September 2021 Wrap-Up

There ARE seasonal changes here!

Here in Southern California Fall has arrived. Seasonal changes are usually more subtle here than other regions of the country, but not so this year. We’ve already had a rain storm, an odd and eerie thunder (no lightening) event and the temps in the early morning are in the 50s. It is wonderful to walk now, bundled up as the sun peaks up over the horizon. I hope everyone is safe, healthy and enjoying the year as it changes to warmer or cooler temps, depending on where you live.

September was one of the best reading and blogging months I’ve had in a long time. I had my second cataract surgery at the beginning of the month and it healed speedily with the result I was hoping for: the new lens matches my other eye and I still don’t have to wear glasses to read. And, of course, everything is so much cleaner and clearer and has made a difference in the ease and pleasure of reading again. Thank God for modern medicine.

Books Read
Two on a Tower, Thomas Hardy
The Burning Girls, CJ Tudor
Period Piece, Gwen Raverat
The Wild Silence, Raynor Winn
The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler
The Night Lake, Liz Tichenor
Martha by the Day, Julie Mathilde Lippmann

Blog Posts
“A White Heron,” Sara Orne Jewett
The Fruit of the Tree, Edith Wharton
Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser

RIP
Well, I should know by now that what I say I am going to read for RIP and what I actually read are two different things. While I did start and will continue with HP Lovecraft’s, “The Call of Cthulhu” I got waylaid by other works. When The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton arrived, I had to dig in. And after I read Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron” I continued with the short story collection and found some spooky stories there. I’ll write up some next month.

October
For RIP, I’ll finish The Call of Cthulhu and I really do think I will reread The War of the Worlds, which I am really looking forward to…but who knows…!  

The “Club” is this month and Simon at Stuck in a Book has designated the year 1976 for October. My choice is Penelope Lively’s, A Stitch in Time.

I’ll be reading Shakespeare’s, The Tempest for Witch Week.

The Thomas Hardy year continues with the short story collection, Life’s Little Ironies

Hmm, that’s a pretty full dance card, but I’m sure there will be room for spontaneous reads.

Other Reading News
I have discovered a new podcast thanks to Juliana at The [Blank] Garden, who put up a post on The Lost Ladies of Lit. It is a wonderful podcast that showcases little known and forgotten women writers. I am learning so much and have already ordered a book from an episode and more are definitely to follow.

Lizzie Ross is doing daily posts for Banned Books Week that I have found fascinating. Check them out for some enlightening content.

That’s it for me. If you’ve done a September wrap-up let me know in the comments below. I wish you….

Happy Spooktober!

What lurks behind this old window?

A White Heron, Sarah Orne Jewett (1886) #ShortStorySaturday

The Story

Eight-year old Sylvia came to her grandmother’s house in the woods a year ago to help the old woman with farm chores. She has taken to this new life very easily and now, as her grandmother says, “There ain’t a foot o’ ground she don’t know her way over, and the wild creatures counts her one o’ themselves. Squer’ls she’ll tame to come and feed right out o’ her hands, and all sorts o’ birds….

In the evenings her job is to bring home Mistress Mooly, the family cow, from the neighboring woods. The cow’s love of her freedom is often a game of hide and seek and when Sylvia finally finds her she leads the girl on a begrudging walk home. On a particularly difficult night with Mooly, it is late when they start for home. A young hunter intercepts the pair asking Sylvia for food and a place to sleep for the night. Sylvia is wary, but her grandmother welcomes him as a guest. At dinner Sylvia is an enthusiastic listener as the guest speaks of his life as an ornithologist who hunts birds for study and display. He is in this area in search of the elusive white heron he believes is in the vicinity and has promised ten dollars to whomever can lead him to it.

Sylvia is a little unnerved at this but because she knows the woods so well accompanies him the next day. Ten dollars is a fortune to her impoverished grandmother. She has seen the great bird flying above the tree tops and may know where its nest is located, though if she leads him to it, he will kill the bird.

But she is excited to see if she is right and steals away in the early morning and climbs the great pine in hopes of finding the nest. At the top she is stunned into silence as the bird lands on a branch close to her and calls to its mate in the nest Sylvia can see is nearby. In companionable silence “with murmur of the pine’s green branches in her ears,…they watched the sea and morning together.” As she climbs down the tree, she wonders how the day will go when she tells the stranger how to find his bird and the ten dollar reward given to her grandmother.

As Sylvia comes to the farmhouse the guest is ready for the day and both he and her grandmother, who discovered she was not in her bed, are waiting for her to tell them where and what she found.

Here she comes now, paler than ever, and her worn old frock is torn and tattered, and smeared with pine pitch. The grandmother and the sportsman stand in the door and question her, and the splendid moment has come to speak….He can make them rich with money; he has promised it, and they are poor now. He is so well worth making happy, and he waits to hear the story she can tell.

This is a moral dilemma no 8-year old should have to face. Sylvia loves her grandmother and knows what this money would do for her.  Yet, she came here from a city life full of fear and loneliness where she was bullied and neglected and now finds safety and peace and a life with purpose. And most importantly, an easy friendship with the animals and birds of the neighborhood, beings she has come to love, who acknowledge her as friend, who wait for her each day outside her front door. And now she must answer which is more of value, the worth of the magnificent bird’s life or money in her grandmother’s pocket. What will she do?

