteries. Mansfield Park! Move on!

And have you heard the good news about Claire Messud's latest novel? I listened to Maureen Corrigan's review of it on NPR late this afternoon, and I will read it soon, just as I've read all of Messud's work. The title is The Burning Girl.

Messud's The Emperor's Children was my best book of the year in the year I read it, introducing me to the full majesty of Messud's literary powers. Awe-inspiring.
I also fully appreciated The Woman Upstairs--a very different novel from the one previous, but a provocative read nonetheless.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Weekend Prayers: Time for Mansfield Park and Other Books

As I've noted in a previous post, this September in particular is an overly busy one for me--not of my choosing. So I've got to capture reading moments and cling to them for dear life!

Because I'm determined to read and finish Mansfield Park this month, I must move forward with serious intent on Saturday and Sunday this weekend--not to the exclusion of outdoor activities, by any means. I guess I'm saying I need to make use of every bit of spare time this weekend that I can to move forward in MP, because it is, after all, I think, Jane Austen's longest book, at about 420 dense pages. Determined to finish it this month for James's Read-along of James Reads Books (see sidebar).

So far I'm finding it a bit of a challenge, as far as themes are concerned. And I do enjoy and feel rewarded by tackling the challenge. More to come on this topic as I read along! I highly recommend this novel, based on the first 60 pages. Such complexity!

THUS! Because MP is dense, I must have another less complex book going, and I've grabbed Sue Grafton's N is for Noose, which is proving to be just the light-hearted private detective sort of thing. For those of you who know me, it's amazing that I haven't picked up a Grafton novel in 19 months!! In this one, Lindsay is stuck in the fictional Lake Nota in the middle of the Yosemite region. It's not a happy place where she's working either, which is typical for Lindsay. In any case, the mystery is excellent fodder for that half-hour before falling asleep.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Thank Goodness for Labor Day Reading

I'm currently in enormous need of a 3-day break. I'm so grateful for three days to let down and rest my brain.

I'm going to begin Jane Austen's Mansfield Park tomorrow morning, which I'm reading for the Jane Austen Read-a-long at James Reads Books. (See sidebar.)  And I'm so glad to know that on Sunday we will have rain. It seems assured.  That will give me time to "sink in" with the books I'm reading, to let my whole being relax, without the feeling that I should take advantage of good weather and hike all day. 

I am also totally absorbed by Anita Shreve's latest novel, The Stars Are Fire, which was published in May. This novel revolves around an actual natural historic event in Maine, in the fall of 1947. My Ken was born in Portland, Maine, during the catastrophe that befell some communities during one of the worst droughts to ever afflict the region. That prolonged drought and unusually torrid summer gave way to autumn wildfires that engulfed thousands of acres in coastal Maine. Ken's parents lived in South Portland at the time, which was spared the fires, but some coastal communities were not so fortunate. (By the way, Stephen King was born in Maine in November 1947).  

Shreve has made a compelling, compulsively readable story of one young family who barely survived the ravages of the wildfires. I heartily recommend this book. I haven't finished it, but I'm glued to the page.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fun with Lizzy and Darcy, or My Take on Pride and Prejudice

Because it was nearly a half-century since the last time I devoured Pride and Prejudice, I must say I had few expectations before reading. I was not surprised that I enjoyed it so much, but I did not expect to become so personally embroiled in the confrontations between characters. My emotions at times were over the top!

When Elizabeth first meets Darcy and she makes very quick judgments about his entire character and being, I longed to take her aside and tell her he's probably just shy. In other words, if people say little, how do you know, really, what they're like? I actually felt angry with her and embarrassed for her, as if I were in the book.

From that early point in the novel, my desire to prevent characters from doing their worst, kept me overly involved. "No, no--Don't say that." And,  oh, how I yearned to stuff a handkerchief into Mrs. Bennett's mouth! How I wanted to make Jane less saintly! (I even desperately desired to know what on earth Mary was studying. We never find out, not really. What are her goals exactly? Where does she see her studies taking her on the path of enlightenment? I'm afraid she's just a stock character, but Austen portrays all the stock characters so well.)

