The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, a Midwinter Read-along Which I’m Eagerly Joining

It was purely by chance I discovered an invitation, put forth by Julia Bird, on Twitter this evening.

Apparently there is an organized reading of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, a children’s book published in 1973 which I have long seen on school library shelves but never read myself.

The read-along begins on Midwinter Eve (December 20) and runs through the Twelfth Night (January 5) with discussion happening on Twitter using the hashtag: #TheDarkisReading.

Perhaps you will join in, as well. It sounds too delectable to pass.

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Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn (“He would not debase himself; he would not be ruled by his children and insulted by his jailers.”)

Does Edward St. Aubyn ever disappoint? Not me. His acerbic writing style cuts as sharply as any sword; I find myself reading and rereading his lines in great admiration.

Megan looked startled and upset. How easy she was to dominate. These Dunbar girls were arrogant, imperious, and tough, but toughness was not strength, imperiousness was was not authority, and their arrogance was an unearned pride born of an unearned income.

Two of the Dunbar girls, Megan and Abigail, have consorted with Dr. Bob to have their father admitted to a sanatorium named Meadowmeade so that they can take over the Dunbar Trust. They have done it all on the sly, leaving their sister Florence to find out on her own what has become of their father, only beloved by her.

It is a modern day retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, and it is wonderful.

The story alternates between Henry Dunbar’s escape, the machinations of the two elder sisters, and sweet Florence.

“I am not my family,” said Florence.

“Well, I’ll be pondering the profundity of that remark for the rest of the day, I’m sure,” said Dr. Harris. “Nevertheless,…I want to make it clear that I will not be bullied by your sisters or their representatives. I deeply regret your father’s disappearance, but not as much as I regret accepting him here in the first place. Celebrities are usually more trouble than they’re worth, but in the case of your father, who is also an immensely powerful man, his presence here has been a complete disaster.

Dunbar, at eighty years of age, is stubborn and strong, yet susceptible to haunting memories which torment him as he makes his escape through the rugged terrain. (What a perfectly fitting jacket cover!)

I read on, identifying with Florence as she safeguards her father, wondering what will become of those who seek to take his fortune. His sanity. His identity. It may be a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, but Dunbar has every right to stand on its own.

This has been a terrific read to finish up December, and still there is time to see what will fit on my Best of 2017 List. There is always a place for Edward St. Aubyn there.

Effi Briest for German Lit Month; This Will Be A Short Post

Whoever said Effi Briest is like Anna Karenina has rocks in his head. If ever there was a more disappointing comparison, I don’t know of it.

Anna and Effi? One is elegant and charming and womanly and passionate; the other swings in the backyard by the heliotrope one day and is engaged two hours later to a former beau of her mother’s.

Effi succumbs to the attentions of a womanizing Major, who near the end of the book dies in a duel with Effi’s husband. There is no issue of love here, only terribly naive infatuation, and immaturity, on the part of Effi.

The end.

I found this novel boring and dull and no where near the power that Tolstoy wielded with Anna’s heart. (Not to mention the character found within Levin.)  The best I can say about it is, “I’ve finally finished it.”

Begun in November, finished in December, for German Lit Month led by Lizzy and Caroline.

 

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. (Because living long doesn’t interest me as much as living well.)

I don’t even know how to pronounce this word, ikegai, but I want it.

It seems to address our reason for being, such as the French call a raison d’etre.

Some people have found their ikigai, while others are still looking, though they carry it within them…our ikigai is the reason we get up in the morning.

The reason I get up in the morning is to go to work.  Teaching children has been an enormously important part of my purpose. But, what will happen next year when I retire? I can see that finding my ikigai in the next six months will not be a moment too soon.

The purpose of this book is to help you find yours, and to share insights from the Japanese on how to have a healthy body, mind and spirit.

As I read, and type, I am sipping a cup of green tea. Green jasmine tea. Because I read last night, in this book, how the people from Okinawa live longer lives than any other people in the world. Now, I do not want to live longer, especially if I am alone or in pain, but living a healthy lifestyle has had a certain vague appeal to me as I age.

A few bullet points from the authors on a healthy lifetsyle include:

  • “Fill your belly to 80 percent.” In other words, stop before you are stuffed. Even better, try to fast one or two days a week.
  • Drink green jasmine tea.
  • Stay away from cow’s milk and anything that comes from it.
  • Eat mostly fruit, vegetables, fish and rice.
  • Stay away from processed sugar.

The authors continue with healthy suggestions, and ways to reduce stress, in order to increase longevity. But, what I really want to know is how to find my life’s mission. Early on, the authors point to Morita therapy, a purpose-centered therapy created by Shoma Morita.

In the West, we tend to believe that what we think influences how we feel, which in turn influences how we act. In contrast, Morita therapy focuses on teaching patients to accept their emotions without trying to control them, since their feelings will change as a result of their actions…Morita therapy is not meant to eliminate symptoms; instead it teaches us to accept our desires, anxieties, fears and worries, and let them go. (p. 46)

Wait.

Stop.

