Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The pillory

This morning was so bright and clear–and there was a tree shining in the sun, each leaf glittering gold: Autumn is come! My neighbor’s front yard is finally cleared of those darling zombie flamingos

and his Halloween skeleton is finally released from the elegant hand made pillory.

My neighbor is an enthusiastic wood worker.

Seeing the pillory reminded me of that deeply moving scene in the Patrick O’Brian novels, when our hero Jack–through a series of terrible events–is sentenced to an hour in the pillory. Injury and even death could result from such punishment, and the entire Royal Navy was outraged that one of their own should be so treated.

“Jack was led out of the dark room into the strong light, and as they guided him up the steps he could see nothing for the glare. ‘Your head here sir, if you please,’ said the sheriff’s man in a low, nervous, conciliating voice, ‘and your hands just here.’
The man was slowly fumbling with the bolt, hinge and staple, and as Jack stood there with his hands in the lower half-rounds, his sight cleared: he saw that the broad street was filled with silent, attentive men, some in long togs, some in shore-going rig, some in plain frocks, but all perfectly recognizable as seamen. And officers, by the dozen, by the score: midshipmen and officers. Babbington was there, immediately in front of the pillory, facing him with his hat off, and Pullings, Stephen of course, Mowett, Dundas . . . He nodded to them, with almost no change in his iron expression, and his eye moved on: Parker, Rowan, Williamson, Hervey . . . and men from long, long ago, men he could scarcely name, lieutenants and commanders putting their promotion at risk, midshipmen and master’s mates their commissions, warrant-officers their advancement.
‘The head a trifle forward, if you please, sir,’ murmured the sheriff’s man, and the upper half of the wooden frame came down, imprisoning his defenseless face. He heard the click of the bolt and then in the dead silence a strong voice cry ‘Off hats’. With one movement hundreds of broad-brimmed tarpaulin-covered hats flew off and the cheering began, the fierce full-throated cheering he had so often heard in battle.”

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Monday Monday

Today I left my phone at home, neatly tucked into its charging station.
So, today my commute is silent, bereft of Harry Potter #1, so excellently read by Jim Dale. I never read the books when they came out, somehow they didn’t appeal at that time in my life. But the movies, glimpsed on various plane rides, were not disagreeable, and the recent Fantastic Beast movies–clever prequels to HP– are quite charming, especially with beautiful Eddie Redmayne (sporting those artistically tousled locks) in the lead. So I was looking for something to listen to, and somehow a 45 hour Diana Gabaldon experience didn’t fill the bill. The Harry Potter book is only 8 hours. And you see, I pay the same price for the 45 hour entertainment as I do for the 8 hour one. But the perils and pleasures of Claire and Jamie begin to pall a teensy bit, and I am ready for something new–not only read by a brilliant performer, but with many more in the series available.
However, not today. Today I shall think beneficial thoughts instead of being entertained. It will be FINE.

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The Good Book

This weekend there was a detailed article in the paper about baby strollers and the anxiety caused by the process of choosing the right one. These items are PRICEY and as are all such items, subject to the dictates of fashion.
However, that was not what caught my eye as much as the illustration–a young dad wheeling the perfect stroller down the path formed by the parting of the sea, the wrecks of failed strollers rolling in the waves behind him. A witty allusion to Moses parting the Red Sea!

Oh those clever newspaper artists!
But then I wondered–as I often do these days–if children are still taught these stories. How many people recognize the allusion? In our righteous determination to remove religion from schools we have also removed the book that undergirds so much literature. A book filled with wonderful stories, poetry, philosophy. And also of course, religious observation–and also violence, hatefulness, injustice.
But no one should be ignorant of the Bible.

“Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.
He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.”

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Recently my peaceful morning bus commute has been interrupted by loud recorded announcements detailing the name of each bus stop passed by, in the tones of a faintly bored superior older man–your uncle, maybe, blandly offering you a lollipop–which is irritating enough, but that was not what had me slavering with rage. No, it was the sharp female voice that preceded each announced stop, trumpeting harshly: “RACHE” or perhaps “ROUCHE”–I couldn’t quite hear it.
But WHAT was the angry lady telling me? Was it perhaps… a Spanish term meaning stop? A code word understood by all commuters but myself?

I was suddenly reminded of that charming moment in Sherlock Holmes, there is a word scribbled IN BLOOD above a corpse, “RACHE” –the Bumbling Police decide there is a love triangle and a lady named RACHEL is involved. Our supremely cool detective examines the scene, and notifies the Bumbling Police: “One other thing, Lestrade,” he added, turning round at the door: “‘Rache,’ is the German for ‘revenge;’ so don’t lose your time looking for Miss Rachel.”
So I listened more closely and eventually realized she was saying “ROUTE.”
Dopey, rather. I much prefer the Conan Doyle interpretation.

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Declining the Dismal

I was looking through the book reviews in the Journal and came across this particularly dispiriting note: “The scorched and battered specter of Job rises up anew in the novels of the young, prodigiously talented writer Chigozie Obioma”…I thought, NOPE, not interested in scorched and battered.
Not that the story of Job isn’t wonderful: “And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”

A character in A.S. Byatt’s excellent Frederica quartet is devastated by the death of his wife, and when he is asked where he has been, he replies with that exact phrase, the devil’s words. It gave me a chill–I have never forgotten it. But his story is one of many in the series, and the books are engrossing, charming: NOT dismal, but witty and well written
So many modern books seem determined to make my meat to creep (quoting dear O’Brian) and I simply refuse to listen. I’ll take Midsummer Night’s Dream over King Lear any day. Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate King Lear, and in my youth I enthusiastically read all the grand tragedies and epics.
Well, MANY of them.
Perhaps it’s just old age, but I am turning more and more to farce and good cheer. Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?

