The Sunday Salon: Short Stories #1

The Sunday

Last week (thanks to the spark of an idea from Ex Libris) I made the decision to turn my Sundays into a rotation of reading short stories, then essays, then poetry, etc.

I rarely read short stories, even though I love them and sometimes write them myself. This is a great opportunity to reacquaint myself with the genre. So last night and today I've read:

  • From The Sun literary magazine: "Especially Roosevelt" by Chad Simpson, a sweet story about a disturbed 6 year old foster child who witnessed more in his little life than anyone should, especially a child. (If you don't know this magazine, I encourage you to check it out - always filled with wonderful writing: essays, stories, poetry and a section for readers to contribute short essays about a chosen subject.)
  • From Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: "A Temporary Matter" and "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine." I've heard about this book for quite some time and had some misconceptions about it - first, I thought the author was male, and second, I thought it was a novel. Everyone raved about it, though, and so far that part is spot on. These two stories were tender and touching. Relationships through the lens of loss and fear. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of these stories.
  • From The Portable Dorothy Parker: "Song of the Shirt, 1941" and "From the Diary of a New York Lady." Oh Dorothy -- she must have had a permanent dent in her cheek where her tongue resided. I confess, I haven't read much of her work, just bits and pieces over the years, but I have always loved everything I've read. This is a library book and I think I'll hang onto it as long as I can and dip into it - especially when I need a good laugh or a biting social commentary. ~~I don't know much about being a millionaire, but I bet I'd be darling at it.~~ One of my favorite DP quotes.
  • From Best American Short Stories 1999: "In the Kindergarten" by Ha Jin (originally published in Five Points). Still reading.

I haven't made as much progress with War and Peace as I'd hoped. The danger of supplemental reading with a monster book like this is that I get so into the other book that I reach for it first and War and Peace languishes on the shelf. This week it's been Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It's my first Ishiguro book, and now I know what all the fuss is about. He's brilliant. I won't even reveal what the story is about, because part of the wonderfulness of reading it is peeling the layers of onion -- he teases the story out so slowly and carefully and masterfully. The Remains of the Day will be following shortly - I've heard it's even better.

I hope you're enjoying spring where you are (or autumn, in the case of Down Under). In Portland it's been pretty wild the last few days, like it can't decide what season to be. We've had rain, snow, hail, wind, thunder, freezing temps and warm sun - and that was just the first few hours yesterday! See you next Sunday (I will be late to the party, returning from a weekend retreat).

All in a day's reading.
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Pea progress

Despite the fact that it SNOWED yesterday (a very rare occurrence for Portland, let alone at the end of March), the lettuces are doing really well in the little grow house. Spinach is hit and miss -- either the slugs got a bunch or the seeds were too old. Broccoli and cabbage will need to be transplanted out of the little pots soon. We'll be eating lettuce thinnings in a couple of weeks!

Peas are growing verrrryyyy sloooowly probably because of all the cold weather we've had. The greenery in back of the peas is crimson clover, a cover crop we plant in the fall. It holds the soil, keeps the weeds out (mostly) and adds nitrogen to the soil. Sweet!

I should be planting more seeds this weekend. It's almost time to plant tomato and pepper starts. Read More!

At Mrs. Lippincote's - Book Review

At Mrs Lippincote's by Elizabeth Taylor, published in 1945 (Virago Modern Classic).

This is the second Taylor book I've read (the first was Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont). I love her writing - simple on the surface, but so packed with tension just underneath and exploring the pros and cons of social norms in very compelling stories.

This novel takes place in a town outside of London during WWII - the war plays an important role in the book as it dictates what most of the characters are doing, but it too lives just under the surface; it is not often a subject for discussion even though Roddy is a member of the RAF. Julia, his unconventional wife, boldly pushes the envelope with her speech and behavior. Oliver is their precocious 7 year old son, a bibliophile often relegated to his bedroom. Eleanor, Roddy's cousin, lives with them; she has been in love with her cousin for years and doesn't approve of Julia.

They are living temporarily in Mrs. Lippincote's house, fully furnished with all of Mrs. Lippincote's photos, dishes, letters, knick knacks - temptations for the inquisitive Julia - and a locked attic full of clothing. Mrs. Lippincote's daughter appears unannounced every so often, a bit like the madwoman in the attic, to retrieve items of clothing - but we only get one glimpse and one brief visit from the title character herself.

Each character in the novel explores their own personal world, rarely communicating with each other the truth of who they really are and what they really desire. The women particularly (and young Oliver) go through significant changes in their world views and make some surprising decisions about the course of their lives.

A fine book by an underrated British writer. (4/5) Read More!

