Category Archives: The Classics Club

April Reflections

“Puddle” by M.C. Escher

April flew by so quickly this year! We continued to have record-breaking rains here in the Pacific Northwest throughout the month, but the temperatures moderated and there were days when we could finally get out in the garden and start cleaning up after such a long winter. Hubby and I spent two days in Silverton, Oregon, enjoying the early Spring beauty of the Oregon Garden and a short, but beautiful visit to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival.

My reading time slowed down but April was a good reading month anyway. I completed 8 books and a knitting project! My favorite book this month was the science fiction novella, Binti!  It was so well written and enjoyable, and I loved spending some time out of this currently crazy world. I enjoyed listening to another audiobook in Craig Johnson‘s Walt Longmire mystery series. And I loved reading more poetry during this National Poetry Month!  I also read and reviewed three books for The Classics Club, books chosen from my 50 books in 5 years list.

I always love April, and the beauty of the spring flowers and blossoms is wonderful after the darkness of our winters here. May will be a busy month, including a road trip to visit my 97 year old mother and many more days to spend outdoors in the garden and on long walks around town, but I’m looking forward to my May reading, as well.

 

Around town…

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The Moorland Cottage

The Moorland Cottage, by Elizabeth Gaskell, begins with a lengthy and beautifully detailed description of the countryside location of the cottage where Maggie Browne and her brother, Edward, grew up.  Before you meet the characters in this story, you walk into their world along a country path. By the time you arrive at their moorland cottage, you have a very clear idea of their place in the world.

If you take the turn to the left, after you pass the lyke-gate at Combehurst Church, you will come to the wooden bridge over the brook; keep along the field-path which mounts higher and higher, and, in half a mile or so, you will be in a breezy upland field, almost large enough to be called a down, where sheep pasture on the short, fine, elastic turf. You look down on Combehurst and its beautiful church-spire. After the field is crossed, you come to a common, richly colored with the golden gorse and the purple heather, which in summer-time send out their warm scents into the quiet air. The swelling waves of the upland make a near horizon against the sky; the line is only broken in one place by a small grove of Scotch firs, which always look black and shadowed even at mid-day, when all the rest of the landscape seems bathed in sunlight…

…With something like the sudden drop of the lark, the path goes down a green abrupt descent; and in a basin, surrounded by the grassy hills, there stands a dwelling, which is neither cottage nor house, but something between the two in size. Nor yet is it a farm, though surrounded by living things. It is, or rather it was, at the time of which I speak, the dwelling of Mrs. Browne, the widow of the late curate of Combehurst.

Mrs. Browne is a grieving widow. Her daughter, Maggie is a gentle, kind soul, while her son, Edward, is a coddled, cowardly and cruel boy. Mrs. Browne dotes on her son while treating Maggie as a subservient, worthless female. Maggie’s is a cruel and harsh upbringing, but there is a strength in her that remains undamaged by the harsh conditions of her childhood. Her gentle spirit is recognized and appreciated by others, and in particular by another family, the Buxtons, friends of her late father. The Buxtons are well-to-do and privileged neighbors. The story is really about these two families, their likes and differences, and their connections over time.

I wasn’t sure at first if I would like this book very much, but I was quickly captured by Maggie’s kind spirit and her resiliency. The view of women’s lives through the lens of Mrs. Gaskell’s writing is sobering. Women had few rights. Men provided the living for the family and controlled all the money. If the head of the household was not a good provider (or a good human being), that living could be very difficult for the women. Most woman of Maggie’s class were not educated and often the big life decisions (who to marry, in particular) were made for them by the male(s) in charge.

Although it was hard to hear the stories of Maggie’s childhood and the inequality and cruelty with which she was treated by her mother and brother, I totally loved the core of strength that Maggie had that kept her kind and hopeful despite the meanness of her situation. And I loved the woman she became over time, thanks to the loving care of the family servant, Nancy, and the kind connections to the Buxton family.

From the publisher:

Growing up in Yorkshire, the daughter of a deceased clergyman, Maggie Browne is encouraged to devote herself to her brother, Edward, upon whom their widowed mother dotes. Through the example and guidance of her mentor, Mrs Buxton, Maggie learns that self-sacrifice is the key to living a fulfilled life. How much personal happiness will she forgo in the name of duty and devotion to her brother? This novella depicts the struggle of a strong-minded Victorian woman, torn between her dreams and her duty towards her family.

I ended up loving this little book that told the story of a young girl who became a lovely young woman despite living in a time and culture that did not value women very highly. But in the language of today, “she persisted!”  I haven’t read very much by Elizabeth Gaskell, but I’m going to remedy that and enjoy more of her work.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It was also my first “Spin” book!