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At the end of every book you listen to from Audible, you hear these terrible words: “The End. You have been listening to….” and you hear the precious name of the dear friend who has been speaking so earnestly to you for the past weeks–maybe months. It is a moment of terrible grief, dear friends!
Yes, I know I am a sentimental old lady.
But how those moments fill me with sorrow and loss.
I still remember hearing the words upon the completion of Dorothy Dunnett’s breathtakingly engrossing Lymond series–SIX huge books, and so devastatingly complicated and learned and wonderful. I LOVED those books. And there I was, plodding up the escalator at Friendship Heights, and listening to the dread words, and thinking goodbye Lymond, goodbye Philippa, Sybilla. Tears in my eyes!
And today I heard the voice announcing the end of the Robin Hobb series, so many books, and they have been my companions for such a long time. Goodbye Fitz, goodbye NightEyes, goodbye Fool. I will miss you. Tears in my eyes!

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Chick Lit

My sister in law lent me a book with not only that quirky sort of name a lady cannot resist (=The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) but also the kind of story guaranteed to melt a lady’s heart– and though I tried not to be charmed, well…. I WAS in fact charmed. Yes, this author had my number, along with that of MANY MANY other sentimental ladies just like me.

So anyway, it is 1946, right after the war, and a delightful young British woman is living in London. The world is picking up the pieces, dealing with the terrible mess and despairing loss and frantic turmoil–which those of us who didn’t live through that time can’t imagine. We are the lucky ones, we must never forget that. My parents’ generation, they lived through that time.

SO, a chance letter from someone in Guernsey eventually results in a visit there; she finds out about the hard times the island suffered under German occupation, and writes a book about it. It is all written in letters, and is a short and pleasant read.
We cannot always be reading Tolstoy and Joyce, after all.

And of course, a movie was INSTANTLY made of it. The movie does not of course abide by the book–why would any producer do anything so boring? Plot details happen. We are treated to a lot of excellent costumes and scenery–and let me tell you, Guernsey is extremely very beautiful. At least the movie ends as the book does, with our luscious heroine choosing the most handsome of a stunning trio of gorgeous men. YES, he is a pig farmer–but, a SENSITIVE pig farmer.

#1 is her publisher, and disqualified because–gay.
#2 she initially accepts, and can barely RAISE HER HAND what with the weight of the diamond ring he gives her.
#3 is the pig farmer and my, that man is handsome. Also sensitive, as I said. He loves her, she loves him! YAY!

So, all is well in Guernsey. They will live happily ever after.

What is Potato Peel Pie made of, you ask? POTATOES. Just potatoes. No, not very delicious.

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Our ardent librarians

The news this morning is that the American Library Association has removed the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from their children’s book award, changing it to a title undefiled by the horrid racism so notable in the Little House series. It is now called The Children’s Literature Legacy Award.
This announcement was greeted with cheers at the Association meeting this weekend. Virtue prevails! Hosannah!
At least they are not stripping the books off the shelves.

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I am drawing towards the end of the horrifying and addictive series that has had me transfixed for months now–and how I dread that moment, hearing the narrator say, “The End. You have been listening to…”

This author, Steven Erikson, has a way with names–during the stories we meet hundreds of characters, with such fine names as Whisky Jack, Dujek Onearm, Icarium, Anomander Rake, Karsa Orlong, Toc the Younger–all with​ ​
complex ​histories and family; is it any wonder there are so many of the books, with each one going into such detail, such stories.

So in this last book (Book TEN, if you can believe it) we come to the final last battle, Armageddon as it might be, and the valiant Brys Beddict is ​battling Brother Diligence, a Forkrul Assail​ ​(=​ ​terrible non-​​human creatures​ ​who can enslave humans by using their voices)​. ​But Brys has within him hundreds of names, the names of forgotten gods, whom he had promised to honor by remembering. And he confronts the monstrous creature and speaks the complicated ancient names of the lost gods: …

‘”Saeden Thar, Lord Protector of Semii, Haravathan of the River People, Y’thyn Dra the Mountain of Eyes, Woman of Sky above the Erestitidan, Blessed Haylar Twin-Horns of the Elananas, Horastal Neh Eru SunBearer and Giver of Crops in the Valley of the Sanathal, Itkovas Lord of Terror among the K’ollass K’Chain Che’Malle of Ethilas Nest…’ And the names rose unending, flowing through Brys Beddict’s mind, one after another. ‘Tra Thelor of the Twin Rivers, Sower of Spring among the Grallan. Adast Face of the Moon among the Korsone…’ All the forgotten gods…” ​ ​

Brother Diligence​ ​is overwhelmed, overthrown.

Mr. Erikson was an archeologist and anthropologist before he turned fictioneer, and he studied many a lost civilization whose gods died with them.​ There are many elegiac moments in the books,​ ​steeped in sorrowful remembrance of things past.


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I continue to read the wildly inappropriate series by Steven Erikson, dripping with gore and ghastly violence. I have even–to my shame–introduced my dear friend Cathie to the Dark Side. She too has descended into the depths of this terrible addictive series.
What can I say–è più forte di me.
So today I was listening to a scene where some unbelievably horrid violence has taken place, and the Dark Lord ShadowThrone–once ruler of a mighty empire on earth, and now God of the Realm of Shadow—appears once the battle is done. Cotillion, dark Second to ShadowThrone, is with him, and somehow the conversation strays to…ShadowThone’s mother: “every time we end up in the same room I can see the disappointment in her eyes, and hear it in her voice. “Emperor? Oh, that empire. So now you’re a god? Oh dear, not Shadow? Isn’t it broken? Why did you have to pick a broken realm to rule? When your father was your age…” Aagh, and on and on it goes! ​”
​Cracks me up!​

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