R.I.P. VIII: The Books

Behold four of the books I have for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XIII. Always I will miss the input of Carl, who began the challenge long ago when I myself was beginning blogging; may I hazard a guess of 2006? Be that as it may, here we are thirteen years later. Feeling autumnal. Willing to ‘frighten’ ourselves with spirits and ghosts and eerie stories.

The Laybrinth of Spirits is the latest in the quartet which makes up the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It is, frankly, just as involved and filled with characters as The Shadow of The Wind, a book in which I had to list all the characters on the inside back cover. But, there is an air of mystery, and an aura of the power of books, which melts my heart.

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Palombo is a retelling and continuation of The Legend of Sleepy Hallow told through the perspective of Ichabod Crane’s forbidden love. It will be published October 2, 2019.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell was first published last October, the paperback came out in March. It is described as, “An extraordinary, memorable, and truly haunting book.” –JoJo Moyes, #1 New York Times bestselling author and, “A perfect read for a winter night…An intriguing, nuanced, and genuinely eerie slice of Victorian gothic.” –The Guardian

The Hanging at Picnic Rock by Joan Lindsay is a 50th anniversary edition of a book which has been called, “A beguiling landmark of Australian literature, it stands with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as a masterpiece of intrigue.” Apparently, three girls go off climbing after their picnic, into the shadows of a volcanic outcropping, and never return.

And you? Have you any autumnal reading planned for this fall? For the R.I.P. XIII? (Sign up, if you haven’t already, by clicking here.)

How a sling changed more than my foot…

Don’t you hate it when people take pictures of their feet and post them? Usually, it’s on a beach somewhere, with a perfect pedicure on straight toes and a crashing surf in the background.

Those are not the kind of feet I have. Mine have been crooked all of my life, so much so that I am used to their irregularity. They don’t hurt very much anymore, as a general rule, until this plantar fasciitis thing kicked in.

I have been coping with that since February: icing, taping, stretching, wearing a compression sock (the equivalent of Spanx for your foot, but not any more comfortable), and taking NSAIDs. Nothing has helped.

You give me enough time, I’ll finally go see a doctor, and so with a walking tour planned for October, I thought this might be the time. Off I went last Wednesday.

“You have been suffering with this for far too long,” she said when she walked into the room where I was waiting. She gave me a cortisone shot, a Velcro sling, and an appointment in two weeks if I need it.

Wait. All of this pain has been going on longer than necessary? I have been suffering for months needlessly?

It seems like there’s a lesson in there somewhere. I mean, in between being a stoic, and being a big baby, is the place to be. It never really occurred to me that there were other options than endurance. But, now that I’m aware of that? I think that I will be more open to finding an avenue which doesn’t require gritting one’s teeth against every opposition.

Have you found that balance?

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

 

Who are you? Why are you? What do you want? The problem is this—heading straight toward the miniaturist seems to make her disappear. And yet, she is so often there, watching and waiting. Nella wonders which one of them is hunter, which one of them is prey. (p. 190)

This novel caught my eye when it was first published in 2014, but it wasn’t until I saw that PBS is going to air a mini-series on it this Sunday that I decided to read it.

The Miniaturist is an interesting story, which reminded me a teensy bit of Rebecca in that it contains a young wife and lots of mysterious goings-on in her new household. The novel is set in Amsterdam, in the 1680s, and tells the story of Petronella Oortman who has left Asselfeldt to come marry Johannes Brandt. He presents her with a cabinet of nine rooms, much like a dollhouse of sorts, as he is a loving man albeit with his own limitations.

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Petronella hires a miniaturist to fill the cabinet, whose creations uncannily mimic what comes to fruition within Petronella’s household. We read to discover the identity of the miniaturist, we read to find out specifics of life in Amsterdam during the fifteenth century. It is not the kind of life lived so freely today, where almost any type of behavior is accepted and upheld, as we have no burgomasters passing judgement on every action we make.

Each character is carefully drawn, from Johannes (her husband), to Marin (her sister-in-law), Cornelia (the maid), Otto (the man-servant from Africa) and Jack, a handsome young man from England who betrays them all. There is an interesting concept of  “sugar loaves”, the sale upon which their lives depend, and I found myself fully immersed in this story which Jessica Burton so expertly told.

It will be interesting to see what PBS does with this novel come Sunday, September 9, at 9/8 Central. (You can see the minute and a half trailer here.)

My Midori Traveler’s Notebook…and the 5th Anniversary Edition of the Bullet Journal

Quite possibly you know of how much I adore my Midori Traveler’s Notebook. The leather’s lustre is almost divine now, after three years of constant use, and the insert for the daily diary, at least, is exactly how I like it.

And then there arrived in my inbox an announcement of the Bullet Journal’s special edition celebrating its five years of existence and fabulous success.

The cover is designed by Frederica Santorini, who lives in Rome. I have long admired her talent on Instagram (@feebujo) so it is especially lovely to have one of the limited editions of this journal.