I have always stomped on my fears and anxieties, believing that by the sheer force of my will they will dissipate. Now I read a suggestion that I ought to accept them? This is not the American pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootsteps mentality which I have accepted for decades.

The basic principles of Morita therapy are to:

  • Accept your feelings.
  • Do what you should be doing.
  • Discover your life’s purpose.

Okay.

How?

One way to begin is to “go with the flow”. Consider what makes you so happy that you forget about whatever worries you may be harboring while you’re doing it.

Well, I will stop here lest I divulge every facet of this fascinating book. It is easy to read and filled with applicable knowledge. It turns some of what I have learned as truth on its head. Most importantly, it helps direct us to a more fulfilling life. A life with purpose and meaning.

I suspect that, for me, this will include books. Lots of them, shared with lots of people, like reading to the elderly who can no longer see as well as they used to. Who no longer find people nearby to talk with.

What will it mean for you?

“Let him who loves me follow me.” Femme Fatale, a collection of 4 very short stories by Guy de Maupassant

I am still thinking of the first story in this Penguin Little Black Classic which I read last night. It’s title is Cockcrow, and it is deceptively simple.

Consider this line regarding Madame d’Avancelles’ husband:

It was rumoured that they lived separate lives on account of a physical shortcoming of his which Madame could not overlook. He was a fat little man with short arms, short legs, a short neck, short nose, short everything in fact.

Everything? Oh, really. Is that why she entertains the advances of her admirer Baron Joseph de Croissard to which her husband has turned a blind eye? They cavort and tease each other all autumn long, at receptions and finally at a great hunting party.

After the baron has shown himself to be the man she has requested him to be by killing the wild boar himself, it seems that his desires will be fulfilled that night.

He scratches at her door after the chateau has fallen asleep, and upon gaining admittance is told to wait upon her bed. Which he does, until he succumbs to sleep. And in the morning, he wakens to the sound of the cock’s crow, startling him out of his slumber.

Madame d’Avancelles, who has laid awake beside him all night, tells him to, “Go back to sleep, Monsieur, it’s nothing to do with you.”

Is this mockery? For surely this uneventful night had much to do with him. Or, perhaps she is referring to her own self, seeing that she might not be worth waiting up for.

I do not have a clear answer, but I do have persistent thoughts continuously returning to this simple story which is only 6 pages long, yet full of so much intrigue.

There are three more stories within this slight volume. I eagerly begin the next right now.

An Eclectic Mailbox Monday (With a Give-Away Opportunity)

First up is one I eagerly anticipate reading the most: Freya by Anthony Quinn sent to me by Europa Editions. Have I read one book from them which hasn’t been stellar? No.

“The novel’s brilliantly realized characters, especially the vivid, maddening Freya, will live on long after the final line of this fine novel. Quinn has written an immersive story of female friendship and the self-discoveries that reveal the mysteries and delights of the heart.”

Up next is Peregrine Island by Diane Saxton, sent to me by She Writes Press. The author has been a journalist for Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, and Greenwich Review. Her novel “interweaves the stories of three generations of women, one valuable painting, the artist who created it, and those who would do anything to possess it.” It has been named:

2017 Winner of the National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Fiction: Northeast

2017 Distinguished Favorite in Literary Fiction by Independent Press Awards

2017 International Book Awards Finalist for Literary Fiction

2017 National Indie Excellence Award Finalist for Fiction

Then we have a Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, a novel I have never read despite calling myself literary. (And, having thoroughly enjoyed the presentation of it by PBS many, many years ago.) There will be a give-away of this fine book as soon as I read it, but if you would like to throw your name in the hat for a chance right now, feel free. The sooner, the better, as Penguin awaits a winner.

Finally, there is a Cuban Noir Novel sent to me by Akashic Books; its title is Havana Libre by Robert Arellano. This novel is a follow up to Havana Lunar which was a finalist for the 2010 Edgar Award. It follows Dr. Mano Rodriguez as he takes an undercover assignment to the most dangerous city in Latin America: Miami.

So there is the broad array of books from which I love to read, varying from friendships to mystery, children’s stories to crime, they all hold a certain appeal. Are there any which call particularly to you?

Find more books which arrived in other mailboxes at Mailbox Monday.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles (National Book Award Finalist)

In the midst of one of the most bewildering beginnings I have read, and reread out of confusion, are absolutely gorgeous sentences that made me pause:

“…now the news of the world ages him more than time itself.”

“He had become impatient of trouble and other people’s emotions.”

“If people had true knowledge of the world perhaps they would not take up arms and so perhaps he could be an aggregator of information from distant places and then the world would be a more peaceful place. He had been perfectly serious. That illusion had lasted from age forty-nine to age sixty-five.”

Soon I have made enough sense of the story to figure out that Johanna, who was captured at the age of six by a Kiowa tribe, is being returned to her aunt and uncle who live near San Antonio by Captain Kidd. Apparently, the man who had originally agreed to the job is not capable of fulfilling it.

She is a feral child, if that is what means to be unable to bear shoes, and tightly cinched dresses, and the abolishment of every adornment (including a dress with elk teeth) she had previously worn.

