Saturday, April 4, 2020

Wise Women

Several months ago, Bill saw a post about this book on JFM's blog (her current blog can be found here),  When he saw it, he knew I'd love it, so he found a copy, bought it, and surprised me with it when it arrived.
Wise Women: A Celebration of Their Insights, Courage, and Beauty
Bill was right--I do love this book. When he first gave it to me, I spent a long time with it, turning the pages, reading the thoughts of these women and looking at the portraits, which are beautifully done. Now, I pick it up from time to time and open it at random to enjoy another serving of wisdom. It's that kind of book--no matter how many times I pick it up and open it, there is a gift waiting inside. How glad I am about the string of events that resulted in a copy of this book ending up in my hands!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Mysteries, Short Stories, Work in Translation, and Poems: The Last of the March Books

I've mentioned before how much I love mysteries--from the Golden Age Queens of Crime to various cosy mysteries. I read across a fairly wide range of book types. I read both fiction and nonfiction. But there are times when I want a cosy or a Golden Age mystery to read. It's a kind of comfort reading, I suppose. So you can imagine my joy when Bill was listening to the radio one evening and I heard a woman being interviewed about her new podcast, Shedunnit. I immediately searched for it, found it, and started listening. I love it! I've mentioned it here before, but thought now might be a good tim to link to it again, given the current situation. You can subscribe in the podcast apps or listen from the web page.

Another one I love and have also mentioned before is A Good Read on BBC Radio 4. This one is about all kinds of books. Each episode has two guests with host Harriet Gilbert and the three of them choose a book they consider a good read and they discuss each book in turn. I quite enjoy listening to this, because the discussions are interesting and the books are quite varied. It is on hiatus for a couple of months at the moment (it runs 8 weeks on and 8 weeks off) but from the page at the link, you can click on the podcast link and see a list of episodes that can be downloaded. You should also be able to listen from the page if you don't want to download. Note that the list also contains episodes from Open Book--they are listed together as the Books and Authors podcast in the apps. Open Book is also a good one, with different kinds of interviews and discussions..

And now, here are the rest of the books I read last month.

Night at the Vulcan by Ngaio Marsh
I felt like some more mystery, so I turned to my e-reader and tapped on book 16 of the Roderick Alleyn series. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. It’s opening night at the Vulcan Theatre. In spite of all the drama that goes on between the actors backstage, the show must go on. However, not all involved will be around for the next performance. Alleyn and his team are called in to get to the bottom of things.

Wing by Matthew Francis
poetry collection with a nature theme

Professor Su Jing’an in His Later Years by Dong Jun translated from Chinese by Sid Gulinck
This e-book was new to the library and it sounded good, so I borrowed it. It was a bit weird, but I liked it! This is the blurb from the library site:
‘Professor Su Jing’an is a respected academic and a man of habit. He follows his routine to the tick of the clocks in his study and nothing can stop him from having his afternoon coffee. Nothing that is, but old age. When a young academic caretaker is sent to look after Su Jing’an, he is barely the man everyone remembers. Questioning his identity, Professor Su questions all of us – who are we, and where do we belong?’

Spinsters in Jeopardy By Ngaio Marsh
This is the 17th book in the Inspector Alleyn series. I thought it was one of the better ones I’ve read so far. Alleyn is asked to go to France to assist the French police bust a strange crime gang. He is to infiltrate their compound and get information, as many of the people involved are British. This compound happens to be near where a distant relative of his wife lives. This relative was unknown to Troy (Alleyn’s wife) until letters started arriving. These were pretty boring letters, containing lots of information about bus routes and schedules. Puzzling as this was, when Alleyn suggests that Troy and their 6-year-old son accompany him to France, where he will work and they will have a holiday and also meet this relative, she agrees. They meet with a bizarre situation on the train, which alters the plans a bit, so they improvise. What is going on at the compound? Who is this relative? What did both Alleyn and Troy really see from the train window? And will Miss Truebody survive?

