Sunday, July 31, 2016

443 Robinson

"Our moments have blotted out theirs.
Maybe this is a necessary element of domestic living --
maybe it's the only way we can co - exist comfortably
with each other's past lives, each other's ghosts. . . .
it's not really our house at all is it . . .
It's like we're just the top layer.
And one day there'll be another layer right on top of us, squashing us down. . . . There are whole pieces of the past that lie just around the last corner,
closer perhaps then we'd like to think.
We may choose to forget this, but the house doesn't.
The house has seen it, done it, felt it all before."


from
Home: The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House
by Julie Myerson (23, 16, 46)
~ see previous posts: The Top Layer & Our Island Home ~

******************

Indeed, some talented people
have preceded my family in this house!


Novel by Charlotte S. Scarcelli
Illustration by her friend Marcia Smith - Wood


Seascape by Ralph Scarcelli

Landscape by Ralph Scarcelli

History of Purdue

Purdue interveiw with Robert W. Topping:
"West Lafayette. I lived on Robinson Street. As an aside, I think my dad bought that house in 1911 for three thousand dollars. They recently remodeled it and it recently sold for four hundred thousand. It was a big, big yard.

"Had to walk to school. We walked home for lunch. That’s a long way from up on Grant Street, clear down to Robinson and back."
~ see previous posts: House Sisters & House With A Past ~

Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Sometimes a girl just needs to read a good book!"



"Amazon.com Announces
the Most Well-Read Cities in America"

An exciting headline and an impressive list of cities, but a totally silly ranking system based on sales data. Unfortunately, many of the more popularly purchased titles don't exactly qualify as literature (not even with a small "l" let alone with a capital "L"). They may be marketed and consumed in book form, but Tidying Up? Shades of Gray? coloring books for grown - ups? a Texas barbecue cookbook? C'mon amazon! We expect better! We know how to read!

Books / projects such as these, no matter how interesting or trendy, don't really make a person or a city "well read." But then again as Gilda Radner used to say (Was it Roseanne Roseannadanna? While looking at magazines in the beauty parlor?): "Sometimes a girl just needs to read a good book!"

In fact, the list of "well - read cities" includes some of my favorite spots, although no place that I actually live or have lived. As my friend Katie suggested, perhaps Philadelphia didn't make the list because folks there buy more high-brow books! Could that also explain why Indianapolis made the list but not West Lafayette? To claim a spot on the real list, how about if Amazon tracks down the cities where the most people have read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ulysses, or War and Peace?

While amazon may be tracking all the latest trends, my many well - read friends have given me so many excellent and timeless suggestions that I will never run out of summer reading ideas. I have more than enough to last well into the fall and thru the winter and even into next summer!

Awhile back (I'm always way behind), my friend Diane suggested the following audiobooks for "light" listening while driving or exercising -- complete with her "five star rating system":
THE TENDER BAR ***
J.R. Moehringer

THE HISTORY OF LOVE ****
Nicole Krauss

A LONG WAY DOWN ***
Nick Hornsby

EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE ****
Jonathan Safran Foer

TALK TALK ***
T.C. Boyle

DRY **
Augustun Burroughs

MORAL DISORDER **
Margaret Atwood

WE ARE ALL WELCOME HERE ****
Elizabeth Berg

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN ***
Cormac McCarthy

THE GOOD LIFE ***
Jay McInerney

THE PROBABLE FUTURE ***
Alice Hoffman

THE MERMAID CHAIR ***
Sue Monk Kidd

ON CHESIL BEACH **
Ian McEwan

THE ABORTIONIST’S DAUGHTER ***
Elizabeth Hyde

NEVER LET ME GO **
Kazuo Ishiguro

A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY ****
H. Kimmel

DIGGING TO AMERICA ***
Anne Tyler

My friend Heather's "three best books of Summer 2008":
OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA
Michael Pollan
[also recommended by Tammy Knox Sandel]


A GOOD INDIAN WIFE
Anne Cherian

THE GOOD FAIRIES OF NEW YORK
Martin Millar

Latest from Cate:
THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTO
Mary Hogan

