Looking Forward to June



Saturday, June 24, 2017

Yikes! Preparing Books and TV for Ken's Departure

Each summer Ken goes to visit the Maine island cottage, which his family has owned since the early 1900s. He usually stays a bit over a week with his favorite cousin. I have accompanied him over the years, but we have a beloved dog now, who is completely calm at home, but a crazy, nervous wreck on long car trips. (We just barely make it to vet appointments, which are an hour away from us.) We adopted our Sasha at age 3, and she unfortunately seems to have had some difficult experiences in her past, to put it mildly. Still, as long as she's in her home environment, she is as placid and happy as all get out.

Long intro, yes. Just found out Ken leaves Wednesday.
Time to stock in the books and television companionship. (We live in the boondocks, so virtual relationships are necessary.)

On Netflix: I will watch The Crown, for a second time, from start to finish. Six episodes, I think. One each night. Should take up most of the week. I thought that this series was very well done. As long as you can get used to Dr. Who as Prince Phillip, you're all set. I loved the first go-round and vowed to watch it again. At which moment, Ken said, "Why not while I'm in Maine?"   So here goes.

Books:
I think this is the perfect time to read Devices and Desires by P.D. James. So that's set in stone. I know I'm in for a treat there.

I am a devoted fan of Paul Auster. I found his latest book at the library--4321. It is 869 pages long, and it is 869 densely-packed pages. Very little leading between the lines, shallow margins, you name it. Not an easy read, by any means.
Premise: A male baby is born in 1947 in Newark, New Jersey (This is Auster's birth year and birthplace, by the way). The book then depicts four separate, very different life experiences for that baby boy.
I brought 4321 home to have a preliminary appointment with it, and to ask it, "Are you worthy of my time? Are you worthy of the books I won't be able to read because I'm reading you? I'm still adjudicating.

Next book before I even consider reading Auster:  The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I missed this one when it was published 20 or so years ago. Have you read it? What were your thoughts?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Russian Revolution Centenary--A Great Book Discovery

One of my reading adventures this week would not have happened without the New York Public Library. (That's the New York [City] Public Library.] Because I am a resident of New York State, I am permitted to have all the privileges of a New York Public Library Card Holder. In fact, I've had my NYPL library card for a number of years. Lots and lots of state funds support this library, so it's great that all New York State residents can take advantage.

I use Flipster often. Flipster at NYPL includes 114 popular magazines that can be read remotely. My favorite is Library Journal, because that's how I find out about lots of new books being published.

But my BIG discovery this week was CloudLibrary, an e-book and audiobook company owned by 3M, available through NYPL, which includes many, many downloadable e-books, both fiction and nonfiction. Their list is not dumb-downed--how wonderful!

This week I downloaded and have been reading a treasure of a book published for the Russian Revolution Centenary (1917). Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, 1917—A World on the Edge by Helen Rappaport is an outstanding blow-by-blow description of all of the events of 1917 in St. Petersburg (named Petrograd in 1914, and Leningrad still later). Rappaport, the author of my much-enjoyed The Romanov Sisters, which I read in February, wrote this by uncovering and deeply ferreting out accounts by all the English, Scottish, American, and French diplomats, bankers, businessmen, medical specialists, and journalists living in St. Petersburg at  the time. The city was full of foreigners. And, until now, no one has collected their eyewitness accounts of Petrograd in 1917, from the February Revolution through the Bolshevik October Revolution.

The account is mesmerizing, and unfolds, in some ways like a novel, as the reader follows the key eyewitnesses' accounts of all that occurred. This book makes it abundantly clear that the so-called "February Revolution," was every bit as bloody and mutinous and out of control as the Bolshevik Revolution.  Hats off to Rappaport for writing this book, with such care to sources and such abundant research.



Friday, June 16, 2017

In Memoriam: Helen Dunmore (1952-2017)

Oh, it has been a dark day in my personal literary world. And, for many others' as well, I'm sure. I counted Helen Dunmore as one of my favorite contemporary authors. Her books have moved me deeply, deeply. Her death is tragic, because cancer robbed her of many more creative years. She was only 64. (Born December 12, 1952).

Just this past February I read her novel The Betrayal, which is set in the last 7 months of 1952, during the final months of Stalin's dictatorship, when no Russian could be certain that they were safe from exile and decades of imprisonment in Siberia. Her story of a family trying desperately to weather this storm and eke out some happy times was extremely moving.  Here is a link to my previous comments about this novel.