Cat Poems by The World’s Best Poets
Several months ago, I found a collection of dog poems available in the e-book section of the library website. I borrowed it and enjoyed it a lot. So when I saw that now they also have a cat poem collection, I quickly borrowed it. It was equally enjoyable—some funny, some sad.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde audiobook read by Derek Jacobi
I mostly enjoyed this collection of 8 stories. I’m glad I borrowed the audiobook, because I think I liked listening to it more than I would’ve liked reading it. There were a couple of stories that seemed to drag on and on, but the rest were witty and I found myself laughing at his observations and portrayals of society. The reader was good and added a lot to the experience.

I Want! I Want! by Vicki Feaver
The library has gotten some new poetry e-books added to the collection lately and this is one of them. The poems are autobiographical and taken together, gave the impression of memoir. The poet was born during WWII in the UK and describes various scenes from her childhood, young adulthood, middle age and elderhood. In one short poem, for example, she talks about a photograph taken on V-E day and how she was wearing her nice blue dress, but was the only one not smiling. I liked this collection a lot.

Stay safe!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Perfect Dictionary and Other March Books

I read several good books in March, but this one was my favourite:

The Great Passage by Shion Miura translated from Japanese by Judith Winters Carpenter
I am pretty sure I learned of this book via booktube video. It sounded like something I would love, so I clicked over to the library website, discovered that there is one copy that usually lives in Sligo, but was checked out, and placed my request. It came in just before everything closed down. I’m glad, because I did love it.

The Great Passage is the name of a dictionary that is being compiled by people who are passionate about language, dictionaries, and creating the perfect Japanese dictionary. The person who began this project is aging and about to retire. He wants to bring someone else on board to assist the person he mentored and who will take over the project. They find Majime, whose very name illustrates the importance of words and writing. It’s an unusual name and because Japanese has many words that sound the same but mean something completely different, the characters used to write a given word are very important. Majime often has to explain his name by telling people what characters are used to write it.

The book spans 15 years or so and along the way we are introduced to other people who have passions of their own for things like cooking, making the perfect paper, and more. There are also people who are puzzled when they end up working on this project, because they don’t understand why anyone would care, but they soon come around.

I could relate to the difficulties some of the characters faced in terms of fitting in. They didn’t, of course. Some never cared and some had to stop trying and be who they were—and were better off because of it. Years ago, after I’d left academia, I was able to really spend time learning about various kinds of needlework. I’d been interested all along and by that time had been doing various things when I had the time, but there was never enough time. So I took advantage of my newfound freedom and started reading everything I could get my hands on about the history of various kinds of stitching, social histories that involved stitching practices, more stuff about women’s domestic labour (which I had researched in my academic work as well), and more. I taught myself new techniques (from books since it was before youtube). Finally, I joined the local needlework guild, which I was excited to do, thinking I’d be around other people who were as jazzed about this stuff as I was (and still am). I was soon disappointed. There were parts of the guild experience that were fun and I was able to learn a few new things. But one night, as I was sitting there fidgeting, it dawned on me. I was interested in learning everything I could about this stuff, but no one else there cared about any of that. They just wanted to hang out and stitch a little bit. It was a pleasant hobby. So I saw out the year and then decided not to be involved with the guild any more. I’m glad to have learned the lesson, though, and I kept thinking of that as I was reading this book. 

The subject of why people are drawn to certain things in such a passionate way fascinates me. I might not be interested in whatever it is that they spend their lives doing, but I can still get great enjoyment listening to them talk about it. Years ago, back in the days when we still had a little TV, I was watching a show on PBS about this guy who solved Fermat's last theorem. I am not a maths sort of person at all and it's not a subject I would normally spend any time on, but this show stuck with me because the guy was like the people in this book--his life revolved around solving this theorem. Then he did--or so he thought. There was a mistake, though. And he went back to the puzzle and eventually changed a 3 to a 5 or something like that (I'm sure it was more complicated than that, but I'm equally sure I didn;t quite get how he fixed the problem) and then it really was solved. What I remember so clearly is him crying because he had done this thing that he had been so focused on for so long. Then my next thought was, 'What will he do now? He's had this project at the centre of his life for a very long time and now it's done.' I hope he found something else to get stuck into.

