It's a bright sunny Sunday today right in the middle of a bank holiday weekend. Yet again, it's so quiet outside. Under normal circumstances (remember when that was a thing?), the neighbourhood would be bustling with people out and about--the sun, which does not agree at all with me, is worshipped by most, and one sunbeam can be the cause of great joy and a need to go outside and eat ice cream. While I am always happy to eat ice cream, being out in the sun isn't something I enjoy, so I was happy enough to spend the afternoon inside, reading and listening to the rest of an audiobook I started last night while tatting and drinking tea. The audiobook was a classic short story collection. I've been consuming more classics lately, including some in April. I also read some poetry--one collection was a hilarious collection of haiku-ish poems.
Olive by Dinah Craik
Some of the book tubers I listen to are really into classics. I’ve learned about several authors I’d never heard of before, including Dinah Craik. When one of them talks about a classic book or author that seems worth trying, I click over to Project Gutenberg. Most of the time, I find what I am looking for there, download the books and drag them to my e-reader. I have added a whole bunch of new classics to the device recently and once I read Olive and loved it, I went back and downloaded more by this author. Olive can be found here.
This book, first published in 1850, begins with the birth of Olive and ends when she is in her mid-late 20s. Olive is born with a shoulder issue that makes her look different to other girls/women. Thus, she is not subject to the same expectations that other girls and women are—it is assumed by everyone, Olive included, that she will never get married or have children. This frees her to create a life that is not as constrained as would otherwise be the case. While there are parts of the book that I could have done without, overall I thought it was a really interesting treatment of class, the role of women, what it means to not fit in, and religion. Most importantly, it was just a good story. I liked Olive and was cheering for her throughout the book. There was a cast of quirky characters, which I always enjoy. There was a lot of village life, which I also love. I’m glad I learned about this book and gave it a try. I’m looking forward to reading more new-to-me classics in the near future!
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (podcast: Phoebe Reads a Mystery)
I read about this podcast in an email, found it, subscribed, and began at the beginning. Phoebe, she who reads mysteries, has other podcasts that I had not heard of, and decided to add another. She was reading this book and thought that others might enjoy hearing a chapter a day, thus a podcast was born. Each episode is one chapter, so they vary in length.
This is Christie’s first published book and is also the debut of Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings. Hastings needs some quiet time after the horrors he has seen fighting in WWI. He bumps into an old friend, John Cavendish, who invites him to stay at the family home (called Styles) in the country. Hastings used to spend time there so knows it would be just the thing for him and he gladly accepts the invitation. One day, he bumps into an old acquaintance, Hercule Poirot, who is a Belgian refugee, who is, along with some others, sponsored by John’s stepmother. When the stepmother is poisoned, Hastings asks John if he can call in Poirot to help solve the case.
Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (podcast: Phoebe Reads a Mystery)
By the time I discovered this podcast, Phoebe was just finishing The Mysterious Affair at Styles. When she was done with that book, she began with this one. Again, each episode is one chapter. I listened to the Christie, then started on this one until I was caught up, then listened to the last few chapters as they were posted. This is a fun podcast and I’m glad I found out that it exists. She's currently reading The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins.
Painfully British Haikus by Dale Shaw
I should say right off that this book does not contain many haiku that are ‘pure’ examples of the form. They fit the syllable count of 5-7-5, but that’s as far as it goes. They could be seen as haiku-ish. I’m not a purist, so that’s fine with me. I like haiku a lot for a few reasons. What I like most of all is the ability to create a feeling or communicate an idea using very few words. Having spent years in academia and doing just the opposite—using many words to communicate not a whole lot—I enjoy this. I have dabbled in haiku-ish writing myself and will continue to do so.
This book was right up my street—haiku-ish poems that brought me right to the scene and made me laugh out loud many times. The author is a comedian and it showed—he captured the absurdity of everyday situations in a few words. This is a really fun book.
The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku by William J. Higginson with Penny Harter
Bill bought this book a few years ago. He says it’s out of print, so when he found a copy at a good price, he snapped it up. He bought it with the intention f reading it, and I said I’d be interested in it too, but I don’t think he has read it yet and it took me a few years to get to it. No matter. This is one I’ll be keeping and probably referring to again. It was first published in 1985, so parts of it are dated—the author talks about haiku poets having pamphlets printed so they can share their work, for example. Even that stuff was interesting to me, though, because it was a sort of window into a past culture. There was also a short section on teaching haiku, both to children and adults, which I skipped. Despite these two issues, I found this book to be fascinating and extremely informative. The author provides the reader with a history of haiku in Japan, including how it came to be a form, how it evolved within Japan, how poets took their own paths within the form and more. He then expands this to the rest of the world and explains how poets in many different countries made it their own. He breaks down the parts of haiku, what makes a poem a haiku, and how various poets approached the form. There is a section devoted to other forms related to haiku and one that contains his thoughts on the uses of haiku. In the back of the book there is a reference section and a glossary.
As I was reading, I was reminded that I am not a purist (in this and almost everything else). I tend to use ‘-ish’ a lot. So while I enjoy reading haiku, when I write it, I don’t worry very much about ticking all the boxes—I call it haiku-ish. This particularly came to mind near the end of the book when I was reading about the subtle differences (which seemed non-existent to me, to be honest) between the examples of haiku and senryu that he provided.
One thing I liked about the book was his argument about how sticking too closely to the original form can lead to bad haiku. The 5-7-5 structure works in Japanese, which is a different kind of language than English (or the other languages he gives translated examples of) and has a different writing system, which makes a huge difference in how to write haiku. Even Japanese poets have disregarded this structure, as have many who write in other languages. Yet it’s the first thing we learn about haiku as children.
And now that I have written quite a long piece about a very short form, I will close by saying that I am very glad that Bill found this book!
Selected Poems by Gabriel Rosenstock translated from Irish by Paddy Bushe
A collection of poems that have Aztec society, Irish culture, and Zen Buddhism as inspiration—sometimes all in one poem!
I hope it's a pleasant day in your part of the world. Happy reading!