Classics Club Spin #16

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I think this has come at a good time. My energy is flagging a bit and I feel the pressure of unfinished challenges before the year ends. Yes, this is self-inflicted pressure, but I sign up for these specific challenges because I LIKE them and the books they involve.

These Spins always bump up my enthusiasm and even though I don’t always finish on time, I usually do finish at some point. (Case in point: the last Spin, #15, was to be posted on May 1st. The Spin Goddess chose #12 which was Dracula. That post went up October 10th)!

If you are a Classics Clubber and have never done this I encourage you to try. It’s fun and you feel like part of the community.

It’s easy and simple to participate. From the website:

 

What is the spin?

It’s easy. At your blog, before next Friday, November 17th, create a post to list your choice of any twenty books that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the year (details to follow). Try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five Classics Club books you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, re-reads, ancients — whatever you choose.)

On Friday, November 17th, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by December 31, 2017. We’ll check in here in January to see who made it the whole way and finished their spin book!

 

Here is my list of 20 beginning from the top of my list of books I already have on my shelves. All the classics here would be first reads. I know, I know Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights…where have I been?!!

 

Jane Austen
1.Pride and Prejudice (1813)
2.Persuasion (1817)

Richard Doddridge Blackmore
3.Lorna Doone (1869)

Anne Bronte
4.Agnes Grey (1847)
5.The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
(1848)

Emily Bronte
6.Wuthering Heights (1847)

Willa Cather
7.O Pioneers! (1913)

Daniel Defoe
8.Robinson Crusoe (1719)

Theodore Dreiser
9.Sister Carrie (1900)

Daphne Du Maurier
10.Rebecca (1938)

George Eliot
11.Silas Marner (1861)
12.Daniel Deronda (1876)

Elizabeth Gaskell
13.Mary Barton (1848)
14.Cranford
(1851)
15.North and South (1854)
16.Wives and Daughters
(1864)

George Gissing
17.The Odd Women (1893)

Radclyffe Hall
18.The Well of Loneliness (1928)

 Henry James
19.Portrait of a Lady (1881)
20.The Bostonians (1886)

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In Search of the Round Table

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I am happy to let you know I have a guest post up today for WitchWeek, at The Emerald City Book Review, In Search of the Round Table.

This year the theme is Dreams of Arthur and Lory has done a smashing job of organizing this event around all things King Arthur.

I thoroughly enjoyed researching the early sources for the Round Table after reading an article about researchers in the UK who wondered if this famous table was actually a table at all!

Caerleon
Is this the Round Table?

 

WitchWeek 2017 & The Days of the Dead

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In many traditions at this time of the year it is believed the veil between the living and the dead is thin. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Halloween/Samhain, the Day of the Dead and All Saints’/All Souls’ Day occur within days of each other. Darkness has begun its descent over the land and that always brings up death. Christians probably took up the earlier concept of the Pagan commemoration of the dead and made it their own, but instead of seeing this as a competition, I see it as complementary.

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I came to this conclusion as I worked on my guest post for WitchWeek, a week long celebration of fantasy books and authors hosted at the Emerald City Book Review. This year, the theme is Dreams of Arthur.  I finally understand the overlap of Paganism and Christianity that infuses King Arthur and Camelot: that King Arthur emerges from Celtic folklore, yet becomes very firmly placed in one of Christianity’s biggest mysteries, the Quest for the Holy Grail.

That the occupier appropriates the customs of the occupied is an important awareness, but it doesn’t mean we have to throw out the newer rites. During the last several generations the resurgence of Paganism, Witchcraft, modern Druidy and other non-Christian traditions continues to rise and practitioners reconstruct rites and ceremonies that, in my opinion, are a positive shift.

The last harvest is another theme we share. Just as in the old days people spent this time of the year gathering up the last of the harvest, bringing in the animals and making preparations for winter’s long period of indoor living, we do the same. This was made clear to me during the years I lived in Chicago when the changes of seasons—and the changes of activities—especially during winter, were in stark contrast to those of my native California!

crowmoonSo, as we begin to pull in both externally as well as internally we reap our modern harvest. And as we did of old we celebrate our ancestors and remember our more recent dead.

I wish everyone a Happy Halloween, Samhain Blessings, a meaningful Dia de los Muertos and Blessed All Saints’/All Souls’ days.

 

I am remembering my dad today, who died this year:

James Martin Welch
June 26, 1932-April 17, 2017

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Are you remembering anyone during this time?

