In the High Peaks

Friday, May 25, 2018

Farewell, Darling Sasha! Best Friend and Book Pal

 July 2, 2008--May 22, 2018   Rest in peace, our beloved friend and noble wanderer! We will love you forever, our beautiful golden girl.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

More Russians: Anton Chekhov's Ward No. 6 and Other Stories

Dark clouds and very cool temperatures made this a reading kind of mid-to-late afternoon. I wanted a bit of a break from my current reads, so I picked up Ward No. 6 and Other Stories by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. My Barnes and Noble paperback edition includes stories from the years of his earliest writings, 1885 ("The Cook's Wedding") to his final years of writing, as in 1902 ("The Bishop").

(I love the cover photo of Chekhov--that's a dachshund type of dog curling up under his left arm.)

I was very interested to discover that the Penguin edition of this same title only covers Chekhov's stories published between 1892-1896. (Yes, I must get this.) I want to read all the stories from that peak period of his work.

I deliberately did not read any Chekhov biographical notes, Wikipedia articles, literary criticism, or history of any kind. I wanted to immerse myself in a few stories and let what I read speak for itself; I wanted to connect with the art as is. Of course later I will most assuredly read all of the above, but sometimes it is really a good thing to just charge into a work of art and take it on its own merits, without the pre-judgements of others. 

I remember an unforgettable art teacher telling me in my early forties, "Let the work of art speak directly to you," she kept emphasizing. "Don't let others' opinions cloud your first personal experience with the painting." Her students religiously practiced this, although after discussing our own views of the artwork, we were free to pursue the voices of critics and biographers.  An important lesson that I've never forgotten.

I read the first two stories in the collection, "The Cook's Wedding" and "The Witch (1886)" this afternoon. I was swept away by the extraordinary description of a brutal snowstorm in "The Witch." A masterful depiction--I don't think I've ever read a more detailed, more exquisitely done "word painting" of a snowstorm.

I do feel sad that Chekhov died at the age of 44. What a loss that was! To contemplate the mortality of 19th-century and early-20th century tuberculosis on young people's lives.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Loads of Books Are Calling--But Where Am I?

In this, now the second week of May, I'm amazed by the trees that are now, FINALLY, beginning, just beginning, to leaf out. Very slowly indeed. My daffodils did not send up any blossoms this year, which is par for the course. They were splendid last year, for whatever reason. Actually, they bloom every third year or so. No black flies yet, so Sasha and I are still enjoying sunning ourselves on our second-floor balcony. The wasps and other flying insects have discovered us, but they're not too threatening. After a wild, wild, crazy line of thunderstorms last Friday evening, we were without power for 4 days, yet our area,  blissfully, was not really touched by a blow-down of trees.

Books: Still reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman on a daily basis. Enjoying so much!!
I do wish I had more time to read, but I don't right now. Still, I dream of making more time on a daily basis. If I listened to that voice, I'd be able to begin and get on with John Le Carre's  A Small Town in Germany, and Graham Greene's novel of World War II, the highly acclaimed The End of the Affair (1951).  These are my goals.

I recently purchased Christina Stead's The Little Hotel, and would love to read it very soon!
Have you heard of or read the Australian writer Christina Stead? She spent her productive working years in England, I believe. I actually, stupidly, thought she was English, until a few weeks ago. Just set your eyes on this book cover--I love it!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Phyllis Whitney, the Joys of Life and Fate, and Striking Hitler Parallels to Today

Oh, how I'm enjoying the challenge of reading Vasily Grossman's novel  Life and Fate, which after the first 35 pages, is not all that challenging at all. It's a thick, meaty slice of Russian life and literature, sprawling, lots of characters bundled into various settings across Russia and--in the case of prisoners--across Germany. Mostly it's the story of one extended family, which has been evacuated from Moscow and other cities to the hinterlands to the west. They are largely the professional class, although there is a family of Communist Party Members and their ilk. I'm up to p. 140 (out of 880 pages), and I'm loving it. I look forward to my early morning and late afternoon reading bouts. No, no, absolutely not reading this before bed! I need my wits about me.
The following book cover has a photo of Vasily Grossman. Sounds like a fascinating book as well.

Before bed I'm reading Spindrift by Phyllis Whitney. The lead character is a young married woman, who suffered (supposedly) a severe breakdown after discovering her father's body after a grand party in a Newport (Rhode Island) mansion, owned by her father's very wealthy colleagues. Christy's husband is hopeless, distant, and ineffectual, and her mother-in-law a tyrant, who is willfully blocking access to their only son Peter. Everyone treats the young woman as a hopeless invalid. (This is the premise--I'm not giving anything away.) Of course, from the beginning, Christy has never stopped protesting that her father's death was not a suicide. Lots of challenges for her, and great atmosphere.

In case you've made it through my post this far, ahem! Please read on, if you've the time:

In Chapter 10 "The Motherland Overwhelms the Fatherland" in Andrew Roberts's The Storm of War (2011), I was overwhelmingly struck by the following passage describing Hitler's managerial style and approach to the War on the Eastern Front with the Soviet Union.

Note: The following is an excerpt from the German Franz Halder's private and well-hidden diary. Halder was Chief of Staff for Hitler's military operations.

Halder notes that when Hitler is presented with realism from his officers and generals, he...
      "explodes in a fit of insane rage and hurls the gravest reproaches against the General Staff. This chronic tendency to underrate enemy capabilities is gradually assuming grotesque proportions and develops into a positive danger...This so-called leadership is characterized by a pathological reacting to the impressions  of the moment and a total lack of any understanding of the command machinery and its possibilities."  p. 317

There is much more to report about Hitler's psyche during the Battle of Stalingrad, sure sounds familiar, in a way that makes me feel even more uneasy than I already am, as if that's possible!