Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Summer Reading Continued…

I heard Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Sackhouse series) speak a few nights ago. Her recommendation on how to get yourself to write: “Put up or shut up” made me consider the same. Harris was a funny speaker and she had that gentle southern drawl I remember so well in my own grandmother’s voice. Harris is very sparky and alive and it’s easy to see how Sookie is her brain-child. She insisted that all her characters were different parts of herself and I liked that idea too.  My only sorrow was hearing that she’s going to discontinue the Harper and Tolliver series after this next book. Harris has done a lot of series besides just Sookie and this other series centers around Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver. Harper got hit by lightening as a teen and ever since then can sense where dead people are and how they died. The series centers around herself and her brother (her sidekick) traveling around the US helping people find their dead loved ones or Harper being able to tell how that loved one died (if there are any questions). Needless to say, they’re surrounded by controversy and the fundamentalist community does not take kindly to them though they want to find their dead loved ones as much as anyone else. It’s a dark series and sometimes hard to read…though that didn’t stop me from reading each book in one day! Harris related in her talk that each book took tons of work since each book opens up with a whole new cast of characters besides the mainstays, Harper and Tolliver. And there’s the completely new setting besides that too and she’s found it’s just too much work. But she promised a new series after this since she always works away at two series at a time. You gotta wonder what her quirky mind will cook up next. I’m looking forward to it!

Mixed in while reading that series, I picked up Greenery Street by Denis MacKail. Now I have to admit, when I started this book, I was a little worried it might be too sugary. But I continued on and I’m so glad I did. Greenery Street is a comedy and a loving one at that. It centers on a couple, Felicity and Ian Foster, as they settle into their first home and it’s about all the little kinks and the maddenings parts that couples get to work out together. I alternately wanted to shake Felicity and then Ian and then Ian and then Felicity, etc, etc but in a laughing way and not at all violently! P.G. Wodehouse adored this book and it’s not hard to see why. Isn’t that endorsement enough?

A month ago or so, I claimed I would read all of L.M. Montgomery books in a week. A little foolhardy. I didn’t do that but I’ve been steadily chewing through them since I wrapped up Harris’ series and Greenery Street.  I decided to read her books in chronological order using Magic Island: The Fictions of L.M. Montgomery as a companion since it has a chapter on each book. What have I found? I’ve found that Montgomery’s writing takes me towards a mental vacation. There’s something so relaxing and satisfying about her books. Everyday life is the setting and mixed into the everday is nature, sweeping our souls towards the sublime. I really love how she’ll mention someone knitting lace and then a few paragraphs afterward are purple prosy descriptions of the outdoors. Reading her books as a young girl gave me an immense love of the outdoors and nowadays I find that the easiest way to get my head screwed on straight is to take a walk outside. Being outdoors always pulls me towards something bigger than the immediate goings-on. I owe Montgomery a huge debt for what she gave to me when I was a kid.

There’s also been an announcement that Penguin is going to print The Blythes are Quoted in its entirety. It was the final book she completed shortly before her death. Part of it was printed as The Road to Yesterday but a fair amount of the original writing was taken out as being deemed “too dark.” But it’s really excited this is coming out as it shows Montgomery was experimenting and trying new ways of writing.

And well…of course this book would be dark. Montgomery survived two world wars and besides that was addicted or at least heavily on, bromides and barbituates that no doubt led to her early death. She had a son who gave her terrible problems (it’s speculated he was a psychcopath) and her husband lost his  mind a few times. I’ve read through two sets of her journals and wow…she really gave us the joyful part of her in the books. I believe in her later works Montgomery can do tragedy just as well as comedy and I’m looking forward to seeing what this new book will add to the legacy of her writing.

