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Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

I spent four delightfully rainy days in early January thoroughly absorbed in Christopher Isherwood’s Diaries, volume one–900 small print pages followed by an ever so useful glossary of all the characters and of the many terms unfamiliar to me from his years in the Ramakrishna faith. I wish that all books with a multitude of characters, fiction or non fiction, had a glossary!

The diaries begin right after his 1930s experiences in Berlin, described in the memoir Christopher and His Kind. I haven’t read that book yet so am glad we had just seen a film of it. The Berlin experiences eventually became the famous musical, Caberet..

During World War II, Christopher had moved to the United States and spend a year living with a Quaker group helping refugees from Germany. The rest of the diaries, except for some traveling, take place in California.

I’ve already shared the following passage from near the beginning, the moment where I fell in love with these diaries. Gerald is the friend who introduced Christopher to the ways of Ramakrishna, which Christopher studied for his whole life.

More descriptive writing:

…..

Here are some more of the bits that spoke to me, which is to say they reminded me of my life….and I found it comforting that someone in such a different world (the world of Hollywood in the forties and fifties) had some similar thoughts and experiences.

Christopher had a tribulation that I shared (from 1994 through 2003, culminating in divorce):

(Asit was one of the monk initiates who noisily lived in the room next to Christopher in the Ramakrishna house, described in an earlier part of the diaries.)

…..

…..

Like my sleep deprived relationship, Christopher’s ended in separation.

Even into his fifties, he agonized about and analyzed his friendships.

“What I really want is solitude in the midst of snugness,” he wrote. I found it most endearing that he complained when company came to stay and longed for solitude, and yet went out to dinner and parties what seemed like several times a week.

In his fifties, he wrote often of aging. (His partner, Don, was much younger.)

….

That was just in his fifties! I can’t wait (but must wait) to read about how he felt in his 60s, in the 1960s. He wrote of a friend who turned 65: “Billy in tears, drunk and lonely–and pitiful in a way that a woman of sixty-five is pitiful–her life over. But Billy’s life is by no means over. It may even be really beginning.” That’s good to hear, as I will soon turn sixty-five.

I loved his descriptions of his home throughout the years. He always included the addresses, so I was able to google them and sometimes see inside.

In the late fifties, he and his longtime partner, artist Don Bachardy, bought the house that they would live in till Christopher died, and in which Don still lives.

I was thrilled to find on google street view some photos of the garden along that block today.

Christopher had a garden problem that I could well relate to.

(He had some close women friends, including, to my delight, Dodie Smith, author of I Capture the Castle, one of my favourite books–and 1001 Dalmatians.)

Another close friend, Igor Stravinsky, was not bothered by garden incursions.

I was so pleased to be able to get from Netflix the documentary about Chris and Don…

…which had special features at the end with Don, now an old and accomplished man himself, taking the filmmakers on an inside tour around that very house. So when I read the next two volumes (I am waiting so impatiently for an interlibrary loan of the 1960s diaries!) I will be able to visualize the inside, where Don painted and Chris happily puttered with his houseplants.

Despite the weight and size of the 1000 page tome, Jazmin managed to read part of it with me.

Speaking of solitude, I am finally achieving the non-peopling days of rainy reading that my sanity (and disposition) requires. It was hard to emerge from the diaries and read other books while waiting for the next volume.

Isherwood’s mention of Anais Nin’s diaries–“seventy volumes already”–reminded me that I had read most of them in 1980-ish. I became disillusioned when, as she aged, Nin kept rhapsodizing about how much she wanted to be around young people. Even at age thirty, I thought that was just silliness. Despite the age difference between Christopher and Don, Christopher appreciated the company of friends his own age. Maybe my exasperation with Anais Nin is why memoirs did not become my favourite genre till I discovered May Sarton and Doris Grumbach in the late 1990s.

