Hurray for Summer Reading!

Summer!  Sand, surf, BBQs, fruity drinks with umbrellas, and books!  Lots and lots of books.  I see summer as a time of literary exploration where I can muck about with titles and tombs I wouldn’t normally reading during the year because spare time is at a premium. Classics, gothic, mystery, crime, horror, historical. I keep a running list of titles of novels I want to read in Note on my  iPhone (I’ve learned the hard way NOT to keep this list on a piece of paper at home….) and accumulate books throughout the year.  A purchase here, a download there.  Here are the books I’ve tackled so far this summer:

 

  1. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
  2. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  3. Marya by Joyce Carol Oates
  4. The Killing Floor by Lee Child
  5. The Fire Witness Lars Keplar
  6. The Quick by Lauren Owen
  7. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
  8. Middlemarch by George Eliot  (ongoing…by no means anywhere near to being finished)
  9. The People in Trees by Hanya Yagagihara

 

Readers (me) are always looking for book suggestions so PEASE share your summer reading list!

 

Convenient Company

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book”.

~Henry David Thoreau, Walden


I’ve always relied on books for company. In fact I can remember the titles of specific books that have kept me company during some of the loneliest times in my life. Even when it was difficult to concentrate for any length of time because of some sort of emotional tumult, I’ve always reached for a story to soothe or distract me.

They were convenient company.

As a child my closest friend lived over a mile away and the sisters and I weren’t always the most bosom of buddies so I would lose myself in Nancy Drew. I still have a lovely collection of yellow bound Nancy Drew Mysteries sitting in my cupboard. And discovering Judy Blume’s “Blubber” was a moment I’ll always remember because the voice was familiar and the story could have been taken directly from the halls of my elementary school (and I as a chubby girl so I could relate). But I think the MOST important book of my childhood was “Gone with the Wind”. I would read, and reread the story, reading all of Scarlett O’Hara’s lines aloud pretending to be a “Southern Bell” instead of a Northern Alberta farm kid.

Junior High, that purgatorial time of melodrama and moodiness, I found distraction from bullies and boys with the likes of Agatha Christie (“The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” and “Curtain” being my favourites). I was also entranced by Mary Stewart’s Merlin series (“The Crystal Cave”, “The Hollow Hills”, “The Last Enchantment”). Puberty was all about murder and intrigue or magicians and knights.

High School, when most of my friends would sit and snuggle in the school hallways with their boyfriends or walk to McDonald’s for a lunch date of fries, I’d sit with my newfound love Charles Dickens. I remember reading “Great Expectations”, paper lunch bag at my side, eating my cheese and lettuce (no mayo) sandwich and questioning Miss Havisham’s reason for warping Estella’s view of men. Years later, after my first break up with a boy, I understood Havisham’s motivation for wanting to rip out someone’s heart and stomp it into a grimy pulp. I also loved Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn” and thought Jem was one of the most dashing figures in literature. It’s hard not to fall in love with a horse thief.

At university, when I’d feel insecure in my relationship with the boyfriend at the time, I’d read and re-read “Wuthering Heights”. It just seemed appropriate. As an adult, I remember the titles of books that have kept me company during chosen times of solitude. “Mrs. Dalloway” when took to London by myself. Then sitting on a deck chair by a lake in Jasper trying to get through” Wings of the Dove” by Henry James but being too distracted by the fact I had my heart-broken. “Anil’s Ghost” by Michael Ondaatje whilst on my way to Paris. Sitting silently with my mom on the deck of a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean reading “The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi” by Jacqueline Park and thinking how wonderful it was to have my mother to myself.

The latest “new era” defined by a book started two years ago when I was in an automobile accident. For about four months I was unable to concentrate for any length of time on story and could only consume magazine fodder. Many a night I would lie awake unable to read the pile of books calling to me from the corner of my room. The whole experience was frustrating and distressful. To me, the inability to read for any length of time was like losing the ability to take a deep breath. I could inhale little shallow catches of prose in magazines and newspapers, but I could not breath deeply the essence and delicacies of a well-told story. That was until four months later when I went on a weekend excursion to the “big city” with my sister and attempted to read “Angelology” by Danielle Trussoni.

And I read and read and read and took a deep breath.

