New Goals for 2020: I am a Snail

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All hail the mighty snail!

 

“Finding myself in the middle of a book I never want to end is among the greatest joys of reading. I live for the desire to finish a book in one sitting, and the competing desire to slow down and make the pleasure last. Sadly, I robbed myself that pleasure this year. I blew through everything I read, including books I would’ve dragged out for weeks just to live in their worlds a little longer.” Hurley Winkler

Let me say at the outset this post has nothing to do with anyone else. These thoughts should probably stay in my journal, but in the last month or so, I’ve read a number Tweets or Instagram posts that speak similar feelings, myself included and since this article confirmed all this I decided to share.

Last Monday, the 13th, Charlie Place tweeted an article, “Why I’ll Never Read a Book a Week Ever Again in which the writer, Hurley Winkler, shared her frustration over the stress of reading goals to the extent it affected her love of reading. She had raised her Goodreads Challenge from 40 books read the previous year to 52 in 2019. She found herself reading to finish, instead of reading to savor. “The pressure to finish books sucked some of the day-to-day joy out of my reading life.”

Some of the negative habits that were reflected in this year of fast reading were that she  read books she wasn’t wild about in order to keep up with the habit tracker on Goodreads. Or reading all the stories in a collection when she would normally read only the ones that piqued her interest. In the pressure to read more books she chose shorter-paged books. I am astonished to admit that I could relate to all of these.

In the past, I’ve always felt at peace with abandoning a book before finishing it. Why waste time on a book I don’t love, trudging through to reach an ending that won’t satisfy? But reading a book a week made it harder to justify abandonment. I didn’t want to fall behind—like I said, Goodreads will tell you when you do. And the thought of that sent my Type A brain into a tailspin. So I wound up finishing several books I felt lukewarm about from the very first chapters.

Winkler’s reading experience resonates deeply with me, because not only have the goals and challenges (and my failures to meet them) in the last year affected my desire to read, they also affected my desire to write about what I read. I have made so many excuses to myself as to why this is happening, but nothing made sense until I saw myself in this article and realized how much my reading and blogging has changed in the four years of Relevant Obscurity when at the beginning I took the time to read and then to let the book sit with me before I wrote it up. During the early years I didn’t participate in challenges, except for the Classics Club and the year-long Reading New England hosted by Lory of The Emerald City Book Review. And I just read the classics I wanted to read.

At the end of 2018 I started feeling anxious that I didn’t ‘put out’ as much as I saw other bloggers doing and that maybe I am not as serious a reader as I thought: equating the more books I blog makes me a more serious a reader. I was not allowing myself to be the slow reader and writer I really am.

It’s almost embarrassing to think at this age I am acting like some jr. high schooler who compares herself to everyone else and finds herself lacking because she isn’t measuring up. I need to learn to honor the individuality of everyone’s style without seeing my slowness as a deficiency or someone else’s speed as my liability.

As I think over what I set for reading goals this year, I unconsciously resolved this issue. The challenges are fewer than previous years and have me reading mostly classics, the books I love, and not pressuring myself with a books-read total. I have decided I will not put up a Goodreads goal, but keep my own list until I feel I am back to being honest with myself.

And the books I read, but don’t blog? I will stop feeling anxious about those, too and utilize Instagram or Goodreads for short reviews. Faster readers thrive on goals and contests and I will celebrate those milestones in the bloggers I follow. And I will be ok with being the snail!

I could probably quote every sentence in the article, but this is a perfect conclusion:

“That’s why I’ve set a different reading goal for 2020. This year, it isn’t based on the quantity of books I aim to finish. Instead, I resolve to abandon books I don’t like. I’ll take the whole summer to pore over that staggering novel I never want to end. I’ll recommend books to friends after I’ve lived with the story awhile. I’ll read intentionally and joyously. After all, there are too many good books out there. From now on, I’ll take the time to savor them.”

 

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My new pledge for 2020 is to read only what I love and to blog slowly.

 

2019 Wrap-Up and a Look Ahead to 2020

As I look back at my reading adventures in 2019 I am very happy with what occurred. Two major accomplishments were books I dreaded reading and surprisingly Anna Karenina and Moby Dick turned out to be two of my favorite books of the year.