 

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Join Lory this week in celebrating King Arthur, his Knights and the Camelot community with posts, a giveaway, lively discussions and a readalong of Kazuo Ishiguro’s, The Buried Giant!

Blogging the Spirit: When Others’ Words are Sacred

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Everyday is a renewal,
Every morning the daily miracle.
This joy you feel is life.
Gertrude Stein

 

When I say I connect to God in Nature, it sounds so trite.

And so unoriginal. Even though it is true.

I am not very good at articulating what I mean, because when I try I sound so superficial.

As I am a reader I can’t help but be inspired by words, whether they are officially-sanctioned liturgy and sacred writings or the personal musings of well-known writers and other artists or someone like me. I drink them in and am inspired. And connected.

I chose just a few examples to share. I really ‘feel’ these and I hope you will, too.

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Recently, a friend pointed me to the writings of Reb Nachman of Breslov. Admittedly, I had stereotyped people like this as being so different than me, what could we possibly have in common? Well, a lot, as it turns out. According to tradition, Reb Nachman often went into the fields and meadows to pray and be alone with God.

Grant me the ability to be alone;
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day
Among the trees and grasses,
Among all growing things
And there may I be alone,
And enter into prayer
To talk with the one that I belong to.

—Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1811) was a Hasidic master and religious thinker and a great-grandson of the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov.

*******

In the Episcopal Church, short topical prayers can be inserted into the liturgy of Morning and Evening Prayers.

We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty of earth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains and rivers; for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers. We praise you for these good gifts, and pray that we may safeguard them for our posterity. Grant that we may continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation, to the honor and glory of your Name, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church

*******

Mary Austin (1869-1934) wrote beautifully of the deserts and mountains of the High Sierras.

I rise, facing East,
I am asking toward the light,
I am asking that my day
Shall be beautiful with light.
I am asking that the place
Where my feet are shall be light,
That as far as I can see
I shall follow it aright.
I am asking for the courage
To go forward through the shadow,
I am asking toward the light!

—Mary Austin was an early nature writer of the American southwest. The Land of Little Rain (1903) is a classic on the animals, people and plant life of the High Sierras and the Mojave desert of Southern California.

*******

In this prayer, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) writes about reverence for the life of animals. I find this particularly emotive and frankly, I wish everyone felt this way…

Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering; for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words. Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.

—Albert Schweitzer, the philosopher/theologian won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.

*******

Wendell Barry (1934-) writes often about his connection to nature and on environmental issues. His poems are personal, but so relatable.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests
in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

—Wendell Berry is a well-known environmentalist and writer.

Are you inspired by poems or passages that are similar? I would love to know about them!

Connecting Post for #BloggingtheSpirit

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Hello! Welcome to Blogging the Spirit.

Here is the connecting post. You can use the comment section below to submit the url of your offering. And I encourage you to use the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit on Twitter and Instagram so we can find you, too.

Thank you for participating!

~Laurie

Radio Girls, Sarah-Jane Stratford (2016)

radiogirls

 

I noticed the beautiful cover first, I admit. Reading the back, I wasn’t certain that a book on the early years of the BBC when it was radio would be of interest. What I found was a book so finely researched and a story with such exciting and surprising plot lines, I couldn’t put it down.

Radio Girls is based on the nascent BBC, when many believed radio was a passing phase. It is run by Director General Reith, who does not like to take chances and believes young women really should not be working outside the home and definitely not after they marry. His foil is Hilda Matheson, Director of The Talks Department, who believes radio is the great democratizer. For the price of a license, the radio can bring knowledge and inspiration into every household. Having been hired on with the blessing of Lady Astor, of whom she was her political secretary, Hilda’s connections in politics, the arts and sciences brings well-known speakers in to lecture, tell stories and give advice.

The story is told through Maisie Musgrave, a Canadian-born young woman, who grew up in New York City, the daughter of a neglectful and disinterested actress mother. Her father, who was never in the picture, was born in England. Her shy reticence belies the fact that, though she was just shy of her 14th birthday, she obtained a fake birth certificate so she could join in the war effort by volunteering for the nursing corps in 1916. After the war, she moved to London in search of a job. She lands a plumb assignment when Mr. Reith hires her as assistant to his secretary, Miss Shields, who becomes practically giddy when Maisie struggles with her work. But Maisie is a fast typist and knows how to prioritize, so when her time is split with ‘Talks,’ her true talents and ambition are revealed.