But the best part of all is how we are reminded to “Do what works for you”, and that “Less is more.” In a world filled with the comparison that social media can cause, and the way that my culture tends to feel that “more is better than less”, I am grateful to be reminded of these truths.

I am looking forward to trying the Bullet Journal system in January 2019. How about you? Do you have a journal system of which you are quite fond?

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list) “You have to fight people or you end up with nothing.”

“I used to feel sorry for you bitches,” Jones said. “But if you want to be a parent, you don’t end up in prison. Plain and simple. Plain and simple.”

Life used to be just that straightforward to me. “You live the life you choose,” I thought.

To some extent, I still think that. I want to believe that we control our lives: work hard, have a home; take care of your body, don’t get sick. But the older I get, the more I realize that point of view is very simplistic.

Rachel Kushner shows us, in The Mars Room, how hard it is to be brought up with a dysfunctional mother in the poorest parts of San Francisco. How a childhood of zero chances can more often than not turn into an adult life with the same.

Her heroine, Romy Hall, has been a stripper in a club called the Mars Room. She leaves her son, Jackson, with her mother and tries to strike a balance between entertaining the men enough that they will pay her, but not so much that they stalk her. As one, in particular, does. Relentlessly following her even to another state when she tries to relocate to get away from him.

The way that she describes her childhood is sorrowful, heartbreaking stuff; it’s a life of sneaking into movie theaters, getting drunk on weeknights, fighting for a place in the world because no one’s going to make one for you.

Life in prison is not any better.

Romy is there with a minimum of two life sentences, along with other achingly drawn characters such as Conan, a transvestite, and Sammy Fernandez, who has a network of friends from being incarcerated several times before. We can see what a hopeless place of despair the women’s prison, Stanville, is. Even though these few form a family of sorts, there is no home for them. No comforts, no promise for the future, no hope.

The only thing that gives Romy the least bit of comfort is that her son has a chance for a good life. It is not too late for him, at least.

What Happened After Peet’s Today

I met some of my dearest colleagues for breakfast today, and after they had to skedaddle for some Problem Solving meeting, I decided I had time to stop at Peet’s Coffee. Because their ad for Vanilla Cardamom lattes worked its magic in my subconscious, and let me tell you: they are magical.

“We steep the cardamom in the milk,” the barista told me. “That’s what makes them so good.”

But that’s not what this post is about.

So then I went to pick up another matte red lipstick, as I’ve discovered Wet and Wild’s Stoplight Red is every bit as good (if not better) than MAC’s Ruby Woo, which, as I once heard described, is much like rubbing a rock over your lips.

But that’s not what this post is about, either.

Inside Wal Mart is one of the nicest men I know. He always smiles. He always says hello. He always has time to talk. He sits in his wheelchair and greets people. Really greets them.

“You must’ve gotten up early today,” I say. It is, after all, only a little bit past breakfast.

“I got here at 6:30!” he says, proudly.

“Well,” I say, “you’ve been blessing a lot of people since then.”

“What church do you go to?” he asks me then.

We discuss church for awhile, and other random things, and then as I turn to go I say what I always say before I say good-bye to people, “God bless you!”

And he says, “Let’s keep spreading His joy, all right?”

Let’s keep spreading His joy.

I was gobsmacked. Here is a man, early to his job at Wal Mart where he sits in a wheelchair because he can’t stand, or even move his arms very easily, and he says, “Let’s keep spreading His joy”?!

I know lots of able-bodied people who have no joy at all. None. Nothing to spread but gloom and a victim mentality.

But, this man? He has a lot to teach me.

He reminds me that joy isn’t dependent on circumstance, but attitude. And I want mine to be just like his.

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list)

Calvin Wrobel is a boundary technician for the Air Force in Colorado. His job is to “look for weaknesses in the system, update firewalls, investigate possible security breaches.”

His friend Ted appears on his door on evening, having left Chicago because his girlfriend, Sabrina, is missing. And then a videotape is sent to a news agency depicting her gruesome murder.

How strange it is, to me, to be reading of horrific events in our recent history (from 9-11, to shootings in schools, to the violence we encounter every day on the news) in a comic book form. Yes, I know it’s a graphic novel. I know the subject matter can be serious even when it’s drawn with cartoon characters who have bland expressions. But, the overall effect for me is a little bit like Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.

What?

Are the judges just showing they can be advant garde? Or, is this work truly worthy of a literature prize? I feel like the boy in The Emporer’s New Clothes, the only one willing to declare the truth. “He’s naked!” becomes “It’s a cartoon!” for me.

And yet, the more I read, the more I could acknowledge the impact of this graphic novel. I do not think it should receive the Man Booker Prize, especially when compared with the astonishing writing of Donal Ryan and Michael Ondaatje. But, there is no denying that Nick Drnaso takes on contemporary America, the way that social media distorts truth, and the very real pain resulting from rampant murder in an extremely powerful way.

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews “Trouble is the beginning of disaster.”

While I have been wasting my time with “thrillers” like The House Swap, and Something In The Water, extraordinary spy novels have been lying in wait for me to pick them up.

