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.

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(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.
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(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: http://www.24hourreadathon.com

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.

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.