As Maisie’s responsibilities grow and she spends more time with Hilda and the Talks Department she discovers Hilda’s involvement in an undercover operation ostensibly with MI5. Maisie volunteers to attend secret meetings of British Fascists whose loyalty to the German Nazi Party extends to their scheme to take over print and radio in Britain. In the course of her investigations, Maisie makes the sad discovery that her fiancé is one of them. This story line culminates in an exciting coup for Hilda and the Talks Department when the plan for this conspiracy is exposed through a broadcast over the radio.

What makes this novel so compelling is that it is based on real people and events. As the author, Sarah-Jane Stratford says in the Author’s Note, almost all the Talk titles are real, including the series, This Week in Westminster, a lecture series on politics 101 after women win suffrage. Imagine listening to book reviews by Vita Sackville-West or talks by HG Wells, John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf?!

Besides the real life characters, one of the interesting things about this novel is the attention to production detail. The always enthusiastic men of the Sound Effects Department are asked to produce all sorts of sounds to accompany broadcasts and their efforts in trying to capture them provide for some funny moments. The sound stage, where broadcasts are presented has to be extremely clean and the rustling of the script, which the presenters read by hand have to be perfectly still, as every minute sound is picked up by the microphones and amplified. This provides even more humorous moments as well-known authors and politicians have to learn to speak without moving and read without rustling.

I love the passion of Hilda Matheson, who illustrates in a very real way, how radio brings the world into homes in the most remote parts of the country; that even if a person can’t read or have access to a newspaper he or she can still be kept current on events around the world with a radio and a license. It is her mission to provide this knowledge and access to everyday people. But in the end this is a radical notion for her superiors, who are only too happy to have cause to end her career when the conspiracy is broadcast. In her real life she is let go, she believes, because she is outed as a lesbian by one of her subordinates.

Stratford gives a short biography of Hilda Matheson at the end of the book. It is interesting to note that although she fought long and hard with Reith and other forces both at the BBC and through her work with MI5, her work in broadcasting lives on. She wrote a book called Broadcasting (1933), which was long heralded as the only textbook on broadcasting until the late 1960s.

October’s Blogging the Spirit

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Hi All,

I just want to make mention that this month’s Blogging the Spirit will be on the 29th.

Everyone is welcome to share through a blog post, a Tweet, an Insta or wherever your social media lives on any aspect of what inspires your connection to God/Source/Nature/People.

Books, music, art, film, photography, poems, a liturgical passage, a personal reflection. You decide!

Use the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit on Twitter and Instagram so we can find you. You can also come to this blog on that day and leave the url in the comments of the post I will put up. Go here for more information.

See you on the 29th!

 

Dracula, Bram Stoker (1897)

dracula

“We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.”

 

Reading Dracula was like reading Little Women. Steeped in the film versions, I thought I knew what I would find in the books. Both were a surprise, even though I know films always change things and leave out a lot. When will I learn not to judge a book by a film?

Dracula is told entirely through the journals of four of the six principal players: Mina Murray, whose best friend Lucy Westenra has become mysteriously sick; Johnathan Harker, Mina’s fiancé then husband; the psychiatrist Dr. Seward, who runs a mental institute and Professor Van Helsing of Amsterdam, Seward’s former professor who is an “obscure diseases” specialist. Lucy’s two suitors, Arthur Holmwood, later Lord Godalming and the American Quincey Morris, make up the final six.

There is literally no straight narrative in the structure of the book. Stoker uses detailed journal entries, newspaper clippings, letters, bills of lading to tell the story. I found this to be extremely effective, because by keeping things in the first person, the story has immediacy and suspense as one ‘scene’ cuts away to another and we see how each experience is seen and interpreted in multiple ways. While this device is sometimes distracting or hard to follow here, each character has a distinct and unique voice, which makes it easy to know which character is writing.

Because I am used to film and popular culture portrayals of Dracula I was shocked at how little Count Dracula personally features in the book. In addition to his human persona he shape-shifts into various creatures, but is mostly absent. The book is really about the quest to find and kill him. It is the lore around vampires, the ancient curse that shows up in the superstitious townspeople, the effect of vampire bites on Lucy and Mina and the knowledge Professor Van Helsing has that forms the story.

