I’ve always wanted to travel through time. Perhaps it’s the little kid in me, but I love to imagine the “what if-s” and the “wouldn’t it be cool-s.” So of course, I loved reading my first Susanna Kearsley book, The Rose Garden, which takes place in two different time periods, a romance that spans all of time, and a really enjoyable read.
I haven’t had much reading time since Spring Break ended, but I have managed to read two very enjoyable books. Actually, I listened to the audiobook of The Children of Green Knowe, by L.M. Boston (a book I’ve been interested in for a long time!). Listening to it on the road made the trip home from Spring Break go by so quickly. The other book I read practically in one sitting on the weekend. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall, is another delightful book I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I’m so glad I finally got to both these books! And they are both the beginning of a series, so I have more to enjoy!
The Southwest Corner, by Mildred Walker, is a re-read for me. I read it first about 15 years ago and really liked it. Over spring break, while at my Oregon home, I found it sitting on the shelf and decided I needed to read it again at this age and stage of my life. It’s a beautifully written little book.
The southwest corner of an old New England home was often a one-story, small addition on the house where the elderly of the family spent their last years. The southwest corner gets the most sun so the space is warm and comfortable, and an elderly member of the family can retain the dignity of independence while still having help and family close by. It’s a lovely idea…
In this story, Marcia Elder is 83 years young. She is a quiet, sensitive introvert living in her family home, the home in which she was born and raised, where she lived as a young married woman, and where her husband had tragically died early in their marriage. The house was the only one on the mountainside outside of town. She’s been fiercely independent all her life, and she loves the isolation and natural beauty surrounding her hillside home. She watches the storms, the wildlife, the changing of the seasons, and she cherishes the quiet moments of her daily life with her tea, her piano, her books, and her home. She is not lonely, and cherishes her solitude, but after a particularly difficult winter, she realizes that she is reaching an age where she needs more help, so she advertises for someone to share her home so that she won’t be alone.
A woman from town answers her ad and comes to live in the house, and the complications begin. Bea Cannon is almost the polar opposite of Marcia Elder and has no understanding or appreciation of the sensitive nature of Mrs. Elder, nor of her deep connection to the house and environs. She has an overbearing personality, and Marcia begins to wither under her strong opinions and ways.
This story touched me in a number of different ways. We all wonder what will happen to us as we get older, and those of us that are ‘getting on‘, as my Grandma used to say, wonder and worry and try to plan for that inevitable day when we can no longer be as fiercely independent as we are today. We don’t want to lose our independence and the things that bring us the most joy in life, but we especially don’t want to lose our identity, our sense of self . We don’t want to be subsumed by someone else, and we don’t want to become a burden.
Of course, I thought a lot about my 93-year-old mother as I read this book. Those of you who have followed my blog over the years know that my mother is an amazing, independent woman…my inspiration. The view of life from The Southwest Corner gave me a new perspective of her and made me appreciate all over again the difficult decisions she has made about the changes she has faced over the last 18 years since my father passed.
This was a book that really made me think. I identified closely with the character of Marcia Elder, liked her very much, and enjoyed the time spent with her as she found her way into her years beyond 83.
THE summer moon shone brightly down upon the sleeping earth, while far away from mortal eyes danced the Fairy folk. Fire-flies hung in bright clusters on the dewy leaves, that waved in the cool night-wind; and the flowers stood gazing, in very wonder, at the little Elves, who lay among the fern-leaves, swung in the vine-boughs, sailed on the lake in lily cups, or danced on the mossy ground, to the music of the hare-bells, who rung out their merriest peal in honor of the night.
Under the shade of a wild rose sat the Queen and her little Maids of Honor, beside the silvery mushroom where the feast was spread.
“Now, my friends,” said she, “to wile away the time till the bright moon goes down, let us each tell a tale, or relate what we have done or learned this day.
Flower Fables was Louisa May Alcott’s first book, published in 1854. She invented these stories as a young teenager and told them to the children of friends and neighbors — the book was dedicated to Ellen Emerson, the daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a family friend. Each story was a fable with the intent of teaching good moral choices to young children. They were fanciful and full of imagination and beautiful description of flowers and fairy folk (LMA had the heart of a gardener!), which is what I enjoyed about this book. She was a wonderful writer, even at that early age.