And this from a couple summers ago
Deep South Summer Reading List

Monday, May 30, 2016

Preponderance of War

Two years ago, I was working my way through several books about the Battle of the Little Big Horn. All were of great interest, but what drew all the perspectives together for me was a more recent text that I came across a year or so later. It was late September (2015) in The Wonder Book Store, one of my favorite spots to visit with my sister Peg and nephew Dan in Frederick, Maryland. In keeping with the season, Wonder Book had a display table featuring title after title in various shades of autumnal orange, where I found:
The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn:
A Lakota History

by Joseph M. Marshall III

I appreciated the clarity of Marshall's history and some beautiful expressions of Lakota philosophy. For this post, however, I'm thinking of a most curious rationalization of a community's "need for war." I can't help thinking about the warmongering sentiment of those elders and their apparent readiness to sacrifice their offspring to the gods of war:
60: "The ultimate proving ground was warfare. A man who consistently demonstrated courage and good sense during the stress, chaos, and confusion of battle would likely do the same off the battlefield. Lakota society had long ago learned the necessity of the warrior. Life was not worth living unless you were compelled to defend it now and again, according to many elders."
********************

A month later, when visiting my brothers Dave and Bruce, another echo -- negative this time -- of humanity's "need for war" caught my attention:

The Notebooks of Lazarus Long
by Robert A. Heinlein
"The second - best thing about space travel is that the distances involved make war very difficult, usually impractical, and almost always unnecessary. This is probably a loss for most people, since war is our race's most popular diversion, one which gives purpose and color to dull and stupid lives. But it is a great boon to the intelligent man who fights only when he must -- never for sport."
********************

Then came December (2015) and a somber day for reading
Voices From Chernobyl:
The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

by Svetlana Alexievich
complete with some welcome skepticism of the "need for war":
"And suddenly I catch myself filming everything just the way I saw it filmed in the war movies. And then I notice that the people are behaving in the same way. They're all carrying themselves just like in that scene from everyone's favorite movie, The Cranes Are Flying -- a lone tear, short words of farewell. It turned out we were all looking for a form of behavior that was familiar to us. We wanted to live up to the moment, and this is what we remembered. The girl is waving to her mom in a way that says, "Everything's fine, I'm brave. We'll win!


. . . And I imagined myself making that same gesture: we'll win! We're warriors. As far back as I can remember, my father wore military clothing, though he wasn't in the military. Thinking about money was bourgeois, thinking about life was unpatriotic, the normal state of life was hunger, They, our parents, lived through a great catastrophe, and we needed to live through it, too. Otherwise we'd never become real people."

from "Monologue About War Movies"
Sergei Gurin, cameraman
in Voices From Chernobyl (109)

"A feeling of oppression but also of carrying out a necessary task -- that lives within us, the need to be where it's difficult and dangerous, to defend the motherland. Did I teach my students anything but that? To go, throw yourself on the fire, defend, sacrifice. The literature I taught wasn’t about life, it was about war: Sholokhov, Serafimovich, Furmanov, Fadeev, Boris Polevoy. . . .


. . . We already felt like it was wartime. It made a lot more sense when three suddenly appeared lines for bread, salt, matches. Everyone rushed to dry their bread into crackers. This seemed familiar to me, even though I was born after the war. I could imagine how I’d leave my house, how the kids and I would leave, which things we’d take with us, how I’d write my mother. Although all around life was going on as before, the television was showing comedies. But we always lived in terror, we know how to live in terror, it’s our natural habitat."
from "People's Chorus"
in Voices From Chernobyl (140)

[see previous posts "May Day Parade" & "Ammonia Avenue"]

********************

Finally, over Spring Break, I read Chinua Achebe's classic novel of the old world versus the new -- Things Fall Apart. While not quite the same as the "need for war," what I couldn't help noticing in this story of late 19th Century Nigeria was a preponderance of guns. Whatever elements of Western colonialsim the Ibo tribe may have spurned, they did not hesitate to embrace the gun:
" . . . Ezeudu was to be buried after dark with only a glowing brand to light the sacred ceremony.

But before this quiet and final rite, the tumult increased tenfold. Drums beat violently and men leaped up and down in frenzy. Guns were fired on all sides and sparks flew out as machetes clanged together in warriors' salutes. The air was full of dust and the smell of gunpowder. . . .

. . . Darkness was around the corner, and the burial was near. Guns fired the last salute and the cannon rent the sky. And then from the center of the delirious fury came a cry of agony and shouts of horror. It was as if a spell had been cast. All was silent. In the center of the crowd a boy lay in a pool of blood. It was the dead man's sixteen-year-old son, who with his brothers and half-brothers had been dancing the traditional farewell to their father. Okonkwo's gun had exploded and a piece of iron had pierced the boy's heart." (123 - 24)
Live by the gun, die by the gun. On this day of gun salutes, may I suggest that the "need for war" has seen its day on this planet. It is time to find something else to live for, something else to make us strong, something else to make us proud.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Until We Seek Until We Find Ammonia Avenue

". . . we can't all move to the moon . . . "
from Voices From Chernobyl
(100)
by Svetlana Alexievich (b 1948)
Nobel Prize in Literature ~ 2015

So Many Memorable Passages:

61: "Is there anything more frightening than people?"

