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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Home Now after an Unexpected Absence

Nine days ago I packed up in haste and headed for Boston because my mother had a bad fall. Fortunately the bones she broke have not prevented her from moving forward to what we hope will be a complete recovery. Serendipitous. My mother is made of stern stuff and she is determined to return ASAP to her friends and home at her assisted living community. Mom will be 92 in five weeks.

I finished two comfort reads in the evenings in my hotel room and both were lots of fun and very relaxing--I is for Innocent by Sue Grafton and Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness.
More to come!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Snow Tonight?? Thoreau and Autumn

We have had a prolonged autumn, an extraordinarily long period of beautiful weather, spectacular hiking days, and gorgeous views that go on without end, and a long drawn-out unfolding of what is ordinarily the all-too brief pizazz of brilliant foliage.

We will have lived here 10 years as of December 13, and have never seen an autumn as lovely as this one. No wonder I feel guilty I haven't progressed with my business and work goals.

As I read Henry David Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and reflect on his devotion and affiliation with nature, I think he would understand my behavior perfectly. I'm enjoying his reflections and his and his brother's encounters with the wild on their boat trip in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 1838 or so, but I had no idea that the book was nearly 400 pages. I thought it was one of his shorter volumes. How mistaken can one be?

I must admit that I have adjusted to the length, though I find what I call his "stream of consciousness" about religion, Classical literature, mythology, and philosophy taxes my taste at times, but I realize that this was one of his first works, if not his first; Thoreau was very young when he wrote this, and naturally wanted to connect all his intellectual interests to his experiences and thoughts about nature and the wild as he and his brother rowed forward on this adventure. Still, I treasure his observations about wildlife and plants and the towns and villages they pass through, and their local history to be the most enjoyable parts of this book. Yes, absolutely worth reading.

Snow is in the forecast tonight--not much, but a sharp wake-up call. I've been washing hats and gloves and warm coats today. Brrrr...


Friday, October 9, 2015

Russian Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls

Quite frankly, I'm very glad that I read Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls. I read it without knowing much about the author other than the era in Russian history in which he wrote it. I trusted my knowledge of Russian history and literature to help guide me through. I wanted the text to speak for itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the sometimes pompous, sometimes bombastic, and at other times overly humble people of the middling and lower nobility in provincial Russia. What a crazy, wild scene!!

What's interesting is that Gogol was born in the Ukraine, not Russia--the son of a low-to-lower middling landowner. He seems to have had an excellent education, which may have been due to the fact that he was the oldest son of supposedly doting parents.

Throughout his writing career, he was known to be a wild fantasist--writing plays, dramas, short stories, and folklore adaptations. But it's clear from viewing his history that Gogol was not a stable individual by any means.

Dead Souls was supposedly a prose poem--a genre that I must admit I cannot understand. It read like a novel to me, in other words. Volume One of Dead Souls was very well received by the public. Gogol moved on to write Volume Two, but his health declined and he began to suffer from deep depression and religious obsessions. He continued to write, with tremendous difficulty. Then at the age of 42, Gogol began a fast to purify his soul, according to the accounts I've read. His decline was swift, largely because Gogol had always been unusually small and never a robust person.

Despite encouragement from friends and clergy, he continued to starve himself during which time he decided to burn as much as he could of Volume Two of Dead Souls as well as some of his other works that had disappointed him. His depression and self-enforced starvation caused his death in 1852.

Many Russian writers, including Tolstoy and many other more modern authors, credit Gogol's realism and confrontation with Russian society and psyche as having been an inspiration to their work.

