Connecting Post for #BloggingTheSpirit

paradise

 

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

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A Question for my Readers: Multiple Blogs, Multiple Platforms?

I see that many of the book bloggers I follow have more than one blog; that they like to keep their book blog separate from personal writings or other types of content.

I adore wordpress for its ease of posting and receiving comments, but if I use this platform for another blog, I have to log out of Relevant Obscurity and log into the new one. It is a pain and sometimes I forget and comment on someone’s book blog only to find I am still logged into my personal blog.

So, I am looking to set up another nonbookblog and need some advice on platforms.

For those of you who have more than one blog, how do you maneuver from one to the other? If you have two wordpress sites do you have the problem I do and how do you overcome it? (Or do you have different problems with more than one wordpress blog)?

If you have a blog on other than wordpress or blogger platforms what is it and do you recommend it? Or do you have any other type of suggestion or advice that might help me?

You can also email me privately,
therelevantobscurity@gmail.com
Thanks so much!

~Laurie

Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time, Fanny Fern (1855)

My Edition:ruthhall
Title: Ruth Hall
Author: Fanny Fern
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Device: Paperback
Year: 1855
Pages: 281
Plot summary

 

All the world knew it was quite unnecessary for a pretty woman to be smart

 

Fanny Fern (1811-1872 ) was one of the most well-known women writers in America. As a journalist she had the distinction of being the first woman to write a signed weekly column at a major publication and one of the most highly paid writers, male or female, in America. Although her family was literary and well-to-do her success came in spite of them.

fannyfern
Fanny Fern


Ruth Hall
is a loosely based autobiographical account of Fern’s struggles as a widow and single woman with children trying to find her way in a society that has no place for women on their own. Though she remarried, her husband was violent and she left him, scandalizing her family. Through the trials and hardships of Ruth, who is similarly widowed with two children and left helpless by in-laws and family alike we understand the helplessness of women who have no male relatives for protection, financial help and shelter.

Ruth’s husband Harry adored her and their marriage was happy, except for the dislike his parents had toward her. Strict and stern in their religious beliefs, they lived their lives by denying themselves any pleasure. To them Ruth was blasphemous in her openly loving behavior toward her husband and daughter. She was full of flights of fancy and far too emotional and definitely not good enough for their son, which they had no trouble saying to her face, to Harry and to any friend or neighbor. Even Ruth’s grief at the deaths of her daughter and Harry was disregarded as an exaggerated display in order to elicit sympathy.

What characterizes this novel is the unbelievable behavior of Ruth’s in-laws, her father and Hyacinth, her brother toward her situation as a widow. Though they are all able to help financially, they refuse. By the time Harry dies they have had two more children leaving Ruth with three options: remarry, give up her children or go away. Even her brother rebuffs financial help in her name when a friend of Harry’s approaches him at the funeral with a financial offer for Ruth put together by Harry’s friends. Knowing the code of ethics puts the responsibility for Ruth on him and his father he refuses; not because they are going to help her, but to preserve the family’s reputation.

Harry’s parents do not believe Ruth can care for the girls and are anxious to get their hands on them. Ruth lives in squalor in an attic room where there is not enough food for the three of them. As heartbreaking as it is she relents and allows Katy, the oldest, to stay with her grandparents until she can find the money to get her back. Poor Katy suffers abuse and continual denigrating of her mother.

An attempt to teach is a failure. The last option is writing, which Ruth had some success at as a school girl. She sends a few samples to Hyacinth, who has become an editor at a magazine, certain he will help her. After all she is not asking for money, but to work. His reaction is to once again stand in her way with a response that will haunt him later: “I have looked over the pieces you sent me, Ruth. It is very evident that writing never can be your forte; you have no talent that way…I would advise you to seek some unobtrusive employment.” Like so many with a dream that is demeaned and thwarted, the response emboldens her and sets her on fire!