Notes

When the editor at the Atlantic Monthly turned down “A White Heron” Jewett writes that “her friend, Mr. [William Dean] Howells, explained to me that this age frowns upon the romantic, that it is no use to write romance any more [sic], but dear me, how much of it there is left in every-day life after all….but what shall I do with my ‘White Heron’ now she is written? She isn’t a very good magazine story, but I love her, and I mean to keep her for the beginning of my next book.”

And she did-right at the beginning-to great acclaim by both readers and critics alike. A critic for the Overland Monthly singled out “A White Heron” as a “tiny classic. One little episode of child-life, among birds and woods makes it up; and the secret soul of a child, the appeal of the bird to its instinctive honor and tenderness, never were interpreted with more beauty and insight.”

What to make of editors and critics, eh? Writers take note….trust your guts, stand by your work and don’t give up!

Solis Press, 2013

Title: A White Heron
Author: Sarah Orne Jewett
Publisher: Solis Press
Date: 1886
Device: Trade Paperback
Pages: 11

Reading New England Challenge Wrap-Up

One of the highlights of my 2016 blogging year was participating in the Reading New England Challenge hosted by Lory of Emerald City Book Review. I read 12 books from specified categories, including one from each New England state.

I only started book blogging the previous September and was still getting the lay of book-blogging land when I saw the announcement for the challenge. I thought it would be a good way to read some classics I’d missed along the way.

I could not have chosen a better first challenge. Not only did I finally read Little Women and The House of the Seven Gables, I forced myself to read a horror novel and a book by someone I’d never heard about. I even bought a map of New England to track where the books were set!

One of the benefits of doing a challenge like this is being introduced to writers with whom you are unfamiliar.  If you were to tell me when I started one of my favorite experiences would be reading the aforementioned horror story, I would have called you daft. Or, that The Country of the Pointed Firs, a book by an author I’d never heard of would end up my favorite book of the challenge, I’d have been stunned. But both are true. I will be reading more of H.P. Lovecraft next year (during daylight hours, of course 🙂 ) and I have already read a short story by Sarah Orne Jewett (“A White Heron”) that was beautiful.

Other highlights for me: “Our Town,” Little Women, getting to know Nathaniel Hawthorne through The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, discovering one of my favorite films “The Haunting” was based on a book, The Haunting of Hill House and enjoying it as much as the film, and while I had mixed feelings about A Separate Peace I now know why a close co-worker finds it to be his favorite book.

 

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Thank you, Lory, for all the work you put into this. It was a great experience with lasting effects!

Here is what I read:

January: New Hampshire
A Separate Peace John Knowles

February: Fiction
The Blithedale Romance Nathaniel Hawthorne

March: Maine
The Country of the Pointed Firs Sarah Orne Jewett

April: Poetry and Drama
Our Town Thornton Wilder Thornton Wilder

May: Vermont
The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson

June: Nonfiction
Hawthorne Henry James

July: Massachusetts
Little Women Louisa May Alcott

August: Children’s Books
The Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speare

September: Rhode Island
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward HP Lovecraft

October: Speculative Fiction and Mystery
Looking Backward Edward Bellamy

November: Connecticut
The Three Weissmanns of Westport Cathleen Schine

December: Readalong or free choice
Summer Edith Wharton

Top Ten Tuesday: New-To-Me Authors I Read For The First Time In 2016

toptentuesday

I have never participated in memes hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but I could not resist today. This year has been such a wonderful discovery year of new books and authors for me. So here is my list:

John Knowles: A Separate Peace.
Long ago I worked with a man who said this was his favorite book in college. Others in our office raised their eyebrows whenever he said this. I wish I had read it then, so I could have given him support.

Patrick Hamilton: The Slaves of Solitude
The characters in this book will haunt me for a long time. In some ways a simple story of emotional survival during WWII, but very powerful.

Sarah Orne Jewett: The Country of Pointed Firs
One of the bonuses of doing a reading challenge is choosing books and authors you keep meaning to read. She is one and this is probably one of the big surprises of this reading year. I loved this book!

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women
Yes, you read that right. In all my years on this planet, I had yet to read this classic. And like so many people who have seen the films, I thought I knew the story. Oh my, no! The book is so rich.

George Eliot: Middlemarch
I read this as a readalong during the summer and made notes on each section we read. I have yet to actually review it…because frankly, I am intimidated. It is stunning in scope of topics and characters. In fact, with each new chapter new people were introduced and I was afraid I would get confused. But I never did. What I remember most about reading this was in the actual reading and a reminder of why I love to read.

Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House
For Witch Week I read the book of one of my all time favorite films, The Haunting. I am not sure when I realized the film was taken from a book, but participating in Reading New England made me aware. The book is so rich in details that could not possibly be captured on film. I hope to read more Jackson next year.

