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.


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?

August Is (Still) Spanish Lit Month; August is Women In Translation Month

Since I don’t have to prepare a classroom in August for the first time in 35 years, I can focus on literature this month. Since Spanish Lit Month and Women In Translation Month align, I can read for both at the same time. And so, we have the books in my kindle and on my shelf:

Umami by Laia Jufresa (translated by Sophie Hughes)

From OneWorld Publications:

Using five voices to tell the singular story of life in an inner city mews, Umami is a quietly devastating novel of missed encounters, missed opportunities, missed people, and those who are left behind. Compassionate, surprising, funny and inventive, it deftly unpicks their stories to offer a darkly comic portrait of contemporary Mexico, as whimsical as it is heart-wrenching.

Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo (translated by Charlotte Coombe)

From Charco Press:

From internationally acclaimed author Margarita García Robayo comes Fish Soup, a unique collection comprising two novellas plus the book of short stories Worse Things (winner of the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize)
Throughout the collection, García Robayo’s signature style blends cynicism and beauty with an undercurrent of dark humour. The prose is at once blunt and poetic as she delves into the lives of her characters, who simultaneously evoke sympathy and revulsion, challenging the reader’s loyalties as they immerse themselves in the unparalleled universe that is Fish Soup.

I am so excited to read these two this month, while hopefully also fitting in Javier Marias’ Fever and Spear.

And you? Do you have plans for Spanish Lit Month? Women in translation?

A Blogging Shift

Life is short. I would rather sing one song, than interpret a thousand. ~Jack London

Two interesting things happened this week, and it’s only Wednesday. One, is that a post about my hair got more attention than my posts about books. The other is that while I was having coffee with a friend I greatly respect and admire, she said, “You should write more about life.”

I often have trouble finding just the right niche. When the group is doing one thing, I most frequently am doing another. Being out of tandem with everyone else is a common experience for me; finding myself rather alone has become so normal that I used to joke at school, “Smith, party of one.” I’m not saying this as pity, in fact, it’s rather a point of pride. When are the masses ever right?

That does, however, leave a question about my purpose here. I started a blog twelve years ago with a name which doesn’t even relate to books because I didn’t really intend to write a book blog. Dolce Bellezza was supposed to refer to “Gentle Beauty” as in “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” (1 Peter 3:4). I was always going to write about life as I know it (faith, teaching, reading, everyday thoughts). And then I met Lesley, and we started to talk about books we’ve read, and before you know it I had veered into a book blog because it was so much fun.

Blogging about books has greatly enriched my life. I have discovered authors that I’d never heard of let, let alone read, even though I consider myself a fairly well read person. I have received such a plethora of books to review that I will never, ever be able to read them all. I have hosted eleven Japanese Literature Challenges, and I have had the utter joy to be a part of the IFFP Shadow Jury, the Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury, and the Booker Shadow Jury. I would trade none of those experiences. Nor do I intend to lay them all down.

But, now that I’m retired I’m wondering if blogging mostly about books suits my purpose. I think I’m more interested in exploring the world outside of the classroom. I think I’m more interested in expanding my blog to something other than the narrow confines of merely reviewing literature, which is only an interest of mine, and never an area of expertise.

In an effort to “sing only about one song, rather than interpret a thousand”, I am planning to blog more about life and less about the thousand books which are lying in wait for me to read. I will still be reading. I will still write about what I’ve read. But, only when I want to. Only when a book has called to me in a loud, clear voice. Other than that, let’s journey onward to broader roads which beckon and call. Let’s explore more thoughts outside of the pages. Are you with me?

Let’s talk about going silver, shall we?

You’ll notice I said “silver”, didn’t you, instead of “grey”? Because like so many terms in our world today, silver has better connotations than grey, and we are all about shades of meaning in the 21st century.

(Two months in)

Be that as it may, I stopped having my hair colored in March for several reasons, and the journey is a fascinating one. To me, at least, which is why I’m writing about hair instead of books. (Plus, everyone I know is sick of talking about it with me.)

I stopped with the coloring process for these reasons:

  1. It hurt.
  2. It is rather expensive to have it done at the salon. Which I did.
  3. It turned a bizarre brassy shade in the sun, which was neither brown nor blonde.
  4. It didn’t last.
  5. I wanted to see what I really looked like, what my hair was doing unbeknownst to me under all that dye for all those years.

