About Robin

I’m a wife, mother, daughter, grandma (!), 2nd grade teacher, and passionate reader. I live near Seattle, Washington, USA.

Miss Buncle’s Book

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What a fun book! Miss Buncle’s Book, by D.E. Stevenson, was a delight from beginning to end. It’s been on my TBR list for a long time and I’m so glad I finally got to it. It made for a lovely reading weekend, and is highly recommended (by her granddaughter) as an antidote for stress and emotional exhaustion!

Or, as her granddaughter Wendy, who still lives in DE Stevenson’s home town of Moffat, puts it: the novels are ‘a soothing balm’ at times of stress and exhaustion.

Barbara Buncle has fallen on hard times financially, so she decides to try writing a novel. However, she can only write about what she knows, so she writes a book (using a pseudonym) about the little town she lives in. She has a keen eye and a talent for description as she writes about everyone in town. To her surprise, the book is published and becomes a best seller. It sells especially well in her hometown after neighbors realize the book is about them! Many are amused by it, but some are angry, and all want to know WHO wrote this novel?

It’s a delightfully humorous read, and I’m going to follow it up immediately with the sequel, Miss Buncle Married.

D.E. Stevenson

D.E. Stevenson

The Once and Future King, Part 2

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The second book of The Once and Future King, by T.H. White, is called Queen of Air and Darkness and it is, indeed, a much darker part of this story. Unlike the first book, The Sword in the Stone, this section is not a story for children. It is full of the brutality and evil of the Medieval world young King Arthur enters as he begins his reign.

Everything is set into motion in this section. The idealistic and innocent youth become a man, and we watch his development as both leader and philosopher as he experiences his power as king and comes to understand what that power means and how it can be used for Right.

At the same time, the ultimate tragedy of King Arthur and his dream is set in motion by a sinful, though unknowing, act. Using trickery and witchcraft, Queen Morgause seduces Arthur (her half-brother). His son, Mordred, is conceived…

It is why Sir Thomas Malory called his very long book the Death of Arthur….It is the tragedy…of sin coming home to roost . That is why we have to take note of the parentage of Arthur’s son Mordred, and to remember, when the time comes, that the king had slept with his own sister. He did not know he was doing so, and perhaps it may have been due to her, but it seems, in tragedy, that innocence is not enough.

In this book, I found the brutality of Morgause and her sons quite disturbing. It was a stark contrast to the upbringing and education of Arthur, and I had trouble with the images Mr. White painted. I also had trouble with how often he inserted his own opinions, and the happenings of his own time period, into the story. Perhaps, if I just wanted the story of King Arthur without editorializing, I should have been reading Le Morte d’Arthur!

At any rate, it’s a complex story, not one that can be ready lightly or quickly. Although there were humorous elements in this section, it was overall a very dark book. So now I’m on to the next section: The Ill-Made Knight.

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Queen Guinevere, by William Morris

I am reading this book for Carl V’s annual Once Upon a Time-VIII reading challenge.

 

Happy Birthday to a Hero

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Today is Jane Goodall’s 80th birthday, and I want to wish her a very happy birthday. I have admired her work for over 40 years! She is one of my heroes, and I was very blessed to be able to meet her a few years ago. She came to the school where I was teaching, to help launch our new Roots and Shoots club, and I was asked by my principal to introduce her at the school assembly. Why me? …because I Shadow_of_Manhad told my principal my story about reading her book, In the Shadow of Man, when my son was a newborn, and about how that book had really influenced my parenting! In reading about the chimp, Flo, who was such a wonderful mother, I learned a lot about patience and close attachment, and it really hit home with me as a new mom.

My principal asked me to tell that story as I introduced her, so I did. And my son, Dan, came in from Portland to be present in the assembly and to meet her. It was an extraordinary experience. She must have liked it all because she kissed my cheek after the introduction. It’s a totally awesome experience to have your cheek kissed by one of your life heroes! So, for her 80th today, I send her a big birthday bear hug and wishes for good health and many more years of her inspirational work.

Goodall

 

In the Mountains

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…painting by Aleksey Savrasov, 1862

Elizabeth Von Arnim’s In the Mountains is a story about grief and the long, slow, uphill recovery from the terrible losses that war brings. In this book, the losses suffered by the main character are never explained. We only know that she was mired in darkness and despair for 5 years before we meet her in her Swiss mountain home. She has returned to her mountains to find a way to move beyond the unspeakable losses in her life, and, with courage, to find a way to “cure” herself and begin to live again.

The only thing to do with one’s old sorrows is to tuck them up neatly in their shroud and turn one’s face away from their grave towards what is coming next.

Her journey back to Life is an interesting and honest one. At first, the only thing she could do was to lie in the grass looking at the sky…for days at a time. Then, daily tasks become important. One day she organizes her books and says:

But it is impossible, I find, to tidy books without ending by sitting on the floor in the middle of a great untidiness and reading.”

She starts to keep a journal, writing for the old lady she will become, and records her thoughts and changing feelings.