Red Sparrow is such a novel. Not since Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, or Trevanian’s Shibumi, have I been so entranced by actions of espionage. Especially since it concerns Russia, a country toward which I have held a certain fascination for most of my life.

“I started out by following orders, trying to develop him, just as he was developing me,” she said, physically shaking. “It was a race to see who would recruit the other first.” She still resisted, she was still hanging on to the lip of the cliff. This was an evasion, not an admission. (P. 315)

Dominika wanted to be a ballet dancer. She was thwarted from fulfilling her dream not because of inability, but because another jealous dancer had Dominka’s foot deliberately crushed, leaving her unable to pursue dance. When her father suddenly dies, her uncle manipulates her into joining the Service, and then sending her to Sparrow School where the students are taught how to involve men and women in “intimately compromising” tactics.

She is sent to Helsinki to pursue Nathaniel Nash, a spy for the CIA, who in turn is told to find what he can from Dominika. In a spider web of deceit and atrocities carried out by the Russian government, the two fall in love, yet Dominika returns to Moscow where she endures unbelievably horrific methods of interrogation as she is suspected of knowing more than she allows.

A myriad of characters play off of each other, from Putin to his marionettes, to members of the CIA and those willing to collude with them, which makes for a fascinating read of espionage under terribly dangerous conditions. The moles and the agents turn and deceive, disclosing facts where they can, but hiding many others in the hopes they will not be discovered.

I found this a breathless read, and already have the next book in the trilogy (Palace of Treason) lying in wait.

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje “We order our lives with barely held stories.” (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list)

If you grow up with uncertainty you deal with people only on a daily basis, to be even safer on an hourly basis.  You do not concern yourself with what you must or should remember about them. You are on your own. So it took me a long time to rely on the past, and reconstruct how to interpret it. (p. 169)

Rachel and Nathaniel are left in the care of The Moth, a friend of their parents. They believe their mother and father have gone off to Singapore for a year, but they realize there must be different circumstances when Rachel finds their mother’s trunk in the basement the winter after they left.

The Moth, and his friend The Plimico Darter, make strange caretakers for these siblings. The Moth can disappear for days, yet he reassures them that they are perfectly safe as The Darter has driven by their home to check on them in the night. The Darter has odd girlfriends who come and go, one in particular is seemingly more friendly with Rachel and Nathaniel than she is to him. Why would parents leave their children to these two? Why would the mother leave her trunk behind after packing it so carefully? Where are these parents, exactly?

Michael Ondaatje’s novel, Warlight, examines memory. Abandonment. Family ties. It draws me more deeply in with every page I turn, curious as to the whereabouts of the parents and the survival of the children who are left to grow up on their own.

It is not without resentment that they rear themselves, surrounded by strangers who care to some degree or another about their well-being, but certainly can never replace one’s parents. Or, more particularly, one’s mother. Rachel suffers from terrible epileptic seizures, and who is there to help her? Walter, The Moth. She grows so hateful toward her mother that their relationship becomes irreparable.

But, Nathaniel sits with her when he is 18 and she is 40, playing a game of chess, learning about what it was like for his mother when she was in the Service of the British Army during WWII. They both had to learn how to manage when life was schwer, a German word meaning “hard”, although in entirely different ways.

If a wound is great you cannot turn it into something that is spoken, it can barely be written. (p. 275)

Ondaatje’s novel unfolds as a grown-up Nathaniel searches out his mother’s past, uncovering what she has done, whom she has been with, and why she felt she could leave them. It’s a sad book, reflecting on a mother’s life which did not include much love for her children. And while it is potentially powerful, I’m rather disappointed as I close the last page, feeling that there should have been so much more. At least for Nathaniel and Rachel.

 

From A Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan (Man Booker long list 2018)

Sometimes I think my book review posts ought to consist of nothing more than, “Read this now.” But, how many times do I come across a book which is truly spectacular? Not enough to warrant that kind of statement. So, I write the quotes which have impressed me. I try to give a summary without disclosing too much of the plot. I rarely say how truly special a book is until now.

This book is truly special.

It has been listed for the Man Booker Prize 2018, and if it wins I won’t be a bit surprised. Or, sorry (even though it’s the only book from the long list which I have read so far).

It is a story of three men who have each lost something in their lives. Farouk has had to leave Syria with his wife and daughter, searching for safety for them all. Lampy has had to deal with the loss of Chloe, whom he loves with all his heart even though the feeling is not reciprocated. And, John has to face life without his brother, without the love of his father which he so desperately craves.

These apparently disparate stories are told with such clarity, such sensitivity, such a tenderness, that I savored every word to fully dwell on the story. Each character is so fully realized I feel as if I have met them personally, had them tell me their story in their own words while we sat across from each other. Perhaps best of all, they are intertwined in wholly unexpected ways, bringing them into perfect syncopation with each other.

I loved it. From a Low and Quiet Sea is the best book I’ve read all year.

(Find an excellent review from Booker Talk here.)