View of Heart Lake and an Adirondack "High Peak" in Mid-May












Monday, December 31, 2018

My Back to the Classics Challenge List 2019 (Finalized)

I'm very excited about the Back to the Classics Challenge, which is being hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate. And it's not too late to join up! Karen has extended the sign-up process an extra day, so you have until January 1st at midnight to join us if you wish.

I spent the last few days mulling over the categories that I hadn't decided on, and finally, after much searching and deliberating, I'm very satisfied with the final list. My personal goal is to read all 12 books and report on them. The only change in my list that possibly may occur is the book for the category "20th Century Classic." I feel very certain about the rest of the list.

19th Century Classic:  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

20th Century Classic: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Classic written by a woman: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Classic in translation: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Very long Classic (500 pages +): The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Classic in comedy: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Classic in tragedy: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens 

Classic set in a place you have lived: The Last of the Mohicans by James 
          Fenimore Cooper (New York State)

Classic from the Americas: Central America, Canada, the Caribbean, or South America: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Classic from Africa, Asia, Australia, South Pacific:  Snow by Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) **See Turkey discussion below.

Classic Novella:  The Castle of Otranto by Horace Wallace (1764 English Gothic Classic)

Classic Play: The Years Between by Daphne du Maurier (1945)

I received Daphne Du Maurier's play in the mail today. It's a first U.S. edition, published in 1945, complete  with dust cover. Du Maurier wrote very few plays, and this one was first performed in November 1944. It is definitely a wartime piece.

I read a number of books this past year and in 2017 by authors writing novels during and about the war, and writing novels in the immediate aftermath. I have been fascinated by the viewpoints, the day-to-day tumult and malaise of life in wartime and in the depressingly spare times post-war. People so happy to have a poached egg for lunch, with maybe half a small tin of beans on the side. Really! (Of course the egg had to be poached, because the "fat  ration" was so minuscule.)

Notice that my "Asia" choice is a novel by a Turkish author set in Turkey. It's a novel I've been longing to read for a long time. But I had to research it--Is Turkey really in Asia? Believe it or not, sources do not agree on this answer. Some say Turkey is in both Asia and Europe. Some say that Turkey, in Asia Minor, is definitely in Asia, and some say that western Turkey is in Europe and eastern Turkey is in Asia. I think the continental lines are blurry enough to count Turkey as Asia for the sake of this Back to the Classics Challenge.



Saturday, December 29, 2018

Big Excitement: A New Piano and A New TBR Challenge

Yes,  it's true. A TBR Challenge, as wonderful in so many ways that it is, cannot compare with the excitement of a piano entering into a home that has known only a keyboard for almost 20 years. But I thought I should at least lead with a partially bookish header for this blog entry.

On Monday, New Year's Eve, the new piano will enter our home and I'm so psyched. It's coming all the way from Syracuse, which is hours away to the west, in central New York. It's coming all that way because there is not a store closer that sells the piano I've been dreaming of.

Although I played the piano all through my youth and young adulthood, I have not played seriously in the past 20 years. My fingers and hands and brain will need some re-entry training. I'm  planning on taking lessons for a good bit. I'm interested in classical piano primarily, but I used to play all sorts of music back a ways. So who knows? This I do know. I have a stronger desire than I've ever had to play with sensitivity and emotion.

So! As for the TBR Challenge of 2019. Adam, the blogger at Roof Beam Reader is hosting his 8th TBR Challenge for fellow readers and bloggers. Thank you, Adam, for the inspiration and the proverbial kick in the butt. Please notice that Karen, blogger at Books and Chocolate, has also signed up for 2019 (see "Blogs of Substance" sidebar).  Do you have any interest in joining us? (You have until Jan. 15th to sign up and announce your book list).
I signed up officially an hour ago, and have already made a huge blunder. Do read the specifics for setting up the challenge. Dummy me did not, and I must make amends now.   



Friday, December 21, 2018

Total Luxury Reading Day--Another One Tomorrow?

Today I was lucky enough to have a pure reading day, unencumbered by chores and responsibilities. What a relief and a pleasure!  I did do laundry, while listening to an audiobook. I worked out on the treadmill, to an audiobook. And you know I could have encumbered myself with seasonal chores, but I chose not to. I'll have to start cooking Sunday, but until then I'm freeing myself. Enjoying hibernation!

It has been pouring rain since 7 pm last evening and we feel marooned by the "floodwaters." Actually, it's just 2.5 inches of rain rolling around on frozen dirt roads and snow-covered ground and frozen creeks. Yikes. Can we go out for dinner tonight? Like last night, the answer is a firm "No way."

So, what have I been reading?
I'm halfway through another delicious novel  of Christmas fiction, A Vineyard Christmas by Jean Stone, published this fall 2018. A woman writer, aged 40, has settled in a rented house on Chappaquiddick Island, a small island just to the east of Martha's Vineyard, which is a large island in Nantucket Sound off the southern coast of Massachusetts. "Chappy" is connected to Edgartown via a short ferry ride. Because MV has been the setting of several of her novels, Annie has decided to settle there permanently, and has dug in for the winter months. She knows very few people there, and has no family in her life, since her adoptive parents died some years ago.
As a blizzard bears down on the island just before Christmas, she discovers a three-month old baby in a basket on her doorstep. And therein the action takes off. 
Believe me, I'm not a big fan of books starring babies left on doorsteps, but this one has characterizations that are worth the time.  This one received good reviews, and I do recommend it. Well worth putting on your list for next year if you can't get to it this year. 

And for dynamite books with babies on doorsteps, I more than highly recommend the incomparable In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming, the first book in her mystery series, set in the foothills of the Adirondacks. The best book in the series, to my mind, although they are all so compulsively good. And because the last one was published in 2013, I think (sob!) the series is complete, although Spencer-Fleming's website does not give any indication of this.

Other reading today:
I'm so glad my brain has finally settled down enough so that I could thoroughly digest 55 pages of a biography, In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson, also published in 2018, the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Frankenstein, written when Mary Shelley was still a teenager.
One of the problems with being Mary Godwin Shelley's biographer is that there are precious few documents or records to form a comprehensive picture of her life, particularly of her juvenile years, which are the most informative to her writing of Frankenstein
However, much can be pieced together of her father's life (William Godwin) in the years after her mother Mary Wollstonecraft's death, just weeks after Mary's birth. I could wax on, but I'm so glad I'm reading this biography, in preparation for reading Frankenstein in January 2019, as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019.

So, that's not all I read today--(Didn't I tell you I shrugged off everything!)
While doing laundry, was on the treadmill, and while  knitting I listened to a 2018 audiobook Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, a memoir by the daughter of Steve Jobs, the Apple founder.
Lisa was his first child. Her mother was involved with Jobs while he was in school and early in his career for a number of years, though they later parted.  Later, Jobs denied he was the father, although DNA tests confirmed he was. In a Time magazine cover article he declared that he was not the father and cast aspersions on Lisa's mother. However, the State of California later sued Jobs for the welfare money they paid out to Lisa's mother over many years and ordered him to pay for the care of his child.
The interesting thing about this book is it was awarded a "Best Book of 2018" status by The New York TimesThe Washington Post, Publisher's Weekly and many other newspapers and journals. It's very interesting thus far, particularly because Brennan-Jobs has succinct memories from her very early childhood. As I mentioned, I've just started listening, so I'll have to wait to give my full conclusions.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019


After dabbling and flitting about aimlessly from  one book to another in 2018, the idea of committing to a Classics Challenge sounds so good, so right, so exactly what my reading heart is seeking as we come close to marking the two-year anniversary of a particularly disturbing administration.

The Back to the Classics Challenge is hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate. Please note the different participation levels. Because the minimum participation level is only 6 classics (and the maximum is 12), perhaps you might be interested in joining us in the coming year.

You may be interested in viewing JoAnn's choices listed on her blog Lakeside Musing. Please notice that JoAnn notes that some choices on her list may be subject to change during 2019, which is allowed. This is the case for me as well.