My favorite scene takes place during the time of  Lady Catherine de Bourgh's "visit" to Longbourn, when she arrives in her high-minded  chariot from Kent to lay down the law to Elizabeth. When they go onto the grounds at Longbourn to take a walk and talk, Lady Catherine morphs into the villainess I had been hoping she would become. When Elizabeth does not demur to L.C.'s class and station and holds her ground, Lady Catherine is piqued to exclaim increasingly robust protests of Elizabeth's imagined manipulations. In other words, L.C. goes off her rocker! Oh, I did love that--how rewarding it was to read it.

By the end of the novel, John Collins ("the Reverend") sends his last demeaning missive of chastisement to the Bennetts. And even he, in so doing, looks so much more ridiculously absurd than he did before, and Austen uses the word "obsequious" to describe his actions. All through the novel, this perfect adjective to describe Collins was just out of reach for me, though I searched my brain inside and out. 

I was rather shocked that the very first time Elizabeth entertains less than hostile opinions of Darcy, comes when she is gazing upon the magnificence and beauty of Pemberly. Hmmm. Elizabeth is totally human.


Friday, August 25, 2017

August: Really in the Hum of Reading Again

My decision to shift course and focus on the books I haven't read by favorite authors has been a boon to my otherwise somewhat dismal reading year. Hurrah!

My rereading of Pride and Prejudice was completed yesterday, and I look forward to writing my thoughts about it over this weekend. Very much enjoyed!!

Anita Brookner's Misalliance was excellent, as I noted in one of my previous entries, and I look forward to reading more of her novels soon.

Elizabeth George's A Great Deliverance, introduced her considerable literary powers in her debut novel, which was to my mind, superb. Although in 1988, at the time of the book's publication, the grim subject matter had the power to shock and stun readers, I found that the way the ending unfolded still had the power to shake me up, even though I had guessed what had happened to the killer in her youth. Not simplistic by any means!! I encourage readers to go for this one.

I found the tension, chill, and balletic jetees (I am missing my accent marks) in the ups and downs of Lynley's and Barbara Havers's relationship to be extraordinarily well done. Barbara so shockingly reveals herself to Lynley at the end, and he, stunned, matter-of-factly and, dare I say it, compassionately accepts the force and bluntness of the presentation of her vulnerability, that the scenes are some of the strongest I've read in a number of years. True depths here.

And George creates the powerful scenes, filled with the sharpest dialogue and repartee, yet she also has an uncannily original ability to create and establish settings. Truly original. Can't wait to read her second published novel.

Jacqueline Winspear's Birds of a Feather, the second Maisie Dobbs mystery, was so psychologically astute, reflecting a deep understanding of familial relationships, not only in her client Joseph Waite's family, but touchingly, in Maisie's troubled relationship with her father, and her relationship with Billy Beale, her loyal and esteemed World War I veteran assistant.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Jane Austen Novels for August and September--Join James!

James of "James Reads Books"(see sidebar) is hosting a month-by-month read-a-long of all of Jane Austen's novels. He began the program in July, when he sponsored  Sense and Sensibility. Follow the preceding link to see his introductory post to the read-a-long.

In August, the chosen title is Pride and Prejudice, and I have decided to re-read it. (Yes, still in tune with my goal to return to favorite authors.) My last reading of P and P was junior year in (gasp!) high school, 48 years ago--can it be that long ago? Ouch! A Penguin edition arrived today and I'm already onto reading Chapter 7. I find the films of Austen's novels, as entertaining as they've been, to be very distracting to Austen's intentions, her language, her themes, everything. So Colin Firth and all the rest are absolutely banished from this house until later in 2018! 

In September, James is hosting Mansfield Park,  the Jane Austen novel that I have never read, the book she believed was her best, the most complex thematically, and in honor of that, I cashed in a gift card to order the Harvard University Press hardcover edition of Mansfield Park: The Annotated Edition, edited by Deidre Shauna Lynch, which was published late in 2016. It is a colorful coffee-table book and it arrived today. It's not only a beautiful book, but for a coffee-table book it's extraordinarily readable, unlike some overly florid annotated editions. A regular paperback copy of the novel arrived today as well so I can read it alongside the annotated edition. (Sometimes, at least for me, beautiful annotated editions with gorgeous photographs and sidebar criticisms are apt to distract me from a work of art, so I plan to read several chapters of the paperback and then go over the annotations afterwards.) I'm very enthused about this. 