Since then I have surrounded myself with books waiting patiently to be read. I think I may be somewhat fearful of feeling alone and desolate without my “friends” though and am over compensating. I now have collected a multitude of hardcovers, several eBooks (as well as 4 digital titles signed out of the library). I wonder if this is a sign I’m afraid to be lonely and feel the need to surround myself with “friends”?

Probably.

But patiently they’ll sit waiting for me to invite them into my life and keep me company even during the most trying times.

A True Hero Wears No Mask

“Then, when he was all shipshape, his father put his big arms around him, and held him close to him for a few moments. Like an actor on a stage. It was not a thing you would see in real life anyway, and there was a faraway look on his father’s face, like it was all years ago and otherwise and maybe they were still in Dalkey and he was a little lad. But he was a soldier now of some nineteen years and for all that he was glad of his father’s arms around him strange as it was, strange and comforting as it was.” (A Long, Long Way by Sabastian Barry)

The image of a man embracing his child, even if that child is 19,

is one that should be captured in marble.

It is more heroic than any giant slayer, or Roman gladiator and would melt any heart.

Women very easily fall in love with men who show the vulnerability of loving without limits – those who don’t place the parameters of machismo, or entitlement around a type of love.

To me, the father in this excerpt epitomizes manhood. He is characterized as six-foot six Goliath, and is a policeman who regularly knocks together people’s heads. But, this man’s son has gone to war and a flesh and blood piece of himself has placed himself in harm’s way, intentionally.

His son has come out as nothing short of heroic himself and has become mighty ,not in stature perhaps, but in courage.

This father, a man who has the law and his size in his favour can do

absolutely nothing to “save” his son,

except fold him warmly in his arms, feel his heart beat close to his own,

and hold him tight.

When fathers embrace their adult sons- that image should be plastered on every street corner and projected from every sky rise,

so that everyone will know that the true heroes in life wear no mask.

To Write About the Moon

I want to write about the moon.

It’s been demanding attention the last two days fully exposing itself on my drive home and then sneaking through the tiny slit in my bedroom blinds to blind me in it’s brilliance.

I have to admit I was a bit worried. Wednesday my ninth graders were in fine full moon form so I was expecting a pack of wackadoodle werewolves yesterday.

But, they were freakishly good. Maybe it was me who was lupine like.

A full moon is really quite spectacular. Sometimes it looks so close it seems you could easily reach out, delicately pluck it out of the sky and place it in your pocket.

There is some wonderful “moon” imagery in literature. One of my favourites is from Earl Birney’s poem “David” where a“peek was upthrust. /Like a fist in a frozen ocean of rock that swirled/ Into valleys the moon could be rolled in”. The big old boulder of a moon rolling in a valley like a ball in a pinball machine.

Maycomb in “To Kill a Mockingbird” has “lady in the moon…She sat at a dresser combing her hair.” I tried looking for her yesterday as I sat at a red light. She must have wandered off because I couldn’t find her.

Emily Dickenson “watched the Moon around the House/Until upon a Pane – /She stopped- a Traveller’s privilege- for Rest”. The moon last night didn’t just stop upon a pane, she pressed her nose against it and stared at me as I tried to sleep. He obtuseness was a tad creepy.

If the moon is full where you are tonight, go out and gaze up at her in wonder.

Appreciate her brash brilliance

and write a verse or two.

I dare you.

Prufrock in the Pudding

Today I had my rock star English students respond to lines in the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  Here is MY response.  Student responses follow as comments.  Enjoy!

 

 

For I have known them all already, known them all;

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?

 

T.S Eliot

Poor J Alfred Prufrock.

When I teach this poem to my high school English classes, students find it difficult to identify with the balding, socially inept Prufrock and consider him  to be pathetic at most. What they can identify with, however, is the idea of  symbolically measuring the “worth” of one’s life with a repetitive action or routine. Actions or routines that help define who we are.

A validation, or proof of sorts, that we exist.

J. Alfred’s measurement is the endless afternoons he spends alone contemplating his inadequacies over endless cups of tepid sludgy tea.

Sad, but there it is.