 As of right now, the following books are on my list. I have a few additions to make in the near future. I need to complete the list by Dec. 31st and announce it here. As of December 16th, this is what I know:

19th Century Classic:  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

20th Century Classic:  Considering a novel published before 1970 by John Le Carre

Classic written by a woman: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Classic in translation: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Very long Classic (500 pages +): The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Classic in comedy: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Classic in tragedy: (Can't decide as of today. Check back!) 

Classic set in a place you have lived: The Last of the Mohicans or The Deerslayer by James 
          Fenimore Cooper (New York State)

Classic from the Americas: Central America, Canada, the Caribbean, or South America: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Classic from Africa, Asia, Australia, South Pacific: (A novel by an Indian author, I think. Or maybe by a Nigerian author. Can't decide.)

Classic Novella: (So many to choose from--just can't decide yet)

Classic Play: (Same problem)  

Please check back: My complete list will be posted by midnight, December 31st.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Virtual Advent Calendar 12/14: Christmas Nonfiction & Fiction

Thanks to Sprite, the Virtual Advent Calendar continues with this entry for Friday, December 14th.

I'd like to share a nonfiction Christmas classic that I have thoroughly enjoyed and still dig into every December. It's The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America's Most Cherished Holiday by the American historian Stephen Nissenbaum.  It was first published in 1996, and is still, 22 years later, vigorously selling. This is a dense history, and for lots of people reading at this time of year, I'd recommend choosing a chunk of chapters to read each December.

I've learned a tremendous amount of surprising facts about the history of Christmas in the American colonies and in the U.S. I thought I knew all there was to know, but I learned to my dismay how desperate Americans were, especially in cities, to reduce the amount of drunken rioting that occurred over Christmas. Wassailers extorted food and money from the better-off and in some cities, it was a dangerous business walking about in the winter darkness. Many, if not the majority of these revelers were adolescents and older children. It's important to remember that the primary alcoholic beverage in the early 19th century were spirits in one form or another--rum and whiskey, predominantly.

Nissenbaum, who received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Antiquarian Society, and assistance from UMass/Amherst to pursue this research, uncovered this history, which had been largely forgotten. His premise is that American society desperately needed to alter the way Christmas was celebrated, from an economic and social point of view, and that business leaders, clergy, and law enforcement promoted celebrating the holiday via consumer and domestic culture, and the printed word. It's fascinating!! If you are interested in reading this book, I would go for a hardbound, used copy, which is also cost-effective. I have found that the illustrations are better reproduced in the hardcover edition.

Yes, I did indeed say in a previous entry that I would not include The Christmas Carol in my Christmas book discussions. But!! What was I thinking? I hadn't considered that if you are a big fan of the Dickens holiday ghost story, you may not know how wonderful The Annotated Christmas Carol, edited and with an intro by Michael Patrick Hearn and published by W.W. Norton is! Published in 2004, this edition has full-color plates of the original Christmas Carol illustrations, as well as the work of other important C.C. illustrators. History, art, music--the annotations are so fascinating, you'll go off on so many tangents that you'll forget all about actually reading The Christmas Carol. Definitely a volume to curl up with and share with friends, a cup of cocoa, and some feline and canine buddies.

I want to add one or two more. Just don't know that I have time, so I'll start with the book Christmas Spirit: Two Stories by Robert Westall. These stories were published in the U.S. in 1994, posthumously. In the UK they were published as two separate stories for young people, The Christmas Ghost and The Christmas Cat. Neither are the traditional sweetness and light as are most Christmas stories for young people. In fact, when I read them, I thought they were both better suited to an adult audience. They puzzled me and gave me a great deal to think about.

Robert Westall was a highly regarded author of children's literature, and much of what he wrote was for young people 10 and up, or 12-up. He grew up in Northumberland in England, and these two stories are set there. He also was 10-14 years or so during WWII, and a number of his other books have male protagonists living during that difficult time.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Virtual Advent Calendar 12/7--Favorite Christmas Books Since 2013

My favorite late November and December reading activity is to devour Christmas-themed books, whether they be mysteries, romance, general fiction, or nonfiction. Today, December 7th, I'm devoting my commentary to telling you about a host of Christmas novels that I have truly loved during the past 5-6 years.  I am also hosting the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour on December 14th.

Before I begin, I was a bit startled to read some of the GoodReads criticisms of these novels. Some readers diss them, saying they're too cozy, too Hallmarkesque, not edgy enough, and I say, "What???"  The following Christmas reads, like the stories that came generations before them, are full of Christmas spirit. They are cozy through and through, and though mishaps abound, they are full of happy endings. That's the genre. If you're looking for realism, you're in the wrong aisle.

For those of you who love Christmas whimsy, read on.

I've mentioned in previous posts that I recently read Anne Perry's 2017 Christmas-themed mystery, A Christmas Return, which I found to be pleasurable. But even better, and the best Anne Perry Christmas mystery I've read is A New York Christmas, published in 2014.

Another book I thoroughly enjoyed in 2014 was Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron, a book in her Jane Austen mystery series. I must say up front that I do not gravitate to contemporary series that feature famous authors as protagonists.  However, I was drawn to this one, because it included an atmospheric element that I find irresistible in fiction--overwhelming blizzards and blinding snowstorms! I love Disaster by Snow.
I do enthusiastically recommend this title in the series because it was extremely Christmassy, with Jane Austen-era Christmas traditions,  and it did not hold back in isolating the wonderful Christmas household from the world for several weeks.

For Americans, Canadians, and for all who do not reside in the UK, I heartily recommend Christmas in London by Anita Hughes, which was published in 2017, I believe. I read it last December and it was so much fun. Why not recommend it for UK readers? I think any UK reader who knows London at all will find it too-over-the-top with the characters' wide-eyed wonder at London tourist attractions. I, on the other hand, admired its luscious and gooey appreciation for London in all its December glory.

And last but not least for today, one of my all-time favorite Christmas novels:
I reread Rosamunde Pilcher's Winter Solstice last year, and this time I had the time to luxuriate in it deeply, think inhale deeply. It is a five-star novel that does not disappoint in any respect. Ranging from Hampshire to Scotland, to my mind, it's the best Christmas novel I have ever read, with something to offer to women of all ages--from teens to 90s. I have had readers tell me that they pick it up every Christmas.  


Monday, December 3, 2018

Welcome to the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour

Correction posted December 4, 2016: I incorrectly stated yesterday that Nan is the name of the blog owner of Sprite Writes. Nan is the blog owner of Letters from a Hill Farm (see "Blogs of Substance" sidebar), and she is the blogger from whom I learned about the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour.

At long last, I am alerting all of you to the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour hosted by  Sprite Writes. I believe there are still days available for new bloggers to sign up.
So, what is the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour?
Individual bloggers sign up to host one or more days from December 1st to December 25th to blog about something seasonally related.
 Nan, at Sprite Writes, connects readers each day with a link to the blogger hosting the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour for that day. Very, very cool. I learned all about Sprite Write's tour, thanks to Letters from a Hill Farm (see "Blogs of Substance" Sidebar.)

I am the Friday, December 7th host of the Virtual Advent Calendar Tour. December 7th is the birthday of two family members who influenced my reading the most. My mother Lois and her oldest sister Ruth powerfully influenced my reading, as lots of regular readers of this blog already know. Lois and Ruth shared the same birthday, though they were 12 years apart. My December 7th blog post will not be about them, but it will be dedicated to them.
My Plans for December 7: To highlight my favorite, not commonly known, Christmas reads of all time.
So even though I love Dickens's A Christmas Carol, it will NOT be featured in my December 7th
post.

