Going Forward

It’s good you can’t see my face. I was a bit teary walking out of school for the last time yesterday afternoon. Five of my friends went with me, some lagging behind to take this picture unbeknownst to me.

It has been a long good-bye. A year long anticipation of this moment, which actually feels more like the beginning of summer than the ending of a career. (The cheerful woman from the Employee Assistance Program told all the retirees that this would happen. “It won’t be until September that you get totally depressed,” she said.)

I know that I can come back to read to the children, to read in some classrooms or the library. But, it won’t be the same. I won’t have my own classroom, which has become a family of sorts, with a history of remembered jokes and stories. That is precisely why I cannot sub, because I couldn’t stand popping in day to day with no lasting relationship with the children.

We all know the ending of something is the beginning of something else. I’m looking forward to blogging with the zeal I felt in 2006, actually commenting on your blogs as I visit them. I’m looking forward to reading even more than I do now, and reviewing more of the books which are sent to me. I’m looking forward to attending BSF (Bible Study Fellowship International) this September, and swimming and cycling this summer; seeing my family more, seeing my friends, and not rushing into making dinner fifteen minutes before we eat it.

But for now, for today, I am absorbing the fact that I am officially retired. I will never walk into school the same way that I left it yesterday, because we can never go back. Now is the time for going forward.

Middlemarch by George Eliot (completed today)

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I must admit that Middlemarch didn’t interest me much until the last hundred pages. I forced myself to continue with it, due to my promise to Arti and Gretchen, and quite possibly it would have been more enjoyable if we three were together discussing it over a cup of tea with lemon. As it was, I sat this Memorial Day Weekend with this tome, in unbearable humidity, bound and determined to finish it so that I can get on to Cult X and Testament of Youth. I am not very patient with English literature, which always seems to need a better editor than it had. (Not one page of Anna Karenina, similar in length, tired me.)

And now for the interesting bits. Tertius Lydgate, who unfortunately married Rosamond Vincy, has become so far behind in debt that he beseeches his wife to give up her purple amythests, sell the silver plate, and even move to a less expensive home. Her pride, and her attachment to her belongings, forbid such actions, and she turns the situation to being his fault alone. She is completely unwilling to support him and turns her graceful neck away at an angle that makes me want to strike it.

So, Lydgate appeals to the banker, Mr. Bulstrode, who gives him one thousand pounds. Yet, almost simultaneously, a patient of Lydgate’s dies, and the townspeople believe that the money given by Bulstrode, and accepted by Lydgate, is a bribe.

”It has come to my knowledge since,” he (Lydgate) added, “that Hawley sent someone to examine the housekeeper at Stone Court, and she said that she gave the patient all the opium in the phial I left, as well as a good deal of brandy. But that would not have been opposed to ordinary prescriptions, even of first-rate men. The suspicions against me had no hold there; they are grounded on the knowledge that I took money, that Bulstrode had strong motives for wishing the man to die, and that he gave me the money as a bribe to concur in some malpractices or other against the patient-that in any case I accepted a bribe to hold my tongue. They are just the suspicions that cling the most obstinately because they lie in people’s inclination and can never be disproved.” (p. 811)

That last line is perhaps the briefest summary of Middlemarch, a novel in which George Eliot examines the defamation of character, and the consequential ruin of one’s trust in oneself; the bond of marriage which can suffocate when it is an unhappy one; the superficiality of the masses when assembled together in the same small town.

Dorothea Casaubon calls Lydgate to her home, and comforts him with her gentle and true spirit which insists on seeing the good in others. When she writes a checque for one thousands pounds for Rosamond, and delivers it to her home, she unexpectedly comes upon Rosamond and Will Ladislaw sitting altogether too closely on the sofa. He his clasping her hands in his, and the situation looks compromising. But this doesn’t bother Rosamond half as much as it does both Will and Dorothea.

”Shallow natures dream of an easy sway over the emotions of others, trusting implicitly in their own petty magic to turn the deepest streams, and confident, by pretty gestures and remarks, of making the thing that is not as though it were. She (Rosamond) knew that Will had received a severe blow, but she had been little used to imagining other people’s states of mind except as a material cut into shape by her own wishes; and she believed in her own power to soothe or subdue.”

Yet, as we read on it is Dorothea’s character to seek the good in people, to believe in the triumph of good over evil, and to know that money cannot possibly bring the happiness so desired by many. Her first husband, Mr. Casaubon, had meanly forbidden her to marry again, specifically the one she truly loved, or else she should lose the property he had left to her. But this sword will not cut through her armor, one which chooses truth over prosperity. I love how she ends with the one she loves.

As I close the last pages, I am pleased with the outcome of this book, happy that I have read a classic I had not read before. It would be a perfect story for Masterpiece Theater, as there is so much wisdom inherent to its tale told through the foolishness of so many of its characters.

”Yes, dear, a great many things have happened,” said Dodo in her full tones.

“I wonder what,” said Celia, folding her arms cozily and leaning forward upon them.

“Oh, all the troubles of all the people on the face of the earth,” said Dorothea, lifting her arms to the back of her head.

