I Meant No Offense

I had breakfast with an old friend yesterday morning, with whom I love to discuss books. She was the one who introduced me to A. S. Byatt’s Possession, a novel which will always be in my list of top ten favorite books. During the course of our conversation she mentioned reading bits of my blog, and how at one point in my reading of the long list for the Man Booker International Prize I wrote that our library has “nothing but books by Nora Roberts.”

(Gasp.)

In my frustration about the lack of books I wanted to read, I never thought about how disparaging that remark was to others.

And so, I’m sorry.

The last thing I ever mean to be is offensive. In fact, I am struggling not to pick up offense in my own life; how terrible it would be if I was leaving it behind me.

It never ceases to surprise me how this  blog of mine is actually read by real people, some of whom are my real friends. After thirteen years of writing about books, and struggling to find a place as I am not an editor, nor publisher, nor professional reviewer, I am no longer anonymous. But, the power of the written word is quite powerful, and if I have said anything which has caused offense, please know that I never meant it.

The Ditch by Herman Koch

I like Herman Koch’s writing. I liked the moral dilemma of The Dinner, and Summer House With Swimming Pool which told a different story of  misbehaving adults. The Ditch, however, meanders through several issues at once, meditatively enough to remind me of Javier Marias’ writing. One enjoys the book, while at the same time wondering if the plot will ever pull together.

Robert is the mayor of Amsterdam, married to a woman he calls Sylvia because he doesn’t want to disclose her true name, and thus her nationality, lest it prejudices our idea of who she is. He will only tell us she is from a country south and east of Holland, farther than France, and he leaves it at that. Spain? Could she be from Spain, or even farther, a place like Casablanca?

In what struck me as a rather paranoid perspective, he determines that his wife is having an affair after observing her at a party, across the room, throwing her head back in laughter as she converses with Alderman Maarten van Hoogstraten. There is nothing about her behavior which seems suspicious to me, but once the idea occurs to her husband, he can only embellish it in his mind.

Simultaneously, Robert has meetings with his ninety-five year old father who is planning his own death, feeling that he has lived all he wants to and anything more will be downhill.

“That’s the way things are in this country these days, son. When you want to die, they can’t wait to come help. But if you want to enjoy driving for another year, suddenly there are all kinds of ethical objections.”

Near the end of the novel, Robert and his twenty year old daughter discuss her boyfriend, whom she saw kissing another girl on the dance club floor. Diana tells her father that she wants to be the only one, no more looking at other girls, and if he can’t give that to her it’s over.

“Isn’t that sort of one-sided?” I began. “Aren’t you coming down on him a little too hard?”

This, from her father, a husband who has been suspicious of his wife since the novel began. Perhaps in the course of its 300-some pages he has come to see that relationships need flexibility and understanding.

It is never clear whether Sylvia was involved in an extramarital affair or not, nor, I suppose, does it matter very much. The point Koch is making, I think, is that when we love someone, we overcome any negative thoughts we may harbor concerning them. He concludes, “We don’t say much, more often we say nothing at all. We don’t talk as much as we used to. But we are together. We stand close together.”

That is all that really matters.

Frodo’s Courage, an Indomitable Thing

There is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.

After my son and I saw the film, Tolkiena few weeks ago, I knew it was time to pick up his books once again. It has been since I was fifteen or so, reading them in a secluded tower in San Miguel de Allende while our family was there for Christmas. No, I have read bits of them to my son as he was growing up, creating in him a great fondness for travel, adventure, and defying danger.

I love The Fellowship of The Ring for the courage it instills, for the way it upholds what is honorable, true and good, for the way I can liken it to Christianity even though the movie completely avoided such comparisons.

Let this be my first of 20 Books of Summer.

Moby Dick Read-along Plans

moby dick 2I have long been wanting to read Moby Dick, and Brona’s plan seems just about perfect: three to four chapters a week beginning August 1, which is Herman Melville’s 200th birthday. The reading could be followed up with a listening to the chapters on audio at Moby Dick Big Read.