Torn from her parents, adopted by a strange culture, given new parents, then sold for a few blankets and some old silverware, now sent to stranger after stranger, crushed into peculiar clothing, surrounded by people of an unknown language and an unknown culture, only ten years old, and now she could not even eat her food without having to use outlandish instruments.

Halfway through the novel I know the Captain cares too much about this German girl, who lives and acts like the Kiowa with whom she has lived. We sense that his own two daughters are weak and simpering; in contrast, he seems to admire the strength and ferocity of ten year old Johanna. He feels great compassion for her situation, stolen from her German parents who had been brutally murdered, and then her Kiowa parents; now she is floundering and lost. She is one of those children, as Doris Dillon (a character in the novel) says, “is forever falling.” They both know he is her protection in an unpredictable world.

Yet, he is compelled to make their way through great travail back to her family, and we sense the bond between them growing ever stronger. A man of seventy-two, who reads the news for ten cents apiece from those who want to hear it, has become the grandfather of a girl who once lived with the Kiowa.
They make a strange pair, but who is to say what forms a family? Quite possibly the definition lies in an emotional bond which cannot be severed. Certainly it is not simply the blood which flows through our veins.

As for home, is that a place to which we are born? Or, a place to which we have been taken?

I feel that Paulette Jiles wants to make the case for the estrangement of children who had been kidnapped by the Native Americans, that somehow those children always want to return to that life instead of the “civilized” European life. But, for me the issue is more about the relationship formed by Captain Kidd in his attachment to this child. And, her attachment to him.

The Stand (The Complete and Uncut Edition) by Stephen King. Breathlessly finished.

Deliver us from evil.

It’s a phrase I have repeated over and over in my life, especially when I have been most afraid. It is the only thing I know to say in the face of darkness and fear; that or the words, “I love you.” Even Stephen King knows that evil cannot stand for long against light. Laughter. Or, love.

The characters in this novel know, without needing to be told, who Mother Abagail and the dark man are. They feel the powers at war within themselves; they have dreams which will not let them sleep. And, they are called. Some make their way to Boulder, Colorado where the forces of good are gathering under Mother Abagail’s guidance. Some make their way to Las Vegas, so aptly nicknamed Sin City.

But he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand.You will go, and you will not falter, because you will have the Everlasting Arm of the Lord God of Hosts to lean on. Yes. With God’s help you will stand. (p. 904)

My mother has often suggested that the Enemy is not ugly at all. Because he is the father of lies, the ultimate deceiver, perhaps he is really quite handsome. Perhaps he wears a jacket with two buttons on the front pockets, blue jeans, and low-heeled cowboy boots such as the Walkin’ Dude does.

Perhaps the plague which annihilated most of the world’s population was begun by scientists with less than honorable intentions. Or, perhaps the very hand of Satan was behind their invention gone awry. In any case, the world which Stephen King created in this novel does not seem as far fetched as it once might have been. In fact, the scariest part of all is that it feels downright possible.

Until the very end we are drawn into the battle, witnessing the stand of courage against that which frightens us most.

Yet, I will fear no evil. Even when it seems it will not be vanquished.

German Lit Month Has Arrived

I remember the books I’ve read for the challenges sponsored by fellow bibliophiles with great fondness. I would not have found The Virginian by Owen Wister, had it not been for a Western Challenge hosted by James. I would not have read Kafka On The Shore had I not hosted the first Japanese Lit Challenge. I would not have read Skylight by Jose Saramago if not for Stu and Richard‘s Spanish Lit Month, nor Therese Raquin without Thyme for Tea‘s event, Paris in July. And, I would not have read Buddenbrooks had I not picked it up for German Lit Month which comes around each November.

While I have several books on my night stand for Richard’s Argentinean Literature of Doom event, namely Buenos Aires Noire recently sent to me from Akashic Books, I am sorely tempted to read Effi Briest for German Lit Month, which came wholeheartedly recommended by Tom the last time November rolled around. (Or, was it the year before?)

imageAssuming that I can come through conferences unscathed, meaning not depleted of every ounce of energy remaining since Halloween’s tricks and treats, that is the book I will embark upon, with Peirene Press’ Dance by The Canal closely following.

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The review site can be found here.)

Readathon Ready

The house is clean. The apples have been picked. The stack of books lie in wait. Tomorrow is Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon, a blogging event I took part of at its inception, now faithfully carried on by Andi and others.

Included in the stack above, from the bottom up, are:

Doorways of Paris by Raquel Puig

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

The Scarred Woman by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Behind the Eyes We Meet by Melissa Verreault

Dance By The Canal by Kerstin Hensel

Melville, a novel by Jean Giono

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Sweet Potato by Kim Tongin

Buenos Aires Noir edited by Ernesto Mallo

Not once have I read for the full twenty-four hours, and I’m sure I won’t tomorrow. For one thing, it is my husband’s birthday, and my parents are coming to help us celebrate. So at some point in the day I will need to make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

But, all the time before, and all the time after, I will be exacerbating the pain in my tailbone by reading as much as I possibly can. When I must lie down, it will be with the audio version of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, to which I am listening as I drive to school each day. It is remarkable.

And you? How will you be spending the weekend?