164: "And still we had a great time on May 1.
We came home late at night, and my window had been
blown open by the wind. I would remember that later on."

173: " . . . maybe the moral is simple . . .
You should come into this world on your tiptoes,
and stop at the entrance? Into this miraculous world . . . "

193: "And then the conversations begin again, until midnight. First about him, the deceased. But after that? Once more about the fate of the country and the design of the universe. . . . We’re metaphysicians. We don’t live on this earth, but in our dreams, in our conversations. Because you need to add something to this ordinary life, in order to understand it. Even when you’re near death."

213: "We read Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov, went to each other's houses, had endless talks in the kitchen. We wanted something more from life. What? Somewhere there were movie actors -- Catherine Deneuve -- wearing berets. We wanted freedom."

214: "And the May Day parade? No one forced us to go -- no one forced me to go there. We all had a choice and we failed to make it. I don't remember a more crowded, cheerful May Day parade. Everyone was worried, they wanted to become part of the herd -- to be with others. People wanted to curse someone, the authorities, the government, the Communists. Now I think back, looking for the break. Where was it? But it was before that. We didn't even want to know the truth. We just wanted to know if we should eat the radishes."

******************

124: “Show me a fantasy novel about Chernobyl--there isn't one! Because reality is more fantastic.”

168, 191: "People didn't understand. They'd been frightened over and over again about a nuclear war, but not about Chernobyl. . . . We'd been afraid of bombs, of mushroom clouds, but then it turned out like this . . . this wasn't like anything else."

180: "The apocalypse — nuclear winter — has already all been described in Western literature [and music, e.g., Ammonia Avenue], as if they were rehearsing it, preparing for the future. The explosion of a large number of nuclear warheads will result in enormous fires. The atmosphere will be saturated with smoke. Sunlight won't be able to reach the earth, and this will ignite a chain reaction -- from cold to colder to colder still. This man - made version of the end of the world has been taught since the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century. But atom bombs won't disappear even after they destroy the last warhead. There will still be the knowledge of atom bombs."

Cases in point, of post - apocalyptic fiction, prefiguring (or attempting to prefigure) the real thing:

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968) ~ Philip K. Dick ~ I have always meant to read this precursor to the movie Bladerunner, if for no other reason than to make sense of the bizarre title. No matter how many times you've seen the movie, try reading the book then re - watching the film with the text fresh in mind, in order to see how much the screenplay has been altered from Dick's original novel.

It was quite touching to overhear the replicants discussing the nature of fiction and the mysterious concept of imagination:
" . . . pre-colonial fiction."
"You mean old books?"
"Stories written before space travel but about space travel."
"How could there have been stories about space travel before — "
"The writers," Pris said, "made it up."
"Based on what?"
"On imagination." (150 - 51)
Made it up! Imagine that!

The movie devotes little time to one of the more important themes of the book -- the human desire to own a living pet, as a status symbol, if nothing else, in this nuclear - damaged world where animal life is so scarce that most pets are battery - powered imitations. Thus the query, if humans dream of real sheep, do androids dream of ersatz sheep?

At the close of the novel, Rick Deckard finds what he at first believes to be a lone living specimen of an extinct variety of toad:
237: "The toad, he saw, blended in totally with the texture and shade of the ever - present dust. It had, perhaps, evolved, meeting the new climate as it had met all climates before. . . . only the top of its flat skull and its eyes projected above the ground. . . . The eyes held no spark, no awareness . . . But it had moved."

238: " . . . he felt its peculiar coolness; in his hands its body seemed dry and wrinkled -- almost flabby -- and as cold as if it had taken up residence in a grotto miles under the earth away from the sun. Now the toad squirmed; with its weak hind feet it tried to pry itself from his grip, wanting, instinctively, to go flopping off. A big one, he thought; full-grown and wise. Capable, in its own fashion, of surviving even that which we’re not really managing to survive. . . . Life which we can no longer distinguish; life carefully buried up to its forehead in the carcass of a dead world."
As John Isidore explains: "Even animals -- even eels and gophers and snakes and spiders -- are sacred. . . . Insects . . . are especially sacrosanct." Spiders have become so rare that any one of them might be "the last spider . . . The last living spider on Earth" (161, 210). A similar reverence for animals is repeated throughout the testimonials recounted in Voices From Chernobyl, from dogs to bird, all the way down to flies, wasps, and cockroaches (see my previous post "Birdwatching"). Chernobyl actually has a lot in common with Androids, in a weirdly ironic way.