British Manor Murder by Leslie Meier
I was in the mood for a cosy mystery, so I went to the e-book section of the library website and found this available, so I borrowed it. I am pretty sure I read a previous book in this Lucy Stone series years ago—Christmas Carol Murder. She is from Maine and I was living there at the time, plus I love A Christmas Carol and cosy Christmas mysteries. Because I had red that one and liked it well enough, I figured this one would be fine, and it was. In this story, Lucy accompanies a friend to England where they stay at a manor house. The friend is going to participate in a hat show, but things don’t go as planned when first one body then another is found on the grounds and in the house.

Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer
a collection of prose poems

A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde
audio version of Wilde’s play set in around 1893, poking fun at English (and US) society

 Wing by Matthew Francis
poetry collection with a nature theme

I hope you're keeping well and finding moments of quiet joy in these strange days!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Food, Books, and Bird Seeking Shelter

We went to do our weekly shop this morning. I happened to look up just as a bird was flying into a space in a building. It soon came out again. You can just barely see it:
We had to wait outside for a few minutes when we got to the store. There is someone in the entrance making sure that there are not too many people inside at one time. The limit is 50, including employees, so we waited until two people came out, then we were allowed in. After sanitising trolley handle and our own hands, we dashed around the store. The fresh produce was where there were gaps, but the rest of the store was well-stocked and I got everything on my list. Rather than pack our groceries on the shelf for that purpose, we went outside to do it so two more people could go inside.

As we begin a new month, it's sort of weird to remember how different everything was just a few short weeks ago. I still have a pile of library books that I checked out before everything closed down. I'd been planning to return them and pick up the ones that were coming in, but then everything closed down. Thankfully, I will not run out of books anytime soon--between charity shop and other finds, and my e-reader, I have plenty of reading material. I still can't keep myself away from the e-book and e-audiobook sections of the library website, though. They're still operating and I'm still a regular visitor. 😊

Anyway, here is the first part of my March reading list:

Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow by Γ‰ilis NΓ­ Dhuibhne
I found this book on a shelf of Irish books in my local library. I’ve read another novel by this author and two short story collections, so I checked it out. The book was inspired by Anna Karenina, but is a satire on the Dublin literary scene as it was in around 2005. One (academic) reviewer talked about the book being set in the mid-1990s, but one has to wonder whether she even read the book, since the post- September 11 Iraq War has a rather important role to play in one storyline. I think I read Anna Karenina a few decades ago, but am not really sure, as if I did, nothing from it sticks with me. As a result, I cannot say how closely the book follows that one, although there are some obvious parallels, like the main character’s name and the name of another character, who is called Leo. Based on something else I read, when this book came out in 2007, there was a bit of a game going on to see whether people could identify some of the real-life authors who made an appearance (under different names) as characters in the book (some actual names were used as well).
There are two storylines in the book. One revolves around Anna, a writer of children’s historical fiction, who is married to Alex. She drifts through her days, not really able to focus on much else except herself—she seems quite disconnected from everything, including her own life. Alex is a real estate guy and it’s at the tail end of the Celtic Tiger years, so he works a lot and makes a lot of money. Anna is numb to everything, although she tells herself she should be happy that she is so well off because of Alex’s job. Later in the book, we find out that she might not be as disconnected from this aspect of her life as she once thought. She meets a journalist named Vincy and they begin an affair, which is more important to her than to him. She met him at a literary function he attended with Kate, who is the sister of Anna’s sister-in-law. Kate has a thing for Vincy. Meanwhile, Leo, an activist who lives in rural County Kerry, and runs a publishing house for Irish language poets is also at the event and nurtures a love for Kate. Aside from the nod to Anna Karenina and the satirical aspect of the book, there were other issues addressed that I enjoyed reading about, many of which are still an issue today. The discussion about the Irish language and its place and importance in Irish culture continues. Road traffic deaths claim lives. People are still angry about drink driving laws and the impact on pubs and rural community life. I have no way to judge the latter, because I was not here before these laws were enacted, but it seems to me that rural Irish pub life is doing just fine—each place I have lived has had numerous pubs, many of them within a few steps of one another. Housing prices in Dublin continue to make it difficult for people to live there. I am sure that the discussion of what it means to create art will never end, in Ireland or elsewhere.

I really loved the book, right up until the last 10 or 15 pages. I was reading along and realising that there were not enough pages left for a satisfactory ending. As I turned each page, I was willing the author to hurry up and wrap everything up, which happened in one storyline, but not really in the other. Didn’t like the ending at all, but perhaps I just need to think about it some more.