The Shadow Jury Declares A Winner for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

It’s been ten weeks since the Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced, and in that time the Shadow Panel has been working away in the background, reading frantically while discussing the merits and flaws of the selected titles. From the thirteen books we were given by the official judges, we chose a shortlist of six (only two of which made the official cut!), and off we set again, to reread as much as possible in the time we had left. Then, we discussed the books a little more before voting for our favourites, culminating in the choice of our favourite work of translated fiction from the previous year’s crop. And who might that be?

THE WINNER OF THE 2018 SHADOW MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE IS:

OLGA TOKARCZUK’S FLIGHTS

(FITZCARRALDO EDITIONS, TRANSLATED BY JENNIFER CROFT)

Congratulations to all involved! While not a unanimous decision, Flights easily won the majority of votes from our judges. In fact, in the seven years we’ve been shadowing the prizes (IFFP, then MBIP), this was the clearest winner by far, showing how impressed we were by Tokarczuk’s integration of seemingly disparate pieces into a mesmerising whole. Thanks must also go to Croft for her excellent work on the book – as always, it’s only with the help of the translator that we’re able to read this book at all.

A special mention should also go to Fitzcarraldo Editions. This is their second consecutive MBIP Shadow Prize, as we selected Mathias Énard’s Compass as our winner for 2017; they have proved to be one of the UK’s rising stars of fiction (and non-fiction) in translation.

*****

And that’s it for 2018…

Firstly, I’d like to thank the rest of our Shadow Panel. While David, Bellezza and Lori were around to help once more, it was a new-look team this year with Paul, Vivek, Naomi, Oisin and Frances joining the crew. It’s been fascinating to compare our opinions about the books, even (or especially!) when we disagreed about them. Here’s hoping that we can do it all again next year.

Additionally, let’s give a shout-out to all the readers and commenters out there. It’s heartening to have people appreciate our endeavours, and when people say that they’re following the prize vicariously through our reviews and comments, even if they don’t have time to read all the books themselves, it makes us feel as if the whole process is worth it.

Finally, we’d like to thank the official judges for taking the time to read an awful lot of books in order to select the cream of the crop. We hope that their final choice, to be announced about twenty-four hours after ours, is a worthy winner to round off this year’s prize. Who will it be? Could they possibly recognize the winner to be Flights as the Shadow Panel has done?

Just call me The Rocket

The Dolphin Dash was this weekend on Saturday; a 5K or a 1 mile run which all the students and their parents sign up to do. Some people take it very seriously, even going so far as to train for the run which is always held the first weekend in May. I, of course, read as hard as I could.

Every year I walk the 1 mile with a parent or two, enjoying the sunshine and the walk and being surrounded by my kids. But long passed are the days when I ran a 6 minute mile in college.

This year, I crossed the finish line (with my timing chip left at home on the kitchen counter) to the cheers of students and the announcement of the P.E. teacher shouting into the microphone, “And now, with a time of 17 minutes and 55 seconds, we have Meredith, The Rocket, Smith!”

It was all great fun, and after I hugged him, I said I was going home.

“What?” he joked. “You’re not waiting for the announcement of the times?” I smiled at him, and left.

This morning, the children walked into my room shouting and screaming. “Mrs. Smith! You won the huge trophy!”

“No,” I said.

But, in walked the PTA mother who had arranged the entire Dolphin Dash with the biggest trophy I have ever won. It said, “Fastest Female” on the bronze plate in front. So, I had to have a picture for proof.

Because NO ONE, least of all me, would ever have expected me to win a running race. It is the most hilarious thing I’ve experienced all year. And, in case you want to congratulate me, it was because I was the only female teacher who ran walked.

I’m still laughing quietly to myself.

The Man Booker International Prize 2018 Short List: In My Opinion They Got One Right

As you may have noticed, the Man Booker International Prize 2018 short list was revealed yesterday. But, I didn’t write a post on it yet because I needed some time to absorb the judges’ decision, as so often happens with literary prizes for which I am reading. Of the six books listed, I have read all but one (Vernon Subutex 1); of the five I have read from this list, I feel only one really ought to be on the short list.

Each book does, of course, stand out in its own way:

  • Han Kang’s writing in The White Book is gorgeous. But, I could find little connection with her content.
  • László Krasznahorkai’s book, The World Goes On, is deep and insightful, yet hopelessly dark.
  • Like A Fading Shadow would simply not end in a drawn out, boringly repetitive account of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray and his attempted escape to Lisbon.
  • Frankenstein in Baghdad dealt with a corpse made up of body parts from the deceased in Iraq; I found it rather forced, and an ineffective way to describe the horrors within that country as the monster elicited no compassion within me, unlike the other monster by Mary Shelley. Also, what some described as humorous, I found tragic.
  • Which leaves me with Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, a book I thought to be brilliant the first time I read it, and hoped to be included in the short list. From these six, may her book be the one which wins.