The Unicorn and Other Poems

 

One of the special books on my bookshelf is The Unicorn and Other Poems, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I bought this book many, many years ago, and revisit it often to read the poems that touched my heart when I first read them and now have special meaning in my life. They express so eloquently many of my own inner feelings and thoughts, and so have become treasures for me.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the wife of the famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh, who was a hero to many. After finding this book of poetry, and then reading all of AML’s diaries and fiction, she became for me the real hero in the family. She was a gentle soul, but with a tremendous inner strength, forged partly through tragedy. She lived an amazing life traveling all over the world with her husband, and she became a pioneer aviator herself. She was intelligent and introverted, and a beautiful writer. Her books, North to the Orient and Listen! The Wind told fascinating stories of their world travels. Her diaries and letters were her way of processing life as it happened.

“I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.”

In her wonderful book, Gift From the Sea, she “shares her meditations on youth and age; love and marriage; peace, solitude and contentment as she set them down during a brief vacation by the sea.” (words from her daughter, Reeve).

But as I said before, it is her poetry that really touches my heart. One of my favorite poems in this book is called “Bare Tree.” I loved it the first time I read it, but it is even more meaningful to me at this age and stage of life, so I love it now in a whole new way.

BARE TREE

Already I have shed the leaves of youth,
stripped by the wind of time down to the truth
of winter branches. Linear and alone
I stand, a lens for lives beyond my own,
a frame through which another’s fire may glow,
a harp on which another’s passion, blow.

The pattern of my boughs, an open chart
spread on the sky, to others may impart
its leafless mysteries that I once prized,
before bare roots and branches equalized,
tendrils that tap the rain or twigs the sun
are all the same, shadow and substance one.
Now that my vulnerable leaves are cast aside,
there’s nothing left to shield, nothing to hide.

Blow through me, Life, pared down at last to bone,
so fragile and so fearless have I grown!

I chose to reread this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It’s a book I have re-read many times in my life and each time I read it, I love it even more.

Kidnapped

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is one of my favorite adventure stories, so I had high hopes for liking his book, Kidnapped, equally as much when I chose it as one of my Classics Club reads. We have a lovely copy of the book, with those wonderful illustrations by N. C. Wyeth, that’s been sitting on our shelf for years, so I read it eagerly but I’m sorry to admit that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Treasure Island.

But in all fairness, it was a different kind of story from the pirates adventure of Treasure Island. This book is a work of historical fiction with characters that were actual people involved in an important part of Scottish history, so even without the pirates there was a lot of intrigue. I thought the beginning  and the ending of the book were quite good and definitely kept me interested.  The story slowed down a bit too much in the middle for me, perhaps because I didn’t know much about the history that inspired this story. The idea that this story could possibly drag a little in the middle seems strange considering the rip-roaring description on the title page.

 

I may have to give it another chance at some time because I really like the other books I have read by Robert Louis Stevenson. He’s a wonderful writer and storyteller, so perhaps it just wasn’t the right time for me to read it. That happens to me sometimes and, when I reread the book later, I love it. Does that ever happen to you?

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

The Railway Children

Illustration by Inga Moore…

Somehow I missed reading the books of Edith Nesbit as I was growing up. I would have loved them! Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to make up for missing them in childhood by gifting myself an E. Nesbit read every so often. That’s my way of making the pleasure last longer and I won’t run out of her books so soon!

My most recent Nesbit pleasure was to listen to the audiobook version of The Railway Children narrated by one of my favorite narrators, Virginia Leishman. What a fun way to spend some rainy hours indoors! And I would highly recommend it for families on road trips!

Publisher’s summary…

Father has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. Now Mother has moved Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis from London to an old English country house. Missing the hustle and bustle of the city, the children are ecstatic to find that their new home is near a railway station. Making friends with both the porter and the station master is great fun. So is waving to a kindly old gentleman who rides through on the 9:15 every morning. When mother gets sick, it is he to whom they turn for help. And later, when a fortunate twist of fate returns their father to them, they are surprised to find the old gentleman involved once again.

Written by an unconventional woman whose friends included H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, this classic has been popular since it was first published almost 100 years ago. Virginia Leishman’s enthusiasm translates these adventuresome children into heroes for modern listeners.