I had plans to read more books by several writers that have become favorites since I started blogging and while I didn’t get to everyone I am pleased to have finished all of CS Lewis’s Narnia books (which helped me with my contribution to Witch Week and my post on the White Witch), read several novels and novellas by Edith Wharton and two novellas by Henry James.

Other highlights: I read my first Emile Zola and 4 volumes in Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising Sequence. Tracy Chevalier’s A Single Thread started me reading contemporary novels (which I post about on Instagram). Some reading experiences I treasured were Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein, Willa Cather’s, O Pioneers!, and Wharton’s, A Custom of the Country a masterpiece in class criticism of which she is a master. I was disappointed with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and with Virginia Woolf’s, Night and Day.

In 2020 I am looking forward to a quieter year here:

  1. I will finish my Classics Club list by September 13th!
  2. My attraction to Edith Wharton has grown and I have decided I want to read everything she has written! This year, though, I will start with books about her, the classic biographies by R.W.B. Lewis and Hermione Lee as well as Wharton’s own autobiography, A Backward Glance.
  3. Challenges and Readalongs/Readathons: Not many actual Challenges this year–Reading the Classics, European Reading Challenge and the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, which will get books off my TBR shelves. I want to concentrate on readalongs and events that catch my eye. Four events at the moment have me excited, One Hundred Years of Solitude and War in Peace readalongs, The Wales Readathon and Zoladiction.

My 2020 should be subtitled The Year of the Chunkster or as Chris of Calmgrove calls them ‘doorstops!’ To finish out my Classics Club list I have Wives and Daughters, Portrait of a Lady and Middlemarch; I have committed to reading War and Peace, David Copperfield, Jane Austen’s, Emma; and several more near and over 500 pages. Yikes, what is the matter with me???

 

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In my personal life as a newly retired person life is still a little weird as I look onto a land of many paths. While I love reading and writing for Relevant Obscurity, there is more out there for me. I am looking forward to experiencing more literal trails in nature as well as the spiritual trails in my head. But I am lucky to be where I am now and so grateful for the possibilities.

And finally, Relevant Obscurity exists as a journal of personal reactions, a sensitivity to and awareness about my thoughts as I read and not as a book review blog, because this is why I read….
“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”
William Styron

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To all my readers far and near I wish you a 2020 of nothing but the joy of living and participating in this wild world and especially, may all your book dreams come true!

RIP XIV Part 1 & Witch Week 2019

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RIP XIV

Autumn in Southern California does not bring with it any kind of turning inward, cool temperatures or spooky feelings. In September, the sun is still high and we have some of the hottest temperatures of the summer in September and into October. The necessary ‘woowoo’ caused by darker evenings, the robust wind and cool nights doesn’t start until October, which is when I usually begin this challenge. But I was anxious to read some of my choices this year, so I went ahead anyway and surprisingly, it was a success.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson is considered a classic in both literature and film. And while I had a difficult time with the writing in most of the book, the later quarter was worth the time. I liked being asked to think about the dual nature of good and evil as it exists in a human soul.

The next book I read, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde thoroughly surpriseddoriangray.jpeg me. I knew the basics of the story: an artist paints a portrait of a man called Dorian Gray and it is somehow possessed so that it ages, while he stays youthful. What I didn’t know about the book is how much Wilde talks about love and beauty and what is our obligation to them? It is almost a plea to consider these concepts. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, there are two parts of the story, the horror part and in this case, the philosophy of aesthetics part of the story.

Lord Henry: “People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as Thought is. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

Dorian Gray: “I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June. If it were only the other way.”

H.P. Lovecraft is a wonderful story teller of the macabre. He uses history, legend and popular culture to give his stories a weird and sometimes awful twist. I always thought I hated horror, but once I read his novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, I realized that a good story is what matters. This month I am reading several short stories in his Cthulhu Mythos. Last month I read, “The Cats of Ulthar.”

It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of tales from forgotten cities in Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.

The moral of this short story? Don’t mess with the village cats, or the consequences are deadly….

For October I am also reading The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, regardless of how embarrassingly I created the last Classics Club Spin. Which just goes to show you, don’t try to stack the deck, the Spin Gods have other plans!