I thought that The Lie was an exceptionally well-done, very different, and provocative novel of a returning World War I veteran to Britain, though I quarreled with her about the ending.

I simply loved The Greatcoat, a novel that did not win any prizes as most of her novels did. It's a pastiche, really, a minor ghost story, and a major "sock in the ribs" for anyone, anywhere who has lived in a place or on a site where desperate history happened. It's not a long novel, but it's one that I will read again and again.



Sunday, June 4, 2017

Summer Project: Painting Gardens and Garden Memoirs

Like the meteorologists in the Northeast, I consider June 1st (or Memorial Day) the beginning of true Summer, with a capital "S". Several weeks ago I became involved in what I now hope will be a deep, deep Summer Project.

My plan is to visit many gardens all over the Northeast (well, probably not Maine) and take many photographs and careful notes. I then hope to come home and paint gardens, in pastels, watercolor, and if I'm lucky, in oils. I may paint some in acrylic, but to tell the truth, acrylic paint and I do not work together harmoniously, although I have tried for so many years to make the relationship work out. Acrylics dry much, much too quickly for my eyes and brain, especially when I need  loads of time to think and consider what I'm doing.

I haven't been deep, deep into painting since the winter of 2010. So there's that hurdle to leap over.

Garden Books and Memoirs:
You're probably wondering how they fit into this picture. Right now I have collected such a cartload of these from lots of libraries. Several I own and a few have been recently purchased. Let me list some of the ones that I lose myself in for long stretches of time because of the incredible art and photography.

Painting the Modern Garden from Monet to Matisse. (Numerous authors.)
This huge book, which includes all the paintings from an exhibition that was shown in Cleveland, Ohio, and in London, is loaded with a wide variety of paintings from English, American, French, German, Scandinavian, and eastern European painters working between the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Also included are photographs of the gardens and painters, and stories of each garden and how they inspired individual painters.  I borrowed this one and then had to buy one for myself. It was a book I wouldn't be able to part with. Using coupons and gift cards, I only paid $18 including shipping for this remarkable $75 hardcover, very hefty book.

I then started searching for books written by people telling the stories of how they created their gardens. Quite a genre! What fun.

I first stumbled upon the several gardening books of Beverley Nichols (1898-1983). He wrote three about his gardens, and they remain the most popular of all his books to this day. They have been reprinted by Timber Press in Oregon. (Nichols also wrote novels, children's books, travel books, political books, and autobiographies, etc.)  So I found one of his gardening books in my network of libraries--Merry HallMerry Hall, although supposedly not his first account of his gardening, was an account of his first total- renovation gardens. It has been beloved for generations for the author's humor. I hope to be reading it soon.

My coffee--table favorite of the moment is HighGrove: An English Country Garden, a book replete with the most eye-defying knock-out photographs of all of Prince Charles's gardens at High Grove. Visitors do go there--maybe someday I will make it when they're open. A section of the book is devoted to each month of the year. When I examine these photographs (some spread out over two very large pages), I can imagine that I am there.

My last garden book to talk about today is another coffee-table wonder--The Writer's Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors by Jackie Bennett and photography by Richard Hanson. (2014--UK).

Writers and gardens. Artists and gardens. What is it about gardens that have inspired so much creativity and so supported the life force in each of us? That is my quest--to find out.






Thursday, June 1, 2017

Just a Few Summer Reading Plans

I'll just start a list:
I'd like to finish reading John le Carre's memoir The Pigeon Tunnel, listening to it with a hard copy at my elbow. Essential, the hard copy.

Then I'd soon like to read his novel A Small Town in Germany, which I believe is his favorite, at least it seems to have been at the time he wrote his memoir. It involves the collision of the ex-Nazi regime left-over characters and the 1960s younger people coming into power. I have so very much more I want to say about le Carre, so stay tuned over the next couple of months.

I will read another P.D. James novel, which many consider her ultimate best, Devices and Desire. This was published in 1989, immediately before her "departure novel," Children of Men, which I've read and which was extraordinarily original and

I'm terribly unsure about the future of my Classics Club List right now. I read the list last week and not one of them seemed appealing. Not even one! That shocked me. Guess some mood elevation is in order. Coctails? Comedy? Trump does not help. To pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. How could anyone be cheerful, really? I want to know.