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Read on 4 December 2019

Long ago, I read and loved Carolyn Heilbrun’s Kate Fansler mystery series and her non-fiction book Writing a Woman’s Life. I had completely missed her memoir about aging until recently, when I learned of it and placed an interlibrary loan.

Here are a multitude of take-aways from what is, so far, my favourite book of my 2019 reading year.

In Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, I was struck by no mention of some of my favourite memoirists, including May Sarton and Doris Grumbach. I was so pleased to see Doris mentioned early on in Last Gift.

And then May Sarton herself appeared at the end of this paragraph about Grumbach.

I knew I was in for a heavenly read.

The subject matter of life over 60 is significant to me because I will soon turn 65.

Heilbrun quotes from a poem by Marilyn Hacker, called Against Elegies.

Soon came the story about one of my favorite things in a memoir, buying a house, coupled with another favorite thing, the joy of solitude.

…..

The idea that something can be happening for the last time is even more poignant to me as I reread this next takeaway a week after an old friend, who wanted to live to be 100, died with no warning, in his sleep, at age just barely 67.

Part of a chapter is devoted to the joys of email (in 1996) and to Heilbrun’s extensive correspondence through that medium. I wonder what she would have thought of the social internet?

Next, I found a whole chapter about May Sarton. What bliss. I once read a disappointing and cruel biography about Sarton which criticized and excoriated her difficult personality. In contrast, her friend Carolyn wrote of her with sympathetic and understanding honesty.

……..

A friend who knew May Sarton and was smitten with her told me a story about being invited over and then being told to go away, because May was in the midst of a writing inspiration. I think it was in her memoirs that I learned the phrase “a person from Porlock”.

I still have these books but must have lent out my two favourites, Plant Dreaming Deep and Journal of a Solitude.

I thought nothing could make me happier than a whole chapter about May Sarton, until turning the page brought me to a chapter about England.

…..

…..

And yet, and yet, something of that first fascination with writings by the English remained, like the aroma of a lost love, pure, fabricated, and enchanting.

…….

I had to look that up.

The chapter goes on with the joys of visiting the home of English friends. Every paragraph is perfection and way too big of a takeaway to share here. Just a glimpse or two:

….

The chapter ends with this delightful quotation about friendship.

…..

On memoirs in general, with reference to a memoirist named Maxine Kumin, whom I have not read.

…..

….

………

More on aging:

….

Below: I remember as a child taking drives out of Seattle with my parents and being in the countryside in twenty minutes, with pastures and cows and horses and barns.

And I know that nostalgia for the past is a privilege.

…..

On reading as an Anglophile:

…..

The passage below is just how I feel about death. Perhaps if Carolyn Heilbrun were still alive, I could contact her on her Facebook page and we could share thoughts about it.

I am reminded of my favourite song, which I would want sung at my funeral, if I wanted a funeral, which I don’t:

Love It Like a Fool by Malvina Reynolds

Baby, I ain’t afraid to die,
It’s just that I hate to say good-bye to this world,
This world, this world.
This old world is mean and cruel,
But still I love it like a fool, this world,
This world, this world.
I’d rather go to the corner store
Than sing hosannah on that golden shore,
I’d rather live on Parker Street
Than fly around where the angels meet.
Oh, this old world is all I know,
It’s dust to dust when I have to go from this world,
This world, this world.
Somebody else will take my place,
Some other hands, some other face,
Some other eyes will look around
And find the things I’ve never found.
Don’t weep for me when I am gone,
Just keep this old world rolling on, this world,
This world, this world.
As Carolyn Heilbrun says…
….which is ironic, because my next post will go as far back as 1982.
My last takeaway to share :
It bothers me no end that Carolyn committed suicide at age 77, only a few years after this book was published. She had planned to do so at age 70 but had found life to be enjoyable after all. No one among her family and friends knows why she did it. The clue to why she did it that I might understand is that “she didn’t want to be a useless person.”
I left out of this long post a few paragraphs about her decision, in her 60s, to get a dog, even though she did not like the idea of getting up early to let the dog out. (I was so lucky that my dog, Bertie Woofter, liked to sleep late as much as I do.) She loved her dog. I wonder if her dog was still alive when Carolyn decided to depart? That seems a significant point that no one mentions. You can read more about it here, including a mention of how much she loved dogs up to her last day on earth. I am sad and mystified. I wish that she had continued to love now and had lived to write another memoir about being in her 80s.