In other news:
I finished A Christmas Return by Anne Perry late this afternoon (liked it very much), while sipping a cup of tea from the Sikkim area of India, just south of the Darjeeling region. It's been so difficult to obtain quality Darjeeling tea for quite a while now, due to the successive crop failures year after year, all because of widespread drought. For years now, the news about the Darjeeling tea crop has been very sad. Yes, I'm a devotee of Darjeeling tea. What to do? My petty sadness is so trivial, compared to the losses of those in the Darjeeling region of India, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Riches from the Library for December

Time for Advent Calendars--




On Thursday, I made a killing at Crandall Library, just before what I knew was going to be an unpleasant visit to the dentist.
I'd planned to pick up a couple of Christmas picture books on hold for me (thanks to Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea [see sidebar for link]), and an additional couple of thrillers for Ken, but by the time I left an hour later, I was struggling to carry two overflowing, very large bags full of books and 2 audiobooks out to my car. What fun! While the dentist drilled away minutes later, I shut my eyes and thought only about what was stored in my book bags. Dreamy!  Book Gluttony rules in December.

A few notable selections from the sacks--or, stacks.
My Struggle: Volume 6 by the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. It's well over a thousand pages, closer to 1100 pages, but many people are saying that this volume is one of the best in the series. I heard a New York Times Book Review critic who raved about it interviewed by Pamela Paul, the NYT Book Review editor for the NYT Book Review podcast. I was so intrigued by his enthusiasm for the book.
And I find that My Struggle: Volume 6  is a book that you can begin on page one and read straight through, or just flip open to any page anywhere and start reading. As you know, I'm a huge fan of memoir, and Knausgaard does it all in fascinating minutiae. Am I going to read the entire book? Probably not, but chunks of it, definitely yes.

Another book I was astonished to find on the New Books shelves at Crandall: Anniversaries: Volume 1, August 1967-April 1968: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl by the East German writer Uwe Johnson (1934-1984), recently translated into English by the American translator Damion Searls. This is a New York Review Books (NYRB) title, the translation edition published in 2018. Volume I was first published in Germany (East or West??) in 1970. It is over 900 pages long.  The book is organized into near-daily journal entries. I started reading it, but realized I need a very quiet mind to deal with the complexities of language. There are depths here, and I would really like to read it.

In Christmas Books:
Christmas on the Island by Jenny Colgan was wonderful right up to the last page. I wanted more! Five stars *****

And now I'm reading A Christmas Return, Anne Perry's Christmas (mystery) novel for 2017, which received a starred review last year from Publisher's Weekly. An hour ago I sat down and consumed the first 50 pages, which is more than a quarter of the book. I am enjoying it particularly because the main character is a woman who is well over eighty and has the gumption to go out of her way to help an old, though estranged, friend and sleuth her way about with this friend's grandson, to make a grievous wrong, committed 20 years before, right. At that time a young girl was kidnapped and murdered. This one is set in England when Queen Victoria was about 70 years of age--a mere child, according to Mariah, the protagonist. I love the period details.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Reading Goals Til New Year's

My header for this entry sounds so ambitious, as if I'm really going to forge forth and consume books by the armful until December 31st at midnight. 
I do plan to make reading and listening to books a priority in December, but we'll be busy as well.
This year we will thrust aside our laziness and put up a Charlie Brown Tree.

A Charlie Brown would be one of our own balsam firs growing on our 27 acres, somewhere. Balsams growing wild are a bit straggly, hence the CB designation. We've done it before but have not had any tree of any kind for about 4-5  years. I just need Ken to construct a base for it, so the trunk can sit in a bit of water.
We have the decorations. I have missed a Christmas tree.

So reading:
I'm loving Jenny Colgan's Christmas on the Island (the fictional Scottish island of Mure) a little too much. So much so, that I don't want it to end. It is that good. Do consider it for your holiday fun!

I've just started reading a Christmas murder mystery novel by the Canadian author Douglas Whiteway, writing under the pseudonym C.C. Benison. The book is the first in a Christmas series, entitled Twelve Drummers Drumming, published in 2011. I've read 25 pages and the humor and pathos have kept me turning the pages.  Father Tom Christmas (no, no--please just call me Tom!) is vicar at a new posting less than a year after the death of his wife. His daughter Miranda, age 9, has made a wonderful adjustment to the new village in Devon, attached as she is to the sprawling Swan Family of children. Father Christmas--no, no, please! Call Me Tom is engaging in the life of the congregation, but still there are all those nagging doubts about what happened to the previous vicar who vanished under bizarre and mysterious circumstances.  Good characters are in development here, and good writing. My only hesitation is that the book is 347 pages long.
I bought this ebook years ago and I now see that I must read it this holiday season, if the length does not do me in.

I do plan to read multiple additional Christmas-themed novels before Christmas. Help me keep track.

Norwegian Christmas Custom Alert!
Did you know, or have you heard, that many Norwegians are supposed to have a custom of giving books as gifts on Christmas Eve, intended to be read all night? I learned of this online somewhere, yet wonder  if it is truly a custom in Norway. I would love to invite friends for Christmas Eve to participate in this custom, but Christmas Eve is far from an ideal time for many who will have extended family visiting at that time. But what about New Year's Eve? Now that sounds like a plan! I'd love to pull this off. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Bookish Thoughts on Thanksgiving Eve

Early tomorrow morning the turkey goes in the oven. It's a 14-pounder. The stuffing is almost prepared and ready for the refrigerator and everything else is in order. We will have turkey, stuffing mashed red bliss potatoes, butternut squash, a medley of carrots, blueberries, olives, celery, red peppers, and dried sweetened cranberries, which is not the salad I was hoping to make. Oh, a special French apple cake, warmed, with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

BUT the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has issued this warning: If you have romaine lettuce in your refrigerator, in any form--as a head or a mix--no matter where it's from--California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, or Florida, get rid of it. A serious E.coli outbreak has been traced to romaine, and currently the source is unclear. The strain of E.coli is one that is extremely toxic. The CDC recommends that if your romaine is in your fridge and is not in a plastic container--scrub the vegetable bins. (Sorry--this is not fun to hear about the night before Thanksgiving.) I had a box of Olivia's Organics Spring Mix, we have had it in salads for two dinners, but it's now in the trash. I visited Olivia's Organics website and they advise trashing it, although no illness has been attributed to Olivia's products.

I promised bookish thoughts.
I'm loving Scottish author Jenny Colgan's Christmas on the Island. Such atmosphere on the Island of Mure, a fictitious island off the coast of northernmost Scotland. I believe it's an island on the east coast--I think it was mentioned, but I could be wrong. The characters are delightful, quirky, and each has troubles. I loved that the characters on the island were introduced in the first chapter, via a very big retired sheepdog named Bramble, who, although he sleeps 20 hours a day, makes a tour of the village during the other four. I have read just enough to get a deep toehold in the book, enough to know that the characters are not super-cozy mush and have real problems that trip them up. Five thumbs up!

Today while cooking and washing loads of dishes, I listened to a New York Times Book Review podcast from just over a month ago. I was fascinated to learn that Lisa Brennan-Jobs has written a memoir, Small Fry, which has just this week been announced as one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year.  First of all, Pamela Paul, the NYT Book Review Editor,  is an excellent interviewer--so every author she selects for the podcast presents riveting content. As a reader who loves memoirs (how many did I read this year??), I was fascinated to learn how Brennan-Jobs came  to write a memoir, how she went about it, what was really difficult for her, and how she overcame the challenges.
Lisa Brennan-Jobs is the daughter of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, one of the most enigmatic and (quirky? strange?-- Ken, a former software analyst, PC pioneer and enthusiast, and one who loathes the philosophy and gestalt behind the production of all Apple computers just calls him very weird) of American business geniuses, to say the least.
Brennan-Jobs was most concerned, during her writing, that people would relegate her memoir to the genre of "celebrity memoir." The book, she emphasizes, is not that at all, but is the story of her childhood and coming of age, growing up between two household's--her mother's and her father's. At first, her father refused paternity of her.

So I downloaded the audio of Small Fry, but, help!, I'm still listening to Famous Father Girl by Jamie Bernstein (excellent), and In Pieces by Sally Field, which as also been selected as a New York Times Notable Book of 2018.

