Posts Tagged 'books'

Lots of rain equals

…lots of time for the cats. And also: opportunity for the crickets to escape the basement and become lots of toys for the cats. Altogether now: ick!


I am glad that we’ve had more than 2 days without rain. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to take walks without an umbrella or raincoat.

In book news, I’ve found a wonderful book on trees called Seeing Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo, with positively luminous closeup photographs by Robert Llewellyn of bark, leaves, fruit, acorns. Everything that’s inaccessible while you walk thru a city park with protective barriers around the trunks.

In other news, Inktober is in full swing, so I’m tweeting different pics. Not sure if I’m keeping Flickr in the sidebar, due to changes of service, so I haven’t been putting any images there. Let me know in the comments if I should, while I ponder other photo sharing services that will work with Ravelry, etc.

Reading – The Railwayman’s Wife

RehobothsunrisebWritten by Ashley Hay

Has anyone else had a moment where you have to return a library book, and instead you renew it so that you can reread the last 15 or 20 pages over, again and again?

Guilty. <– that’s me.

That’s the moment when things turn, like a train doubling back on itself … and I think, “There was a moment when one person being in the wrong place at the right time would have been nice”. Set in Australia right after WWII, although with flashbacks we do visit before the war… It follows Anika Lachlan and her child after she’s lost her husband. Some things conveniently happen: the town sets her up as a librarian, two eligible men come back from the war. But other things are less convenient: both men are haunted by the war and their dreams, Ani keeps finding she is losing the essence of Mac, or feeling that his presence is in the way in every conversation. One man is a poet who has lost his words to the war, and his ability to teach young children. One man is a doctor with a surly personal manner. It’s like the perfect setup for a screwball romance, except it isn’t.

In Ani’s own words “The year I’ve had, Dr. Draper, here, with my daughter, making sense of this strange new world. I’ve lost my husband. I have this job. I wake up in my own room, in my own house. And yet everything, everything is different.”  It’s different from the other after-the-war novels I’ve read, possibly due to locale and the characters who seem independent of anything the writer was leading them to. Definitely a book to reread.

Reading: The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

Some books jump to the front of the queue, even when you have perfectly fine reading material home from the library. Val McDermid’s “The Skeleton Road” jumped to the front, in front of the latest Laurie R. King book, and in front of two other books that are due back at the library tomorrow. And it stayed in the front, and was read and reread in 4 days.

Brief sum up: satisfying mystery, with some comic characters, but painted with a very broad brush by the mixed-up sadness of war torn lands. Not sure this is a book I want to see on television, because some things are best left to the imagination. Probably I’m alone there. 🙂

I’m  glad not to have seen the blurbs about the book, since they would have colored my reading experience. I plowed into Prologue and first chapter from the start, and found it hard to go back to work after lunch break. Good cold-weather reading, when you don’t want to go out into the howling wind and shovel the snow.



Reading: One of Ours by Willa Cather

Willa Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, One of Ours is an unexpected story of an unlikely hero whose life up until WWI seems rootless. We follow Claude Wheeler, from life as an alienated young boy, to a young college student who finds the culture he craves in Lincoln to have it taken away by life and choosing the wrong wife. I was honestly surprised by the desertion of his wife Enid (and her abrupt removal from the storyline). While I read, I idly wondered what the political climate was in China (siege of Tsingto in 1914?) during the outbreak of WWI, and if the pair would reunite, able to mature into a firmer relationship.

Everything seems set to move him from struggling to keep his father’s farm together while a new farm was being established in Colorado, to odd marriage (with a house built by his own hands on Nebraska farmland), and days drowsing in the corn he’s harvested, wondering what his purpose is. And events prime him to be excited at the thought of going where the trouble is, and enlisting as soon as he could. From Americans he met overseas who had enlisted in the Canadian air force prior to the US being in the war, to other farmers he met from other states, who were also swept up in the tide… the story moves at an introspective wandering pace.  If you want drama, and a look at how Americans (or possibly Nebraskans) of the time might have come to look at WWI and its aftermath, it’s worth checking out the book from the library. I bought mine at the Willa Cather Foundation (I couldn’t resist a paperback with a beautiful scene of Flanders poppies). If anyone else has read it, do you see similarities with The Song of Werther, by Goethe? I think it’s mostly the alienation of the main character, not writing style or subject matter, but I could be over-analyzing both.