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Tuesday, 26 November 2019

While Allan helped with the crab pot tree decorating, I delved into a memoir.

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Some years ago, I read the author’s memoir, Look Me in the Eye. Recently I read his brother Augusten Burroughs’ childhood memoir, A Wolf at the Table.  I want to reread Look Me in the Eye but have had to make an interlibrary loan request, during which I discovered two other books by him, including the one above.

I love this guy, and here are a few reasons why.

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And…

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And…

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And…

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I 100% relate to that, and to this:

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And to this…

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Which seems a sad ending to my takeways.  I might not have entirely believed that people are often malicious till I was caught in a situation of being shunned in 2014.  A friend who was the other shunned one said to me, “They are picking on the aspies!” and it all of a sudden made complete sense to me, along with a lot of other factors about my life.  Still, I do prefer to think that maliciousness happens sometimes but not often.

I look forward the arrival of Look Me in the Eye, which I will then follow with Robison’s memoir about life with his aspergian son, Raising Cubby.


I had time to read another book.

The China Bayles mysteries are always good.  I love the ritual introduction of the setting in each book.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Today was a work day.  With darkness falling so early, I was able to read the next China Bayles book in the evening (along with watching Survivor and an episode of the Great British BakeOff!)

Again, I do love the description of Thyme and Seasons.

…so soothing to my soul.

Both mysteries are set mostly in the fictional Texas Hills town of Pecan Springs, and both feature lots of plant lore, including orchids in the most recent book.  (Vanilla is an orchid.)  And now I am all caught up with the series again and waiting for the next one.

 

 

 

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There will be a book with gardening lore after two books about life on the internet!

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Last week and this week, I read two books by Siva Vaidhyanathan.

The first, about Google, was written almost a decade ago and still pertinent.

I had no idea that Google owns Blogger (home of blogspot.com blogs).

I find the author’s politics most agreeable:

Fascinating technology:

I followed the book about Google with one about Facebook.

Anti-Social Media is only a couple of years old and thoroughly gripping.

Mr. Vaidyanathan writes at the end that he has no intention of leaving Facebook—or Instagram, where he has an account for his dog (which I long to find but have failed to do so thus far).

One of my favourite non fiction authors has this blurb on the back cover.

During an airplane flight:

I can’t judge anyone for a Facebook addiction, because my own addiction to it runs deep.

I finished Anti-Social Media on the evening of November 16th.  It delves deep into the influence Facebook has on news, journalism, and politics.  I recommend it.



Sunday, 17 November 2019

Today we had reading weather all day long.  What bliss!

from the kitchen window

from the front porch

paperwhites on the kitchen window sill

I sped through the brief (disappointingly brief) newest book by a favourite author.

The repartee between a couple who have entered marriage counseling is miles wittier than any I have ever had in any relationship.

Here comes the book with gardening lore. One of the joys of Facebook is that I have gotten to be Facebook friends with a couple of my favourite mystery writers, Susan Conant (The Dog Lovers’ Mysteries) and

 

Somehow I had fallen behind on the latest two books of the China Bayles series, one of my favourite cozy mysteries.

Every chapter starts with some horticultural lore:

Because I am a stick in the mud, I always like to have all the action in the China Bayles series take place in the fictional Texas town of Pecan Springs.  Each book re-introduces us to China’s herbal shop.

That is where I want to stay.  But the author takes us away to a different location every few books, thus avoiding falling into the Inspector Morse/Midsomer Murders trap of having far too many crimes take place in a small area.