A Very Happy Thanksgiving to all readers who celebrate the holiday and happy reading to those who actually have the time to read during this time. I envy you!




Friday, November 9, 2018

First Snowstorm & Stack Up of Early Winter Books

I didn't learn until this morning that we were to be in the midst of a 3-6 inches of snow this evening, our first real snowfall.

I did know that we were going to get really cold again, which I was happy about, because it means I can go all over the woods without the slightest worry about ticks. Ticks come to life again only at 40 degrees F, so scientists have revealed.

So today, before the snow started, I drove 20 miles to buy all sorts of bird food. Black sunflower seed, thistle seed, and beef fat, a treat for the woodpeckers and blue jays. We can't feed too early in the season because raccoons tear apart our feeders. Those sharp claws and teeth are so destructive, the little varmints! Not only that, but the birdseed is also a lure for bears before  hibernation, at a time when they're eating everything in sight. (In deep cold, raccoons don't biologically hibernate, but their metabolism slows down and they let go of their craziness and leave the feeders alone. In deep winter, they just don't hang out.) But if we warm up again too much (to 50 degrees), the feeders will have to come down.

So as soon as we established the bird feeding stations and Ken called the birds in with his famous chickadee calls (he's very good!), I was off to attend to my knitting and audiobook, Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein  by Jamie Bernstein, the oldest child and oldest daughter of Leonard. Now that I'm more than halfway, I can say that this memoir is riveting and has been eye-opening for me, perhaps especially because I am close to Jamie in age.  (Jamie is 9 months my senior.) In the first chapter or two, I thought her reading pace was a little too fast and too wild for me to closely attend, but after the first couple of chapters I either adjusted or she modulated her pace, because after that time, I have found her reading to be nuanced and extremely well done. Such a sensitive memoir of  an unusual, yet fascinating family and life. The memoir is really a memoir of the entire Bernstein Family.

Oh, yikes! The lights have gone out this very minute! So glad to have a candle by my side.
We've just lost power again for the second time in less than a week. Yes, indeed, we are very thankful for our automatic generator, but losing power so often is annoying. I mean, we've only had 3-4 inches of snow so far. So what's the big deal? On our mountain road, we look at each other and shrug our shoulders.

Books:
Okay.
For new Christmas-related books, I have purchased  Christmas on the Island by English author Jenny Colgan. I thoroughly enjoyed her Christmas novel last year, Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery (set in Cornwall). This latest Colgan Christmas title sounds very interesting as well. I believe the island she has in mind is just off the coast of Scotland.

After mournfully returning Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand, her latest, I purchased one for the Nook, and can now read it at my leisure. I read almost a third of the novel before I had to return it to the library. I may start over at the beginning. 
Elin Hilderbrand is fascinating. Did you know that she's a graduate of the acclaimed Iowa Writer's Workshop, the  coveted master's program at the University of Iowa? I was surprised, to say the least, mostly because of the published authors I know who attended that program.
Not to downplay Hilderbrand, mind you,  because after all she is a master of pacing a story, and has command of her territory. But most of the graduates tend to be more "literary" writers.

To be truthful, I don't know where to go with my reading right now. I'm still deep in the middle of The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith, the entertaining treat that it is, all 654 pages of it.












Monday, November 5, 2018

November Reading: Looking Forward

I for one am eagerly awaiting Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming (to be released on November 13th). I am planning to purchase the hardcover and also download the audio version.  I'm so eager to hear what she has to say about whatever she chooses to reveal about herself. I find her a fascinating person. I think it must have been difficult to knuckle down to writing this book so soon after leaving the White House, but perhaps not.

Do you ever tune in to the New York Times Book Review Podcast. The NYTBR editor, Pamela Paul, directs the production and every week it has lots of content that's  fascinating. Even when she interviews the author of a book I know for sure I have no interest in reading, I'm extremely interested in the interview! You don't have to be a subscriber to listen. It's carried on iTunes and Google...? I think. Check it out. Wonderful to listen to while washing dishes, cleaning, knitting, you name it.

And of course you must know I've already started lining up the Christmas mysteries and romance book list. Every year, right on schedule. I have several lined up for November and December.
I've now got to purchase an ebook of Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand, because I muffed finishing the copy I had out of the library for 14 days. This is the first book in a trilogy, and for me, was equal to the pleasure to be found in her Nantucket Quinn Family four-book series. Onward!

I'm still reading The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith, all 654 pages of it. I'm now halfway (whew!), but it is still a compelling page-turner. So many storylines and characters all intersecting make it a fun read. I do recommend it.



Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Writing Adventure for November and December 2018

Way back in November 2006, Ken and I had been living in the Adirondacks for 11 months, and I decided to launch a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer's Month) group in our local area. I worked as a writer when we were living in the Boston area, but since moving I had done a minimum of writing. (Too much outdoors to explore and I was working as a NYS licensed hiking guide, of all things.) I advertised widely for the NaNoWriMo event and a crew assembled.  Because we are so thinly populated in our town, our group members, once we were all gathered together, hailed from a number of surrounding towns. Gosh, I think at least 4 towns in addition to our huge town, which is humungous in area compared to suburban towns in urban areas, with a population of only 2,000.

We were an enthusiastic, adventure-crazed group, with members ranging from ages 25-72. I could wax on about our writing forays and celebrations, held in libraries, pubs, restaurants, and bookstores, but maybe I'll reveal all at a later time.

The point is, I'm experiencing a drive to plunge into novel-writing at this moment in time.
So on with it, of course.
I'm supported and encouraged by Michelle Stockard Miller, who is hosting a 2-month novel-writing event, entitled "Sit Down and Write #10."
If you are at all curious, do follow the link.

Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo, or something like it? Group support for writing is so helpful, from my experience with it. Pure synergy.

I think I will begin tomorrow morning--or tonight.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Hosting a Readalong for Peace in Nov.(Dec.) or 2019?

I heartily apologize for not responding to comments in a timely fashion within the last 11-12 days. I've responded to all now, thank goodness, and I want you to know that I thoroughly enjoy comments--I was just temporarily overwhelmed with life.

Since last Saturday, October 27, I have thought and thought about what I could do, as an individual, to do something positive to help ourselves and our world in the light of the increase in violence against people who are judged to be "the other," those who are not only the target of demented individuals, but are also the targets of well-organized groups who seek to diminish them, eliminate them, or banish them from within our borders. 

I am thinking, most recently, of the 11 Jewish men and women who were slaughtered last Saturday.

I am thinking of the immigrants to this country who fear deportation--both legal immigrants and illegal immigrants. I am thinking of black Americans and Latino Americans who are being prevented from casting their ballots and who are forced to lead diminished lives.

I am thinking of the Jewish children and teens in this country who are asking since Saturday, "Why did this happen?" And I'm thinking of the children of immigrants who ask, "Why are we in so much danger? Why do we have to hide?"

Do I believe that by merely reading a book and discussing it with other readers that I can affect what's happening in this world? Of course not.
But I do believe that by reading specific literature I can reaffirm my values, that I can strengthen myself, that I can reconnect with the impulse to say openly, or to shout out loud, "No, not here!"

1. This is the most difficult suggestion I've had to offer to my fellow bloggers.

2. My proposition may flop, completely, and I accept that I may be the only reader who will participate. I know what it is like to be overwhelmed by what's happening because I have been overwhelmed myself.

3. This suggestion is offered with U.S. readers in mind, although I'd heartily welcome any reader from any country to join in. Because these issues affect people in all countries. We are not the only country to be experiencing an increase in anti-Semitic crimes and activities.

Now comes the complicated part: Selecting a book to read. Will you read on?
1. The book, fiction or nonfiction, can be any title that you believe might inspire you to feel engaged  in the current struggle to maintain and promote human dignity and decency. It might be a novel (historical or contemporary or classic). It might be nonfiction about people trying to help others, to reach for peace, to do anything  that  strengthens the soul for standing up against prejudice, hatred, and evil. It very well might be none of those things. And that's okay.