Witch Week 2019!

Finally, a note about this year’s Witch Week, a week-long celebration of magic and fantasy in memory of Diana Wynne Jones. Commencing as usual on October 31st and going through November 5th. This year’s theme is Villians!

cartcwidderCreated by Lory Hess at The Emerald City Book Review it is now co-hosted by Chris of Calmgrove, whose blog this year will be the center focus and Lizzie Ross at Lizzie Ross Writer. Guest posts on a variety of fantastic villains will celebrate the week as will a discussion on this year’s chosen community read, Diana Wynne Jones Cart and Cwidder. It’s not too late to pick up a copy and join the discussion. I read it for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. I won’t give away any plot points, but I can promise you will never look at a stringed instrument in the same way again…..

Happy season of the turning year to All, whether you are beginning Fall or Spring!

 

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Classics Club Spin #21

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The Classics Club is community of readers sharing our love for classic literature. Participants create a list of 50 or more classic lit titles that we agree to read within 5 years. A “Spin” is to take 20 titles you have not read from that list and number them 1-20. When the Spin gods choose a number your corresponding title is the book you will read and post about. For Spin #21 we are encouraged to post by October 31st.

The Classics Club is a wonderful way to meet like-mined classics lovers and have some fun. Yes….classic lit and fun CAN be in the same sentence 🙂

From the Classics Club website where you can get the full scoop on the Club and the Spin:

This is meant to be a fun, social way to read another book from your classics club list. We’re very relaxed about how you set it up, we simply want you to read more classics!

This Spin I am happy to say is a special one as I am only a few titles away from finishing my list, so I have chosen to repeat the titles I have not read on my list, instead of choosing any from my book shelf (can you say Frankenstein)?

Ok Spin gods…pick the monster, please 🙂

George Eliot
1. Middlemarch (1874)

E.M. Forster
2. Room with a View (1908)

Elizabeth Gaskell
3. Mary Barton (1848)
4. Wives and Daughters
(1866)

Henry James
5. Portrait of a Lady (1881)
6. The Ambassadors (1903)

Mary Shelley
7. Frankenstein (1818)

H. G. Wells
8. First Men in the Moon (1901)
9. The Invisible Man (1897)

Virginia Woolf
10. To the Lighthouse (1927)

11. Frankenstein

12. Wives and Daughters

13. Frankenstein

14. First Men in the Moon

15. Frankenstein

16. Portrait of a Lady

17. Frankenstein

18. Middlemarch

19. Frankenstein

20. Room with a View

 

 

Classics Club Spin #20

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The excitement of the Spin always jump starts whatever slump I might be in and hopefully this time I will succeed in both reading and AND writing up my Spin title!

If you don’t know, in order to participate, join the Classics Club–it’s the kind of club where the only membership requirement is to make up a list of 50 classic literature titles and read them! For the Spin, take 20 titles from this list and number them. On April 22nd the Spin gods choose a number. That is the title you will read.

My list this time has no rhyme or reason except these are all books I want to read and am not dreading….(for example, Moby Dick will not appear here even though it is on my CC List….dread).

ETA: The Spin Gods have spoken, #19, which means I will be reading Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day! The deadline to review is May 31st and I will do my best to comply. 🙂

Best Wishes to all Spin participants on YOUR #19!

Willa Cather
1. O Pioneers! (1913)
2. My Antonia
(1918)

George Eliot
3. Mill on the Floss (1860)
4. Middlemarch (1874)

E.M. Forster
5. Room with a View (1908)

Elizabeth Gaskell
6. Mary Barton (1848)
7. Cranford
(1851)
8. North and South (1854)

Shirley Jackson
9. We Have Always Lived in the Castle
(1962)

Henry James
10. Daisy Miller (1878)
11. Portrait of a Lady
(1881)
12. What Maisie Knew (1897)
13. The Ambassadors (1903)

Mary Shelley
14. Frankenstein (1818)

H. G. Wells
15. First Men in the Moon (1901)
16. The Invisible Man (1897)
17. Christina Alberta’s Father (1932)

Oscar Wilde
18. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

Virginia Woolf
19. Night and Day (1919)
20. To the Lighthouse (1927)

Update in the “Pause”

Thank you All for your good thoughts and optimism. My surgery is on Friday and I cannot wait to have my eyeball back in good working order!