Sunday Salon: War and -- More War

The Sunday

This week as I mourned the beginning of the sixth year in the debacle known as the Iraq invasion/occupation and the 4,000th US soldier killed there, I found myself in the middle of two other wars - in Belgium patching up casualties from WWI in Life Class (Pat Barker) and in the midst of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in Tolstoy's War and Peace (I am past the halfway mark!).

I rarely read war stories, so it was a bit unsettling to find myself so occupied in the ugliness of battles and the aftermath of them. Barker’s novel of historical fiction snuck up on me; I started it several times and abandoned it for one reason or another, but this time I stuck with it, as she comes so highly recommended by several people. I did like the book quite a lot; it was an interesting comparison of one person who’s mired in the war while another is at home enjoying a social life and trying to ignore the war. And how utterly war changes one’s perspective and life and the effects it can have on art and relationships.

The book starts out quietly, at the Slade, an art college in London. There are hints of a pending war, but Paul, the protagonist, is mostly concerned about the direction his art is taking and wondering if he should stick with it. His art lacks passion. He will remedy that after working for the Red Cross patching up wounded soldiers at the front in Belgium.

There were some unresolved pieces in this novel and I think it could have gone a bit deeper. Barker’s writing is engaging and, when I feel ready to read more stories of war, I will give her Regeneration Trilogy a try. It’ll be awhile, though. (3.5/5) (Advanced Reader's Copy)

Reading War and Peace is sort of like life – when I get to the hard icky parts (the war) I want to put it down and avoid it. I haven’t picked it up for a couple of days now – just need to take a breather, so I’m reading another Elizabeth Taylor book, At Mrs. Lippencote’s.

Ex Libris' post, Short Story Sunday, gave me an idea. I plan to start doing a different genre each Sunday -- next Sunday, short stories; the following one, essays, then poetry, and drama (possibly a Shakespeare Sunday). I'll rotate each month, so on the last Sunday of each month I'll be reading short stories, etc.

Laura posted her top five books for the quarter and wondered if others have picked their favorites. I’ve read 24 books so far; I've read so much good fiction since the turn of the year, it's really hard to pick, but here goes, in no particular order:


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Of course, if I finish War and Peace by the 31st, I'll have to amend this. That’s not looking very promising though, even though I have several reading days this next week.

Nonfiction - I didn't read a lot of it this quarter, but I did love:

The Translator: a tribesman's memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari
In Defense of Food : an eater's manifesto by Michael Pollan
The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

Happy Spring to everyone!

It's not too late to impeach Bush and Cheney.
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St. Patrick's Day Sunday Salon

The Sunday

Well, almost St. Patrick's Day; and a happy one to you all!

After reading Laura's post this week about Winnie the Pooh characters, I started noticing similarities to the characters I'm reading about in War and Peace. Pretty bizarre, I know, and not the sort of depth one would expect from a character analysis of such an epic work. Nevertheless, here are a few I've noted:

Natasha = Tigger
Pierre = Eeyore
Nickolai = Roo
Countess Rostov = Kanga
Old Count Rostov = Pooh
Marya = Piglet
Boris = Owl

By the way, turns out in the Pooh test that I'm Roo, which explains why I relate so well to Nickolai.

I'm nearing the War and Peace halfway mark, and I'll have some good chunks of reading time in the next couple of weeks, so I anticipate finishing by the end of the month. I'm finding it a compelling read, pleasantly surprised by the humor and depth of emotion Tolstoy conveys.

And I'm almost done reading Year of Wonders: a Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks. It is not a cheery book! but it's very good. Her language is so authentic (17th century English village) and believable, it's almost like reading a diary from the time - she talks about tools or clothes using the authentic words and it doesn't even matter that I'm not sure what she's referring to, it just all makes sense in the context. I'm looking forward to reading more of her books, I think she's a brilliant writer. I'm confident enough to rate this before I finish it: (4.5/5)

I'm not sure what I'll pick next for my supplement to W & P - it needs to be something fairly short and straightforward that I can pick up and put down, so neither of the Sarah Waters books I have, and not The Blind Assassin, which is fairly high on my TBR stack; I want to give those my full attention. Maybe I'll pick one or two of the John Steinbeck short novels - I found a lovely 1953 edition of a collection of them at Goodwill a few weeks ago.

Have a great week, Salonsters. Happy reading! Read More!

The peas are up! Finally!