Notice that what you personally choose to read is left  intentionally vague. Because this is for you.
We all need something to inspire us now.

I have been resorting to escapist literature. There's nothing wrong with that, and I believe that I will be continuing this habit as this year passes and the next comes along. But it doesn't strengthen me.

As for my choice, I haven't totally decided, mind you, but I'm inspired to read a non-fiction book I own that's about Christians who risked their lives to try to save Jews during WWII. I haven't done much research on this topic, but I'd like to know more about these people. I think it would strengthen me.

If you are interested, let me know about your scheduling conflicts. Are you too busy reading other things in November? Would December be better? Would January be even better?  What do you think?





Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Reading Status as of Late October

Snow and ice fell all this past weekend and I for one did not venture out, because the snow was so ridiculously drenching wet. The snow poured down in huge clumps and globs. We stared out at it and absolutely refused to go outdoors.

This past weekend, with all the terribly sad, horribly bad! news and the bad weather, I dug into finishing Alaskan Holiday by Debbie Macomber, new this year (2018) for the Christmas season. I must confess that parts of it I enjoyed, BUT I don't think it was one of her better books. From my perspective, I think it's been a while since one of her better books has been published. Alaskan Holiday was very short, just 166 pages, and could have been a novella, which would have been fine. The Alaskan parts were not atmospheric Alaska at all. Not a bit. I disliked that aspect of it. It was superficially Alaskan, very superficially. The romance was pleasing. But I gave this a very limited 3.0 stars., because it was cheerful. And cheerful counts for something right now.

I also finished The Child in Time by Ian McEwan, which had such depths,and painful material, too, but it ended on such a joyful note, which made the whole novel come together for me so that the reading of it was a very meaningful experience. Maybe now I can finally view the Masterpiece version of the novel.

So now where am I? 
I'm really embroiled in a novel by Olivia Goldsmith. I had never heard of her, but she was the author of The First Wives' Club and many other popular novels published in the 1990s and very early 2000s.
I am deeply into The Bestseller, published in 1996. It has 680 pages or so, but I've managed to whiz through the first hundred pages, a page-turner par excellence. Five (actually six) different individuals are desperate, just desperate for all kinds of personal reasons, to have their novel be the next great bestseller. According to the blurb, only one of them will make it.  All the hopeful novelists have problems and obstacles blocking their paths to the top despite their indomitable wills to succeed.
Olivia Goldsmith knows her stuff. She has the 1990s publishing scene down pat, with all its warts. I was working in publishing and bookselling during this time, so I think it would be realistic to call them HUGE WARTS. This is not pure fiction, but fiction backed up by the reality of publishing in the 1990s. Definitely the real thing.
And entertaining to boot! So glad that I discovered this one for a mere $2.99 via Early Bird Books.

I am also reading Elin Hilderbrand's Winter in Paradise, the first novel in a trilogy, published in October. Again, very clever plotting and fascinating, totally unpredictable characters. The action takes place in St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but before the devastating hurricane of 2017.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Child In Time and Ian McEwan

I've been outdoors a great deal since I last posted, which has made me tired in the "before dinnertime" hour, too tired to compose an entry. I feel the same way this evening, but will try to do just a little catch-up.

I'm currently reading A Child in Time, a short novel by Ian McEwan. I did not watch the recent broadcast of the Masterpiece Theatre version of the novel. Although the novel's precipitating event is the kidnapping of the protagonist's very young daughter in a supermarket check-out line, the main thrust of the plot does not concern her at all, but rather her father's reactions to the crisis in the weeks and months following, which lead far from the critical event. Most importantly, there is the theme of time, of how time transforms individuals and relationships in Stephen's life, including the relationship with his parents and his memories back to earliest childhood, the tortured relationship with his estranged wife, and his relationships with other important figures in his life, and with his work as a best-selling children's book writer.
What I appreciate most about Ian McEwan's work, and I have read at least eight of his novels, is that in each book, he constructs the overarching theme, then the plot and the characters in such a way that the reader is forced to think deeply about what he, the author, is highlighting. I find his books to be very powerful. I do urge you, if you have tried only one of his novels and then ended up flinging it aside, to try another.
My personal favorites by Ian McEwan: Sweet ToothOn Chesil Beach, The Children Act, Saturday.

Just a note to say that I finished Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George, the second novel in the Lynley and Havers series, published in 1989. I was knocked over and startled to discover who the murderer was at the end. Positively flummoxed. The only problem for me in the construction of the plot: the individual who turns out to be the murderer was described in the beginning of the book to be rather heavy-set, so therefore, I'm wondering how he managed to heave himself over fences and down and around alleys and over all sorts of obstacles and elude Lynley in the final chase scenes?  That was my only real problem in an otherwise five-star book. I totally forgive it as I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Books & Nature Weekend--In Deep, Deep Fog

Our peak foliage this year has come with almost no sunshine. Well, there was a day last week when it was sunny for a few hours... But mainly, we're suffering from a "temperature inversion," which is causing drizzle and fog to hang tough with no reprieve. The higher the elevation, the greater the fog. But the intense leaf colors of gold, oranges, reds, yellows, and greens are all still there--though they appear different. Dazzle in an alternate universe.

I have been venturing forth for miles and miles over the past 3 days, camera in hand, mostly wanting to capture photos of birds, but also taking fog-laden photos of colorful vegetation.

When I finally return home, and rather damp from my tramps, I eat my mid-day snack and then retreat to the bed in my bedroom, turn on all the lights, then light a candle, and read more of the wonderfully exciting Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George. Such scintillating dialogue, causing me to hold my breath. Wow! Fireworks!

Last evening we binge-watched The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which won a number of Emmys recently, and which streams on Amazon. It's set in New York City, in 1958-59. The young, ebullient Mrs. Maisel is left with two very young children, just a few years after the marriage to her  true love. Her furious anger pushes her to take on the role of comedienne, in small clubs in NYC, with hilarious results. Highly recommended!  I think it was very lucky that we got to bed by midnight. Ken was pushing for watching a couple of more episodes, those night-owl tendencies of his coming to the fore. But I folded. A wonderful night of television. After the past week of horrendousness, who couldn't ask for more???

Friday, October 5, 2018

Friday Night: Nell Painter and Andrew Wyeth

I have been listening to Nell Irvin Painter's Old in Art School for weeks and weeks, it seems. There were interruptions. I always listen to it while knitting, for better or worse for the knitting project should I become too absorbed.

I am within 45 minutes of the end, and it will be very hard to tear myself away from Nell Painter's voice, the variety of her tones of voice, the variety of her subjects. Many a time I have disagreed with her views on issues in art, on race, about white people, about academic historians and scholars. Yet even when I have had strong, strong reactions to what she has said, I've been fully engaged. I've been actually in dialogue with this author just as if she has been in the room with me. (!) I agree with her lots of times and at other times quibble only slightly. But, the point is, she's always challenging me. I feel I know her. I'm so accustomed to her voice that I hate to let her go, I dread finishing the memoir.  She is a SUPERIOR reader, the best I've encountered in the past year, and perhaps for many years. So painstakingly careful of tone, of voice, of diction and erudition, everything. I'm constantly writing her letters in my head as I take walks or when I'm cleaning or cooking.

Fortunately I'm able to stream thousands of programs via the PBS Passport program, provided when a person becomes a member of their local PBS station. Wednesday afternoon I was so very tired. I lugged my laptop up to my bedroom and for an hour streamed the PBS American Masters' broadcast of a documentary about the great and often terribly misunderstood American artist Andrew Wyeth. It's entitled simply Wyeth. Over the course of a lifetime I've seen a number of large-scale museum exhibitions of Wyeth's work: 1) a retrospective that circulated a number of museums in the mid 1970s, and 2) an exhibition of Wyeth's "Helga" paintings in the 1980s,  a collection of his art which had been secret for decades, and which shocked many people when they were revealed. I would never say that Wyeth has ever been "my favorite artist," or anything like that, but he has always interested me tremendously. I find now that I appreciate his art more as I grow older and older. A very stark realism. Not realism realism as has became so ridiculously outdated in the 1960s and later, but realism made more stark with emotions--I suppose that's how I see it. Perhaps for this moment in time he is my "favorite" artist.