Reading (and traveling): My Antonia by Willa Cather

Red barn near Lincoln. Go cornhuskers, go!

Red barn near Lincoln. Go cornhuskers, go!

Earlier in the month, I was driving through Nebraska, and decided to avoid the University of Nebraska game (traffic around Lincoln is normally pretty calm, unless everyone is driving to the game with red N pennants waving from their windows).

I looped down to Red Cloud, not far from Kansas’ border, to see the landscape described in Willa Cather’s novel, My Ántonia. If you haven’t read it (either because it wasn’t in your high school curriculum, or you didn’t grow up in the USA), this slim book is worth trying if for nothing else to give a sense of the open expanse, and lonely beauty of the land the author grew up surrounded by. It is interesting to see how the people of Red Cloud peopled many of Willa Cather’s most memorable stories. (Can’t figure out if the people in the stories were long past, or if anyone felt nervous being friends with her, with her ability to transform local gossip into stories.)

I started rereading My Ántonia prior to setting off on my journey, and it was lovely to be see the landscape scroll out in front of me while I drove. One of my cousins had mentioned that many of the people of Nebraska were leaving the areas where their ancestors had homesteaded, and were deserting the land for the cities. And Red Cloud seemed no different, although possibly everyone was watching the Cornhusker game. On a Saturday afternoon, their downtown looked deserted and there were few options for lunch until I got further north above Division street. I was too late to get into the Cather Childhood home, but I had a lovely time exploring the Red Cloud Opera House, and driving around town to see the different locations mentioned in the Willa Cather Foundation Town Tour. The people who work in the Willa Cather Foundation were lovely, and helped me to find a copy of One of Ours, Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that seems to be unobtainable elsewhere. Link to a virtual Catherland here:, where you can virtually visit the prairie at dawn, or look inside the Cather childhood home from your own living room.

It’s hard to explain the appeal of the prairie. Most places in Nebraska have planted redcloudprairietrees to remind people of the Europe or eastern US they left for homesteading. There are few trees, maybe a few cottonwoods, and the hot wind from Kansas buffets you as the temperature rises to 100 degrees F. There isn’t a person to be seen if you go down a hill away from the highway.  But here is the landscape as it was, with prairie chickens that dance in the early morning, and a world filled with relentlessly blue skies above. Regret: I wish I had thought to find a closer hotel, so I could have gone out there to stay for the sunset and watch the stars come out.

If you want a unique visit to an author’s house, Red Cloud and the prairie provides a place that is still rooted in the world that the author wrote about. Filled with grit blown by the wind, tucked away, and worth the drive.

Precious little knitting, or blogging is getting done

It's not behind me, is it?

It’s not behind me, is it?

We’re all adjusting a bit to kitten time (rhymes with “bitten time”). I’m not sure this isn’t hardest on the elder cats. So, things that can be put down fast for intervention (books, mostly) have started getting more attention. I’m in the middle of a pretty good biography of Martha Washington. More on that later, perhaps. Excellently researched, I think, and also: easily put down when I have to throw a towel over the little terror.

So, any good books out there? Some chaser for Americana, perhaps (knee deep in founding fathers and powdered wigs these days, so maybe sci-fi)?