I planted pea seeds almost 4 weeks ago, mid-February. Common wisdom in my area (Pacific Northwest aka Cascadia) is to get your peas in by Washington's birthday (I rarely do). Peas can withstand a fair amount of freezing temps as they germinate. I was about to despair, thinking they'd poked their tender leaves up just long enough for the slugs to have a feast; or that last year's seeds weren't going to germinate; or the birds or squirrels dug them up. Or maybe that long string of frosty mornings was just too much for them. Yesterday I noticed rows of bright green pea foliage braving the outer world.

I protect new seed beds with some plastic fencing - mainly to keep the neighbor cats from using the lovely soft dirt as a giant litter box. It's quite effective; the trick is to take it off before the foliage is too big for the holes! (That's fall-planted garlic at the end of the bed. It will be ready to harvest in June or July.)

In my haste for fresh garden veggies, I also planted lettuce, spinach and chard. I have a nifty little portable greenhouse that I can set up anywhere in the garden. I put it over the seed bed after I planted, and I can zip it up tight for those cold nights. I also tucked in some pots of brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, kale) that I started inside. So far the slugs have stayed away from the banquet I laid out for them. Read More!

Other things in my world today

I realized this morning that I wanted to write about a few other things in my world besides the books I'm reading or interested in reading - like the beautiful song sparrow aria that greets me from the newly bloomed forsythia every morning as I step outside to go to my studio. Song sparrows don't leave our area in the winter, but their songs are absent during the coldest and darkest months. As they begin to do their family planning and house building, I hear shortened versions of their songs, just a few trills at first. Now, as they get serious about starting their families, the songs expand into full-fledged melodies with all the embellishments.

The daffodils have bloomed so early this year. Even the flowering trees are beginning to bloom. Daffs are so personable - they look like they're smiling, they bounce and dance and nod in the breeze.

So I've changed the title of my blog to reflect more of what you might find here. Now since I still have 6+ months of work to do before the magical retirement day, I'd best get to it. I'll leave you with a photo of the daffodils and the forsythia:
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The Sunday Salon: Variety is the spice....

The Sunday I'm jumping ahead a bit here, it's still Saturday night, but almost midnight! And I'll be moving the clocks ahead an hour before I head off to bed, so it is pretend-Sunday. And I probably won't have much time to write here tomorrow. I was excited to write my first Salon journal.

I just finished a remarkable kid's book (which I rarely, if ever, read) - The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

Hugo is an orphan who lives and works within the walls and tunnels of a Paris train station. He keeps all the clocks oiled, wound and working. He has a knack for mechanics and an interest in magic. And he has a fantastic secret - a mechanical man that, when fixed properly, will write an important message for Hugo. Or so he believes.

What a delightful, beautiful book! This is a finely illustrated kid's book that any adult would find wonderful. I consider it a graphic novel, though it probably doesn't fit a strict definition of one. The writing is good, the illustrations are fabulous and the story kept me interested from the beginning. Great afternoon read. (4.5/5) Book website.

I'm also still reading War and Peace (see post below) and, to keep myself from getting too bogged down with that heavy tome, I started reading Geraldine Brooks' novel about the plague in 17th century England - Year of Wonders. I was drawn in by her writing from the first paragraph. I haven't read any of her books yet, though I've reached for March a couple of times. I chose this one because I'm so interested in medical history and love a good historical fiction. When I write my first novel, I imagine it will be about this subject!

I finished Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat yesterday. Haven't been able to comment on it yet. Powerful book. I was happy to see she won the Nat'l Book Critics Circle award for Brother, I'm Dying.

Today, before reading, we spent some hours getting our reading nook set up with new shelves. Very satisfying. Read More!

Reading globally

I got curious about how many countries I've visited in my reading. So I made this map.

Only 35 countries (that I can remember). I have a lot of gaps in Africa and, surprisingly, in Europe. I'll keep track of this in '08 but not in a reading challenge sort of way - more a curiosity for now. Maybe '09 will find me trying to read around the world and turn more of the map red. Read More!

First blog post, ever!

Well here I am in the blogosphere after swearing I'd never do this. And I still haven't decided if I really want to be here. Do I really need one more website to attend to?

Here's what I'm reading these days. I'll be at it for awhile, I think I started it three weeks ago and I'm not quite 1/3 of the way through it. Not sure what possessed me to read this except so many people on LibraryThing raved about the new translation (Pevear and Volokhonsky) and I figured it was time I read it. I am loving it, much to my surprise! Yet I'll be glad to finish it and get back to some "normal" reading; it takes some stamina - literally! The book weighs about ten pounds!!!


I also read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina this winter - really my first introduction to Russian literature. I'm playing catch up with some of the classics I managed to avoid in my years of schooling (even as an English major!).

I read 100 books in 2007. And I'm aiming for 100 again in 2008. This little meter will keep a tally of my progress:

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