So we left Pecan Springs.  I had never been at all interested in Texas till reading (especially in her memoirs) Susan Wittig Albert’s descriptions of the hill country.

Mama is the big van that China and her friend Ruby use for their business.  As they drove to give a seminar at an olive ranch, I learned that our raccoons, deer, and bears crossing the road are not bad in comparison to…

Pretty much every locaton that Wittig Albert creates makes me wish I could visit.  I don’t mean the hogs, I mean the café at the olive ranch.

Their host at the olive ranch…

If you like a good cozy that is not too safe and confined and that has herbal lore (and some recipes at the end), I’d advise reading the China Bayles series, in order and from the beginning.

Frosty loves reading weather.

After my mystery, I started a young adult novel that I had come upon while ordering Rachel Maddow’s latest book.

I do love a good YA novel as I find they often go deep into issues that people my age could barely touch on when we were in high school. When in my 20s, I noticed this phenomenon, and a lovely librarian at my local branch would find me the best YA novels to read.

The author really does know her Rachel.

By bedtime, I was so involved with the story that I stayed up till three AM to finish it.  (The joys of reading weather!)



Monday, 18 November 2019

With torrential rain (1.15 inch in all) for the entire day, I read another high school book.  It was coincidence that they were back to back.  I’d read a good review of High School by Sara and Tegan Quinn.  I must confess I had never heard of the sisterly musical duo Tegan and Sara. Nowadays I like listening to silence best of all so am out of touch with popular music. Even though once upon a time I would have said my life was saved by rock and roll.

Both the high school books, first the novel and now this memoir, had so much drug use (which most of the characters real and imagined eventually moved past).  I was such a goodie goodie in high school.  A reclusive goodie goodie, much less social than Brynn, Tegan, or Sara.  Sometimes when I think of reincarnation, I realize that even for another chance at life, I would not want to go through high school again.

………….

I remembered at age 25, I wanted to go to my first punk rock show.  But I was so worried because I had heard that the audience jumped up and down and hit each other on the head.

I went to many many shows after my first one and never once did anyone hit me on the head, not even in the mosh pit.

on the cusp of punkdom

I remember seeing the Ramones in LA when I was 26. (Montana Mary drove us there; she had other sights to see there than the Ramones.)  I had my fingers hooked over the plywood barrier right in the front of the standing audience.  When the band came on stage I put my arms up (I loved Joey ever so much) and the surge of the audience behind me slammed the plywood into the metal frame behind it.  I sometimes remember that moment and think that in an alternate timeline I could have lost my fingers.  The crowd was so tight that I could not get my arms down for the rest of the show and by the end, my clothes were drenched to the skin.  I was so thirsty that I walked straight back to our motel (at night, in LA, in the Hollywood district) and got a can of pop from the machine and drank it straight down. What a remarkable event it was.

I enjoyed every bit of Tegan and Sara’s journey to their adult musical career…

…and I have gotten around to listening to three songs of theirs, all of which impressed me.  I intend to listen to them all.

Finally, I closed my three day reading session with two books by David Sedaris.  I feel almost sure that I have read both before and forgotten to note them down.

I loathed the truly mean stories in Barrel Fever and read less than half of the stories.  It is his first (?) book.  If it were the first I had ever read, I’d have skipped all of his subsequent memoirs.  (The essays at the end were better.)

I did enjoy a passage in the Santa Land essay about how people say the same thing and think they are witty and original.

In my world, the most common saying is “You can come to my garden next!”

Fortunately for my reading day, Dress Your Family … is one of his almost completely delightful memoirs.

My favourite line, about his mother at the beach:

I had been aching and longing for reading weather.  Two days had been satiating enough that I felt fine about getting back to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday, 11 November 2019

Allan’s photo

On October 25, I had begun an enormous library book.

I realized then that I needed the perfect rainy day to read it all in one sitting and so set it aside until today.

The pages are so large that the text is in two columns. I very occasionally got confused with the two column format.