2. Roadside Picnic (1972) ~ Arkady & Boris Strugatsky ~ Similar to Androids & Bladerunner, this 1970's novel of existentialist science fiction -- in which alien travelers have stopped by Earth for a brief visit, leaving behind a contaminated Zone -- bears a fictional but striking resemblance to real - life Chernobyl. In the novel (and the related, but very different, movie Stalker) the aliens have left behind a scattering of curious debris -- copper discs, batteries, metal hoops and bracelets -- much as careless Earthlings might litter the site of a Roadside Picnic. Did the aliens even notice that they might be disrupting someone else's habitat in a potentially harmful, even devastating, way? Perhaps not.
131 - 132: “A picnic. Imagine: a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car pulls off the road into the meadow and unloads young men, bottles, picnic baskets, girls, transistor radios, cameras . . . A fire is lit, tents are pitched, music is played. And in the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that were watching the whole night in horror crawl out of their shelters. And what do they see? An oil spill, a gasoline puddle, old spark plugs and oil filters strewn about . . . Scattered rags, burnt-out bulbs, someone has dropped a monkey wrench. The wheels have tracked mud from some godforsaken swamp . . . and, of course, there are the remains of the campfire, apple cores, candy wrappers, tins, bottles, someone’s handkerchief, someone’s penknife, old ragged newspapers, coins, wilted flowers from another meadow . . . A roadside picnic.” [Ellipses in original text.]

128: "How do you think it is all going to end? . . . for humanity as a whole. . . .

"That depends on our luck . . . We now know that for humanity as a whole, the Visit has largely passed without a trace. For humanity everything passes without a trace. Of course, it's possible that by randomly pulling chestnuts out of this fire, we'll eventually stumble on something that will make life on Earth completely unbearable. That would be bad luck. But you have to admit, that's a danger humanity has always faced. . . . You see, I've long since become unused to discussing humanity as a whole. Humanity as a whole is too stable a system, nothing upsets it."

132: " . . . what makes us great? . . . Is it that we re-created nature? That we harnessed forces of almost - cosmic proportions? That in a brief time we have conquered the planet and opened a wndow onto the universe? No! It is that despite all this, we have survived, and intend to continue doing so."

139: " . . . statistics is a very precise science, despite the fact that it deals with random variables. And furthermore, it's a very eloquent science, very visual."
3. Only Begotten Daughter (1990) ~ James Morrow ~ A feminist revision of New Testament Christianity, with a futuristic (2012!) New Jersey - Philadelphia setting, featuring not a nuclear annihilation but one of fire and brimstone.

The novel opens with some clever parallels: Murray Katz & his daughter Julie = Mary & Jesus; Georgina Sparks & her daughter Phoebe = Elizabeth & John the Baptist; New Jersey = New Jerusalem; The Garden State = The State of Israel; Atlantic City (that "burning, outsized Monopoly board") = Anti - Christ; the lighthouse beam = the Star of Bethlehem; the three paramedics = the three Wiseman (64, 125, 151, 29, 35). Instead of “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here” written over the Gates of Hell, it's "All Hope Embrace, Ye Who Enter In" flashing across the entrance to Dante's Casino (64, 127, 169).

Julie Katz is not just a "flash in the pantheon" but may be the one to bring "a new religion, a faith as apocalyptic as Christianity, fierce as Islam, repressive as Hinduism, smug as Buddhism" (57 - 58); or, better yet, she has come "to rescue the masses from nostalgia . . . [to] topple the empire of nostalgia" (110-11): "My mother is outside the universe . . . the God of physics . . . The tragedy of my species . . . is that it does not live in its own time. Homo sapiens is locked on history's rearview mirror, never the road ahead, bent on catching some presumed lost paradise . . . the human race is destroying itself with nostalgia . . . My mother wants us to live in our time. When a species fixates on the supernatural, it ceases to mature. . . . You must live in your own time! . . how can you bring about utopia with one eye cocked on eternity?" (94, 100, 118, 160, 186).
103: "In the beginning was the Word, but now God's vocabulary was growing. The first Word was an English noun, savior, but the second would be a French verb, savoir, to know: at long last . . . we can know things. Three more years of college, and then she'd buy a word processor (no, Word processor) and publish her covenant of uncertainty, declare her kingdom of impermanence, topple the empire of nostalgia -- teach the truth of the heart. The heart was a pump? Yes, true enough, provided one meant: at the present moment in history, pump is the best metaphor we have for what a heart is."