Here is a screenshot of the site, as the name almost sounds…ridiculous:

Screenshot_2019-05-27-19-06-15~2

So, it’s a plan. I have time to finish Lucky Per which was to be May’s read-along, and locate my leather bound, gilt-edged edition of Moby Dick. Perhaps you will join us as well.

Some of the best reading I’ve done all year: Daphne DuMaurier Reading Week

I am most familiar with Rebecca, but I love My Cousin Rachel for creating an equally menacing woman with a duplicitous spirit. Questioning her selfish intent kept me guessing until the end.

Jamaica Inn was a dirty, nasty place filled with a mean, nasty man. I did not like him, nor reading of his thieving ways, but I liked how his niece was rescued by the one she loved. Not, by the way, the Vicar as one might have suspected.

And Frenchman’s Creek, which I have finished just now, has perhaps the best ending of all. After the adventure, and the trysts, and all the romance of loving a pirate, Dona must return to her husband and children. There is no other choice for a mother, after all.

None of the novels have contrived, easily manipulated conclusions like today’s authors are so adept at creating. They have neither the skill, nor the imagination, of Daphne DuMaurier. My month would have been strangely empty had I not indulged in three of her books at Heaven Ali‘s prompting. And for that I thank her.

Lucky Per read-along this May

C0353C75-F9E0-47D7-B1C4-083D27F8D434This painting by Paul Gustave Fischer gives an indication of Denmark about one hundred years ago, and I like the mood he creates in this winter scene. But I am even better able to create an image in my mind when I read.

As I read of Peter Andreas sneaking out of his house at fourteen years of age to go sledding in the moonlight, I immediately sensed the joy he must have experienced until he was caught by the night watchman. Undeterred, he tells a bald-faced lie about there being a knife fight at the top of the hill, and saying he will fetch the doctor he makes a quick escape. (How is that some people are able to lie so quickly, so effectively, and others, when caught, simply stammer or look blank?)

At this point in my reading, he has left his father’s home, determined to succeed in his lofty engineering plan (involving fjord realignment) which has already been proved faulty by his professor. He is borrowing money for suits he cannot afford, and sleeping with women he does not love. I am mesmerized by this novel, which “propelled its author (Henrik Pontoppidian) to a 1917 Nobel Prize for Literature.” (Introduction in the Everyman’s Library edition.) I am reading it, at the suggestion of Dorian, along with several others. You can find comments and observations on Twitter at #LuckyPer2019, and of course you are welcome to join in as we read this month of May.

1965 Club: Hotel by Arthur Hailey

20190423_184726

I had to read Hotel on my kindle, because while it may have been an international bestseller once, our library no longer carries it. Nor does our local Barnes and Noble, or Indie book shop. It is such a fun read, not only because it “catches the reader by the lapels and holds him through its last crowded page” (the Chicago Tribune) but because it reminds me of life in the sixties. When wake-up calls were made by real people at the front desk, when keys were real metal objects connected to a plastic tag with your room number, and when call girls’ phone numbers were written on the front pages of the Gideon Bibles. (Who knew?)

All the inner workings of St. Gregory, a fictional hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans, are laid out for us in intricate detail. From the frat party gone wrong, to the fact that Warren Trent may have to sell his hotel to Curtis O’Keefe due to lacking money for the mortgage, we feel the tension suffered by the employees and guests alike.

There is the Duke and Duchess of Croydon who have a hit-and-run to hide, employing the help of the hotel’s devious investigator, Oligivie. There is Peter McDermott falling in love with Trent’s secretary, Catherine. There is a thief, nicknamed Keycase, who obtains keys through tricky means and comes into people’s rooms at night to lift their valuables. And there are age old issues besides, involving things like unions and racial tensions.

This is a book that brings me back to an era I vaguely remember, while showing us that the “more things change, the more they stay the same.” It was a wonderful choice for the 1965 Club; it would be a wonderful choice for your reading pleasure alone.

(Thanks to Simon and Kaggsy for hosting this reading event.)