In film versions, the suave and charming Count is afforded lots of screen time with special effects liberally showcasing his pointed teeth, lips dripping with blood, the (Bela Lugosi’s) famous accent, the bat persona and the abundance of mist whenever he is about to appear. While in these versions he is sometimes portrayed as a sympathetic character in the book he is an evil creature without any redeeming qualities living only to satisfy his evil desires without regard to the human cost.

I was struck by the technological inventions Stoker makes use of that existed at the end of the 19th century.  They remind me of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and seem to fit right in with today’s Steampunk subculture.

  1. Blood transfusions are given to Lucy as Dracula’s fatal bite causes her body to waste away. Dr. Seward transfuses her with Arthur, Quincey, Van Helsing and himself (without knowledge of blood type?) with limited results.
  2. The typewriter: When it is discovered that Mina is an expert typist, she types up everyone’s journal, in copies, so as to give a cohesive structure as to what each is experiencing; she also types up the notes of their planning meetings.
  3. The dictaphone: Dr. Seward speaks his journal into this machine that records on a record player, which Mina types up.
  4. The London Underground and train schedules: Mina is obsessed with the train schedules of the Underground and suburban/cross country trains and has their timetables memorized.
  5. Hypnotism: In an effort to find the whereabouts of Dracula Professor Van Helsing hypnotizes Mina frequently at sunrise and sunset.

When Dracula flees London for his hometown in Romania, the six follow him knowing they must ritually kill him by stabbing him through the heart and cutting off his head. This is the only way to stop a vampiric future and to save Mina, who although has not ‘changed’ yet, is exhibiting some debilitating symptoms.

As they plan and prepare for their journey in Dr. Seward’s living room, Mina makes a disturbing, but necessary request, of which they all must swear. If she becomes so changed that she poses a threat to herself or to them, they must “drive a stake through me and cut off my head.” And in a scene reminiscent of something out of a Medieval romance where knights on a quest pledge their honor to their lady, the men faithfully drop to their knees one by one and swear, as (“Lady”) Mina asks, to kill her if they are unable to ritually rid the world of Dracula so her soul may rest.

Quincey was the first…He knelt down before her and taking her hand in his said solemnly, “ I am only a rough fellow…but I swear to you by all that I hold sacred and dear that, should the time ever come, I shall not flinch from the duty that you have set us.” And each in turn makes the same vow.

Mention should be made here of Mina. She disparages the ‘New Woman,’ of their independence, their call to buck social convention. Yet, she herself is the prime example of such a woman: smart, intelligent, technologically savvy whose work is key in organizing and pursuing the search for Dracula. It is Mina whose facility with a typewriter and organizational skills, her intelligence and coping mechanism in the face of the horror that is happening to her, her obsession with train schedules that basically saves the day. And apparently, she is also an expert on the the criminal mind through the work of Max Nordau, which Stoker, in a bizarre “show and tell” scene, has her recite his philosophy about criminals in reference to Dracula’s own criminality. The irony of this anti-New Woman aspect about Mina is probably not lost on most readers, so it is curious.

The last quarter of the book does feel to me like knights on a sacred quest to rid the world of evil like Arthur and his knights, or Harry, Ron and Hermione against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and of all the films and books where ordinary people band together against the darkness that would overcome humanity.

Sadly, unlike the notoriety of these epic stories, this particular one will forever stay with the six, because it is too fantastical. No one would ever believe them.

When we got home we got to talking of the old time—which we could all look back upon without despair… I took the papers from the safe where they have been ever since our return so long ago. We were struck with the fact, that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of type-writing, except the later notebooks of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing’s memorandum. We could hardly ask anyone, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story.

I didn’t find Dracula scary. I found it hopeful and encouraging. And nothing like the films….

_____________

My Edition
Title: Dracula
Author: Bram Stoker
Publisher: Barnes and Noble Classics
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 1897
Pages: 400
Full plot summary

Challenges: Mount TBR, Classics Club, Back to the Classics, #RIPXII

R.I.P. XII Challenge-Late, but Enthused!

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This challenge always trips me up a bit, because it just doesn’t feel like Fall in September around here and I forget R.I.P. starts September 1st. Though a late arrival, I am not less excited to get into reading for ‘scary October.’

This is the 12th year of the R.I.P. Challenge and I love its simplicity: from September 1st through October 31st read books and/or watch movies that scare you! More specifically, choose from these genres–

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark Fantasy
Gothic
Horror

Organized loosely (because they are optional), you can choose different ‘perils’ (categories?) to help you feel part of the Challenge.