In any case, the very next day, I descended on the library in Glens Falls and took out quite a number of books regarding Andrew Wyeth's art, a DVD about the entire Wyeth family, and a biography of Wyeth published in 1996, though he didn't die until 2006, I believe. How wonderful to have that library resource here--so grateful.




Sunday, September 30, 2018

Fall Books for Me Thus Far

In less than five hours it will be October. I cherish September and hate to see it go. With our travels, September passed much more quickly than we wanted it to.

Yesterday I meandered among my piles of library books and my own books still to be read.
I decided to read a book I vowed I would read this past summer, the second volume in Elizabeth George's Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley series, Payment in Blood, which is set in Scotland. (The novel was first  published in the U.S. in 1989.)
I have read a few more recently published novels in the series a few years ago, but I decided last year that I would start at the beginning, with the first volume, The Great Deliverance. I thought the strong characterizations of Lynley and Barbara Havers were superb and unusual for most crime fiction series. The fireworks (and I mean sparks and flames) within their developing working relationship were so eye-opening and revealing about both of them, so much so that I was in awe.

I imagine that many of you saw the BBC television versions of the novels in this series many years ago. I may have seen one at the most. I missed most of the excitement surrounding this series, during the years I was working long hours and read only about six books a year, aside from the dozens of tomes I read for the research for my books, which was office reading. Ken and I typically read about 30 minutes before bed, and then a few additional hours on the weekend. It makes me wonder now, stupefied, at how much I missed--it really does. But recompense was the satisfaction I had writing works of history.





Friday, September 28, 2018

Tomorrow: A Day to Contemplate Books til December

This week has been a bit complicated. We've been scurrying to catch up with mail, paying bills, doing many loads of laundry, battling our annual fall mouse invasion, and beginning our household preparations for winter, which has been very harsh the past few years. Yet the day-by-day, minute-by-minute crisis in our governance has been upsetting, distracting, and so hard to push aside from consciousness. It's taken a toll on both of us, as I imagine it may have on all of you.

Everyday after my labors, I force myself to halt the chores and I retreat to knit and listen to the audiobook  Old in Art School by Nell Painter, which is a delight because it is so provocative and because it makes me really think. I'm glad I haven't rushed the listening of this audiobook. I've taken breaks. And when I go back, I'm ready to absorb more and more. So much to be said about what it means to be an older woman in our society today, what it means to be black and a black woman, and what it means to have high ambitions despite one's age. Painter was born in 1942 and she has become a role model for me, although I must say I do not have the kinds of goals that she had and has.

Tomorrow I have a deep, impassioned need to sort out what I want to read next. I feel I've been piddling around. I really want to commit to reading some enriching literature.
On the docket! Til then!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Home Again!

The two of us returned home close to 6 pm on Saturday evening. We had a wonderful trip. Our final evening in Maine was spent in Portland, with a great view of the waterfront. But, due to my overly exuberant enjoyment of the rest of the vacation, I crashed and burned after we arrived, and was far too exhausted to go out for a night visiting the shops and restaurants in the Old Port as we had planned. Ken ordered us sub sandwiches, and while Ken watched tv, I fell deeply asleep.

But what a trip! I so enjoyed visiting Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that three nights and two days there did not do justice to the fun to be had. I am ordinarily not a shopper. In fact, I am known as a person who hates to shop. That's because I live in a place where there's no decent shopping. I was so over-the-top thrilled by the shops in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was as if I were a starving person who hadn't seen food in years. You see, at home I wear L.L. Bean and Land's End mail order. Very limited. So---I went just a little bit wild in the stores in Portsmouth. I confess I had a lot of fun.

The seafood in Portsmouth was good, but nowhere near the perfection to be found on the Maine coast. OMG.

And finally, Monhegan Island in Maine, to a hiker and naturalist, is a paradise. There's much to interest people who are not naturalists and hikers on the island, yet the dozens of hiking trails, many of them hugging the coastline, provide such dramatic land and seascapes. The bluffs, or headlands, along the very rugged, wild, rocky coastline provided such overwhelmingly beautiful views of land and ocean, cliffs and rocks and crashing waves, that I was in bliss continuously. The trails are very, very rugged and challenging, yet I loved the exhilaration of the views and the experiences provided. More than worth the effort and strained muscles afterwards.


We had late afternoon reading hours. Ken has been entranced by The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. He keeps wanting to tell me about it, to talk about it, but I keep hushing him because I want to read it. Poor Ken!

I read The Body in the Birches on the vacation and have been enjoying it. I think Katherine Hall Page's characterizations and the way in which her characters' dialogue delineates her characters are very well done. I'm a little more than halfway through. (I read only half a book on this vacation--so little.)

Because we only had one rainy day on this trip, and because we were constantly sight-seeing, I did not read anywhere near as much as I might have. We were having too many adventures.

I highly recommend Monhegan Island as a destination. I did not have a chance to visit all the artists' studios that I wanted to. I couldn't! Not enough time! So, I want to visit again and again.
If you decide to stay on Monhegan, you can't go wrong if you stay at The Island Inn. And make sure that you eat your dinners there, too. Best restaurant by far on the island, according to everyone. Best clam chowder, best lobsters, best breakfasts (which come with lodging), etc.  I'm going back in late May or early June, I think. If not, then, I'll go in mid-September.
Oh, and by the way, no ticks on Monhegan!  An exhaustive study by a Maine university found no ticks. 

Right now, as I'm still catching up with everything at home, I need to devote some time to organizing my upcoming reading. I'm not sure at all in what direction I'm heading for the final three months of 2018. Fairly clueless for the moment.



Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Nook Samsung is Loaded and Ready to Go

We're finishing our packing tonight for our adventure together. It looks as though the weather will cooperate while we are in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But next Monday morning we ferry over to Monhegan Island, and although the first day seems like it is likely to be a good day, the rest of the week is iffy, due to remnants of Hurricane Florence, which are expected to travel north eventually. But nobody knows. I feel so badly for people who will be sorely affected by this storm. I don't care what happens to us weather-wise on Monhegan. We can always go again for sun someday.

Monhegan is 10 miles out in the open Atlantic. I'm bringing all kinds of rain gear, so I think we'll venture forth okay, but not on the rocky shoreline if the surf is too high.

I just want you to know that there will be NO DIETING on this trip. I love all kinds of seafood and chowders, and Ken is a crazed lobster and crab and scallops lover. We're not expecting our favorite Maine shrimp to be available, because there has been a moratorium on fishing for it for a while now, in an attempt to "save the herd." I hope that the Maine shrimp population revives, although Ken hears from his family in Maine that its prospects are not bright.

And finally, what we'll be reading. It's Ken's birthday, and he has received from (guess who?) The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, which he has been eager to read. He is also carting along a number of Suduko books.
I've got my Samsung loaded with books. I wanted a Maine island murder mystery and so I downloaded a Faith Fairchild mystery, The Body in the Birches by Katherine Hall Page, set on the fictional Maine island of  Sanpere. KHP writes a darn good cozy murder tale, and sometimes, I've got to say, a good many of her murder tales are none too cozy! Woof! (I woof in appreciation, something I've picked up from a succession of retrievers who never bark--they woof!)

Because I'm bringing some knitting, I'll continue with Old in Art School, my audio read, by Nell Painter. She does not disappoint. If I finish it, I'll start listening to Famous Father Girl by Jamie Bernstein, her memoir of living and growing up with her dad Leonard Bernstein. This year is the centennial of the birth of that magnificent composer, conductor, and musician.