And finally…”I believe you [men] capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as – if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean, while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.”
—–— Jane Austen, Persuasion

I could not stop thinking that as I watched “Letter from an Unknown Woman” directed by Max Ophuls and taken from a short story by Stefan Zweig. (sorta spoilers? beware) The movie is taken from the viewpoint of a letter, written by a woman while she is dying to her former lover who has completely forgotten her. It is the story of a loving and noble person who is never recognized for her value. Her letter ends in “Oh, if only you could’ve recognized what was always yours, could’ve found what was never lost. If only…” I managed to somehow not cry at the end though her faithless lover didn’t quite manage that himself. This is such a beautiful film and though it’s sad, it does end with a splendid cry of hope.

Comments (3):

  1. Amy

    August 19, 2009 at 6:26 am

    A thought, spurred by the quote from _Persuasion_: have you read A. S. Byatt’s _Posession_? Given what I’ve seen here in your taste in books, I could see you loving it.

  2. Amy

    August 19, 2009 at 6:27 am

    Of course, if it weren’t 6:30 in the morning, I might spell _Possession_ right. Oops.

  3. christin

    November 15, 2009 at 12:04 am

    I really, really enjoy reading your posts. I wish we lived closer so we could discuss these things over tea & knitting 🙂

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The Light Changes: Books for the Autumn Equinox

Summer is coming to a close, as usual marked by heavy rain and fitful sunshine. I woke up to a downpour a few mornings ago. It took me awhile to fully wake due to the gloom-heavy atmosphere in the bedroom. When I finally got up and opened the bedroom door, the cats were waiting in the hallway, small triangle faces tilted and full of questions; they were unsure if it was breakfast time or not due to the strange murky light. It was so dim that even the street lamps were still on.

I padded with the cats out to the living room. Water was pouring down the western windows, giving the room a half-submerged effect as if it was about to give up and dissolve with the rain. The kitchen was a little better: I opened the eastern-facing window and a heavy, damp breeze rushed into the room, lifting napkins and papers and then setting them down again.

I set the kettle going and brewed a cup of green tea, sitting down at the kitchen table with the cat. She had gathered herself into the windowsill and we drank in the oxygen heavy air together. As the wind struck my face, the sensation of being sealed up alive in the house relented and I was able to breathe easier and drink the tea slowly, savoring the light, toasted flavor. The cat looked at me a few times as I drank but she inevitably returned to staring out the window, sniffing at smells I couldn’t detected but were utterly engrossing.

The loss of morning light in autumn makes the shortening days more noticeable. I love the night but hate early evenings and as sunrises comes later and the sunsets earlier, my fingers curl a little in my pockets. The long endless nights are coming. I’m not ready for summer to end but I attempt to reconcile myself by pulling out a few books.

As the light eases towards the darkness, I pull out the books that were once the spoken word, told during the long dark evenings to family members, friends, and the community; they’re usually called fairy tales or folk tales but “wonder tales” work just as well. I make a small pile: Franz Xaver von Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Tales, Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men.

Schönwerth collected fairy tales in the 1850’s when he traveled around his beloved Bavarian homeland, listening to fairy tales and writing them down. The Grimm Brothers were recording fairy tales at this time too, racing to preserve stories that were disappearing as print culture was erasing the need for verbal storytelling. In the centuries that followed, much of Schönwerth’s recordings was preserved but many stories were lost. In 2009, Erika Eichenseer found 500 previously lost fairytales of Schönwerth’s in the municipal building of Regensburg, Bavaria. She found a fairy tale treasure. The stories were recently translated from English to German and stand alongside The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault’s fairy tales.

Next to my copy of Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess is Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. Zitkála-Šá was born during the Battle of Big Horn and was educated at a boarding school that enforced assimilation of First Nations’ peoples. Despite the school’s attempts to flatten her mind, body and spirit, Zitkala-Ša (Lakota for the cardinal bird) went on to be a political activist, writer, editor, translator, educator, and musician. She recorded Dakota Sioux legends, saving them for posterity. Many of them center on the trickster Iktomi, a spider fairy. I’ve included the beginning of a legend below.