With age-related cataracts, both eyes are usually done one after the other, but in my case only my right eye has a cataract. It will be interesting to see how this will effect my overall eyesight without glasses. At present, I don’t wear them to read. I won’t be fully recovered for a month.

At any rate, the books are piling up and calling my name!

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Under the Greewood Tree or The Mellstock Quire, Thomas Hardy (1872)

This story of the Mellstock Quire and its old established west-gallery musicians,…is intended to be a fairly true picture, at first hand of the personages, ways and customs which were common among such orchestral bodies in the villages of fifty or sixty years ago….One is inclined to regret the displacement of these ecclesiastical bandsmen…by installing a single artist….Under the old plan, from half a dozen to ten full-grown players and singers, were officially occupied with the Sunday routine, and concerned in trying their best to make it an artistic outcome of the combined musical taste of the congregation. Thomas Hardy, Introduction

 

greenwoodUnder the Greenwood Tree concerns the fate of a group of church musicians, the Mellstock parish choir, who have been informed by the vicar of their parish, Mr Maybold, that he intends to replace them with a single organist, Fancy Day, who is also the new school teacher. The vicar wants the small village to keep up with the times, which means changing the traditional musical accompaniment to Sunday services with the more modern barrel organ. This is devastating to the musicians, some of whom come from families who have been church musicians for generations. In a last ditch effort to plead their case, they descend upon the vicar to negotiate, but the organ has been purchased and modernity has descended upon the little village.

Times have changed from the times they used to be…People don’t care much about us nowserpent! I’ve been thinking we must be almost the last left in the county of the old string players? Barrel-organs and the things next door to ‘em that you blow wi’ your foot, have come in terrible of late years….They should have stuck to strings as we did, and kept out of clarinets, and done away with serpents. If you’d thrive in musical religion, stick to strings…Strings be safe soul-lifters….

The story unfolds on Christmas Eve as the quire makes the many-hour trek through the night to the church. Hardy introduces us to a wonderful cast of characters including cantankerous old Reuben Dewy, frail young Thomas Leaf and Dewy’s grandson, Dick. When the group reaches the schoolyard near the church their playing rouses Fancy who comes to a window. This vision sparks the interest of Dick, who is quickly smitten. As the days turn into weeks he is in constant rumination on the details of her dress, her thoughts, aching over snippets of conversations, essentially embodying the hopes and fears of young romance.

Fancy’s interest in him grows, but her father is not impressed with the working class Dewy and forbids their marriage. Enter the iconic single woman of the town who people call a witch, whom Fancy visits for advice. She gives Fancy instructions on how to change her father’s mind and with success. The book ends with their marriage.

This is a wonderful pastoral tale of tradition versus progress, yet the fight is not so passionate, as the men of the quire understand they will lose in the end. Bargaining with the vicar to finish out the year before the organ takes over, he gives them only until Michaelmas. During this time they feel the changes coming on and know their days as musicians are numbered. And as Fancy gets to know the musicians and especially as her affection for Dick grows, she assures them she will NOT play the organ. But she can’t thwart progress either and the day comes for her debut.

The old choir, with humbled hearts, no longer took their seats in the gallery as heretofore, but were scattered about with their wives in different parts of the church. Having nothing to do with conducting the service for almost the first time in their lives, they all felt awkward, out of place, abashed, and inconvenienced by their hands.

Progress always has a human toll and while I ached for these musicians having to face a changing world, I was also impressed by their acceptance of the that reality.

Hardy’s prose in this early work is not without lengthy detailed descriptive passages that are unnecessary to the narrative. But there are other aspects of Hardy’s writing that I find quite beautiful and creative. In fact, in his opening paragraph where he describes the land surrounding the village he cleverly infuses his description of nature with musical description, being obviously a main point of the novel. This beginning paragraph will remain a favorite of mine for a long time.

To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir-trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall. And winter, which modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not destroy its individuality.

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My Edition
Title: Under the Greenwood Tree or The Mellstock Quire
Author: Thomas Hardy
Publisher: Macmillan and Co., Limited
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1872
Pages: 273
Full plot summary