And I have a real, live gothic on my Samsung, one by Susan Hill, entitled The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story. It's short, at 133 pages. I started it a few nights ago, but thought, no! No! I should save this for Monhegan Island, when we'll be staying in a very nice renovated room, but in an old cottage, which happens to be part of the largest inn on the island. It will be lovely if it's good and creaky when the winds blow! I do hope there is a deep-voiced bullfrog  of a foghorn on the island.

I do hope I can post something on my travels. Monhegan has wifi,  but with "spotty bandwidth." I haven't named all the places we'll be staying, but will post when I can, although photos will have to wait for when I can download them when I return home after Sept. 24th.  


Monday, September 10, 2018

Reading on the Way to a Vacation and Beyond

Although we don't leave for our vacation until early Thursday morning, we've already been preparing like mad. The car's problems were totally fixed when Ken developed a dental emergency. Thank goodness, the dentist assures him he will be able to totally fix the problem tomorrow afternoon. Sigh. Thank you!

Lately I've been continuing to listen to Old in Art School: The Art of Starting Over, and I do identify with the author Nell Painter. Her comments that are race-related can be incredibly provocative, particularly as they concern contemporary art, which makes the book even more interesting.

Painter narrates this memoir flawlessly.  She is so careful and clear, and  has obviously taken the time to prepare what she will be reading in advance of the recording session. Painter was in her mid-60s to early 70s when she took on the challenge of working for a BFA in Fine Arts and then an M.A. at the Rhode Island School of Design. I believe I've already noted that she is a pre-eminent historian emeritus at Princeton University and author of acclaimed works of U.S. History. 

Painter's art became a second life. No, never a hobby, but a full-time professional occupation. Amazing! What she had to do to obtain her goals, what she had to sacrifice for what she wanted more than anything, makes for an awe-inspiring memoir. I was deeply moved by her narration of the final months of her mother's life, when Painter was constantly flying back and forth to Oakland, California, from Newark, New Jersey, while attempting to keep up with her BFA class. Painter was the only child of her parents and that makes the passage so difficult for the parents  and the child. 

I listen to Painter's flawless narration while I knit, and I think and I think about what she has to say. I must confess I'm an art enthusiast and art appreciator. I adore art museums, travel to important art exhibitions, and enjoy all kinds of art, all periods of art,  and  I am, for better or worse, sigh, an  art hobbyist.

It looks like I need one more post before we leave for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Thursday. Will do!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Late August--Labor Day Reading

Yes, I'm so out of the loop the past three days. So many of you have been reading up a storm and I've been cleaning and de-cluttering madly--absolutely insanely, so that it seems to me that you all have been leading intellectually productive lives and I have been merely sweeping up!

I do allow myself moments of respite. This past week offered about three days of unbearable heat and humidity, when my cleaning went minimalist and instead I trudged off in swimsuit to the pool with Chris Bohjalian's suspense thriller, The Flight Attendant, in my bag. Under ordinary circumstances, I'm sure I would not be as keen for this novel, and I know some of you thought it was relatively mediocre. But with my thriller-loving and undiscriminating heart still beating, and with my need for something not too difficult to read before and after swimming loads of laps, I've enjoyed the novel, although I will say I have a harder time when I find the protagonist not particularly likeable or unlikable, or as a person I can somehow find something to identify with.

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie is still claiming my attention, but I must say his imagination is mind-bogglingly boundless. (The link leads to a BookPage interview with Rushdie about the book.) This is my first read by Rushdie, and I knew his writing was very different. Oh, let's call it positively wild with exclamation points.

I read it first thing in the morning, with my first cup of tea or coffee, in bed. The novel requires the utmost concentration, I've found, so much so that I can only read about 20-25 pages at a time, maximum. This is because I'm not taking hallucinogens.

I wonder, I do find myself wondering, again and again: Might  Rushdie sometimes take hallucinogens while he is writing? After all, LSD is definitely coming back into vogue, so I don't think, based on the incredible leaps of imagination to be found in his writing, that it's unreasonable to just ask him to clarify the point.  And the countless allegories to every mythical culture throughout prehistory and history. Yikes! Not to mention allusions to obscure films, classic novels, and not so classic novels. I'm mentally exhausted just trying to describe the prose in The Golden House



Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Little Nothing of a Post and a New Book

On the days I'm home, I work at least 3-4 hours a day on the upstairs rooms' overhaul--my projects room, my bedroom, the laundry room, and the upstairs loft so far. It has been absolutely grueling, and this is because I have not done a thorough weeding of STUFF (including books) in years.

I am determined, so very gung ho, to get the upstairs whipped into shape. Of course, this renovation all came to pass because I tried to do some projects and was completely thwarted by my CLUTTER.  I know I don't have that hoarding syndrome, which has been so explicitly detailed in amusing memoirs written by those afflicted. But still...

I do have trouble weeding books, magazines, and arts and crafts materials from the upstairs rooms. And clothes.

So new books: I helped one of Ken's clients yesterday to unravel the mysteries of her Nook e-reader, the Samsung tablet. When I asked her which book she wanted to download first, she said that she was dying to read Salman Rushdie's The Golden House, which is set in Manhattan, where Rusdie now makes his home. This client once spent nearly her entire adult life living and working in Manhattan, and now makes her home in the Adirondacks. 

It just so happens that I've been longing to read the same novel, and have it on my bookshelf in the bedroom. So we've each decided to read it and then discuss it together. Such fun. I don't often have this sort of opportunity in my neck of the woods.



Wednesday, August 22, 2018

De-Cluttering Rules, Yet a Tennis Memoir Distracts

I have been tearing apart my projects room. Although I've continued to do all sorts of art projects  in this space, I have been horribly hampered by the awful fact that there is too much stuff in that room to really do anything at all.

So!! A major revamping of that "studio" space. A gargantuan effort, huger than I thought, but it is well underway and loads of space has been created. Much more to go! Sigh.


I've been knitting and listening to Unstoppable, the memoir by the tennis superstar Maria Sharapova, who undoubtedly needed to write this memoir after she was suspended for two years from participating in the Women's Tennis Association matches on account of a doping charge. In fact, the medication that was found in her bloodstream via random testing, is a med she has taken for years, and had only recently come under the scrutiny of the WTA. Maria was undeniably at fault for not realizing that a medication she was taking had come under scrutiny, but as Serena Williams has argued, Maria was unfairly penalized as an example to others. Maria has been playing again since the spring, at least 6 months prior to the date when her suspension had been scheduled to be lifted.

Maria Sharapova is not a favorite on the WTA tour. She is intensely reserved, which causes many fans and other players to criticize her. She does not interview well, which is another problem for her. She does not fraternize with other players at all,  and she screeches with each shot she hits, at a decibel level far above what any other tennis player manages. Yet another negative in her court.

Still, I am finding her story to be compelling, which has surprised me, because I have been one to criticize her ( her screeching is intolerable--ouch!)  I'm sure at least some of her stories and introspection is pure bunk, but a certain portion  is genuine.  I do think she tried to make this story a genuine version of her life, which was fraught  from the beginning. Americans  have criticized her  for her player affiliation to Russia, but  the story of her background, and how  she and her father came to the U.S. make this strong connection plain.

The U.S. Open starts Monday, August 27th.



Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Murky Day Means Knitting to Audiobooks

Just a few sunny days this week and now we're back into The Murk, as I call it. It's plenty dark due to a dense cloud cover. Yes, I'm thankful  it wasn't hot and we were able to have the windows open all day, which has been a rarity this summer, due to the heat and humidity, even when there is Murk. It will be murky and a bit rainy until Wednesday. (I'm just hoping this means we will have a spectacular fall).

Indoor cleaning projects were not appealing today, so well before noon, I tossed off de-cluttering to launch a new knitting project. I'm excited about this one. Noro Kuryeon yarn, manufactured in Japan, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Every yarn in this line is wool, mixing many colors together to make multi-colored garments. I ordered the Noro Kuryeon wool for a scarf and draped hood combination that seems as though it will be very practical for an Adirondack winter.