All opinions are my own, and they are not to be confused with the Shadow Jury’s thoughts. Many of us are quite happy with the short list, as you will discover on Thursday, or thereabouts, when we reveal ours. Until then, here is the official list in case you haven’t yet seen it:

The 2018 shortlist (link to the brief video here):

Author (country/territory), Translator, Title (imprint)

• Virginie Despentes (France), Frank Wynne, Vernon Subutex 1 (MacLehose Press)

• Han Kang (South Korea), Deborah Smith, The White Book (Portobello Books)

• László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet & George Szirtes, The World Goes On (Tuskar Rock Press)

• Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spain), Camilo A. Ramirez, Like a Fading Shadow (Tuskar Rock Press)

• Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq), Jonathan Wright, Frankenstein in Baghdad (Oneworld)

• Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), Jennifer Croft, Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Let’s talk about what determines a prize winning novel, shall we?

The Man Booker International Prize short list will be revealed on Thursday, April 12. I am sure that the official judges are pondering each of the thirteen novels on the long list, discussing amongst themselves which six ought to be included in the final round. It can’t be an easy job. It isn’t easy for me, and I am not an official judge, a professor, or professional reviewer. I simply stand on the five decades of experience, and volume of books, I’ve accumulated as a reader.

Yet there is the matter of personal preference, which came up today in a fragmented discussion between me and a fellow shadow jury member. He feels a very strong emotional attachment to a book I cared about not in the slightest. I value his opinion highly, and I stand in awe of his beautifully articulated reviews. So where do we go from here? The other members of the shadow jury will weigh in, and we’ll sort it out. But, there are a few qualities which make me feel a book is prize-worthy beyond the quality of the writing itself.

For me, an exceptional book must have an honorable aspect, something that sets it apart from the common, degrading, dark aspects of life. Of course those elements exist, but I need to have more to hang on to. I need to know that there is something beyond filth and despair when I have finished such a novel, even if it is only a lesson. (Charlotte’s Web is a good example. One could argue that it contains aspects of murder and death as Wilber is slated for slaughter and his best friend does, in fact, die. But, balanced with this reality are honorable things like friendship and self-sacrifice and hope for the future.) Don’t give me a book which is nothing but bleak despair, leave me with only that in my mind, and expect me to claim it deserves an award.

The other thing a novel must have, for me, is an emotional connection. I need to feel that if I haven’t cried, at least there were tears close at hand; if I haven’t laughed, at least I’ve smiled. I need to put the book down from time to time in order to fully absorb it, or record some powerful thought. I need to care about the characters and what happens to them, even if the outcome is only derived from my own imagination. They need to breathe and move and leap off the page for me, instead of laying there inert.

It’s probably a good thing I’m not representing a specific publisher or author, that I write my blog purely for my own pleasure in recording what I’ve read and my opinion about those titles. Surely members of the Shadow Jury panel don’t agree with me completely; after all, we take into consideration the quality of the writing, the content of the novel, and the longevity we think it will hold in the future. No where is there a category to score a novel in terms of “honor” or “emotional impact”. Those are just two qualities which are important to me.

And you? What makes a book most noteworthy in your opinion?

Thanks for your help; here’s what I bought:

I am sitting at my desk with an iPad Pro, in rose gold (if that matters) and a Logitech keyboard which is excellent! It’s backlit, it’s sturdy, and I have all the perks of an iPad and a laptop in one. I couldn’t be happier.

Reading all of your ideas was helpful. But, it’s rather like helping someone choose a lipstick. Revlon makes a great one, and so does Chanel; it really is up to the individual user to determine what will suit her needs.

There is a most annoying thing which I keep on forgetting: nothing is perfect.

I look for perfection wherever I go. The perfect size and weight (for myself). The perfect shade for my mouth. The perfect job, career, occupation. It isn’t possible. The best thing to do is to make the wisest choice possible, and be content with what you have.

That is the lesson from my searching for a device; it’s a lesson I’m learning over and over again. And in the meantime, I surely do love this tablet/laptop combination.

Even though I keep reaching for a mouse which isn’t there.

Quick Question: On which device do you prefer to blog?

I am considering whether I should buy an Apple laptop as an early retirement present for myself. At first, I was thinking of the MacBook Air, but now I see that the iPad Pro, which has an attachable full-size keyboard, would be comparable in price with more power and portability…

I’ve used a Dell laptop, an iPad Mini, and my phone (of all crazy things to blog on), but I would truly value your opinion.

So speak to me, friends. What do you use? And, are you happy with it?

We Should All Be So Joyful About Such Simple Things

“Hi, Mrs. Smith!” says Saahithi, jumping into my room this morning. “Do you notice anything different about me?”

“Well,” I say, “your hair is in a beautiful pony tail…”

“No, I got new shoes! My bedtime is normally 7:30, but I went to bed at 8:00 last night because we went to the Premium Outlet Mall, and I got new Nikes!”

“Wow! They are purple and they have green accents,” I say. “Now those are gorgeous!”

“I know, right?!” she replied, happily smiling and turning her foot from side to side for me to admire every angle.

The bell rings, and I have to send her onward to her fourth grade class, but the joy of a nine year old thrills my heart. Oh, that we wouldn’t lose it.