I wonder why I write about these things. As if I didn’t know them! Why do I tell myself in writing what I already so well know? Don’t I know about the mountain, and the brimming cup of blue light? It is because, I suppose, it’s lonely to stay inside oneself. One has to come out and talk. And if there is no one to talk to one imagines someone, as though one were writing a letter to somebody who loves one, and who will want to know, with the sweet eagerness and solicitude of love, what one does and what the place one is in looks like. It makes one feel less lonely to think like this,–to write it down, as if to one’s friend who cares. For I’m afraid of loneliness; shiveringly, terribly afraid. I don’t mean the ordinary physical loneliness, for here I am, deliberately travelled away from London to get to it, to its spaciousness and healing. I mean that awful loneliness of spirit that is the ultimate tragedy of life. When you’ve got to that, really reached it, without hope, without escape, you die. You just can’t bear it, and you die.”

Her walks and time spent in the beauty of her mountains also help her recovery:

The whole of the walk to the larches, and the whole of the way back and all the time I was sitting there, what I felt was simply gratitude, gratitude for the beautiful past times I have had. I found I couldn’t help it. It was as natural as breathing. I wasn’t lonely. Everybody I have loved and shall never see again was with me. And all day, the whole of the wonderful day of beauty, I was able in that bright companionship to forget the immediate grief, the aching wretchedness, that brought me up here to my mountains as a last hope.

The story changes midway through the book when she meets two English sisters who were walking up her mountain to escape the heat of the city. She invites them to stay at her home, first to recover from their strenuous hike, but then to give them a safe place to stay instead of sending them back to the heat and poverty of the city below. She is forced, by having company, to leave her solitude, come out of herself and become social again. She realizes that she needs to be with people. It’s an interesting progression in her return to the land of the living, and not an easy one. The personalities of the two women are trying, and the relationship with them complicated, but she becomes very attached to both of them. And through those relationships, happiness returns to her life.

I came up my mountain three months ago, alone and so miserable, no vision was vouchsafed me that I would go down it again one of four people, each of whom would leave the little house full of renewed life, of restored hope, of wholesome looking-forward, clarified, set on their feet, made useful once more to themselves and the world.

Elizabeth Von Arnim is a writer with a huge heart, and her writing is truthful and timeless. She really has become one of my favorite authors, and I so look forward to reading more of her work.

elizabeth von arnim

Rainy Rainy Saturday Morning

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It’s a rainy, rainy Saturday morning. Son and Grandboy are laughing and playing GO FISH on the kitchen table. Daughter is knitting on some beautiful new yarn that arrived in the mail yesterday. Husband is puttering around in the basement. And I am listening to the second book in The Once and Future King while doing laundry. I just want to pause and enjoy this rainy Saturday morning because this is one of those little moments that make up a lifetime, and I want to savor this simple, beautiful, happy moment in time. Despite the rain!

The Once and Future King, part 1

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Painting by Alan Lee…

The stories of King Arthur have long captured my imagination. I’ve read many different versions and enjoyed each one. Many years ago, (to be truthful, it’s been 41 years!), I read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. I loved it! So for Carl V’s annual Once Upon a Time reading challenge this year, I decided to listen to the audiobook version of this wonderful classic, and revisit an old friend, so to speak.

It’s a very long book, divided into four parts which were written and published at different times. The Sword in the Stone tells of the boyhood of Arthur, called “Wart” by his family, and of his education by the wizard, Merlin. And what a wonderful education! –full of nature and folklore and imagination! It was a very enjoyable “listen,” and, if I were still teaching 6th grade, I would consider reading it aloud to my students as a stand-alone book.

The Sword in the Stone is very much about learning and about the relationship between this special student and his teacher. I retired last year after 27 years of teaching, and one reason I chose to become a teacher in the first place was because I love to learn, so this quote from the book speaks a particular truth for me about the joy of becoming a lifelong learner.

“The best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love and lose your moneys to a monster, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the poor mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

Other hidden pleasures in this section of the book were the many quotes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and also the inclusion of Robin Hood in the story. What fun! This part of The Once and Future King was written for the child in all of us.

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Painting by N.C. Wyeth…

Once Upon a Time, again!

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It’s Spring at last, and with the return of the season comes Carl V’s (Stainless Steel Droppings) wonderful Once Upon a Time reading challenge. This is his 8th time hosting, and I’m so happy to be participating again this year. I know it takes a lot of work to organize and run this event, so I want to thank Carl for another Spring full of very enjoyable reading!

This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum.

You may choose your own level of participation in this challenge, and I have chosen “QUEST the FIRST” again for this year. The instructions are simple:

1. Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

2. Have fun!

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I begin this challenge by listening to the audiobook of The Once and Future King, by T.H. White. I read it many years ago and remember loving it. I enjoy Arthurian literature, and I’ve been wanting to reread this one for quite awhile, so this is perfect timing. Along with The Once and Future King, here are some other books I’m considering for this challenge. I’m looking forward to reading the reviews by those taking part in this annual event . Happy reading, everyone!

Reclaiming my Youth

Girl-Reading

Artist: Dennis Smith

Through the dark winter months, I enjoyed reading and listening to books that I somehow missed reading when I was growing up. It’s been a delightful way to spend many winter hours indoors. I would have loved them as a child, so to honor that child in me, I’m continuing to find missed treasures and appreciate and love them. It’s never too late to read wonderful books!