Edith Wharton: Summer
Even though I was very disappointed that the main character could not find a way out of the limited life choices women were left with in the early 1900s, I still enjoyed this book. Wharton herself had an interesting life that I hope to learn more about next year.

H.G. Wells: The War of the Worlds
Throughout the years I’d heard snippets of Orson Welles radio broadcast, and thought the story was pretty simple. But the book is filled with a philosophy and spirituality that is intriguing. The story is complex, a journey not just of physical survival, but that of civilization and its individuals.

Charlie Lovett: The Bookman’s Tale
I really enjoyed the adventure Lovett took me on, the result of a character’s simple act of buying a rare book!

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking
The chronicle and minute details of grief Didion experiences after the death of her husband. I couldn’t put it down.

The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett (1896)

My Edition:pointed firs
Title: The Country of the Pointed Firs
Author: Sarah Orne Jewett
Publisher: A Public Domain Book
Device: Kindle Fire
Year: 1896
Pages: 72
For a plot summary

When one really knows a village like this and its surroundings, it is like becoming acquainted with a single person. The process of falling in love at first sight is as final as it is swift…but the growth of true friendship may be a lifelong affair. [i]

Most biographical descriptions of Sarah Orne Jewett include the fact that as the daughter of a doctor, she accompanied him on rounds throughout their small rural town in Maine and grew close to the townspeople, the farmers and fishermen and developed an eye for the details of their behavior and the rhythm of their daily lives. It is apparent throughout this small book of “quietly powerful rhythms” (Ursula K. LeGuin), Jewett’s acquaintance with the variety of types who make up the small fictional fishing village of Dunnet Landing benefited from these encounters.

The Country of the Pointed Firs is not really a novel, but more a series of sketches tied together by an unnamed narrator, a writer, stopping for the summer at the home Almira Todd. It is with Todd, an herbalist with a well-stocked garden in the ancient manner of healers, that much of the action centers.

There were some strange and pungent odors that roused a dim sense and remembrance of something in the forgotten past. Some of these might once have belonged to sacred and mystic rites, [but now] They were dispensed to suffering neighbors, who usually came at night as if by stealth, bringing their own ancient-looking vials to be filled.[ii]

Fisher folk are the bulk of Todd’s neighbors. They know the weather, the tides, how to build and repair boats and how to read the water. They have lived long and see the world around them changing. They have been jilted at the altar and take on penance on an isolated island, they have lost the great love of their life, they stop everything for a neighbor’s disaster and they live for the next family reunion

One of the changes is spoken by Captain Littlepage, who spends time pondering the past as he sits and watches the shore from his home. He is disconcerted at the fact that men don’t put out to sea for the adventure and mind expansion as they once did. The town is “full of loafers,” he says…“who once would have followed the sea, every lazy soul of ‘em.” [iii]

“…that a community narrows down and grows dreadful ignorant when it is shut up to its own affairs, and gets no knowledge of the outside world except from a cheap, unprincipled newspaper…There’s no large-minded way of thinking now: the worst have got to be best and rule everything; we’re all turned upside down and going back year by year.”[iv]

Another character who features strongly throughout the books is one we never meet. Although, she has been dead for 22 years, she is often on the mind of Mrs. Todd and others of the town. “Poor” Joanna was to be married, but a month before the wedding her suitor fell in love with another woman and up and moved away. Understandably upset she turned her wrath on God to such an extent that in her own mind she became unforgivable and felt she must remove herself from society. Although the tiny island she moved to was visible from the mainland, she made it clear her friends must leave her alone, which they reluctantly did. Having heard this story, the narrator feels compelled to visit the island.

Later generations will know less and less of Joanna herself, but there are a paths trodden to the shrines of solitude the world over, –the world cannot forget them…the feet of the young find them out because of curiosity and dim foreboding; while the old bring hearts full of remembrance…In the life of each of us…there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or a day; we understand our fellows of the cell to whatever age of history they may belong. [v]

And then there is the Bowden family reunion that brings in throngs of people for food gossip and to connect with far flung family. Mrs. Todd and her old mother invite the narrator along, who observes:

….when at long intervals, the altars to patriotism, to friendship, to the ties of kindred, are reared in our familiar fields, then the fires glow, the flames come up as if from the inexhaustible burning heart of the earth…. Each heart is warm and every face shines with the ancient light. Such a day as this has transfiguring powers…but it is the old who really value such opportunities; as for the young, it is the habit of every day to meet their comrades—the time of separation has not come. To see the joy with which these elder kinsfolk and acquaintances had looked in one another’s faces, and the lingering touch of their friendly hands… easily makes friends of those who have been cold-hearted, and gives to those who are dumb their chance to speak, and lends some beauty to the plainest face.[vi]

This is my first Sarah Orne Jewett, a work Henry James called, a “beautiful little quantum of achievement.” I was drawn into this book through the details of a way of life that for the most part no longer exists. It found me longing to know more, not only of the characters, but of the author herself.

 

**********

[i] p 1.
[ii] p. 2.
[iii] p. 9.
[iv] p. 10.
[v] p. 43 & 44.
[vi] p. 51.

This book is for the Reading New England Challenge and my Classics Club book list.