Public Domain (P)1999 Recorded Books

As with all the Nesbit books I have read so far, the main characters are very nice, bright children who have great imaginations, love stories and outdoor play, and who change the world around them with what is called  “loving kindness” in the book. Oh how I wish I had read this book to my students while I was still teaching! The modeling of loving kindness is so important in today’s world…and how better to teach the idea than to read this beautiful story to young people and let them love those railway children and their adventures, and make those connections themselves.

illustration by C.E. Brock.

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

The Spectator Bird

The Spectator Bird, by Wallace Stegner, was published in 1976, and received the National Book Award for Fiction in 1977.

From the publisher…

Joe Allston is a cantankerous, retired literary agent who is, in his own words, “just killing time until time gets around to killing me.” His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties. His job, trafficking the talent of others, has not been his choice. He has passed through life as a spectator, before retreating to the woods of California in the 1970s with only his wife, Ruth, by his side. When an unexpected postcard from a long-lost friend arrives, Allston returns to the journals of a trip he has taken years before, a journey to his mother’s birth­place where he once sought a link with his past. Uncovering this history floods Allston with memories, both grotesque and poignant, and finally vindicates him of his past and lays bare that Joe Allston has never been quite spectator enough.

Throughout much of this story, Joe is a grumpy old man. At seventy, he has many physical aches and pains but he carries some heavy emotional aches and pains as well. Pain of any kind can certainly make a person grumpy and color one’s outlook on life. Dealing with the changes retirement brings is also quite challenging, and in Joe’s case presents itself in depression. Retirement puts one at a distance which is both welcome and a big challenge. I remember hearing my father say about retirement, “It’s amazing how quickly you are forgotten in the workplace.” Joe seems to be sitting on the sidelines, even more a spectator than earlier in his life, not sure of what he wants to do with his life at this point.

“Maybe because the bush tits are doing what I thought we would be doing out here, just messing around, paying no attention to time or duty, kicking up leaves and playing hide and seek up and down the oak trunks and generally enjoying themselves.

Joe also continues to grieve for the loss of his son and only child, Curt, who died in a surfing accident (Joe thinks it was possibly a suicide). He has not been able to let go of the guilt he feels about this troubled relationship with his son, and he questions himself every day.

“Do I hate the thought of Curt’s death more because he never fulfilled himself, or because he never fulfilled me?

Joe struggles with the aging process and grieves for the losses and irrevocable changes time brings, and he is also struggling to redefine meaning and purpose at this later stage of  life.  As he and Ruth share an old journal from a trip to Denmark they took many years earlier, they rediscover some important and defining moments in their marriage. It becomes clear that the most important thing is his relationship with Ruth, and that their marriage, with the easy (and difficult)  companionship of so many years, with what Virginia Woolf calls the “daily-ness” of their relationship, is the strength that guides him through each day and through the rest of his life. His realization of that is a tender and romantic notion, a notion that is also true in my own life experience. Wallace Stegner describes it beautifully.

“The truest vision of life I know is that bird in the Venerable Bede that flutters from the dark into a lighted hall, and after a while flutters out again into the dark. But Ruth is right. It is something — it can be everything — to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can’t handle.”

I read this book for The Classics Club. It is the first book I have read by Wallace Stegner, but will not be my last. I admit I’ve been a little intimidated to read him before now. I have some personal connections to him, and he has always loomed as a larger-than-life figure to me, so I think I was simply afraid to try him out. This book started out slowly for me, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but his “big ideas” really touched my heart, his literary references amazed me, and his beautiful “way with words” have all made me a real fan.

Crooked House

Last week I finished reading Crooked House, by Agatha Christie, but it’s been such a busy week and weekend, that I’m just now getting around to posting about it.  I’ve read many of Agatha Christie’s mysteries over the years, starting with And Then There Were None when I was in the 5th grade many, many years ago! I’ve read quite a few since then with Miss Marple as the detective, a number with Poirot,  and one or two with Tommy and Tuppence. And, happily, there are still a lot of them I can look forward to reading!  Crooked House is a stand alone novel, not part of one of her series, but is a very enjoyable mystery to read!

From the Agatha Christie web site, here is a synopsis of the story:

A wealthy Greek businessman is found dead at his London home… The Leonides were one big happy family living in a sprawling, ramshackle mansion. That was until the head of the household, Aristide, was murdered with a fatal barbiturate injection. Suspicion naturally falls on the old man’s young widow, fifty years his junior. But the murderer has reckoned without the tenacity of Charles Hayward, fiance of the late millionaire’s granddaughter…

In this book, I was particularly struck by Christie’s chilling description of the mindset of a murderer:

“What are murderers like? Some of them,” a faint rather melancholy smile showed on his face, “have been thoroughly nice chaps.”