Friday, May 26, 2017

Down Time Weekend and Wieke Wang's Chemistry

It's been raining for 50 hours straight so far, but luckily it's been a steady light rain, which is soaking in to the ground. Thankful.
I'm not exactly sure how my reading weekend is shaping up at this moment on a Friday evening, but these are my clues:

I've been enjoying the extraordinarily spare writing style of Wieke Wang, whose debut novel Chemistry has been published this month. I have been drawn to this story of a young Chinese-American woman, who is convinced that the world of chemistry in the laboratory mandates her entire future. She struggles, then she fails abysmally and irrevocably, and--she moves on.

And  halfway through the book I'm fascinated to discover what she will do with her moving on. We've learned she is resilient, she is strong (though she's not convinced of that fact), and I just know (and I think the author wants you to know) that she will find her way, eventually, and with humor.

The prose is written totally in the most unusual sort of  present-tense and is undeniably awkward. But don't let that put you off.  I feel the main characters are like fish out of water with this verb tense, and I wonder if that is the author's intention. The verb tense is not comfortable, yet the novel is a quick read. The young woman narrator is  romantically involved with an All-American, red-headed, Pennsylvania-born only son of a perfect family--no conflicts, no problems--ha! Her family, on the other hand, is tortured, and she is the first-generation only child of Chinese-American parents who have struggled ceaselessly from their childhoods in China. Can her relationship be saved? And what will happen to their beloved goldendoodle if it is not?

So I'll be finishing this novel, and hopefully reading on in The Widow's House. I'm determined to finishing listening to Bruce Springsteen's awe-inspiring memoir Born to Run (while knitting). And I hope to continue John Le Carre's memoir The Pigeon Tunnel, which is so interesting, yet so deep and nuanced that I'm not sure I'm "catching" all he means me to catch.  Did you know that 85-year-old John Le Carre has a new George Smiley novel coming out this fall 2017?? If this memoir is any indication, his skills and mind are as sharp as ever.

Have a great weekend! I may well be posting before it is over.


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!

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.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Yesterday I finished Hillbilly Elegy: The Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. Vance grew up with one leg in his grandparents' and extended family's Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky and one leg in the western Ohio city of Middletown, which lies north of Cincinnati and south of Dayton, Ohio. His grandparents left Kentucky for Middletown (without ever really leaving Kentucky, as he explains so well), as did many other Appalachian families, to work for Armco, Middletown's main industry in the years after World War II.

Vance writes about his own life as well as his parents, grandparents, and other relatives, and the culture they brought with them to Ohio. He also depicts the lives of struggling white working-class people exceedingly clearly, from his experience, while occasionally dropping in spot-on statistics that illuminate the problems that "hillbillies" from Kentucky and Appalachia have been faced with.

Then one day Armco moved out of Middletown, but many of its workers remained, with no future, and no hopes or knowledge of how to find a better future.

Vance's family members are extremely troubled people and a more dysfunctional family would be hard to find, even in fiction. Yet Vance survives largely because of the consistent love of his grandmother. After a stint in the Marine Corps, which included duty in Iraq during the Iraq War, he manages to find himself and get to college, and from there to law school at Yale, with successes following that feat.

His goal to portray a culture in crisis is very focused--he keeps returning to the theme and reveals a world that is very strange if you grew up in a well-educated white family in the Northeast. I can only speak for the book as a member of that culture, and the revelations I gained were interesting and  well worth the reading. Highly recommended!

Friday, February 3, 2017

In the Midst Of Reading: Helen Dunmore's The Betrayal

A crazy week with loads of crazy things happening:
At least I've had a glorious book by Helen Dunmore to keep me captivated. The Betrayal, set in Leningrad about eight years after the end of World War II, is a sequel (of sorts) to The Siege, her novel set during the World War II German-led strangle-hold and bombardment of Leningrad, which lasted 1000 days, or thereabouts (better check my facts), and which caused massive starvation but not the defeat of the city.

Anna, her doctor-husband Andrei, and Anna's parents' youngest child Kolya, all of whom just barely survived the Siege on Leningrad, are trying desperately to lead a normal life, despite oppressive Fascist conditions and continuing post-war shortages. Stalin is still living, so the novel is set in around 1952 or so. (Stalin died in 1953.)

Andrei is well-satisfied in his career as a specialist in juvenile rheumatic disorders at a major Leningrad teaching hospital. Anna works as a nursery-school teacher, who also works tirelessly on pre-school research studies for the director of her school.

Andrei and Anna have a tender, warm relationship and manage to carefully handle Anna's 16-year-old brother with all the patience and love they can muster.