104: "And the kidney was a filter. Earth orbited the sun. Microbes caused disease. Yes! The time of her ministry was at hand. She would take neither the high road nor the low, but a byway of her own devising; she would beam her message onto every television screen in creation, etch it onto every phonograph record, smear it across every printed page. In the beginning was the Word, and in the end there would be a million words, ten million words, a hundred million words, all authored by the only begotten daughter of God herself."

138: "You wanted the masses to embrace reason and science. It will never happen. They can't join in -- there's no point of entry for them. . . . The problem is, only a few people get to be scientists. You see the dilemma? Given the choice between a truth they can appreciate and a lie they can live, most people will take you - know - what."

[And from Chernobyl, 181: " . . . humans do not accommodate science very very much -- they get in the way of it."]

90, 187: "Science does have all the answers . . . we [just] don't have all the science . . . that's the beauty of science. It's self - correcting. It welcomes new data." [And perhaps grants us access of knowledge already revealed but not yet known.]
P.S. The human dilemma:
"WELCOME TO FLESH.
UNCERTAINTY ZONE AHEAD."

(312)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Challenges: Special K & Ten Favs

The Novel Reader by Vincent Van Gogh
See more Paintings of Readers

A few months ago my niece Brittany challenged her facebook friends and family to play the "First Letter of Your First Name Game." Thanks Brit, for getting my mind going on an otherwise lazy day! Here are my results, complete with a few readerly references:

My Name ~ Kitti

Girl's Name ~
Kevy ~ from favorite junior high novel,
A Crack in the Sidewalk by Ruth Wolff

and

Kezia ~ from favorite short story sequence,
"Prelude" by Katherine Mansield

Had I ever become the parent of twin girls, wouldn't
Kevy and Kezia have been the perfect names? Yes!
Boy's Name ~ Kerry
Animal ~ Kitten
Color ~ Khaki
Movie ~ Kill Bill (I would never watch this movie!)
Television show ~ Kotter, Welcome Back (inverted)
Something you wear ~ Kilt (have never worn kilt!)
Drink ~ Keifr (would not drink this stuff!)
Food ~ Kelp (would not eat!)
Something found in bathroom ~ Kleenex (ok, use lots!)
Occupation ~ Keyboard Player
Hobby ~ Knitting (right, Cate?!)
Game ~ Kick - the - Can (Clover Meadows)
Place ~ Kingdom Come (or Kiev)
Country ~ Kenya (Mumbi!)
Reason to be late ~ Kept getting distracted . . . by facebook challenges!
(Peg, remember this one?)

Author(s) ~
Franz Kafka
Nikos Kazantzakis (see below)
Ken Kesey
Sue Monk Kidd (see below)
Stephen King
Barbara Kingsolver (see below)
Rudyard Kipling
Milan Kundera
Poem ~ "Kubla Khan"

Novel(s) ~
Katherine ~ Anya Seton
King Dork ~ Frank Portman
Kitchen ~ Banana Yoshimoto
Kite Runner ~ Khaled Hosseini

and, cheating a little bit:

Karenina, Anna
Kisses, Parachutes and
~ Erica Jong
Song(s) ~
"Keep Christmas With You"
"Killing Me Softly"
"King of the Road"
"Kiss Me"
"Knowing Me, Knowing You"
"Kumbaya"
"Kyrie Eleison" (aka "Carry a Laser")
Play ~ King Lear

Musical ~ Kiss Me Kate, Kismet

Fictional Character ~ Knave of Hearts

Four-letter word ~ Know

Still Life: French Novels
See this Van Gogh and many more

Also awhile back, my friend Milly wrote to say "I have been challenged by a couple of people to list my ten all-time favorite books. Impossible! I have put together a short list in no certain order of books that I loved! I challenge Kitti to do the same!"