… “Murder, you see, is an amateur crime. I’m speaking of course of the kind of murder you have in mind–not gangster stuff. One feels, very often, as though these nice ordinary chaps, had been overtaken, as it were, by murder, almost accidentally. They’ve been in a tight place, or they’ve wanted something very badly, money or a woman–and they’ve killed to get it…

…”But some people, I suspect, remain morally immature. They continue to be aware that murder is wrong, but they do not feel it. I don’t think, in my experience, that any murderer has really felt remorse…And that, perhaps, is the mark of Cain. Murderers are set apart, they are ‘different’ — murder is wrong– but not for them — for them it is necessary — the victim has ‘asked for it,’ it was ‘the only way.'”

Crooked House was one of Christie’s own favorites of the books she wrote:  “Writing Crooked House was pure pleasure and I feel justified in my belief that it is one of my best.”

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

Spinning

I joined The Classics Club earlier this week and have immediately found a fun way to pick my first book to read from my list of 50-classics-to-read-in-5-years. Every so often, the club has a special event called the “The Classic Spin.” It works like this:

Choose 20 books from your list of classics TBR and post that list on your blog before March 9th. On Friday, March 10th, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by May 1, 2017. 

So here is my first Spin List.  It should be fun to see which number (and which book) is chosen in the “spin” on Friday! That’s where I will start my five year classics journey!  I’ll return to this post on Friday and highlight the book chosen.

Classic Spin #15:

  1. Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott
  2. The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad
  3. The Railway Children, Edith Nesbitt
  4. A River Runs Through It, Norman McClean
  5. Arabian Nights and Days, Naguib Mahfouz
  6. Persuasion, Jane Austen
  7. Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
  8. The Chosen, Chaim Potok
  9. A Very Easy Death, Simone de Beauvoir
  10. The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley
  11. A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
  12. The Moorland Cottage, Elizabeth Gaskell (started on 03.10.17)

  13. Ask Me, William Stafford
  14. The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner
  15. Travels With My Aunt, Graham Greene
  16. The Ramayana, Bulbul Sharma
  17. Crooked House, Agatha Christie
  18. The Gaucho Martin Fierro, José Hernández
  19. The Measure of My Days, Florida Scott-Maxwell
  20. Marcovaldo, or The Seasons in the CIty, Italo Calvino

 

The Classics Club


Why haven’t I joined The Classics Club before now? I’ve been interested in it and thought about doing it for years! I lurked around their web site… started my own private reading challenge of 50 books à la The Classics Club but without joining… read lots of classics…  But I was afraid of not being able to finish the commitment I would make because I’m just awful at finishing challenges these days.

But, this morning I read a post by Melissa @Avid Reader’s Musings, and was so inspired by the fact that she just posted her last review and finished her 5-year challenge with The Classics Club! Congratulations, Melissa!  I wish I had simply joined 5 years ago when I first heard about it and was both fascinated by and fearful of it. Five years goes by quickly and I, too, would be finishing my last book from my list of 50 classics. So no more hesitating. Inspired by Melissa, I have decided to just go ahead and join. I am proud to become a member of The Classics Club!

My list is a mix of novels, short stories, and poetry, a combination of adult and children’s literature. Many of these books are already on my bookshelves or on my Kindle. My goal for completing my reading of these books is March 2022!  That sounds so far away, but I know that five years goes by in a flash. And what pleasurable reading years they will be!

  1. Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott
  2. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  3. Death Comes For the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  4. The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad
  5. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
  6. The Railway Children, Edith Nesbitt (completed in March 2017)
  7. Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther
  8. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  10. A River Runs Through It, Norman McClean
  11. Arabian Nights and Days, Naguib Mahfouz
  12. Persuasion, Jane Austen
  13. The Rainbow and the Rose, Nevil Shute
  14. Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
  15. The Chosen, Chaim Potok
  16. The Solitary Summer, Elizabeth von Arnim
  17. A Very Easy Death, Simone de Beauvoir
  18. The Book of Tea, Kazuko Okakura
  19. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
  20. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  21. The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett
  22. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  23. This Star Shall Abide, Sylvia Engdahl
  24. The Story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner
  25. The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley
  26. A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
  27. The Moorland Cottage, Elizabeth Gaskell (completed in April 2017)
  28. A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
  29. Kokoro, Natsume Soseki
  30. Kinfolk, Pearl S. Buck
  31. Ask Me, William Stafford
  32. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Kate Douglas Wiggin
  33. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  34. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  35. The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner (completed in March 2017)
  36. Travels With My Aunt, Graham Greene
  37. The Ramayana, Bulbul Sharma
  38. Kindred, Octavia Butler
  39. The Sussex Downs Murder, John Bude
  40. The Lost Prince, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  41. Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston
  42. The Unicorn and Other Poems, Anne Morrow Lindbergh (completed in April 2017)
  43. Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
  44. Crooked House, Agatha Christie (completed in March 2017)
  45. Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson (completed in April 2017)
  46. Two on a Tower, Thomas Hardy
  47. The Gaucho Martin Fierro, José Hernández
  48. Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, Eleanor Perenyi
  49. The Measure of My Days, Florida Scott-Maxwell
  50. Marcovaldo, or The Seasons in the CIty, Italo Calvino
  51. Sophocles: The Three Theban Plays
  52. Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway
  53. The Sea Runners, Ivan Doig