If this sounds like a melodrama, it is. From one small magazine to another she goes with her youngest daughter in tow, only to be rejected again and again until finally she finds two editors who will pay paltry sums for 8 articles a week between them. Mind-numbing and backbreaking work yet this is for experience, because the amount is too small to get Katy back. She keeps writing; sometimes because there is no money for a candle, she writes by the light of the moon.

But finally, the public begins to recognize the words of “Floy,” her pseudonym and her reputation soars. She takes all of the articles she wrote for the two magazines and publishes them in book form to enormous success. She is noticed by the publisher of one of the most popular magazines in the country and offered an exclusive deal. This publisher, Mr. Walter, comes to the rescue like an angel at a train wreck who miraculously saves passengers from certain death, but in this case he is an angel with a contract to write not 8 articles a week, but only one, with a payment so large she can quit the other magazines, get back her daughter and move into the home of her dreams.

While it is easy to see this novel as overly exaggerated and melodramatic it does underscore the vulnerable position women, who through no fault of their own, are alone. Even women with means, like Ruth, have no guarantee they will be cared for/can care for themselves. Throughout the book her family is unfeeling to her pain and dire straits as if she is at fault her for her situation. Her in-laws, her father and her brother all want to protect their assets, instead of helping her. They expect, with complete lack of emotion, that she should give her children away, that it would be better for them and easier for her to find her way.

That she defied tradition and convention and made a success of herself without their help comes back to humiliate them. At the very end of the story Fern writes scathing scenes of confrontations they each have from friends and business acquaintances calling them out over turning their back on their daughter, their sister, their daughter-in-law. I only wish Ruth could have known this!


Back to the Classics, Mount TBR, Classics Club

The Last and the First

img_4045
The Lone Crow

This is one of my favorite times of the year. I really get into the ‘letting go of the old and making plans for the new.’ And there is so much to let go of this year personally, professionally and from what I take in from the larger world.

I won’t beat around the bush on that last one. The election of Donald Trump has driven me into a frenzy of panic and lashing out at times. I have used Twitter to bash and malign, using turns of phrase I didn’t know I had in me. I have mimicked and mocked liked the best of them. Then I got up from my laptop feeling sick, icky and like I needed a really hot germ-banishing shower. Just because I CAN say those things, doesn’t mean I have to. While I am not stepping out of the Trumpian fray altogether, I am not going to use Twitter like that anymore.

I don’t make specific resolutions. Each year I look at what worked and what didn’t, what needs to be let go of or maybe just needs a tweak. In these last few months I have been creating a business that has had its ups and downs, so I am working hard on those tweaks. I have found myself rather isolated because of that, which has put my ‘work to socializing’ indicator out of whack, so I want to balance that out.

I also need to hike and trail walk more and get out on my bike regularly. I will continue to buy my bread from my favorite bakery (so I take that back, I did make this resolution in 2014 and I am still doing it!) and take more day trips.

 

busbook
Have more adventures in 2017!

 

In regards to Relevant Obscurity, I am so happy with the connections I have made with other bloggers, the conversations we’ve had and the posts that taught me something new. I enjoyed the challenges I participated in that expanded my knowledge of authors and their work, which in turn has helped to shape what I want to read next year. I plan to expand my posts a bit to include some of the nonfiction history, biography and religion I read. I’ve entered several new challenges, which will all necessitate a more regular posting schedule…thinking positive about that!

 

house7
I will read more books at the beach in 2017!

I am sitting here as the rain falls in San Diego, one of my favorite places to visit. I am surrounded by my dog and her doggie cousin, two cats, some fish and Daisy the Russian tortoise is upstairs. I am about to get a bagel from the best bagel shop anywhere and will spend the day cozied up with books, and a movie or two. Tomorrow, even if it rains, will find me on a trail somewhere in Mission Trails on my annual New Year’s Day walk. It’s my birthday and there is no better way to spend that day and the first day of any year than out in Nature.

 

southfortuna
Rain or shine I am here tomorrow!