Here's Milly's List

1. To Kill a Mockingbird ~ Harper Lee
2. Wuthering Heights ~ Emily Bronte
3. Me Before You ~ Jojo Moyes
4. My Losing Season ~ Pat Conroy
5. The Diary of Anne Frank
6. Gone With the Wind ~ Margaret Mitchell
7. The Orphan Train Quartet ~ Joan Lowry Nixon
8. Reach for the Summit ~ Pat Summitt
9. Plainsong ~ Kent Haruf
10. Rome Sweet Home ~ Scott Hahn

Still Life with French Novels and a Rose
Vincent Van Gogh


Here's My List

I'm going to be a copycat on
1. To Kill a Mockingbird

and since Milly mentions Pat Conroy, I'll add
2. The Water is Wide (also, the movie Conrack)

3. The Master and Margarita ~ Mikhail Bulgakov
4. Out of Africa ~ Isak Dinesen
5. The Last Temptation of Christ ~ Nikos Kazantzakis
6. The Secret Life of Bees ~ Sue Monk Kidd
7. Animal Dreams ~ Barbara Kingsolver
8. The Alphabet and the Goddess ~ Leonard Shlain
9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ~ Betty Smith
10. Mrs. Dalloway ~ Virginia Woolf

So hard to stop at ten!

Blossoming Almond Branch
in a Glass with a Book

Click here for Van Gogh Slideshow

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Climb Inside and Live There

Thanks to my brother Bruce for this Reading Poster!

A few holdovers from 2015, including
Two Thought Provokers

Ghost Boy ~ Martin Pistorius ~ almost impossible to believe, except that it's true! An autobiography of admirable triumph over astonishing odds. By the end, though, I wish the diagnosis of his illness had been revealed. Then again, perhaps it remains unknown to this day.

Homer & Langley ~ E. L. Doctorow ~ the quest for truth is hard enough as it is, why does Doctorow have to complicate matters with make believe facts (in manner of March and Caleb's Crossing -- I do not approve). Even so, his prose is mesmerizing!

On hoarding:
" . . . in our home, a monumental tribute to late Victorian design . . . with its big upholstered pieces, or tufted Empire side chairs, or heavy drapes over the curtains on the ceiling - to - floor windows, or medieval tapestries hung from gilt poles, and bow - windowed bookcases, thick Persian rugs, and standing lamps with tasseled shades and matching chinois amphora . . . it was all very eclectic . . . and cluttered it might have seemed to outsiders, but it seemed normal and right to us and it was our legacy, Langley's and mine, this sense of living with things assertively inanimate, and having to walk around them" (6 - 7, emphasis added).
On life after death:

" . . . remembering my trips to the Woodlawn Cemetery to bury my parents, I could only think of how easily people die. And then there was that feeling one gets in a ride to a cemetery trailing a body in a coffin -- an impatience with the dead, a longing to be back home where one could get on with the illusion that not death but daily life is the permanent condition" (67, emphasis added).

" . . . on Armistice Day 1918 . . . Of course I was as relieved as anyone that the war was over. But underneath all this gaiety I found myself in an awful sadness. What was the recompense for the ones who had died? Memorial days? In my mind I heard taps.

"We had a joke, Langley and I: Someone dying asks if there is life after death. Yes, comes the answer, only not yours" (100 - 01).

[Along the lines of "The King is Dead! Long Live the King!" For further comparison see Sue Miller's novel Family Pictures, 42 - 43]

and
Three Mysteries

The Tinen Killings: A Novel of Civil War Veterans ~ J.D. Solomon ~ like taking a walking tour of my favorite city! I loved the post - Civil War Philadelphia setting, and the humorous telephone scenes [reminded me of asking my kids to help me figure out my cell phone]:
"But the real reason [Roberts] wouldn't seek out the Bellevue's telephone, he admitted to himself, was that he was totally intimidated by the idea. . . . He'd used a a telephone exactly three times in his life . . . And each time he's had to enlist the help of the youngest deputy in his department. . . .

" 'Why not just call him?' Megan said. 'We can do it from the hotel right after lunch.' She noticed the men seemed reluctant to accept the suggestion. 'For heaven's sake, gentlemen, relax,' she said. 'It's just a telephone call; I'll show you how to do it' " (132, 171).

The Player's Boy is Dead: An Elizabethan Mystery ~ Leonard Tourney ~ a bit disappointed that this was not really about Medieval theater troops, as I was hoping, but still fun.

County Constable Matthew Stock & his wife Joan: "They contemplated this mystery together, neither willing to interrupt the other's thought" (34).

When Matthew & Joan are invited to dine at Saltmarsh Hall:
" 'Tis what you've been waiting for, is it not -- what comes of success in trade, a mingling with a better sort of folk?"

"Aye," she replied thoughtfully. "And yet had I thought the entertainment might make you restless beyond endurance, I would have rested content by our own fire" (58).
Joan assesses Matthew's nature:
"You love the plain road, husband, and could not see perversion were it hanging on our strong oak like a child's bauble. Did it not the more make you fit for my husband, I would lament that your very innocence should so undermine your ability as constable...."