Andi at Estella’s Revenge and Heather at My Capricious Life host this, where you can get more information and link your blog-post reviews.

I plan to participate in multiple perils as I will be reading and seeing books, novellas, short stories and films, oh my….
Books, Novellas and Short Stories
Dracula, Bram Stoker
Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, Loren D. Estleman
“Carmilla” and “Green Tea,” short stories by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
“The Call of Cthulhu” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” short stories, H.P. Lovecraft
The Italian, Ann Radcliffe

Films
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The Mothman Prophecies

September in Review

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Just a brief mention of August, because I really enjoyed Austen in August put on by Roof Beam Reader. I made a doable plan for reading and watching some film adaptations and actually completed it. The highlights for me were reading Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park, both for the first time and watching a film adaptation of Persuasion. I also watched for probably the 4th time, since I own it, the Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which I love. I read a lot of blog posts from the many Austen in August participants adding more books to my Austen tbr.

Reviews

cardcatalogLibrary of Congress, The Card Catalog: Books, Cards and Literary Treasures (nonfiction)
Before library catalogs were online there was the card catalog. The publishing office of the LOC showcases some of their holdings with the actual card catalog and the bits of librarian notes that don’t show up in the Internet sources.

GECrucibleMrs. George Sheldon Downs, Gertrude Elliot’s Crucible (fiction)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and discovering the ‘dime novel.’

 

 

EmilyL.M. Montgomery, The Emily Novels (fiction)
Some of the nature and fantasy elements of this lesser known series by Montgomery.


Creative Activities

#Blogging the Spirit
For this month’s post I shared about practicing Reiki.

King Arthur’s Round Table – I am writing a guest post for WitchWeek that Lory from Emerald City Book Review hosts each year. This year the theme is Dreams of Arthur, and the Round Table has proven a provocative subject!


Other Books Read

oncetimeOnce Upon a Time in the North, by Philip Pullman, 2008
I was alerted to this book by Chris of Calmgrove. If you are familiar with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials you will remember Lee Scoresby the aeronaut and the great armored bear Iorek Byrnison (one of my favorite characters). This is the back story of how they met and how they bonded together against a common enemy.

feverFever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson, 2000
During the spring of 1793, Philadelphia was hit with a devastating yellow fever epidemic. The book centers on 13 year-old Matilda Cook and her family who own a coffee house in the city. The historical outbreak killed five thousand people turning Philadelphia, at that time the nation’s capital, into a ghost town as those who could fled to the countryside.

larringtonnorseThe Norse Myths: A Guide to the Gods and Heroes, Carolyne Larrington, 2017
The telling of the myths and legends from the old Norse sources, history, archaeology, literature. I saw this in the library and had to check it out after just having read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. This book is for the more historically, primary-source minded, but it is not dry or academic.

naturprinThe Nature Principal, Richard Louv, 2011
Modern men and women, attached as we are to our technology, have forgotten that we need to move, to get outside, that is the real world. “unplug, boot it down, get off line, get outdoors, breathe again, become real in a real world.”


beingdogBeing a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell
, Alexandra Horowitz, 2016
This was such a fun book. Not just about dogs and their incredible nose, but ours, too. And why some humans have better smellers than others, like perfumers and sommeliers.

Looking forward to October

R.I.P. XII
WitchWeek
Blogging the Spirit
Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon

Personal

August and September held some difficult moments for me. As you know, my dad died in April, but his celebration of life was delayed until August 5th. I now understand why that kind of marker is important as it left my mother, sister and myself without a formal closure. But the reason for the delay was a happy one. My dad volunteered at a local animal shelter for many years and upon his passing they decided to name the dog building after him and they needed time to plan the ceremony and commission a plaque. But it was worth the wait. How lucky am I that my dad’s life lives on for such a good cause?

September has been a health-challenging month as it brought me two more skin cancer procedures for basal cell carcinoma, my 5th and 6th, so I have another scar on my forehead and a chunk taken out of my right ear. Both are healing nicely, but kept me from many of the physical activities I enjoy. It is hard sitting still for so many weeks. But there is more to come when my face goes through a procedure called photodynamic light therapy next month. Trying to find some humor in all of this, I noticed from the pictures I have seen, it will make me look like some undead creature for a few weeks, without special effects make up. Maybe I can make some extra money for Halloween!