The inciting incident: Andrei is called upon to treat the child of a top-level Communist, who has  an osteosarcoma in his tibia. Treating cancer is not Andrei's specialty, but, no matter, he is called upon to treat him. The child's father's name strikes terror in every Leningrader's heart. "Volkov is the boy's father," a name that no one dares to utter in a voice above a whisper. Colleagues warn Andrei to abandon Leningrad immediately before he becomes more deeply implicated, but he does not, due to his strong sense of responsibility toward all of his patients.

This is undeniably an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but what is so lovely is that alongside all the strife, there is the close family life, and especially the family's love of their dacha, where they grow vegetables, and which is just outside Leningrad's outskirts.

This novel was nominated for several prizes and won one. (Help! But the book is upstairs--Can't list them right now.)

If you are into flawlessly written prose, Dunmore will be right up your alley. Perhaps you've read her WWII English ghost story, The Greatcoat (perhaps my favorite--so subtly done), or her post-World War I novel The Lie. I know I absolutely must read all of her books.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

My Favorite Titles of 2016--Part One

I read a new record number of books this year--a total of 54, and I thoroughly enjoyed my reading year. I had very, very few duds. And I benefitted from having such a wide variety of reads, which I hope to demonstrate in the next series of posts.

Part One include my "Stellar" reads:

My all-time favorite read of this year receives this accolade largely because it was the right book at the right time. My best reading experience was The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. At the time, I had been stricken with a vicious sinus infection (last March), and I must say, this book and its characters' foibles and complicated lives made me forget, for hours at a time, most of my misery. Thank you!  Oh, I will definitely read this one again.
Excellent writing and spot-on, smart dialogue, yes. A wonderful escapist read, absolutely. And yes, the adult children who placed their hopes on "the nest," which would make their lives perfect forever after, were egotistical and self-satisfied, but Sweeney rendered them as superbly human. I found them all likeable, despite their predatory instincts. Their lives were, in my opinion, lovingly depicted by Sweeney, while simultaneously maintaining a sharp, satirical eye throughout.

My next two favorite reads were both by the same author--P.D. James. She never disappoints, and each of her novels I look forward to re-reading some day. Original Sin was the first novel by James that I read this year and I gave it 5 stars. The other James novel I hesitated  to call a favorite at the time I read it, but, in retrospect, The Black Tower was so well done, that I have recognized its value all the more several months later, largely because of its power to stay indelible on my mind  The latter was published 20 years before Original Sin. I am an undeniably impassioned P.D. James aficionado, as some of you know.

Equally a favorite as the two P.D. James novels, was The Lewis Man by Peter May. This thriller/crime/mystery is the second volume in May's "Lewis Trilogy," Lewis being the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides in Scotland. The first book in the trilogy, The Black House, is so deep, so profound, so wondrous in creating a landscape, so dark a noirish world, and so incredible an unspeakable crime, that it is one of my most spectacular reads of the past decade. But what makes all this darkness tolerable is the detective, who is the spirit of light, returning to his homeland in the Hebrides.

The Lewis Man continues the saga and the complicated personal life of the prime detective. This novel, too, was exceedingly well done, though probably nothing will ever top The Black House.
And now, I face the fact that there is the third book, The Chess Men, also set on the Isle of Lewis and featuring the same characters, but I'm blocked because I don't want to come to the end. I have noted numerable times in the past that this is a stumbling block for me.
After all, I haven't finished the third volume of Stieg Larsson's trilogy, though it's sitting on my shelf. I think I should read it. I think I can handle that it's the end of the trilogy, but I hate that it's the end of his work.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Few Words about Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I read Small Great Things during the final week of 2016, when I felt that lame-duckness I've described in a previous post. I tore into it because I had heard from people I respect that it was well worth my time. And I agree it was. But did I ever find, as I was reading the novel and afterward, that I desperately wanted to discuss it with someone or lots of people who'd read it.

For me, Small Great Things was enormously provocative. It provoked me to disgust at the views and actions of the white supremacist father of a newborn. (I almost had to abandon the novel, but I pushed on due to the advice of people I know to just stick with it.) This proved to be a good thing. I was provoked to anger at the careless speech of the white, so-called liberal attorney, Kennedy who represented the African-American nurse in the newborn unit. (Kennedy actually believed her statement "I'm colorblind." I was provoked by the actions and non-actions of the African-American nurse who had worked for 20 solid years in the newborn unit at a major hospital and who was almost willing to give up the fight. **I believe the novel's provocations were its best feature--it made me confront my own feelings and beliefs and attitudes. And I was left speechless, because I had nobody with whom to talk about it.