I’ve had students state they’re measuring their life  with dance recitals performed, or hockey games played. Proof that some thing had been accomplished.  My graduates have been measuring their lives by papers or midterms written (Facebook statuses read “only 2 more to go until summer break!  Only 1 more to go!).  Proof that learning has occurred (… or in some cases, maybe not!)

I believe our “units” of measurement vary depending on what time in life we happen to be treading. I took the year off  work some years ago and I kept track of all the wonderful books I read during that time. THAT’s how I measured my life during my hiatus.

And it felt good

and full

and worth my while.

Proof that I finished a story, a different story every time a new book opened.  Stories that contributed to my own.

Is life measured in paychecks earned?  Children birthed?  Hearts broken? Or do you find a more symbolic value in the little actions that fill your days like smiles performed and good deeds accomplished.

Proof that you’ve worked.

Proof that you’ve loved.

Proof that you exist within someone else’s reality other than your own.

Every year when I teach this poem, I too try to come up with a measurement of my life.  Papers to be marked?  Hugs to be given? Stories to be written?

Here’s a question to ponder if you’ve got a moment:  How do you measure your life?  What action or routine is your symbol?  And once you’ve figured out what this is, are happy with with this revelation?  I think what you discover will say a lot about how you percieve yourself at this moment in time.

And if you don’t like it? Go out and pick out a better measuring stick.

P.S  And go and find yourself a copy of T.S Eliot’s “Love Song for J. Alfred Prufrock”!

What is Yours?

He is the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.”

Tennessee Williams “The Glass Menagerie”

 

What is YOUR “long delayed but always expected”?

THE list.

I’ve gotten smarter.  Whenever I come across a title of a book that looks like an absolutely delightful read I type it into Notes on my iPhone.

I know, I know, a logical solution to keeping track of a literary wish list.  But it did take me awhile to clue into the fact that this would be the most officious way.

A lot better than writing titles on little scraps of paper and backs of envelopes I then lose in the bottomless black hole that exists in my handbag….

…the place where grocery lists go to die.

Anyway, here’s the list:

Mastermind  by Marina Konnikova

Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus

Last Train to Paris by Michelle Zackheim

The Human Comedy – Balzac

Ulrich Obtrists  do it: the Compendium

Praying Drunk – Kyle Minor

Inside Madeleine- Paula Bomer

The Last Illusion -Porochista Khakpour

The rules of civility

Watch how we walk – Jennifer Love Grove

The Son of a Certain Woman – Wayne Johnston

Born Weird – Andrew Kaufman

The Blind Man’s Garden – Nadeem Aslam

Golden Land Past Dark – Chandler Kelang Smith

Look at Me – Jennifer Egan

Conversation in the Cathedral – Mario Vargas Llosa

Middlemarch – George Eliot (lost my copy from uni)

A Book of Memories -Peter Nadas

Life and Fate Vasily Grossman

All the Broken Things -Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk kidd

The Cartographer of No Mans Land – PS Duffy

Hild – Nicola Griffith

Weirdo – Cathi Unsworth

Bristol House-  Beverly Swerling

AND

the novel I CANNOT WAIT to read – The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

What’s on YOUR “Books to Buy”  list?

When You Need a Time Out

I’m reading “By Nightfall” by Michael Cunningham and I’ve come across this passage:

“ – a study- with profoundly comfortable swaybacked armchair, in which it seemed you could sit and read forever…there were three lordly and lazy old cats, the shelves crowed with books and elderly board games and seashells from Florida and framed, rather haphazard-looking photographs, the faint smells of lavender and mildew and chimney smoke, the wicker porch swing on which someone had left a rain-boated paperback copy of Daniel Deronda”(page 45).

I love the description of this space and I want to visit it.  Inhabit it for a summer.  It is a place I could spend an entire season cuddling with the cats and  reading all of the books  (yay George Eliot!) in a big comfy chair.

Lately it seems as though there has been a plethora of books and articles and websites telling us how to create a personal niche that is truly and exclusively your own.  Some say to create a “dream collage”, or “sacred space” or even a “meditation corner”.  I say phooey.  You don’t need a formal name, an area with a label.  All you need a place where you can breathe and be distracted from reality if only for a few minutes. Nothing formal, nothing premeditated or organized.  Just a spot.  A personal” time out” site.  And it doesn’t even have to be in your own home.  The little corner table at the coffee shop down the street, the back desk on the third floor of the public library.  A place to roost.