Next to Zitkála-Šá’s folk tales is Zora Neal Hurston’s Mules and Men. Around the same time Zitkála-Šá was writing, Hurston was recording African-American folk stories that were fast disappearing. She recorded the stories she heard in her home of Eatonville, Florida and other nearby communities and logging camps. These stories often center on John Henry cleverly outwitting everyone, sometimes even the devil. Alongside the folk tales, Hurston recorded her experience learning hoodoo in New Orleans. It is not for the faint of heart.

These three books and the deep histories they invoke make the evenings richer, more bearable and in closing, I leave you with this opening of Zitkála-Šá’s retelling of “Iktomi and the Muskrat”:

Beside a white lake, beneath a large grown willow tree, sat Iktomi on the bare ground. The heap of smoldering ashes told of a recent open fire.  With ankles crossed together around a pot of soup, Iktomi bent over some delicious boiled fish.

Fast he dipped his black horn spoon into the soup,, for he was ravenous. Iktomi had no regular meal times.  Often when he was hungry he went without food.

Well hid between the lake and the wild rice, he looked nowhere save into the pot of fish.  Not knowing when the next meal would be, me meant to eat to enough now to last some time.

“How, how, my friend!” said a voice out of the wild rice. Iktomi started.  He almost choked with his soup.  He peered through the long reeds from where he sat with his long horn spoon in mid-air.

“How my friend!” said the voice again, this time close at his side. Iktomi turned and there stood a dripping muskrat who had just come out of the lake.

“Oh, it is my friend who startled me.  I wondered if among the wild rice some spirit voice was talking.  How, how, my friend!” said Iktomi.  The muskrat stood smiling.  On his lips hung a ready “Yes, my friend,” when Iktomi would ask, “My friend, will you sit down beside me and share my food?”

That was the custom of the plains people.  Yet Iktomi sat silent. He hummed an old dance-song and beat gently on the edge of the pot with his buffalo-horn spoon.  The muskrat began to feel awkward before such lack of hospitality and wished himself under the water.

The rest can be read in Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends and Other Writings.

Please feel free to share your favorite fairy tale or folk tales in the comments section.

The Delicate Balance of a Crescent Moon

Spring is turning towards summer now. It began so delicately with a soft green — the hue of a tender rumor murmured only in off moments — but then the green rumor became bold, became the truth, and over the course of seemingly a night the grass is long, the trees are full, and the peonies are about to bloom. Every night I smell smoke and charcoal, my neighbors busy with their grills. They mow their lawns, weed their flower beds, dump their mulch, and then go to their backyards to cook up dinner.

I do none of these things. The rhythms of suburbia are pleasing to watch with their precise, ticking movements but they are less pleasing to indulge in. There’s a deep pressure to conform, and so I recede to the sanctuary of my old deck, watching the birds and bumblebees pass through my yard.

I’ve been toying with the idea of sinking a spade into the ground, ridding one area of hideous orange daylilies and planting a few tiny bits of bleeding heart and bluebell, gifts from a friend. It’s been years since I’ve played in the dirt, dug around, sorted things out, grimaced at the grubs and bugs that emerge from the dirt. Intolerable joint pain cut off many activities, and gardening was the first to go. But this year, after so many years of pursuing healing and wellness, I am feeling better and I think it might be time to poke and prod at the earth again. To see what I can do about weeds and debris.

But then again, this might not happen. The doctor told me yesterday that my body was “currently struggling with inflammation due to increased activity,” that I need to take it slower, that I needed to continue working on a low-inflammation diet.

Dreams of gardening haze in and out. It might happen this weekend, but it might not until later. Depression surges forward and I struggle with it. Life is hard with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, and there are always so many small, difficult choices to make. I chose to increase my exercises by a small amount last week; my body responded with intense shoulder pain and a flare up of inflammation throughout my system — primarily in my hands, shoulders, back, feet. It is just this way and I walk slowly through it, sometimes crying but mostly not, because life has been like this for years now and slowly, as time passes, the tears dry up.

Pain makes us discard some goals and pick others up.

There is a waning crescent moon in the sky, a thin sliver that sets in midafternoon and rises in early morning. It will soon be a new moon and then we will pass into summer.