Picoult noted in her acknowledgements that she had wanted for decades to write about racism in America. And finally the time had seemed right for her to do it. I think she succeeded in this effort, not so much for writing  a flawless novel about racism, but because she raised countless discussion issues for every white and black American to really think about.

I highly recommend that you and some friends read this novel and discuss it together.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

OMG! Lost Comments Just Found--Weeks of Them--Apologies!

Thank you to every reader who has left comments in the past 6 weeks or more!  I did think it unusual that the last comment I had was on November 14th, but then I figured that perhaps readers were very busy with the holidays and life in general, not to mention...other national upsets.

So Blogger, you have "tricked" me, I suppose! Where once I saw my comments and my ability to publish them, there has been nothing at all. So this evening I searched deeper, in a different place, and lo and behold found them.

I am so sorry that I have not replied to all the interesting comments. I will post and reply to each and every commenter. My regrets!!

P.S. Later Saturday evening:  I thoroughly enjoyed spending more than an hour responding to each comment, which I've so gratefully received. If you have some time, please look back to find them. Thanks to all!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Unexpected Absence and New Reads

I'm astonished that I haven't posted an entry since New Year's Day. That long, really? I have a lot of catching up to do. There are so many books I've read that I haven't commented on. And I still haven't written about my favorite reads of 2016! Yikes.

I've been pre-occupied because my mother became extremely ill and passed away a week ago last Thursday night. The good news is that my mother's end of life was short and her doctors and nurses worked so hard to make sure she did not suffer. It seems that the medical community is making this more of a priority these days, even more than they did just eight years ago, for example, when my uncle died. Why, they even have special M.D.s now, whose specialty is "palliative care." So my mother had a palliative care specialist and an internist working together to help her. Both were women and were outstanding--very compassionate. My brother and I are so grateful for the care she received.

So back to my reading life:
Reading is not coming easily to me right now. I'm trying, though.

Under the Influence (2016) by Joyce Maynard is my favorite book of 2017 so far. I read it during the first week in January. It's obvious to me that I now need to read more of Maynard's fiction. This novel is exceptionally well done, and is a fascinating character study, a page-turner, and leaves the reader with so much to think about afterwards. I'm in awe of Maynard's skills and talents. I must read more of her novels.

It's about a woman who had a problem with alcohol and fought to beat it, successfully. So the "Under the Influence" title is not  so much about her former addiction to alcohol as it is her addictive relationship with an extremely wealthy couple of her age who "befriend" her--a relationship that threatens her individuality, her family (a young son), and her sense of place and balance in the world.
Highly recommended!

I'm now reading Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, a debut novel published in 2016.
Tess, a very young woman (age 21 or so) leaves her home in Ohio for New York City. She has had a neglected upbringing and longs to escape to the city--for something bigger than herself. She manages to get a job at a top restaurant and enters the life of backwaiters, waiters, sous-chefs, the mean and terrible Chef, and the enigmatic owner Howard.
This novel does one thing very well--it portrays the lives and experiences of those working in a top restaurant and the various relationships among the servers and workers who labor there. But at 352 pages, it is much, much too repetitive, an observation which is really a critique of the plot.

I see this novel as a compendium of sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of the restaurant-worker's experience. But I feel that we are left with as little character analysis as might appear in a short story. The story doesn't really move. I keep waiting for things to change, and have read almost all of it now, and I don't think much more is going to happen.

Whenever I cast doubt on a novel, I always hope that some reader will comment and explain why they liked a book and why. Please feel very free. I love to hear reader's opinions!



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Roaring into the New Year with Victoria and Ruth Ware

I've been working diligently composing the "My Best Books of 2016" post. Alas, it is only half-completed. So I thought I would write an update stating that I raced through the new novel Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, who is the creator and scriptwriter for the Masterpiece Classics presentation of the young Queen Victoria, to be released during the coming year. I finished it just before midnight New Year's Eve. It's spell-binding.

I realize I know so little about Queen Victoria's family and background. I know more about her marriage to Prince Albert and their children, but her heritage is something I know nothing about. I'd like to read more about her grandfather George III and uncle George IV, as well as all the ins and outs of the monarchy during the years prior to Victoria's reign.

In any case, I do recommend Victoria.

Then I leapt into reading The Woman in Cabin 10  by Ruth Ware. I must say that I find this novel has many more thrills and chills than in A Dark, Dark Wood, which I enjoyed, but did not find as interesting or as fear-inducing as some readers have reported.