Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

It’s taken a little while to get here but a book I read propelled me forward. It’s not a book I’m going to go into because it deserves little mention. It’s “Castle” by J. Robert Lennon and after I got over my revulsion of the thing, I decided it was time to write about good books. Good books meaning those that aren’t trash. So let’s start, shall we?

“Coming Home” by Rosamund Pilcher is a massive paperback but a wonderful summer read. The book is set mostly in Cornwall and Pilcher evokes the place pretty good- enough that I must go see it someday! There are quite a few characters that sail in and out but the book centers on Judith Dunbar whom we meet at age 14. Her mother is about to leave to go back to India and she is about to head off to boarding school, all by her lonesome. She befriends a glamorous wildchild, Loveday Carey-Lewis at school and the adventures take off. The friendship twines in and out of their lives and we watch the pair grow and see the choices they make and how they turn out. The book is set near the eve of WWII and Pilcher does a decent job of that though I wish at times there had been closer details, just things like how it was to cook on so much less, etc. Sad things happen, good things happen and it’s definitely a fabulous beach read.

The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries–  Sookie Stackhouse inhabits a strange world no doubt about it. The author agrees with how strange it is as well. I’m on the 5th book and while the number of characters are growing a bit out of control, Harris is steering things along all right and keeping the pace going. It’s never dull in Bon Temps, Lousiana and thank God for that. This is a series read happily with a cold drink in hand. If you dig the whole “what if vampires and fairies really were real?” this may be the series for you…I love it for the Southern setting as well. While this isn’t Flannery O’Connor here, I feel she primed me for this series.

“The Shuttle” by Francis Hodgson Burnett is one of those rip roaring pre-war rides that’s great fun. Okay, so the villian is villianous in the narcissistic way that hits close to some people I’ve known but it felt quite cathartic to see his ending.  “The Shuttle” also possesses a heroine that’s beautiful and good and yet…somehow, I can’t hate. This rarely happens (witness Dickens) and yet Burnett pulls it off. I’m eagerly looking forward to “The Making of the Marchioness” by her that’s coming over from Persephone Books.

Which puts me in mind of Persephone Books. I found them through Danielle over at A Work in Progress– which is a great blog to read about reading, btw! Persephone Books resides London and they print wonderful 20th century books which are out-of-print and undeservedly so.  Wandering through their website is a real treat and their books are fine quality and something I’m entirely addicted to. I really can’t say enough good things about them…they’re a pleasure to do business with.

So that for now but more books for later as I come across them…

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Winter Aconite & Snowdrop

Spring is whimsical and wary right now, first appearing in a patch of sunlight and then fleeting away in an ice-cold breeze, only to reappear a little later in the liquid song of a redwing blackbird. I wear my winter coat one day, a hoodie the next, and then it’s back to the winter coat the next morning as a heavy frost sparkles on rooftops. Only recently have I given up my thick scarf, though if there’s a wind tomorrow, I may have to pull it out of the closet and wind myself up in it once more.

None but the bravest flowers are blooming, the winter aconite and snowdrop. Winter aconite is a small yellow flower that’s easy to overlook; it remains shut until the sun has deeply soaked its petals, then pops open like a tiny jewelry box to reveal gold petals centered on delicate pistils and stamens. The snowdrops this spring huddle close to the ground, nearly lost in the mud and dead leaves. As of yet, there are no daffodils blooming—their leaves have come up only an inch or so out the brown ground. They are cautious and since it freezes each night, I cannot blame them.

Beyond the flowers there is the ground itself: a muddle of browns, thick with the rotted tree leaves and the dead foliage of last year. There is nothing lovely to see here, only the form of the land itself. It swells and slopes up from the river, lies low along the horizon, and finally drops into a ditch.

On an unexpected day in early March, once the snow disappeared, city workers came to clean up the young trees and invasive species that have been growing avid and unchecked along the creek near my home. It is the first time I can see the contours of the land clearly in all the years I’ve been living here, and I’m struck by the curves and lines that slope down towards the creek, a rollicking bed of dark brown that makes a strong contrast to the bright blue overhead. The undulating land here is small but it’s a dream, a reason, a mysterious being that wraps through the neighborhood’s mind. Soon enough, this dark and curving space will be clad in green, heavily wreathed by plants, bushes and eager saplings. But for now, it is bare and exposed, revealing the dark space between winter and summer. This is where the wind snaps cold like a knife, but the brilliant sunshine keeps calling everyone out despite the drear.

Tips on Surviving the Never-ending Winter

It’s been a long, hard winter. Now that it’s mid-February, the cold days have started stealing into my bones, urging me to stay in bed and sleep until the warm weather comes. As much as I long to take a three month long nap, there’s stuff to be done and living to do.

I’ve gotten more intentional about warding off the winter blues this year and not let myself, mentally or physically, wander off into a nearby snowbank and fall asleep. I’ve been observing and writing down little notes to myself on what lessens the gloom. These notes have become guideposts of sorts, gently illuminating the path through a difficult winter.

  1. The first guidepost may be the most essential: drinking hot beverages continually and consistently helps to ward off the deep cold. I brew a small pot of my favorite breakfast tea blend in the morning, switch to ginger and lemon herbals mid-day, and then return to caffeinated teas like black or green at night. Other people love coffee and others their tisanes. Find one or many and slurp away happily all day. Hot drinks are so deeply comforting when it’s cold and dark.
  2. I’ve learned to take walks even when the weather is crap. Obviously if everything is sheeted in ice, a walk isn’t going to happen but for the those other days, time willing, I make an effort to head outside. There’s the exercise aspect but more than that, it’s important for my spirit and soul. I walk to de-stress, to come in contact with a bigger world than my own, and to climb out of my circular thinking. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that clears junk out of the mind and soul. Our bodies evolved to walk over this earth and so when we participate in it, the old rhythms occur. Walking is a way to feel freedom. And it’s a way to fight too. I feel incredibly alive upon coming inside after walking through high winds and bad weather.
  3. Reading extensively helps to cast off the smothering feel of an endless winter. Last winter I read Alexander Pushkin and discovered the joy of reading Russian literature during the dead of winter. This month, I read City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, one in a pair of sisters that wrote during the mid-1800’s. City Folk and Country Folk is a delightful satire, ridiculing a variety of “city folk” and everyone else besides. Among the cast of characters is the intellectual Ovcharov, a dead ringer for Austen’s Mr. Collins. The book centers on neighbors visiting each other, eating each other’s food, drinking each other’s tea and generally getting on each other’s nerves until they all decide to stop visiting one another. Needless to say, I adored this plot line.
    And after a three month long wait, I received The Library Book by Susan Orlean from the library with two week checkout period to read it. No way was I going to read part way through, return the book, and then have to go back into that long waiting line. I set up a rough estimate of how many pages I needed to read a day to make the two week goal and then started. To my surprise, I enjoyed having a book reading goal and  diving into Orlean’s generous and easy-flowing prose every evening.
    My last read for this month is Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom. February is Black History Month and the perfect time to read his work. I’m only a few chapters in but his thoughtful and beautiful prose has pulled me in hard into the tragedy of his story and it’s hard to stop reading his eloquent prose.
  4. Spring will come. It feels so far away and even the evergreens and pines are looking haggard but it will come. When the sky is a certain shade of blue, I remember that it will. I remind myself of this daily.