On Having Time to Smell the Roses

the_soul_of_the_rose

My husband and I retired in July of this year. We are slowly adjusting to this new stage of life, and are starting to realize that we actually have  time to do some of the things we couldn’t do before. And we have time to get back to some things that we left off because of the frenetic pace of our work lives. For me, that means that I am now able to get back to knitting projects, long walks, some gardening, and the kind of relaxed reading I did before the pace of life got crazy on us. It feels like a reward for all that hard work! It feels like “coming home” again…to myself.

Yesterday, I spent some time looking at the books on our numerous bookshelves. As we prepared to move into our new home in July, we seriously culled our collection of books. We donated almost a thousand books to our local library…but we still have too many books! The ones we still have, however, were worth the pain of packing and loading into a U-Haul, and carting 220 miles to our new home. And it’s a wonderful collection of books to read!

me_reading-sm

So I decided to make a list of books I’d like to read or re-read now that I actually have some serious reading time. I used to love reading the classics, so I’ll start with a list of 50 Classics that have been patiently waiting for me on our bookshelves, and I will put a link to this list on the sidebar of my blog. In all honesty, I won’t promise to write a review of each book I read, but I’ll provide a link to any reviews I write and a date-finished for those not reviewed.

What a delight to have some time to ‘stop and smell the roses’…and, in my case, to get back to more reading!

My 50 Classics List:

Alcott, Louisa May Eight Cousins
Alcott, Louisa May Rose in Bloom
Allende, Isabel The House of the Spirits
Alvarez, Julia In the Time of Butterflies
Adichie, Chimamanga Ngozi Half of a Yellow Sun
Austen, Jane Persuasion
Austen, Jane Sense and Sensibility
Baum, L. Frank The Sea Fairies
Berry, Wendell Hannah Coulter
Bowen, Elizabeth The House in Paris
Bradbury, Ray Dandelion Wine
Bronte, Anne The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall
Bronte, Charlotte The Professor
Buck, Pearl S. Sons
Buck, Pearl S. A House Divided
Burnett, Francis Hodgson The Land of the Blue Flower (read November 2014)
Cather, Willa Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chandler, Raymond The Big Sleep (read February 2016)
Chesterton, G.K. The Innocence of Father Brown
Collette Claudine’s House
Conrad, Joseph The Secret Agent
Dahl, Roald The BFG (read October 2014)
Dickens, Charles Three Ghost Stories
Dinesen, Isak Winter’s Tales
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
du Maurier, Daphne My Cousin Rachel
Durrell, Gerald Marrying Off Mother, and other stories
Gibson, William Neuromancer
Godden, Rumer Coromandel Sea Change
Graham, Kenneth The Wind in the Willows (read January 2014)
Greene, Graham Travels with my Aunt
Grey, Zane The Rainbow Trail
Gunther, John Death Be Not Proud
Hardy, Thomas A Pair of Blue Eyes
Holtby, Winifred South Riding
Hudson, Henry Green Mansions
Jewett, Sarah Orne Country of the Pointed Firs
Kipling, Rudyard The Jungle Book
Kundera, Milan The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Mahfouz, Naguib Arabian Nights and Days
Malraux, Andre Man’s Fate
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia One Hundred Years of Solitude
Pyle, Howard The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Pym, Barbara Some Tame Gazelle
Pym, Barbara No Fond Return of Love (read November 2014)
Remarque, Erich Maria All Quiet on the Western Front
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye
Sandburg, Carl Rootabaga Stories
Smith, Betty A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Twain, Mark The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

NOTE:  I noticed that many of my blogging friends have lists of Classics on their blogs, too. Investigating, I discovered The Classics Club, and since this list is right in line with that self-challenge, I will provide a link to that site even though I haven’t joined up yet.

classicsclub-1 .