It took quite a while to knit the gauge sample, because I had to do it in the pattern, which is not difficult per se, but is very complicated because it's a 12-row pattern and each row is different. It's just knit and purl, but you never know when you will purl or knit, row by row.

I was fine while I was finishing the last two hours of Barbara Ehrenreich's nonfiction book Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and  Killing Ourselves to Live Longer.

I was drawn to this book based on Ehrenreich's tour de force bestseller Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America , in which the author went "undercover" as a waitress, hotel room cleaner, nursing home aide, Walmart clerk, and a cleaner of houses to show how difficult it is to survive as a poor woman in America. Things haven't changed at all since the book was first published in  2001. So if you haven't read it, and even if you know how hard it is, Nickle and Dimed is a classic. Ever tried to get food from a food pantry when it closes at 5 pm, the same time as you get off work, and other impossible Catch-22s.

In listening to Natural Causes, I was astounded to learn that Ehrenreich got her Ph.D. in molecular biology. Or was it cellular microbiology? In any case, Ehrenreich, who calls herself a "gym rat," (just because it makes her feel good, not to live longer), presses home the message that although we like to think that the diets we eat, the exercise we do, the herbs, the constant screenings for cancer, and everything else we do because we believe they will make us live longer, none of it has ever been proven to do just that. It is true that people of higher socio-economic levels live longer, and poor people have shortened lives.

She cites study after study, and gives copious explanations of cellular activities, which have all been updated. She interviewed countless researchers and studied a mind-boggling number of research studies.   I really like her message. It's provocative, as all her books are, which I like.  One of her messages I really, really liked: If one gets cancer, cardiovascular disease, Type-2 diabetes, kidney failure--you don't deserve blame. It happens not because you didn't exercise enough, eat the "right" foods, on and on.  As she and her studies show, the human body, as it ages, is designed, whether genetically or due to environmental reasons,  to develop some of these problems. The idea that we can control what happens to our bodies is a very modern notion, and does not serve us, she argues.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Another Satisfying Thriller and Comments Problems--Sorry!

For about 4-5 days I've been having problems with my comments. One I tried to publish, but it didn't post, which has me fretting, because it was a post from Tracy who was sharing information about the terrible wildfires in California. I can copy it "by hand," which I will asap.

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine (the authors are actually a team of two sisters) satisfied my thriller soul, yet the ending was not unexpected at all. Lots of critics and commenters mentioned a real twist at the end, but I didn't find it to be so. Still if you long for tales of deep Highsmithingly darkness among the rich and famous, you may enjoy The Last Mrs. Parrish.

My adolescent reader's appetite has barely been whetted, so it was with great delight that this afternoon I downloaded An Unwanted Guest (Penguin Random House summary) by Shari Lapena, (link to her website) available as of today.
This one is delicious--It's set in early winter, in a well-maintained, but old country inn, in the middle of nowhere in the Catskill Mountains in New York State. (The Catskills are a mountain range two+ hours to the south of the Adirondack Mountains.) Of course the weather turns absolutely brutal, when a blizzard-like storm turns into a horrific ice storm. Naturally, the inn is completely cut off--no electricity, no phone, no wifi, no nothing, not even a generator. (Every tourist residence in upstate New York has a generator and this is no historical). But at least they have plenty of food, drink, a library stuffed with books, and oodles of murders. Just perfection for my restive adolescent reader at the moment.)

I'll bet you're saying, "Loads of thrillers and murder mysteries have had this type of setting and premise. Is there nothing new under the sun these days?" And, of course, you're absolutely right.

Then why am I finding this story so compelling? Each guest couple or guest single has their own backstory, which ups the ante. This one has excellent description, so every scene is crystal-clear. And, moreover, this gathering of strangers in a remote place, cut off from civilization, speaks to us. It's a premise that's  done over and over again, because it speaks to us. Strangers coming together in the midst of crisis with no outside resources, with almost no resources, must find a way to survive somehow.

If you will pardon my whimsy for a moment, I am reminded of Snoopy, typing away on the top of his doghouse. Of course, he's writing his first great novel, which begins with the words, "It was a dark and stormy night." The perfect opener.
And did you know that this is the opening sentence to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle? 

I will sign off for tonight, but for the following postscript from my inner teen.

P.S.If you know of more thrillers or suspense novels that had you on the edge of your bed, or reading chair, please do let me know. I'm dying for more.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Voracious Adolescent Reader is in Residence

For weeks, literally four weeks, I have been searching for a book to tempt me beyond 30 minutes of forced reading, when I plunk myself down on the loft bed or chair and task myself to read. I have searched and searched for a book that might pique my curiosity, to no avail. After the heat wave in early July, it was DARK TIMES for my reading. I read, but lackadaisically-I just couldn't get engaged.

But who knew, (not I!),  that I had a book-ravenous adolescent inside me, who has been longing for a tremendously TRASHY read?

I didn't know this, until I found The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine, by scouring the August edition of the advertisements in BookPage, which my library kindly distributes.  The link above does not go to GoodReads, because I found the novel description there to be way off, and readers' comments were either purely positive or full of venomous hatred for the book, giving too much away, I think.  Read it after you read the book perhaps. It seems to have aroused very strong emotions in some readers.

I'm two-thirds of the way through, and I can say that it's fascinating to my adolescent self who can't believe the things these people are doing. Occasionally, this creature comes bouncing up from the depths of my psyche and devours pure trashiness, which is lots of fun until the jag is over and I'm bored with it all.

So put this one on your list if you ever get into one of those moods... There's supposed to be a wicked twist at the end.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

84 Charing Cross Road, Booksellers, and My Next Thriller

I'll confess; I have never read the book or the play 84 Charing Cross Road. Last evening Ken and I watched for the second time the film starring Ann Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins (and let's not forget Judi Dench), which was produced in 1987, and which we loved the first time in the 1990s in our Massachusetts home.

Did you know that Mel Brooks produced this film? I certainly didn't until this evening, when I went scouring the Web for info. Brooks seems like the least likely person to gravitate toward producing this sort of movie, BUT he was a New Yorker and Jewish, like Helene Hanff, though neither were at all religious, and both were incredibly irreverent and feisty, so I can imagine them meeting and getting along splendidly. (Of course I don't know this.)

How I would love to have a relationship with an English or Scottish bookseller--that's my thought for tonight. Oh, sigh!
And to realize how transformed the purchasing of used, rare, and antiquated books has become! Now you go to Abe Books and proceed. However, I am certain there are book collectors with very, very deep pockets who have personal relationships with booksellers far afield from their homes. Well, I know they do. I occasionally read the magazine Fine Books and Collections. But that kind of collecting is only for the very, very rich today, as so many things are.

We have  lost so much, yet Helene Hanff was never able to have a blog and thereby an international group of fellow readers who shared the books she enjoyed most. Wouldn't she have loved that? Would that have compensated her for the lack of a special bookseller? I think so, in a way. But why can't we have both, in the best of all possible worlds?  She only had her favorite London bookseller to share her thoughts with, and a few English friends in NYC.

I started reading The Annotated Frankenstein today. And I must have a thriller, a downright page turner if I am ever to morph back into being a voracious reader again. So, after a lengthy search, I am starting The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Annotated Frankenstein Arrived Today and Other Notes

The Annotated Frankenstein that I now hold in my arms is a 2012 publication. It was edited by Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao and was published by Harvard University Press. It is an oversized book with the text of the novel and lavish annotations in the wide margins of each page.

My reason for ordering, other than the high acclaim the book received after publication, was that although I had devoured and studied Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley when I was 21, just 43 years ago in 1975, I always wanted to know more about Mary Shelley's life and the story of her writing this book. What motivated her to write this particular novel and not another, for example?

So that is my mission. I have a recent paperback version, though I'll admit I still own my first literally crumbling Penguin paperback, with its minuscule print.  As a Gothic fanatic, I know I'll enjoy Frankenstein the second time around, but I will be interested to see the thoughts and ideas I form now, after decades of a reading life.