Here are the books that brought delight to a dark gray winter…

  • The Psammead Trilogy, by E. Nesbitt, includes with Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet. The continuing adventures of Robert, Jane, Cyril, Anthea, and The Lamb (little brother who was given that name because his first word was Baa) who find a sand fairy (a psammead) who grants them one wish a day. They had to make very careful wishes, however, because each one turned out so differently than they had anticipated!
  • The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. The adventures of Ratty, Mole, Badger, and Toad was a joy to read!  I’ll never look at a river or woodland again in quite the same way since meeting these wonderful characters.

The Martian Chronicles

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Mars from the Hubble…

A local news item last week caught my fancy. It was a story about a young woman from Eugene, Oregon, who has applied to be one of the first people to colonize Mars. A company called Mars One is planning to establish human settlements on Mars, starting in 2024. Crews of four will leave Earth for Mars every two years, and this young lady is one of 1000 people to make the first cut for the first flight. I admire her dream and her courage! What a fascinating idea! Here comes the Future!

The news item couldn’t have been more timely for me because I just finished reading Ray Bradbury’s, The Martian Chronicles, which is a classic science fiction book about that very thing — humans colonizing Mars. I wonder if this young woman has read the book? I wonder if the people in charge of the Mars One organization have read it? I hope so because I think it would be an important book for them all to read before they leave Earth to establish those human settlements on the Red Planet.

RayBradbury-tributeBradbury, himself, narrated the audiobook version I listened to, and I enjoyed listening to his voice. The best parts of all, however, were his comments at the end of each story explaining his writing process and/or the inspiration for that story.

The book is a series of stories told chronologically, each separate yet with references to happenings or people in the other stories. The first story is about the arrival on Mars of the first humans and of their immediate demise. Each subsequent story is about another group of settlers, a larger group each time, and the problems they face with the planet, and the native Martian population, and with each other.

I was expecting a more fanciful, plot-driven, movie-like story about Mars and Martians, but the book is really a very insightful exploration of what it means to be Human. Ray Bradbury has the eye of a sociologist but the heart of a poet, so his stories and creativity are wonderful to experience and leave you with a deeper understanding of the human condition. This book was somewhat awkward at times, and one story, in particular, was very disturbing to read (a story that is definitely politically and culturally incorrect in today’s world.) So I gave the book only 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, but I’ve discovered it’s one of those books that lingers. I’ve thought a lot about it since I finished it, and like it more now than I did when I finished the final page.

I chose this book for Carl V’s 2014 Sci-Fi Experience, and I really enjoyed the reading experience. It’s certainly a book that gets you thinking, and that’s why I hope it would be required reading for anyone seriously contemplating relocating to Mars!

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A Seven-Year-Old

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Yes, my Grandboy turned seven at the end of December, but he’s not the seven-year-old I’m talking about. No, I’m talking about this blog which is Seven years old today!

January 27th, 2007… I was on a medical leave from my teaching position, with time on my hands to enjoy my new Grandboy, read lots of books, (and talk about those books with my Mom over the phone) and also explore the new-to-me world of book blogging…

I am a very shy and private person, but I was intrigued by the book community discussions and the creativity of those blogs. So, as another way of sharing books with my Mom, this very shy person started a book blog and began to write about what I read and how my reading impacts my life.

I immediately discovered that the very best thing about the book blogging world is the people!  Blogging friends and authors are cherished people in my life now, even though most of us have not met each other in person yet, although I have been very fortunate to be able to actually meet a few of them. [Kristen, it was so fun to meet with that group of Seattle-area bloggers way back when. I love being able to picture Z when you write about him, although my mental picture of him is of a little boy and he has grown so much since then!] This blogging world has also inspired and expanded my reading, encouraging me to read beyond my usual patterns and explore other books worlds. It has all enriched my life tremendously.

The book blogging world has changed a lot in seven years. I remember when Twitter arrived, and I was intimidated by the very personal contact the bloggers were beginning to have with each other. My shyness factor kept me away from that world for a long time. Now, I enjoy those more personal and informal communications about books and life. But I still love sitting down and writing a blog post and exploring how a book intertwines with my life.

I am also “older and wiser” than I was seven years ago. A few years ago, after a series of sad family happenings, I stopped blogging for 15 months. Part of that silence was about grieving, but the other part of the silence had to do with privacy and trust. Unfortunately, I had learned first-hand that the internet can be used for malicious purposes or to present a completely fabricated view of a person’s life. It was a traumatic experience, and it took me a long time to come to terms with the vulnerability I felt for myself and my family by being online.

But I really missed blogging and the interactions with my blogging friends. I finally decided that the best thing I could do for myself was to return to my blog and continue to write about my life — with honesty and emotional integrity. That’s what really matters afterall.

So my blogging journey continues and I celebrate seven years of sharing my book life with you. Thank you, dear readers, for stopping by my blog occasionally to read my thoughts. And a special thank you to those of you who didn’t give up on me during my silence and warmly welcomed me back. You all mean the world to me!

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