I can see clearly that Gogol's recreation of provincial Russian society and its strangling bureaucracy made a satire that would have fully entertained the better-educated middle classes. Knowing Russian history, and even if I hadn't known it, his characterizations were very amusing and enjoyable to read. It's a shame about Volume Two, however, though I would still recommend the book to readers interested in Russian writers of the nineteenth century.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Peak of Fall Hiking

A very good friend took this photo of me standing behind a recently fallen giant, an old-growth upland white ash tree that was alive and well less than a year ago. It fell sometime between winter and spring this past year. Another naturalist friend was quite devastated by its toppling, because it was really, really old, long pre-dating the timber clearing of the mid-19th to the early 20th century in the Adirondacks. This old ash had a girth of greater than 10 feet. Actually, the 10 feet might be its measure in diameter. Humungous.
I am very surprised by how dwarfed I am by it in this photo. It didn't seem so at the time, and granted, it's not the best photo, but you get the idea that my 5 foot 8-inch frame is obliterated by this **massive** tree. (Given that I'm not as svelte as I once was, that's probably a good thing!)
Glorious multi-color foliage that knocked our socks off during this climb on the southwestern slopes of Crane Mountain. Lots of fun! No wonder I'm not doing any reading. I am working away on work as much as I can, given the distractions and handicaps of the beauty of nature at the moment, but no leisure reading at all this week. The weather has been phenomenally cooperative during this foliage season, I must say--unusually so, to the detriment of work. Oh, phooey on work.

This glorious fall time of year is so terribly short-lived, you can rest assured I'll be catching up on reading before you know it.

I'm waiting for the arrival of Patterns of Childhood by Christa Wolf, which I'm reading for German Literary Month. 446 pages. Wow.
And I must post my Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol post! Gads--I just can't seem to catch up with myself.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Library Book Sale Haul & Scottish Writer A.J. Cronin

A stellar day! I didn't realize it but today marked the first day of Crandall Library's Book Sale. They hold three per year. I have not been able to attend for quite a number of years due to my former teaching schedule.

Classics Club Loot!  I found decent copies of six of my Classics Club List titles, each for 50 cents per book. A lucky day!
I found a very good copy of The Red and the Black by Stendhal.
A top-notch copy of The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.
A decent copy of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather--a very good copy
A "bathtub" copy of The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham (wavy pages but readable)
A very good copy of The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper

I found a halfway decent copy of A Song of Sixpence by A. J. Cronin. I must read it, and perhaps I'll have to decide it's a classic. After all, it was shelved in the "Classics" section at the Library Book Sale. Due to my deep affection for A. J. Cronin's books and the intriguing plot description of A Song of Sixpence, I bought it. 

After I finished my genealogical course last month, I found myself hankering for a series about a country doctor in Scotland, England, or elsewhere in Great Britain. Katrina of Pining for the West searched her brain for me, and she told me about the Scottish writer A.J. Cronin's Doctor Finlay stories, which were once serialized on the BBC. (A.J. Cronin was born in Argyllshire in 1896 and died in 1981.)

I read two A.J. Cronin (Archibald Joseph Cronin) novels when I was a freshman in high school. I read them for pleasure, not for a school assignment. My favorite was The Citadel. I fell in love with the doctor in that novel, who tries so hard against all odds to help his patients, first in a mining village and later in London. And the other was The Green Years, which is about a young boy and teen who has ambition to become a doctor. He encounters enormous obstacles, not the least of which are his origins as an orphaned Irish-born relative of dour, severe Scottish relatives with whom he is sent to live. Actually, not all of them are terrible, because several of them help him to go to school and take his exams for the university and medical school. Perhaps some of you saw the Hollywood film The Green Years? That's what made me eager to read the book. By the way, Cronin's characterizations and plotting are exceptional.

So, I have been reading Cronin's Doctor Finlay's Casebook. I've read numerous stories so far of a fictitious Scottish country doctor and find them to be wonderful, comforting stories, although not all of Cronin's medical fiction, as I've mentioned, are comfort reads. The Citadel is notable among his realistic and gritty novels of medicine. Top-notch, unforgettable drama! And with Cronin, as in all his novels, there is always a keen focus on character.

A. J. Cronin was a physician in Scotland, and his knowledge and experience adds so much to his writing. I'm so sorry that he is not read much in the U.S. any longer, because the themes of his most realistic medical novels, The Citadel and Shannon's Way and one other, which is not coming to mind at the moment (!), resonate with current crises in American medicine.