I wish all my book blogging friends a Happy, Prosperous, Life-Loving 2017!

#WitchWeekECBR-The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson (1959)

This post is a contribution to Witch Week hosted by Lory of Emerald City Book Review celebrating witchy, ghosty and fantasy works by American authors, culminating in a readalong of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. For more information on the week go here and find tweets on Twitter with the hashtag

My Edition:haunting
Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publisher: The Stephen King Horror Library, Viking Penguin
Device: Hard cover
Year: 1959
Pages: 246
For a plot summary

… the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness  from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice.[i]

Four people have gathered at the suspected haunted and remotely located Hill House to take part in an experiment developed by university professor Dr. Montague who hopes to find scientific evidence for the existence of psychic phenomena. Professor Montague has had a life-long interest in the manifestation of psychic experiences and believes he has found the perfect house to run the experiment. To assist him, he has selected two individuals, Theodora (Theo), a telepath and Eleanor Vance, who experienced psychic phenomena as a child. The fourth house guest is Luke Sanderson representing the owners of the house and is the house’s heir. He is also the group’s skeptic.

…This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together into its own powerful pattern…reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed.[ii]

Hill House is the quintessential haunted house: a Gothic maze of rooms laid out to confuse, sculptures that move when you turn your head, cold spots on the floor, unseen voices laughing and crying, doors that close by themselves, bedroom doors pounding in the middle of the night and the requisite husband and wife caretakers, who scare the guests with their suspicious demeanor and the fact that they leave the house at 6pm, “So there won’t be anyone around if you need help…in the night…in the dark.”[iii]

The house has dubious beginnings and a bizarre, sad history. It was built by Hugh Crain for his wife and two daughters in the late 1880s, but on the day they were to move in Mrs. Crain’s carriage crashed on the long driveway and she died. Mr. Crain brought his daughters in to live, but any chance of happiness or lightheartedness died with Mrs. Crain. The sisters grew up and the younger one married and moved away, while the older one continued to live in the house, but throughout the decades they constantly argued over the house’s inheritance. One night during a medical emergency the older sister died while calling out for her young caretaker, who had snuck out in the night to meet a man. She continued to live in the house, as the older sister named her heir, but she never recovered from her negligence and the younger sister’s attempts to get the house back and she died, a suspected suicide. The house has become uninhabitable. Tenants, who lease the house for months, scurry out in three days never to be heard from again.

Against this backdrop, Shirley Jackson skillfully sets up the story to be told from Eleanor’s point of view, whose last 11 years as caretaker of an ungrateful and selfish mother has left her broken and tortured. She survives by living in a fantasy world where she is the star, the princess, the lost child welcomed home, a woman who is loved. By the time she arrives at Hill House her inner life is rich with imagination and a narcissism fostered by years of isolation and humiliation. It is a few months after her mother has died and she is ecstatic that she was invited on this adventure, that she is wanted, that she is part of this group. And that is the key to painfully self-conscious Eleanor, “who belongs, who is talking easily, who is sitting by the fire with her friends.”[iv]

As for actual psychic phenomena, for actual experiences of menacing ghosts or spirits making their presences known, do they happen? Yes, things happen in the house and out in the grounds. But do they happen because the house is haunted? Or do they happen because they are expected to? Is it mass hysteria, “subterranean waters” or true possession?

As the guests sleep on the second night after their arrival, Eleanor is dreaming of her mother pounding on the wall of her bedroom as she did every night to get her attention. Eleanor awakes telling her mother she is coming, but then realizes she is at Hill House and the pounding she hears is coming from the doors at the other end of the hallway. Running into Theo’s adjoining room both realize it is getting closer.