 Even  the smaller photos are superbly rendered.

Here are my favourite bits, although I did love every last little bit ever so much.

The team is Monty and his spouse, Sarah.

Agreed!

This is why when I try to add more formality to my garden, made on what was once a river’s edge, it is just not right:

About the weather forecast:

….

In my weather world, that brings hope when the sky is light around the edges.

That is as far as I got in October. Today, I finally had the perfect weather day to finish the book.  It did take the entire day, with two chapters left till the midnight hour after dinner and telly.

This was written before Monty hosted Gardeners’ World and before the Round-Up lawsuit findings:

………

…..

The Misery Loves Company department:

My hedges are the same.

And my sweet peas have the same problem.

Best tips for me:

Really? Also, I had no idea that golden oregano, of which I have so much, was a tasty culinary herb.

The photos are plentiful and sumptuous.

I had a revelation when I read this…

..and realized that we must have two arbors at the fire circle ends of the Rozanne Loop paths.  Bamboo, perhaps, which would be easiest to set into place.

I went to tell Allan all about it and found evidence that he was about to repair the Mighty Mac.

He did get the belt replaced.

Allan’s photo

The very large book was frustrating to lap cats.

This was news to me about what corms are made of:

I also learned that Fritillaria meleagris is known as “Sulky Ladies” in the UK.

Monty reads The Guardian.  Be still, my heart.

Monty has been very open about how he suffers from winter depression.  I was glad to read that he turns the corner right after Christmas.

There are a few other books by Monty that I have not read and that will require making some interlibrary loans or buying them from across the pond.  Locals can get this one from our wonderful Timberland Regional Library.  You will need a comfy chair for reading this enormous tome.

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Sunday, 10 November 2019

I was surprised to see one of my hamamelis (witch hazel) already in bloom.

Fall colour blazed in Ilwaco.

across the street
next door
a maple and our alders

I do wish alders had good fall color.  Their leaves just turn dull greeny-brown and fall off.

a block to the west

Ilwaco Community Building

We did fall clean up and leaf collecting.

the tiered garden
after
Allan’s photo

The weekly Quaker meeting was in session.  One member had good bumper stickers.

I could imagine going to this meeting.  My long ago significant other, Bryan, was from a Quaker family, and his mother, Louise Runnings, was an inspiration to me, as was Laura Woodring, the Quaker mother of Montana Mary.

I trimmed some of the leaves from the hellebore in the entry garden (a bit early, but I don’t want to have to remember later in the year) and did not hoard all of the leaves for myself.

I worried that the heathers were too far out onto the sidewalk.

Heathers look awful trimmed back.  The ones sprawling onto the sidewalk might have to come out in the spring.  Meanwhile, they can have their winter flowers.  Perhaps they can just stay until someone complains, which might never happen.  We did trim the kinnickinnick.

Allan’s photos

I originally turned this job down because of the almost-monoculture of white winter-blooming heather (and the salal!).  Allan convinced me to take it on.  It is mostly his own particular job. Perhaps we can introduce some heather that blooms in the summer, just for variety.  

I do love the wealth of autumn leaves.

The parking lot is one of weird and awkward slopes and steep angles, hard to walk on, some sort of engineering mistake, or so I have heard.

Ilwaco planters

We tidied up the city planters at city hall….

Now they are ready for the person in the office who puts out potted plants to take them over (I hope).

We went on until dark cleaning up as many of the Ilwaco planters and street tree gardens as possible, for the last time.  We are giving up this job because of the bucket watering.

We dug golden oregano out of four of the planters where it had completely taken over.  I had planted it in small amounts from starts of mine, in an attempt to be budget minded.  It had gotten so vigorous in the last few years that I felt that it would daunt the creativity of whoever takes on the job.

It came out much quicker and easier than I had thought it would, thanks to the Root Slayer shovel.

A friend came by just in time to get a few free pieces; the rest will go to narrow, contained beds at the fire station.