The stories, however, were too long and they really labored at the moral. It was definitely a genre from another time period and I found myself ‘skim reading.’ Realizing that the slowness of this genre, and the length of descriptions, required a slower approach (as readers, and as the culture of our own time period, it seems we are always in a terrible rush). I slowed myself down and appreciated more the beauty of her language. Perhaps that would have been easier had I been reading it aloud?
Suddenly the music grew louder and sweeter, and the Fairies knelt, and bowed their heads, as on through the crowd of loving subjects came the Queen, while the air was filled with gay voices singing to welcome her.
She placed the child beside her, saying, “Little Eva, you shall see now how the flowers on your great earth bloom so brightly. A band of loving little gardeners go daily forth from Fairy-Land, to tend and watch them, that no harm may befall the gentle spirits that dwell beneath their leaves. This is never known, for like all good it is unseen by mortal eyes, and unto only pure hearts like yours do we make known our secret.
Despite the old-fashioned-ness of the stories, I enjoyed Alcott’s fanciful imagination and her world of the fairy folk. It was a very appropriate (although not easy) reading choice for Carl V’s Once Upon a Time VII challenge.
As I was reading A Glass of Blessings, by Barbara Pym, I found myself wondering how she did it…how did she write such a seemingly simple story of the daily happenings in a woman’s life, with no big dramas or traumas, and make it so compelling? The more I read of Pym’s work, the more I like her. She tells the truth–the inner truth–of her characters, and her stories are of people working through the everyday happenings and relationships of their lives. And the ‘action’ is very real…nothing huge or overdone, just humorous and often poignantly insightful. It’s all about friends, loved ones, neighbors, tea, and church activities…longings, duties, dreams and self-doubts, personal revelations and growth and change over time, Life happening.
A Glass of Blessings tells the story of Wilmet Forsyth, married long enough that the luster has gone out of the relationship, childless, sometimes lonely and a little bored with her life, although a caring, active member of her community. She’s a keen observer of others’ lives and has a very active imagination, which leads to some humorous misunderstandings, but she is a good and caring person who comes to appreciate her own quiet life a little more by the end of the story.
But Mary would be happy whether they had money or not. I turned over in my mind her description of life as being a glass of blessings, and that naturally led me to think about myself. I had as much as Mary had — there was no reason why my own life should not be a glass of blessings too. Perhaps it always had been without my realizing it.
I find Pym’s storytelling fascinating, and since this is already the 4th book I’ve read by her, and there aren’t that many, I’m savoring each one of them.
My first read for Carl V’s Once Upon a Time VII challenge was Patricia McKillip’s The Changeling Sea. I love Patricia McKillip‘s writing and have read a number of her books. Her writing has been described as “lyrical” and I agree with that…she’s a wonderful storyteller with beautiful descriptions and language. This book was one of her early ones, written for young adults. It’s not my favorite of her works that I’ve read so far (that would be Something Rich and Strange!), but it was an enjoyable way to start out this reading challenge.
…there’s nothing in the world that doesn’t possess its share of magic. Even an empty shell, a lump of lead, an old dead leaf — you look at them and learn to see, and then to use, and after a while you can’t remember ever seeing the world any other way. Everything connects to something else.
This is what I love about reading and blogging… Last night I finished another Barbara Pym book, A Glass of Blessings. I am enjoying reading all her books this year in celebration of her centenary year. The title of this book comes from a poem, which I had never read, by the English poet, George Herbert. So this morning, with a cup of coffee in hand, I looked up the poem and read it so that I could further understand why Barbara Pym named her book by that particular phrase from his poem. Then, out of curiosity, I looked up George Herbert himself, because I am woefully uneducated about many of the English poets. And I found out…that today is his BIRTHDAY! Another good example of what I call “reading synchronicity!”
This week the entire school has enjoyed another Read Across America celebration. At a random time each day, the beginning of our school song is played over the loud speaker. That is the signal to "Drop Everything And Read!" We love this! The kids immediately head to a comfy spot somewhere in the room, and this teacher quickly pulls out her book, and we all start reading!
I enjoyed participating in the #EstellaGrams bookish photo-a-day challenge this month. It really is a challenge to keep up and do a photo every day, but I’m glad I did it. It was fun to look at my reading life from a different angle, and I particularly enjoyed blogging a little bit each day. Thanks for following along with me this month. And a special Thank You to Andi of Estella’s Revenge and Heather of CapriciousReader – who are The Estella Society – for putting together this fun challenge.