It sounded, Eleanor thought, like a hollow noise, a hollow bang, as though something were hitting the doors with an iron kettle, or an iron bar, or an iron glove. It pounded regularly for a minute and then suddenly more softly, and then again in a quick fury, seeming to be going methodically from door to door…“Go away, go away!” And there was complete silence. Now I’ve done it, Eleanor thinks, It was looking for the room with someone inside. It started again as though it had been listening, waiting to hear their voices and what they said, to identify them…waiting to hear if they were afraid…The iron crash came against their door, and both of them lifted their eyes in horror, because the hammering was against the upper edge of the door, and the sickening degrading cold came in waves from whatever was outside the door.

It had found them. Since Eleanor would not open the door, it was going to make its own way in…Little pattings came from around the door frame, small seeking sounds, feeling the edges of the door, trying to sneak a way in. The doorknob was fondled, and Eleanor, whispering, asked,”is it locked?” The little sticky sounds moved on around the door frame and then, as though a fury caught whatever was outside, the crashing came again and Eleanor and Theodora saw the wood of the door tremble and shake, and the door move against its hinges.

“You can’t get in,” said Eleanor wildly, and again there was a silence, as though the house listened with attention to her words, content to wait. A thin little giggle came, in a breath of air through the room, a little mad rising laugh…and Eleanor heard it all up and down her back, a little gloating laugh moving past them around the house, and then she heard the doctor and Luke calling from the stairs and, mercifully, it was over.[v]

As breathtaking and real as this was for Eleanor and Theo, it turns out Dr. Montague and Luke had been chasing a dog that somehow got into the house and was racing up and down the hall until the two men chased it outside. And from the outside of the house to when they came in, they heard nothing, only the women yelling. When Eleanor opened the bedroom door, there “wasn’t even a scratch on the wood, nor on any of the other doors…”[vi]

But a few days later, the same inexplicable noise occurs again, this time with the four of them in the same room.

A few days after the first experience with the door banging, Mrs. Montague shows up with an assistant and her Planchette device in order to get in touch with the spirits of the house, to free them from their earthly burdens and to help them on their way. In essence, she barges in and tries to take over the experiment convinced that whatever her husband had planned, hers is better for the house. But the house does not seem to recognize her because, when the second experience with the banging doors occurs, she and her assistant, both in separate rooms, have slept soundly through the night.

As time passes at Hill House Eleanor begins to sink into madness and hallucinate, climaxing with a middle of the night foray through the rooms and hallways of the house running from Theo, Dr. Montague and Luke as they try to find her. “Hugh Crain, will you come and dance with me?” she says to his statue, then running into the library and up the iron spiral stairway to the turret, but it would not open. “Make it open, make it open or they’ll catch me.” I can’t get away, she thought and looked down at the assembled house guests at the bottom of the stairway. “Theodora? I can’t get out; the door’s been nailed shut.”[vii]

As I said above, Jackson tells the story from Eleanor’s point of view. And in an interesting style of writing, Eleanor is both first and third person in many of the paragraphs. It adds to the fantasy world she lives in where what she thinks and what is actually happening is blurred.

I would also like to make the case that none of this actually happened at all. The story is not only told from Eleanor’s point of view, but that also she is in every scene. If there is dialogue among the other characters, Eleanor is in the room and notices them talking, presumably, she believes, about her. No one goes out of any room or any space and has an experience. This is all about Eleanor. The tragedy at the end (a spoiler, so you’ll have read the book!) is not a surprise and the only way Eleanor, who just wants to be wanted and who believes the house wants her, could live that. To be more precise, I am saying this was all a dream, a fantasy made up to explain and live out the sickness in Eleanor’s head caused from years of being neglected and made invisible by the people and circumstances of her life.

Whether this was all an elaborate dream or the story of a woman’s descent in to madness, this is a psychological thriller par excellence. Jackson leaves us wondering, “What the heck just happened?” Was the house haunted and evil and so caused the manifestations? Were they caused by sensitive people who made them happen? Does mass hysteria explain it all? Was it Eleanor’s madness that attracted all manner of malevolent phenomena? Or was it just her imagination and a way to feel special in her own mind?