I have two spots.  One is my bedroom especially now that it’s been repainted.  It’s calm and cozy and all it needs is a suitable bookshelf to house all the books I’ve bought but have yet to read (yes…there are enough to fill a bookshelf.  At the moment they’re residing in my kitchen cupboards…loooong story).  The second in the “big boy” lazy boy recliner at my mom and dad’s.  There seems to be good feng shui where that Lazy Boy is situated that can’t be explained.

But, because this is MY space I and I do have a penchant to dream…and dream big I did actually find a picture of my dream “time out” spot.  Want to see it? I found it on  http://www.desiretoinspire.net/

Here it is:

Isn’t it beautiful?  What is your “space”?  Your spot of refuge and vegetation?  Write and let me know!

Do I Stay or Do I Go?

Right now I’m reading The Passage by Justin Cronin.  Now, I’m not the biggest Science Fiction fan but I enjoy the book

when I’m reading it…

…but the story just isn’t “calling” me.

I’m wondering if the plot is so far-fetched that I’m having trouble emotionally attaching myself to any particular character.  I almost formed an attachment early in the book.  To six-year-old Amy.  But now that she’s taken a hiatus for the last two hundred pages

I’m not as committed to the story as I was.

Does that ever happen to you?  You’re in the middle of a book when all of a sudden, well, you just don’t care who survives the Apocalypse.

Is it worth it to finish?  Do you stick with the story just because you’ve invested in over 300 pages?

I do appreciate Cronin’s writing.  But is this appreciation enough to keep me reading?  We’ll have to wait and see.

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The Long Delayed But Always Expected…

Today the students in my 11th grade English Class had to choose their favourite quote in the play “The Glass Menagerie” and respond.  Here is the example I provided for them.  Please feel free to read their responses in the comments section of this post!

He is the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.”

Tennessee Williams “The Glass Menagerie”

The above quote refers to the character “Jim” in The Glass Menagerie.  A man who at one time was the quintessential high school hero, the one “most likely to succeed.” But Jim hasn’t amounted to a whole lot. He hasn’t achieved any fame or fortune.  He is a mere cog in the wheel of everyday, middle class, 9-5 existence.

But Jim is holding out for his time to come.

He is making plans.  He is taking courses.  He is getting married.  He is not just going to sit,

inert,

waiting for that “something” to fall out of the sky and land on his lap.  He’s going out to find it.

The character Laura, on the other hand, has had her “something” fall on her lap.  It’s Jim.  Her high school crush taking space in her ethereal, fragile glass world.  Her long-delayed but never expected something has arrived.  But it’s not a perfect arrival.  It’s one filled with heartache and disappointment.

It is broken glass.

What is your “long-delayed but always expected” something?  Is it entrance to the perfect university program? Is it your ideal job?  Is it finding a soul mate?  Winning the medal?

How long have you been waiting?

How long are you willing to wait for it,

whatever “it” may be?

What are willing to do to increase your chances of getting it?

Or

has it already arrived and you’re not all that pleased with how it’s turned out.  Has it been one big disappointing, bubble bursting experience.  Do you find yourself searching and waiting for another “something”?

And what do you do while you wait?  Sit on your bum and twiddle your thumbs?  Stick your head out the window every five minutes to see if you can spy it coming down the street?  Or maybe you go out and about and search

and search

but to no avail.

I guess the thing to do is to, as they say, is to expect it when you least expect it.  Live each day appreciating what DOES exist.

The tangibles and touchables.

Filling each and every moment so there are no gaping crevasses of expectation.

So that when that “long delayed always expected something” is nothing

but a pleasant surprise

Christmas Book Ideas

I teach High School English.  One of my classes has decided they wanted to have a “secret Santa” so

I acquiesced but only on the condition that the gifts MUST be a book

and not just any book

a used book

nothing over 5 dollars.

Well, the enthusiasm that ensued was far beyond my expectation.  Students have been leaving little notes on my “Potluck and Prose” for Secret Santa informing him of their literary preference.

Recently I received a post asking what “were the books that “have most stayed with me in some way” (Thanks Darlene!) and I compiled a list…then proceeded to send the same post to a few of my friends.