"I have never thought of myself as such, but as a plain man, no better or worse than my fellows."

" 'Tis not virtue I am accusing you of but innocence. they be different,"

He laughed again. "And now who plays the moralist?" (70).

The Willow Pattern: A Judge Dee Mystery ~ Robert van Gulik ~ fun to read but just a bit disappointed to find that this novel is not really about the Blue Willow China pattern, as I was hoping -- even the author knows exactly what I mean:

"I admit that the clue of the Willow Pattern
is a very tenuous one" (63).

Eerie vision of the plague of A.D. 677:
"Now the Spirit of Death rules over the Imperial city. A city of fear. . . . In the daytime the only people one sees about are the hooded scavengers dragging along the carts of the dead. And now, at night, there are only shadows. A city of shadows, died out. . . . Yet, deep down below . . . in the slums and cellars of the old city, something is stirring, in the brooding darkness. Can't you feel the mounting miasma of death and decay? It seems to spread over the city like a suffocating shroud" (10 - 11).

"Following the youngster through cavernous halls and long, silent corridors with raftered ceilings blackened by age, he felt increasingly ill at ease. The meeting with this pitiful old lady, sick of body and mind, leading a shadow existence amidst the relics of a phantom - past had shocked him deeply. Even more disturbing, however, was the uncanny, threatening atmosphere of this old, deserted mansion. One fleeting moment he had a vision of himself as an unreal visitor to a very real world that existed one hundred year ago, a sinister age of brutal violence and revolting bloodshed. Was the past usurping the present? Were the dead of the past rising to join the errant souls of the victims of the plague, was this ghostly horde going to take over the silent, empty Imperial capital? And was this then the reason for the strange feeling of fear and foreboding that had got hold of him earlier in the night, when from his terrace he was looking out over the dead city?" (49).
Uncanny description of puppeteer and puppets:
"The only other customer was an elderly man who was sitting alone at the corner table . . . engrossed in the contemplation of the gaudily dressed marionette he held in his hand. Two other puppets were lying on the table in front of him. . . . The puppeteer gave him a scornful look.

"That's because they are only stage villains. In the theater, all actors and actresses are sharply divided into good and bad characters. But my puppets are more than actors, soldier. I want them to be real human beings in miniature. Therefore I don't want a stage villain. Do you get me?" (26 - 27)
The inequitable distribution of the "Five Blessings":
"Money, high office, long life, good health and many children. Why not call this tavern after them, soldier? It's built against the back wall of the last big house of this quarter. Across the streets the slums begin. So this tavern is the boundary stone, so to speak, dividing the five blessings between the rich and the poor. Money, high office, long life and good health for the rich. Many children, too many, for the poor. Four to one. But the poor don't complain, not they! One is enough and to spare -- for them!" (27).

"There'll always be the rulers and the ruled, and the ruled will always come off losers!" (117).
And in closing, sadly:
"She must have done it an hour or so after midnight,
the time when the human spirit is at its lowest ebb" (102).

Chinese Legend
See my previous post:
That Old Blue Willow Has Me in Its Spell

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Young Adult

Two Young Readers
from the Belvedere Museum ~ Vienna

Left: Lesender Knabe ~ Reading Boy, 1860
Johann Baptist Reiter, 1813 - 1890 (to see more)

Right: Lesendes Madchen ~ Reading Girl, 1850
Franz Eybl, 1806 - 1880 (to see more)

You can pretty much count on Young Adult Fiction to contain existentialist themes and family conflict, inward ramblings and outward confrontations. The main characters are never less than properly tormented (a phrase I learned from one of my professors at Notre Dame, James Walton). The length is just right for an afternoon or an airplane journey, and subplots of animals real and imaginary, Arthurian legend, mystery, history, and time travel are enough to hold my attention in between weightier assignments.

In 2015, I enjoyed several YA titles suggested by my niece Kiyah. Here are a few more that one way or another found their way onto my reading list before the year ended:

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

p 135: "So we said good-bye to each other the best way we could. We said: I promise to always turn back toward you.”

p 166 - 67: " . . . I do like the last part, the part about turning back. That has some emotional heft to it. . . . Oh, those last lines are beautiful, heartbreaking."

p 191: "Although to be perfectly frank, I had trouble navigating the world even before the advent of the blindness. I've never been what you call coordinated or spatially intelligent. . . . My mother says that this is because I live in my head as opposed to living in the world. But I ask you: Don't we all live in our heads? Where else could we possibly exist? Our brains are the universe. Don't you think that's true?"

p 199: "This, Flora knew . . . was magical thinking, or mental causation. . . . a dangerous way to think. It was dangerous to allow yourself to believe that what you said directly influenced the universe.