If you have read The Haunting of Hill House or other works by Shirley Jackson, what do you think?
____________

[i] P. 34.
[ii] P. 35.
[iii] P. 39.
[iv] P. 61.
[v] P. 127-133.
[vi] P. 133.
[vii] P. 234.

This book qualifies for the Reading New England challenge

Summer, Edith Wharton (1917)

My Edition:summer
Title: Summer
Author: Edith Wharton
Publisher: Bantam
Device: Mass Market Paperback
Year: 1917
Pages: 205
For a plot summary

 

“She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it.”[i]

 
Charity Royall was born into extreme poverty on the wrong side of the tracks, or in this case, Mountain, from which she is “brought down” by Lawyer Royall to be a companion for his wife. When she dies, he eyes Charity for his next wife. She is told she should always be grateful that Royall rescued her but she is smart, rebellious and itching to get out of this very small town. To that end, she secures a part time job in the town’s library, though she has no heart for it and spends most of her days bored and angry.

When a young man wanders into the library one afternoon, the course of her life is changed. Lucius Harney is the cousin of the town’s matriarch, Miss Hatchard, with whom he is staying while conducting an architectural survey on old buildings in the vicinity. Since Charity knows the area well, she volunteers to guide him to various dwellings. As the weeks of exploration go by, they fall into a sexual relationship and pledge their future life to each other. At the same time Royall is pressuring Charity to marry him and one frightening night Charity has to physically restrain him from forcing his way into her bedroom.

Throughout Charity’s life, the Mountain has constantly loomed in her thoughts. And she is plagued, too, by the fact she never knew her mother, who may still be alive. When she becomes pregnant, she cannot tell anyone and in a fit of resignation believes the Mountain is her fate, so she goes in search of her mother and her “true life.” When she arrives she discovers her mother has just died. She sees the devastating poverty of the family. There is so little food, children are in torn clothes, everyone sleeps in the same room, the filth is pervasive and the suggestion of violence permeates the air. Afterwards, as she lays down on the stone floor Mr. Royall’s words come to mind, “Yes, there was a mother; but she was glad to have the child go. She’d have given her to anybody…”[ii]

Charity does not tell Harney she is pregnant, but in this small town their closeness has been noticed and to diffuse the situation he leaves, though he swears he will come back and marry her. But there is no communication on his part and his marriage to someone else is announced.

Pregnant and with no money, Charity has no financial future with which to make choices for her life and once pregnancy enters the picture her chance to leave North Dormer or have any sort of independence is diminished. Royall’s pressure to marry him wears her down and in fact, though she doesn’t realize it at the time, he knows she is pregnant with Harney’s child. In his desire to save Charity’s reputation (and his own, as she is his ward) and to have her for his wife, he is not deterred. Charity and Royall marry.

 

My thoughts:

Charity’s relationship with Harney develops realistically without fear or guilt, just pure attraction and affection. When Summer was released in 1917, though nothing explicit is described, the subject matter concerning a young woman’s sexual experiences caused quite a stir. Critics say the book was somewhat autobiographical in portraying Wharton’s own sexual awakening at 43 after a long and loveless marriage.

Wharton lived in France when Summer was written coinciding with her involvement with the war effort during WWI. She organized seamstresses to sew for soldiers, established day care centers, visited the front lines, toured hospitals, and raised money for war-related works. During a break in the action she wrote, Summer “at a high pitch of creative joy, but amid a thousand interruptions, while the rest of my being was steeped in the tragic realities of war; yet I do not remember ever visualizing with more intensity the inner scene, or the creatures peopling it.”[iii]

It has been a long time since I pulled so hard for a character to overcome their circumstances and change their life! While I admit to wishing things worked out differently for Charity, Wharton’s realistic portrayal of her plight has an impact even though she does not give her a ‘happy ending.’ She gives Charity a solution and she must make of it what she will; that society is unfair to the poor and to women in minimizing their choices is for the reader to decide.

 

[i] P. 12.
[ii] P. 184.
[iii] P. vi.