1965 Club This Week

1965-club (1)

Both Simon at Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings are hosting the 1965 Club this week, for which one reads a book…published in 1965. Like Karen at Booker Talk, my library has a crap selection of books which qualify, so I have turned to my trusty kindle, as well as my personal collection, to queue up the following reads:

9780440137634-us

1. Hotel by Arthur Hailey. I needed a break from some heavy reading, and so I’m indulging in a plot driven book of life in a hotel which is based on the extensive research Hailey did while living in one, having free reign to both observe and interview the employees.

20181001_2042361830337887

2. The Arm of The Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle is the first story with Polly O’Keefe, a generation after the characters in A Wrinkle In Time. How well I remember reading this in 1975, ten years after it was published, already fully enamored by Madeleine L’Engle’s work.

20190422_071315

3. Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino, for in a perfect world I will have time for all three. This collection of stories is based on his imagination around scientific “facts”; as a person who rarely takes science seriously, I am intrigued by what will come to light through the mind of this writer.

What will you read for the 1965 Club? Like me, do you even remember the year? I, do, just barely. I think it was the year my father promised me a “red renting car” when I turned sixteen, as the four year old me fell in love with a red Thunderbird we took on a trip…

Poem In Your Pocket Day is Today

 

I have loved to celebrate Poem In Your Pocket Day with my class in years past. I taught the children how to make an origami pocket, into which they would place a favorite poem, and off we would go to the school’s reading garden to share them with one another.

This year, my mother had a poem she wished to share. And so, we copied it, rolled it, and tied it in a ribbon for Spring. She brought these poems to our friends at Book Club yesterday, in early celebration of Poem in Your Pocket Day today. (Now the women are prepared to celebrate, too.)

I have to share the poem she chose because it is just delightful, for bibliophiles in particular:

I Opened a Book

I opened a book and in I strode,

now no one can find me.

I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,

my town, and my world behind me.

I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,

I’ve swallowed the magic potion.

I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king,

and dived in a bottomless ocean.

I opened a book and made some friends,

I shared their tears and laughter

and followed their road with its bumps and bends

to the happily ever after.

I finished my book and out I came,

the cloak can no longer hide me.

My chair and my house are just the same,

but I have a book inside me.

~Julia Donaldson

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day! Be sure to share one with someone today.

If Cats Disappeared From The World by Genki Kawamura

20190411_095006

Soon after a young postman learns that his migraines are due to a cancerous brain tumour, he is visited by the devil and offered a deal.

“In order to gain something, you have to lose something…It’s just a matter of a simple exchange.”

“Exchange of what?”

“All you have to do is remove one thing from the world and in return, you’ll get one more day of life.”

Now I love getting rid of things. I’m not diagnosed with cancer, and I don’t make deals with the devil, but purging the house? Emptying shelves, closets, and drawers? I feel very liberated after doing that. So, the deal doesn’t sound all that negative to me. Especially when the first thing to disappear from the world is his phone. And not only his; cell phones are gone from the world. What commisseration I felt in reading this:

Mobile phones have been around for only about twenty years, but in just that short amount of time they’ve managed to take complete control over us. In the span of two decades something that we don’t really need has come to dominate our lives and make us believe we can’t live without it. When human beings invented the phone, they also invented the anxiety that comes with not having one on you. (p. 35)

The next things to go are movies, clocks, and then the issue of cats. Does the postman have it in him to rid the world of cats just so that he can live?

The book is a bit “lumpy”, whether that’s due to translation or the youth of the author I can’t quite tell. There are things that don’t quite connect; for example, what has happened to all the things the devil made disappear from the world when he made a deal with previous people? The theology is a bit wonky, too, in the idea that the devil represents all the regrets one has in one’s life. (If only he was that innocuous!)

But, when I step back and look at it as a whole, I find some very pertinent issues are addressed, such as the relationships in our lives which may need to be healed. Or, the recognition of how fragile we all are. It is the journey which the author takes us on, the discovery through the postman’s eyes, which is what makes this book special.

Yeah, but just being alive doesn’t mean that much all on its own. How you live is more important. (p. 152)

Yes, to that.