August is the month of Doldrums or the "Dog Days," so I'm hoping someone out there might enjoy reading along with us.

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Seismic Shift in My Reading Direction and Selections

For the past 3-4 months, dating back to April, I've noticed that I haven't been enjoying the books I've chosen as much as I would like to. Most have been somewhat amusing or interesting, but I realize that for months I haven't been enamored of the books I've chosen to spend time with.

This state of affairs is neither the books' faults nor my fault. My problem is in my selection of books to read.

It's been hard to handle my "reading blahs" because I so thoroughly enjoyed almost all of my reading in  2016, and in early 2017, so much so that a mere glimpse at my 2016 book list fills me with longing for the golden past. (See Sidebar.)

In short,  I realized I must take a different tack to save my reading life.

I've decided to return to authors whose books I've loved in the past. I'll try to carefully choose some  of their other books and see where this experiment takes me.

For example, I was so swept away by Devices and Desires by P.D. James, which I read in early July. She is one of my penultimate authors. Reading D&D was such a wonderful experience--it made me remember why I love to read. (See previous posts.)

Right now I'm reading A Misalliance by Anita Brookner, whose novel Hotel du Lac is one of my all-time favorite books. I'm really enjoying  A Misalliance--the character of Blanche Vernon is a rewarding challenge-- she is a very lonely character who is not easy to fathom, yet who is worth the time it takes to get to know better. Lots of depth here.

Blanche Vernon reminds me of the main character in the Barbara Pym novel I read much earlier this year, A Quartet in Autumn. This book was a stellar ***** read, so more of Barbara Pym's novels are on my TBR list. Yet!! Those of you who have read Brookner and Pym know that a steady diet of these two authors can be wearying. The challenge is to sprinkle their books in among the rest.

One of  Danielle's recent posts in her blog "A Work in Progress" (see Blogs sidebar)  reminded me that I loved the depth and sincerity and drama of the first Maisie Dobbs novel, Maisie Dobbs. Though I read  it years ago, and vowed to read another, I haven't yet.  So now I have Birds of a Feather  (the second Maisie Dobbs novel) at my fingertips.

And so on to Elizabeth George! I have read three of Elizabeth George's Lynley novels. There are so many more, and I never read the first few that won her loads of awards. The very first of her Lynley novels, A Great Deliverance, should arrive in Wednesday's UPS delivery. UPS is the only company  that will actually deliver to the door of our wilderness abode. (The UPS driver is our good friend Carson, who arrives with a peanut-butter dog biscuit for Sasha!)

I haven't read Elizabeth George in years. Even though she is still writing and publishing, her books do not sell as well as they did during the 1990s and the 2000s. But I am going back to this writer I love.

May I end by saying that I've been disappointed by the recently published books I've chosen to read and that have been so highly acclaimed this year? I assume it must be me.

I'm eager to see where this experiment takes me.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Brookner and The Last Laugh Dropping By

Thank goodness, I got my wish and Anita Brookner's Misalliance dropped in--what a relief to see a compact book of 208 pages on my table! I can't wait to get back to Brookner's voice. I'm so glad all of her books are still in print (or have been reprinted).

I listened to Maureen Corrigan's stellar NPR review of Lynn Freed's latest novel The Last Laugh,  about a group of women, all 60-something, and their sincere attempts to have a "getaway from it all" vacation in Greece. As you might imagine, when most women are 60-something or other, there are still plenty of family obligations--parents, children, husbands and lovers (both current and former), bound to encroach on even the most finely-tuned escape plans. This is high comedy, Corrigan says, and I'm looking forward to it. With bells on. (To listen to the six-minute review, follow the link and, as surprising as this is, click the arrow in  the upper left-hand corner.)

These are my new books for the weekend. I'm finishing up the last 65 pages of A Gentleman from Moscow by Amor Towles and am still reading The Windfall, the contemporary Indian novel by Diksha Basu, which I'm thoroughly enjoying.