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

The Slaves of Solitude, Patrick Hamilton (1947)

My Edition:slavessolitude
Title: The Slaves of Solitude
Author: Patrick Hamilton
Publisher: New York Review Books
Device: Trade Paper
Year: 1947
Pages: 242
For a plot summary

“She was not, she saw, really cut out for small-town, boarding-house life during a war.”[i]

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am so glad to have participated in the #1947Club that introduced me to an author I probably would not have known about otherwise.

The book takes place during World War II and reveals its effect on the residents of the Rosamund Tea Rooms, a boarding house located in the fictional town of Thames Lockdon, on the outskirts of London. The continual threat of German bombs raining down has caused people to flee the city and into many small town boarding houses such as this where intimate living among unrelated people causes chaos and crises. Luckily for Miss Roach (don’t call her Enid), who travels each day to her publishing house job in London her daily commute is a respite from the drama of the boarding house and in particular the torment waged against her by Mr. Thwaites, who has made her his meal-time verbal punching bag to the dismay of not only herself, but the other residents as well.

Into this scene two American soldiers arrive who have contracted with Mrs. Payne the boarding house owner, to eat lunch when they are in town. One of them sets his sights on Miss Roach, who is startled but flattered at the possibilities and they begin a romance of sorts, spending most of their time at the bar in the River Sun public house where their relationship is fueled by too much gin and homesickness.

Added to this is the arrival of Miss Roach’s friend, Vicki Kugelmann, a German native and long-time resident of Britain who moves into the boarding house and completely disrupts the hierarchy of power and the rules and rituals of behavior. The dysfunction starts immediately at Vicki’s first meal in the dining room where she humors Mr. Thwaites’s pokes and put downs of Miss Roach, instead of defending her. And ends with her slow encroachment on the relationship Miss Roach has with her American Lieutenant, Dayton Pike, which culminates in a kissing three-some on a bench in the park. Miss Roach is blessedly rescued from this torment and inexcusable behavior by the inheritance from a dying aunt and moves back to London, her fear of bombs notwithstanding.

My thoughts:
The book captured me from the opening pages. The physical action takes place mostly in the public rooms of the boarding house dining room and lounge, and the River Sun bar. But in my opinion, the real action takes place in the minds of the characters in how they think and feel about each other, what hurts them and what they long for. In that regard, Patrick Hamilton’s writing style reminds me of The House of the Seven Gables; not the story of course, but in the way Nathaniel Hawthorne’s characters ruminate about their lives. Even so, one of the most delightful aspects of The Slaves of Solitude is the humor and the many times I laughed out loud. One example,

The sky had cleared outside, and the sun, low in the sky, now shone into the room with the peculiar yellow brilliance which only a winter sun can achieve. In this hard and revealing light Mr. Thwaites succeeded in looking more immaculately clean and radiantly healthy than ever. There was not even any hope for Miss Roach that Mr. Thwaites would ever die.[ii]  

I also found some historical aspects of the book interesting, most especially in how the war made possible a change in how people lived together and socialized; that bars and public houses that had always been places where men met up with friends to get food and the latest news, was now opened to middle class women for the same reasons. Hamilton makes readers aware of the war’s effect on society as it dragged on and the material elements of daily life became scarce and their diminishment wore everyone down. Miss Roach observes that after people got used to the first great demands on their material possessions, each day found one more item gone from shop shelves and so “now developed into a petty pilferer, incessantly pilfering. You never knew where you were with it, and you could not look round without finding something else gone or going.”[iii]

I noticed other books by Patrick Hamilton on the library’s bookshelf and I imagine I will be back for more.

_________

[i] P. 162.
[ii] P. 65-65.
[iii] P. 101.

Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery (1923)

Or Know your Apple, Know your Century!

oldapples

I recently reread Emily of New Moon, the first book of three in a series by Anne of Green Gables author L. M. Montgomery and frankly, except for the first Anne book, I like the Emily series better. Emily is very different from Anne in personality type and her series has more magical elements to it. And though like Anne, Emily is also orphaned at a young age, her home life is far from cheerful and she struggles against the oppression of a stern old aunt who not only makes her life difficult, but thwarts her love of writing every chance she gets. But like Anne, she has an indomitable spirit that gets her through the cruel times.

As I read Emily of  New Moon I was struck, as I often am when reading classic literature, about something historical or in this case, gastronomical, that I wanted to know more about; it had to do with apples and in all my years, I had never heard of apples described like this.

For example, when a character bites into an apple, that is usually all the writer says about it, or sometimes with a short description, “Mike bit into a juicy red apple.” And because readers know what a juicy red apple tastes and looks like, we don’t pay it much mind and move on with the character. But if that story takes place in early 20th century Canada or America that apple may not be red, delicious or juicy. Fruit historians call this time period the golden age of apples and the variety was vast.

… in the 19th century, apples came in all shapes, sizes and guises, some with rough, sandpapery skin, others as misshapen as potatoes, ranging from the size of a cherry to bigger than a grapefruit. Colors ran the entire spectrum with a wonderful impressionistic array of patterning—flushes, stripes, splashes, and dots. There was an apple for every community, taste, purpose, and season, with winter varieties especially prized.[i]

 

apples1
Stanley Sloane, Still Life of Dessert Apples

  Emily of New Moon takes place in the early years of the 20th century on Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada. New Moon is known for its apples and Emily is standing in the workroom of her neighbor surveying the long row of apples he kept on a beam for Emily and her friends to eat:

Three varieties of Lofty John’s apples were their especial favourites—the “scabby apples,” that looked as if they had leprosy but were of unsurpassed deliciousness under their queer blotched skins; the “little red apples,” scarcely bigger than a crab, deep crimson all over and glossy as satin, that had such a sweet, nutty flavour; and the big green “sweet apples” that children usually thought the best of all. Emily considered that day wasted whose low descending sun had not beheld her munching one of Lofty John’s big green sweets. [ii]

How odd it would sound if we read, “Mike bites into a scabby, leprous-looking apple of wonderful deliciousness.”  But it would be true!

harrisonapple-jepg

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[i] Tim Hensley, A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America

[ii] LM Montgomery, Emily of New Moon, (New York: Bantam), 32. First published in 1923 by Frederick A. Stokes Co.

For National Coffee Day I Wrote a Poem!

I am no poet, but something inexplicable comes over me every morning while preparing this magic elixir. So I had to do something about it.*

qmmug
From the Queen Mary, Long Beach. CA

In the morning. Those first few sips……ahhhhh…….

**********

Oh coffee, how do I love thee, let me count the ways:**

I love thee because you make my eyes and brain sparkle

I love thee because your taste makes me think of exotic, tropical places

I love thee because when I need the buzz, you always come through

I love thee because whether I’m in Reykjavik, New York City or Akron, Ohio a cuppa Joe is a cuppa of Joe

I love thee because MY coffee is so good, I don’t even have to go to Starbucks

and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.

lattemaker.jpeg
Yes, I am ‘one of those,’ who grounds the coffee and has her own latte maker. 🙂

 

*This is a repost from last year, because, well, you can’t celebrate coffee enough, imo!

**With thanks (and apologies) to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Banned Books Week: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

My Edition:witchblackbird
Title: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Publisher: Dell Yearling
Device: Trade paper
Year: 1958
Pages: 249
For a plot summary

I have chosen three young adult classics to read for Banned Books Week and one to review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Wrinkle in Time and The Bridge to Terabithia. Each have been continually challenged or banned by parents and educational organizations since their dates of publication.