But sometimes it did, didn't it?"


I Am Morgan Le Fay by Nancy Springer

p 6: "Although Morgause was a year older, we might as well have been twins."

I Am Mordred by Nancy Springer

p 22: "Morgan le Fay might have been mistaken for a peasant woman. She had a coarse nose, and she was older than her sister, plump and beginning to wrinkle."
Unclear which sister is intended to be younger / older.
[See above]
Oh well, maybe it doesn't matter. Hmmmm???
Lots of favorite quotes from the second novel in this series:

p 92: "King Arthur said softly, "Mordred, there's small freedom in being a King. Most often a King does not what he wishes, but what he must."

p 113: story of the ill - fated goblet -- very like "Appointment in Samarra"

p 114: "The candles had burned down and were trickling runnels of wax at first limpid like tears but then like cream and then flat white like the blind harper's eyes. I felt the wine buzzing in my head like bumblebees, like arrows shot to try to to kill me, and in a kind of trance I watched the candles dripping. . . . I spoke without raising my eyes from the tears of the candles . . . "

p 134: "Morgan le Fay is one who could have been our blessed liege King Morgan had she only been born a man." [Mordred doesn't grasp the concept of gender equity.]

p 139: "I began to grow so weary of my own fear that I relaxed."

p 140: ". . . in that moment I knew, I understood, it all seemed so simple. I did not need sword and shield and armor for this quest; I did not need to fight. I needed only to live. Just to be, like a swallow o the wing or a turtle sunning. Just to be happy."

p 152: "Maybe that was the answer to my quest, just to do good and be happy. Maybe there was no need to go on looking for Merlin."

p 146: ". . . I had done nothing evil except to be born. . . .

I ached all over as if I had been in mortal combat, when all I had been fighting was --

My fate? My fate? King Arthur's fate. It was for his sake that I was locked in this losing battle, and no one cared. Even Merlin's prophecy took no account of me. After I killed King Arthur, would I live? Would I be King? . . . King Arthur had started off his reign with a bloody deed, and look at him, so golden, look how folk adored him."

p 163: "He looked at me, bleak. 'I have done wrong. I must accept my punishment.' . . . 'But what have I done?' I cried at him."

p 155: "Fate has no heart."

p 169: "But I would like to save what is left of my soul. The poor, defeated thing.

See a holy man.

No. I mean rally save it . . . "

p 170: " 'Your soul must be given to someone whom you trust,' the harper told me, 'or it cannot be given at all.' "

p 171: "Remembering that bright - eyed young knight, Mordred, was like remembering a friend who had died." [As Harry Potter says!]

p 176: "Night is perilous always . . ."


Mystery of Kranepool High by Dick Donley
Like father, like daughter! This intriguing high school drama club mystery comes from the father of my friend Jan Donley. Obviously, the talent runs deep!

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Oddly narrated holocaust fiction -- could probably use more history.

They Loved to Laugh by Kathryn Worth
Say what you will about this wonderful Quaker family, they are actually kind of mean; but I liked the silk - worm subplot.

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
All - of - a - Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
These last two re -reads -- from my previous post: Even Older Favs -- were not quite as I remembered. Well, it was a long time ago!

And finally:


Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

pp 76 - 77: Tom and Hatty looked through "the coloured panes that bordered the glass panelling of the upper half [of the doorway of the greenhouse]. Through each colour of pane, you could see a different garden outside. Through the green pane, Tom saw a garden with green flowers under a green sky; even the geraniums were green-black. Through the red pane lay a garden as he might have seen it through the redness of shut eyelids. The purple glass filled the garden with thunderous shadow and with oncoming night. The yellow glass seemed to drench it in lemonade. At each of the four corners of this bordering was a colourless square of glass, engraved with a star.

'And if you look through this one -- ' said Hatty. They screwed up their eyes and looked through the engraved glass.

'You can't really see anything, through the star,' said Tom, disappointed.

'Sometimes I like that the best of all,' said Hatty. 'You look and see nothing, and you might think there wasn't a garden at all; but, all the time, of course, there is, waiting for you.' "

. . . so similar to Madame Bovary!

. . . and kind of like my stained glass suncatcher
from Beata!

See:
"Colored Panes: Flaubert & Pearce"