You’d be amazed about all the comments people give you, solicited or not. Here are some of the most oft-repeated reactions:

  1. It will age you ten years.
  2. Why would you do that?!
  3. Don’t do that!
  4. It looks beautiful!
  5. I would never have the guts.
  6. You should cut it all off.
  7. Does your husband let you do that?
  8. I didn’t recognize you sitting there/walking across the park/from behind.
(Four months, in a French braid)

Now, I never tell people what to do with their hair, so it’s interesting that some should feel compelled, unsolicited, to tell me what to do with mine. But, that’s not the unsettling part. The part that feels really weird, now that I’m four months into this process, is not being recognized. Am I really defined by my hair? Is who we look like on the outside the same as who we are on the inside? A knee-jerk reaction is, “Of course not!” Still, even some people who are the closest to me have to look for me twice.

My hair is a serious point of vanity for me. I love its thickness, its curl, its weight. So to undergo such a big change is a strange thing. I have mixed feelings about it even now, and as my hairdresser said, “You’ve only just begun.”

I tell myself I can always go back to dying it brown. But, after all this conversation, all this time, all this impatient waiting, I don’t think I’ll do that. It’s really nice to be free from the time, effort, and expense of hair color. I think I’m going to like the silver which is appearing more and more each day, revealing who I really am.

The Man Booker 2018 long list is revealed

I am not surprised to see Michael Oondatje’s book, Warlight, but I am surprised by Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room, in the Man Booker Prize longlist for 2018.

I have a plethora of books laid out for me as I hope to continue with Paris in July as well as Spanish Lit month (which thankfully extends into August), so I am not sure how many of these I’ll read before the short list is announced on September 20.

The 2018 longlist, or Man Booker ‘Dozen’, of 13 novels, is:

Author (country/territory)          Title (imprint)

Belinda Bauer (UK)                      Snap (Bantam Press)

Anna Burns (UK)                          Milkman (Faber & Faber)

Nick Drnaso (USA)                       Sabrina (Granta Books)

Esi Edugyan (Canada)                 Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail)

Guy Gunaratne (UK)                    In Our Mad And Furious City (Tinder Press)

Daisy Johnson (UK)                     Everything Under (Jonathan Cape)

Rachel Kushner (USA)                The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape)

Sophie Mackintosh (UK)              The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton)

Michael Ondaatje (Canada)         Warlight (Jonathan Cape)

Richard Powers (USA)                 The Overstory (William Heinemann)

Robin Robertson (UK)                  The Long Take (Picador)

Sally Rooney (Ireland)                  Normal People (Faber & Faber)

Donal Ryan (Ireland)                    From A Low And Quiet Sea (Doubleday Ireland)

Are there any which surprise you? Any you wish would be the winner, which is to be declared on October 16?

24 Hour (Reverse) Read-a-thon Coming Soon

What a lovely idea for Summer! When our time is perhaps more available, or at least flexible, and we can enjoy our books on a Summer night into the following day. For me, it will be a much needed opportunity to indulge in reading for Paris in July (hosted by Tamara) and Spanish Lit Month (hosted by Stu and Richard).

How does it work?

It’s simple! For our lovely participants around the world, we’ll start this readathon at 8:00 PM Friday, July 27 and run through July 28 at 8pm, Eastern Standard time, where we normally start at 8:00 AM Saturday. Still 24 hours

Sign up here:

Or, simply read along with us as you can.

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

A bunch of pale pink roses with slightly curling petals. A stylistic photograph of Hyde Park where the bank of the Serpentine runs close to Kensington Garden. Little things like this unnerve Caroline, who has come to this house with her husband to relax, to be free of the traumas which evidently still plague them. It seems these items have been deliberately placed by someone who knows her, to set her on edge.

Caroline has had an affair. Her husband, Francis, has a card of bubble wrapped pills half hidden under a basket. They have much to repair in their marriage, and this get-away may prove helpful.

Or, it may unravel them further.

Thrillers are a guilty indulgence for me, and this one is looking like it may be more than the average psychological novel, most of which have, of late, run all together in my mind. So far, I am completely absorbed in it; I’ll let you know what I think as soon as I finish it.

Update: I have finished the House Swap. It was fine. It held my interest, it told an interesting story of a troubled marriage and a woman (not the wife) intent on revenge. Elements were carefully revealed, such that I didn’t feel manipulated. Yet, neither did I feel it was absolutely stupendous.