I have to say right off the mark this kind of behavior fascinates me. I grew up in a reading household where I freely took books off shelves at home and at my grandparents’ houses and I do not remember my parents ever telling me I couldn’t read something. My relationship with my parents was very open and no question, either personal or educational, was ever off limits. So I suppose if I read something that bothered me, I’d ask them. But I remember discussions, not banning. This is all to say my comments below question the reasons why The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a challenged book.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is set in the late 1600s and tells the story of Kit, who grew up a carefree young girl on a wealthy plantation in Barbados. When she is suddenly orphaned, she sails to Wethersfield, Connecticut to live with her mother’s sister, her husband and their two daughters in their strict Puritan home. She is not used to doing chores and the work of a homestead, nor is she used to the stifled way of thinking which makes her feel like an outsider. She befriends the widow Hannah Tupper, an old Quaker woman shunned by the locals, who lives alone at the edge of the Great Meadow and who understands Kit’s feeling of estrangement. Her home becomes Kit’s refuge. But when the town’s children begin to fall ill, Hannah is accused of casting a spell on them and the townspeople come to take her away. Kit overhears their plans and runs to save Hannah, only to be accused of witchcraft herself.

The trial is harrowing because, once suspicion has been cast, enough townspeople are riled up sufficiently to press the officials “to deal with the witches” and as history has shown, the outcome is never good for the accused. In Hannah’s case, she was already under a great deal of suspicion just for being a Quaker, who didn’t go to (the Puritan) Meeting each week and who kept to herself. But in actuality, it was the townspeople who kept away from her, who never made an effort to know her, which allowed their imagination to fester. If they had visited, they would have seen her like Kit did, a kindhearted old lady who liked company, could spin a neat flax thread and made delicious corn and blueberry muffins.

Kit’s accusations were a little more complicated besides being “guilty” of associating with the Widow Tupper. There was the incident in the river, witnessed by several people of the town, when she jumped into the water to rescue a little girl’s doll. Though swimming was perfectly acceptable in Barbados, in the Colonies one of the tests for women accused of witchcraft was to see if they could float. Only if they sank did that prove their innocence. But the biggest charge against Kit was discovered in a child’s hornbook, where her name was written multiple times and was believed to be the spell or incantation that made the children sick. Fortunately, this was resolved when the little girl came forward to describe how Kit taught her how to write her name by writing it out so she could copy it. She proved right there in front of the officials she was a masterful copier, because her hand looked just like Kit’s. This emboldened some of the townspeople to come to the women’s defense and the charges against them were dropped.

This book has been challenged for promoting witchcraft and violence. But the real threat should be that it promotes ignorance, prejudice and gossip mongering. Ironically, there is no actual witchcraft in the book. It is only in the perceived notion that an old woman alone, living on the edge of town with a cat (that is not even black, btw) must be up to no good. And that when disease breaks out among the town’s children, suspicion turns on this outsider; a condition the town made itself by shunning her in the first place. The dangers of gossip, estrangement, ignorance, and beliefs about a person where there is no proof, not witchcraft, are the real lessons of the book.

And violence? The townspeople came after Hannah and burned down her home and tried to kill her cat. Instead of wanting to ban this book for violence, isn’t this another lesson of how ignorance and prejudice can get out of hand? Once you shun a neighbor and cast her as an outsider who is “not like us,” you can make her responsible for anything.

This book was published in 1958, and it is remarkable or maybe somewhat sad that it still has a message for us today. We live in a world that still practices hate mongering, racism, the shunning of people because of their “lifestyle” or culture, of people who would rather take a video than stop the crime, and there are people and institutions who have turned gossip into an art form. Is any of this productive? Does it moves us forward as a people? Far from being a book that should be banned, The Witch of Blackbird Pond needs to be read and studied for its timely lessons for young people and adults alike.

(Elizabeth George Speare was an award-winning writer of historical fiction for young people. She won the Newberry Medal for both The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Bronze Bow, which takes place during the time of Jesus. Her attention to the details of daily life draw you into the world of her characters and the history they are living.

She is famously quoted after receiving an award,  “I believe that all of us who are concerned with children are committed to the salvaging of Love and Honor and Duty.”)