The tree gardens got all tidied up, including the two with annoying perennial sweet pea and asters:

Allan’s photos

a vocal audience

We ran out of daylight with four planters left to do.


Reading

Here are some takeaways from a memoir that I read last week, one that did not fit well into the narrative flow of this blog.

I had the amazing good fortune as a child to be taken camping by my parents by a river, with a rocky beach that had a grove of (maybe) willows, and in that grove I was surrounded and landed on by butterflies in the way that Burrough describes.

The memoir is not a collection of bucolic nature stories; it is mostly about Burroughs’ tyrannical and twisted father.  Parts of it sounded so familiar to me, like this:

…my mother on the main floor, my dad in the basement, and me in the attic.

This passage…

..reminded my of the daily surge of bliss I felt in my 20s to be a grown up out on my own.

I also think, when I read friends’ (Facebook friends, mostly) stories of having had wonderful fathers, do they know how lucky they are?

What Augusten feels when he meets a father who is lovingly proud of his son:

So, if you have or had a good father, rejoice, and never take it for granted.  (I must add that when I was 32 and suffering from a broken heart, my father wrote to me an astonishing letter of support, saying the heartbreaker in question did not deserve me and other such comforting words.  It was so out of character from our usual relationship that I wish I could understand why…. Lately, I have realized how very little I know about my father. Did I ever ask him questions about his childhood in Chicago? If I did, the answers were not forthcoming and now I will never know.)

I think I have now read everything by Mr. Burroughs except for his latest book, which I have on order and await impatiently for winter reading. I was fascinated to realize that another memoir I read several years ago, Look Me in the Eye, about growing up autistic, was written by Augusten’s brother. I think I must reread it.

 

 

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Wednesday, 6 November 2019

This week, I read two books that were recommended to me by Terri of Markham Farm. Thanks to early darkness tonight, I had time to finish the first of them, an excellent, gripping book I had been reading at bedtime: Astoria by Peter Stark.

I had thought it would be about the early days of the town of Astoria, Oregon.  Instead, it was about the tribulations of the explorers that wealthy John Jacob Astor sent, by land and by sea, to create a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River. Their story has been eclipsed by that of Lewis and Clark. I found it more interesting, perhaps because Peter Stark is such a good writer.

My favourite bits:

In a settlement on Mackinack Island:

The French voyageurs are an appealing bunch:

A bit about botanists:

This is where I live!

and…

The travelers by land would not have survived had it not been for the kindness of tribes along the way.

Unfortunately, we all know how unrewarded the tribes were for their kindness.

On the coast, the tribes such as the Chinook lived in comfort:

In the raw settlement that would become Astoria, the settlers did not fare as well:

…followed by a description of their pitiful results.

I had forgotten my history, that at one time this area was under British rule…

..and could have become a part of Canada (I wish it had!) if the story had played out differently.

From the end notes:

I highly recommend this book and intend to read anything else I can find by author Peter Stark.

I read it in good company.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

We had much needed rain.

I did some potting up for my plant sale and then had time to read another book recommended to me by Terri:  Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners, about the gardens of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison.

Just some of my favourite bits, which were many:

Back in America:

Jefferson and his high risk botanizing:

…Oh, for leaders like these:

………

Jefferson:

Madison was ahead of his time about agriculture.

I could not, however, fully admire these men and their gardening and political accomplishments while knowing that the gardens were built on slave labor.  When I read a passage like this…

…I would ask, who built all that? While the fact that the founding fathers owned slaves was mentioned early on, not till the latter part of the book was it made more clear how the gardens were created.

and…

Finally, a chapter toward the end addresses the way the slaves were housed and treated as they created magnificent gardens.  I hope there was some joy in the work but can’t excuse the way the supposedly enlightened founders thought it was acceptable to own people.

I intend to read more by Andrea Wulf, beginning with this book:

Thank you, Terri, for two excellent recommendations!

 

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