Here are the titles that appeared.  All of them wonderful suggestions for gift ideas (new and used) this Christmas.  After reading the list please add a few of your own in the comments!

What were some books that stayed with you over the years??

  • .Watsons Go To Birmingham 1963
  • Harry Potter -series
  • Sanctus
  • The Giving Tree
  • Press Here
  • The Pact
  • Misery (taught me that a book can scare you 1/2 to death)
  • Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
  • Catching Fire
  • Morris The Moose Goes To School
  • Gone with the Wind.
  •  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  •  The Book Thief
  •  Cold Mountain
  •  Wuthering Heights
  •  Great Expectations
  •  Are You There God It’s Me Margaret
  • The Sound and The Fury
  • The Pilgrim of Tinker Creek
  •  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
  • The Hobbit
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Dune
  • Marcovaldo
  • A Wizard of Earthsea
  • Nonsense Novels
  • The Tombs of Atuan
  • The Elements of Style
  • Hocus Pocus
  • Catch 22
  • Heidi
  • Famous Five Series
  • A Christmas Carol
  • The Secret Scripture
  •  That They May Face the Rising Sun
  • Chocolat
  •  The Bodhran Makers
  • No Great Mischief
  • A Christmas Memory

Shopping for Books…In the Dead of Night

Last night I couldn’t sleep.  So I did what most people do I in the darkest, loneliest hours of the night…  downloaded free books on my iPad.  Now, I always knew the selection of free books available to the public was extensive but I never realized how wonderfully accessible it all is.  So, like a kid in a candy store, I downloaded works by Kate Chopin, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Wolf and Joseph Conrad.  Kipling and Kafka and Carroll.  It was my childhood junk food response all over again

– consume until satiated.

I knew no moderation.

I’ve mentioned before that growing up in small town Alberta we had no REAL bookstores to speak of and then the one that did finally pop up had a collection of “young adult” fiction that extended the length of one shelf of one bookcase.  Thank goodness this miniscule collection included Nancy Drew Mysteries and works by the goddess of young adult literature, Judy Blume.

What filled the huge, cavernous gaps between the acquisition of reading material was the fact my mother had a little collection of literature that she accumulated before she was married and kept it neatly shelved in the storage room beside the “big freezer”. Mom was smart, when she was a young woman it too was impossible for her to purchase books in the middle of the Saskatchewan prairie during the early 1960’s, so she became part of the “Reader’s Digest Book Club” .  She was shipped classics like “Wuthering Heights”, and “Gone with the Wind” every month or so.

Mom was very free in letting me peruse her volumes, reading whatever caught my eye. Once in awhile I’d find a trashy paperback loaned to her by one of her friends (or so the name inside the front cover showed) and I’d secretly read it sitting atop of the freezer consuming all sorts of mild debauchery I couldn’t understand…as well as frozen cookies. I’d quickly replace it  (and the baking) if I heard her footstep on the staircase.

And I still haven’t gotten over the fact the public library wouldn’t allow “farm kids” to get library cards.  I’d LIVE for library time at school so that I could sign out books to my heart’s content (that would be two, two books.  One fiction, one nonfiction).  Needless to say I now abuse my public library privilege and download with a frenzy seen only at blue light specials at Kmart.

As a kid, if I would have known my future would include immediate accessibility to all sorts of stories I would have found the wait torturous and willed myself to fast forward in time.  But alas, I would have had to appease my impatience with the world of H. G Wells… if finding a volume wasn’t as impossible as time travel.

I’ve always loved reading.  The acquisition of a good story sitting at my fingertips is one simple thing that truly makes me happy. Maybe it’s because it was a struggle to simply find a book and doing so was like finding a treasure, a glittering gem in a pile of ash. Needless to say the fact that today a plethora of tales lies at my immediate disposal is like a dream come true and I find myself behaving like a little kid at Christmas surrounded by wrapped gifts…. so giddy and excited she starts unwrapped one gift, then notices another with glittering paper and starts unwrapping it just to drop it for another – often have three or four books on the go because I need to consume as many stories as I can for fear they will be taken away.

What did I download?  From the library “The Hundred-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson and for free “Persuasion” by, who else, Jane Austen.

Imagine!!

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