The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham

But to all that moving experience there had been a shadow (a dark lining to the silver cloud), insistent and plain, which disconcerted her. In the sober gaiety of Sister St. Joseph, and much more in the beautiful courtesy of the Mother Superior, she had felt an aloofness …. There was a barrier between her and them. They spoke a different language not only of the tongue but of the heart. And when the door was closed upon her she felt that they had put her out of their minds so completely, going about their neglected work again without delay, that for them she might never have existed. She felt shut out not only from that poor little convent, but from some mysterious garden of the spirit after which with all her soul she hankered. She felt on a sudden alone as she had never felt alone before.”

The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham. Quite a page turner, filled with scandal in 1920s Hong Kong and then in backwoods China during a cholera epidemic. Kitty, the protagonist if not quite a heroine, makes a poor marriage, then an extramarital affair triggers her husband to volunteer to tend the dying in a cholera epidemic (and to drag her along). The fun is in watching the undertow of emotions slowly take shape, while Kitty becomes a 3-dimensional person. I think one more chapter in the book would have made the ending feel less rushed, and the conclusion more satisfyingly tantalizing.

Pour yourself a glass of iced green tea, pull up a chair on the shaded verandah, and start reading. And then ponder the questions I’m left with:

  • After all those lies, why did Kitty choose that one moment not to lie?
  • Is Charlie Townsend just a lout, or is he a villain of opportunity?
  • What happens to Kitty after the book ends?

Reading: Owls in winter — from Mary Priestley’s A Book of Birds

While cold and sharp and shining sheer Orion’s dagger pricks my ear, Under an old fir’s grizzled cowl,

Big with his drowsy wide surprise

Wakens the hunched and pawky owl

And blinks his big moon-marvellous eyes…

Excerpt from the lovely poem “Too-Hoo” by James Mackereth. A Book of Birds is filled with notes about bird behavior, snippets of poems, extracts from people’s diaries, and lovely wood engravings by C.F. Tunnicliffe. Some of the diary entries quoted, about hunting, or eating pickled auks, aren’t my cup of tea. But the poetry is charming, the illustrations are lovely, and my copy has a little penciled note for my Uncle from his little sister “A very happy birthday — lots of love…” The perfect thing to read while anticipating spring, especially now that the robins have come back to the backyard, and we can hear small birds in the bramble bushes.

Reading – 2 AM at the Cat’s Pajamas

It is dark, dark seven P.M. on Christmas Eve Eve.

The city gathers its black-skirted taxis around the ankles of Rittenhouse Square. A vendor rolls his cart into the park. Pinwheels hem and sigh in flowerpots stuffed with foam. Every audience in every theater on Broad Street leans forward into the hyphen of silence between the overture and Act One. A couple necks in the backseat of a Honda parked at Thirteenth and Spruce.”

Marie-Helene Bertino has written a first novel that’s rough at parts, and sometimes the writing seems to be a bit unbalanced when screwball comedy collides with serious matters. My Philadelphia memories aren’t quite as gritty as she depicts, and I used to live a little north of the Fishtown neighborhood (my age of introduction and the location is perhaps the difference). But Cat’s Pajamas is a book that entertains, and doesn’t stay dark.

What if you acted unlovable, like Madeleine, yet were also an unstoppable 9 year old with a drive that many 20-somethings don’t have? And how many madcap things can happen in the City of Brotherly Love on Christmas Eve Eve?

Boston is having epic amounts of snow

… and in comparison, it isn’t all that bad here… at the corner of Church and Graveyard. We don’t have Boston’s epic snow. Our weather is dropping down towards 12 degrees F, and the wind outside is enthusiastically blowing the trees near the house (if I close my eyes, it sounds like the ocean when there’s a large storm offshore). Our house is pretty cold, but I’ve got an appointment with a down comforter, hot mint tea, and Mary Priestley’s A Book of Birds.

Luckily I’m not shoveling out from Winter Storm Marcus. So, we’re chatting about the weather. I’ve seen online pictures of daffodils coming up in England, I’ve heard that New England is ghastly… so what’s the weather like near you? Any welcome signs of spring? Or, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, do you have welcome signs of cooler weather arriving?