Barbara, wandering round the garden found that her bulbs were beginning to show little shoots of green. She was enchanted at this further proof that the sun was returning to the northern hemisphere.
~ D.E. Stevenson, Miss Buncle Married
I’ve always been an early riser, but one of the pleasures of retirement?… I’ve replaced that early morning get-ready-for-work rush with my quiet cocoon of beauty — filled with words and yarn. Knitting while listening to an audiobook. What an enjoyable way to start a day! This morning I started a new knitting project with this silk yarn (a gift for a beautiful friend) while listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s gorgeous writing in The Poisonwood Bible.
How quickly, in one instant, years of happy life become only memories!
A Bridge for Passing, by Pearl S. Buck, was an interesting end for my 2014 reading year. Buck is a favorite author of mine, and I read her books slowly, absorbing her words and wisdom, enjoying the beauty of her prose.
I hadn’t heard of this book before, but when I saw the description of it, I knew it was my next read by her. One of my all time favorites of her books is The Big Wave, a story about life and death and what it means to be Japanese. I loved sharing it with my 6th grade students when I was teaching and we were studying the Pacific Rim countries. The discussions were so powerful. A Bridge for Passing is a memoir of the time when Buck was in Japan for the filming of The Big Wave. She had written the screenplay. During that time, she received word of the death of her husband, Richard Walsh. Her experiences in Japan at such a sad and difficult time provided solace and perspective, and became a “bridge” into her new life alone without her beloved husband. What an interesting experience to read this poignant book about grief and renewal, with its fascinating connection to another book I love!
Some authors, over time, weave themselves into your reading life! When I was in high school, I read a book by Nevil Shute called On the Beach, a story about nuclear war. I remember only a few details of the story after so many years, but I vividly remember the powerful emotional impact it had on me. Then, years later, when my children were young, the Hubby and I enjoyed watching a series on Masterpiece Theatre called A Town Like Alice, based on a book by Nevil Shute. Again, it had a powerful emotional impact on me and I still consider it one of my favorites from many years of stories we’ve watched on Masterpiece Theatre.
Last month, I discovered the audiobook of A Town Like Alice was available through Audible. I downloaded it and enjoyed listening to it while knitting, and was delighted to discover how much I enjoy Nevil Shute’s writing and storytelling. This was an amazing story of love, survival, resilience, and hope during and after World War II. When I finished it, I didn’t want to leave his storytelling presence, so I downloaded another of his books. Pied Piper, the story of a 70-year-old Englishman who was able to lead 7 young children to safety during World War II, also captured my heart and I had a hard time taking off the earphones, listening to it in record time!
So over my lifetime of reading, Nevil Shute has “visited” me numerous times. Each time, I have appreciated that he tells his stories with honesty and emotional integrity; that his characters are ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times and who meet those challenges with courage and kindness. He reminds me that one person can make a difference.
I look forward to reading my next book by Nevil Shute, and welcome his stories of good and caring people into the fabric of my reading life.
Now that I’m retired, summer reading has taken on a whole new meaning for me. For one thing, my summer is longer with much more time for sitting on the porch and reading. Yay! I don’t have to spent most of June finishing teaching units, grading papers, and writing report cards. I don’t have to take classes in July to update my teaching certificate. And I don’t have to spend days and weeks in August preparing my classroom and going to district teacher meetings. Although I miss my kiddos, I am happy now that I can just enjoy reading on my front porch! And doesn’t that sounds heavenly?!
It was early in 1968, having just returned from a year abroad as an exchange student, when I read a reprint of an article by W.H. Auden from The New York Times. It was a review of a series of books by an English author, J.R.R. Tolkien. They sounded so good, I quickly went out and bought all 4 books: The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Those delightful hours spent reading those books set the standard for my summer reading. Total immersion into a different world… Traveling there and back again without having to leave my comfortable summer reading spot… Complete enjoyment of beautiful writing and wonderful creativity… I would love to recapture some of those delightful reading moments from long ago!
So… I am reading and enjoying, once again, The Hobbit.
By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green…
I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading three books by a new-to-me author, D.E. Stevenson. I discovered her work through book blogging friends, and she’s quickly becoming a favorite. I read and wrote about Miss Buncle’s Book, then enjoyed Miss Buncle Married, and am almost finished with The Two Mrs. Abbotts. What a pleasure they all have been! (And a new book blogging friend just told me that there’s a 4th book in the series being published in June!)
In reading about D.E. Stevenson, I discovered that her father was a cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson, another author I really enjoy. What wonderful writing genes run in that family! During the winter months, I downloaded the audiobook of the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but hadn’t gotten around to listening to it yet. Realizing the Stevenson connection to all my recent reading, I decided to give it a listen.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a fascinating exploration of the duality of human nature. It is such a classic and so much a part of our cultural heritage, that I felt I knew all about it even though I had never read it. I did not. The storyline in one thing and makes for great horror films, but Stevenson’s writing is beautiful and the ideas so well presented, it deserves to be read. That’s the joy of reading something written by Robert Louis Stevenson — beautiful, intelligent writing and a compelling story!
So this month has really been my “Read Stevenson” month, although I didn’t plan it that way. I recommend them both: D.E. Stevenson and R.L. Stevenson!
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.
I’ve long been fascinated by Virginia Woolf. I have a number of books on my “special books” shelf — three volumes of her Diary, and two volumes of her Letters. All were read years ago, and as I read them, I wrote down quotes that particularly impressed me at the time.
It is her birthday today. She was born 132 years ago, and I realized that she was born just two years before my grandmother. Somehow, that makes her feel much closer and not so long ago.
So to celebrate her today, I’ll share with you one of my favorite quotes about her. It’s a quote from Nigel Nicholson, included in a book that introduced me to her, called Recollections of Virginia Woolf by her contemporaries, edited by Joan Russell Noble.
…Virginia had this way of magnifying one’s simple words and experiences. One would hand her a bit of information as dull as a lump of lead. She would hand it back glittering like diamonds. I always felt on leaving her that I had drunk two glasses of an excellent champagne. She was a life-enhancer. That was one of her own favorite phrases. She always said that the world was divided into two categories: those who enhanced life and those who diminished it.
We’ve had a month of dark foggy days, and this week our gray rainy days will return. It’s early-January winter! I am reminded of a favorite book, read aloud many times in my classroom[s] over the years, and it brightened this gray winter morning to pull it off my shelf and re-read it.
Frederick, by Leo Lionni, is about a group of mice gathering food for the winter. All are busy except for Frederick, who seems to be sitting on a rock in the sunshine doing nothing. But he IS doing something…he is collecting sun rays and colors and words. Later, in the middle of the dark, cold winter, when the food is scarce and the spirits are low, Frederick begins to tell the mice his stories. He weaves his memories of sunshine and colors into beautiful words which warm the hearts and lifts the spirits of his fellow mice. He is a storyteller and a poet!