 Growing Up With Ireland: A Century of Memories From Our Oldest and Wisest Citizens by Valerie Cox
I heard about this book last year and stuck a picture of it on my desktop so I would remember to request it from the library at some point. Then I stopped noticing it. Then we started the process of moving. Then we were moved, but trying to get everything sorted. Finally, we were settled and I remembered to request the book. I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed the book a lot. The author talked to people who were born in the 1920s, the decade in which most of Ireland was freed from the colonising presence of the Brits, a civil war was fought, and the republic was born. Ireland as an independent nation is not yet 100 years old, and many would say that until the six counties of Northern Ireland are no longer part of the UK, the job is not done. In any case, this is a young country, but the people who were born at around the same time are elders. They’ve seen a lot of changes and experienced so much. Their lives have changed and Ireland has changed. It was fascinating to read about their lives and what they think of how things have evolved. A few years ago, we saw a film called Older Than Ireland, which consisted of interviews with centenarians. That was an excellent film—and I am not a movie person. Bill and I used to do life story work with groups and individuals, many of them elders. I have always been someone who relates better to older people than to those younger than myself, so maybe I just have an old soul or something. This book fits right in with my interest in the life stories and experiences of older people and provides a window into Irish history and culture.

 The Lola Quartet by Emily St John Mandel
This was another one that I kept in the back of my mind so I could request it from the library, along with the author’s latest book, called The Glass Hotel. Recently, in the space of a few days, I read an interview with Mandel about the latter in a book related email and saw a recommendation for this one in a different email. I requested both. This one, being older and having no queue, came quickly. I loved her Book Station Eleven, which was my introduction to her work, so I was looking forward to this one. Now, having read it, I am looking forward even more to her latest. I loved this book. I brought it to read on the day we said good-bye to our daughter after her short visit and then went on to the dentist, where Bill had n appointment. I began reading and was immediately sucked into the story. It was a great distraction. I read some more on the bus home—apparently I missed an impressive and beautiful rainbow, because I had my nose stuck in the book.

The title refers to a jazz quartet that came together in a high school in Florida. Anna is a year or two younger and is not in the quartet, but she has connections of one kind or another to all of them and serves as the eye of the storm that ends up engulfing them all. The members of the quartet are in their final years of high school and they soon go their separate ways. The book follows the characters, moving back and forth in time, as they drift apart and then come back together in unexpected ways. There is a bit of a mystery element in the book regarding a dangerous mistake Anna made on the spur of the moment at one point. This mistake leads to serious repercussions for the others.

I hope you're well and managing to cope with this strange new world!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Gratitude and Feeling Fortunate

As we move through this crisis, I am reminded daily of how fortunate Bill and I are and how much there is to be grateful for. First of all, we're in Ireland, where the messaging has been clear, consistent, culturally appropriate, and well-communicated. The steps being taken are based on science and every public health professional I've heard, whether from the WHO or elsewhere, has said that Ireland is doing all the right things. I find that comforting. There is a focus here on doing what we're doing for the good of society, which resonates with me.

We finished moving before things were shut down, which puts us in an easier situation. We are 'in the back of beyond' as a friend put it, but even so, this is a place where our needs, which are few, can be met without going anywhere else. It would have been more difficult had we lived in a couple of the other places in which we've lived.

Even though we live in the town centre, it is a very small town--the kind of place where if you blink, you'll miss it. So even with the 2 kilometre limit on being outside, we still have a nice walk we can do. Walking around the block takes us along the shore walk that I posted a few pictures of earlier in the week. The pier is not in that block, but a short detour to the right brings us there and it is not even close to the 2 kilometre limit. So we can take quick walks each day by going around the corner, veering to the right and walking down the lane to the pier, to the end of the pier, back to the shore walk, and around the block back home. When we did this part of our walk the other day, we passed no one else, so there wasn't even any need for social distancing.

I am quite an introvert, so staying inside and away from people is not a hardship for me. I do not socialise much even in normal times. I generally find gatherings exhausting. From the time I was a small child, I have had to force myself to engage with people in the ways society (and in my case, my parents) requires us all to do. I was trained well growing up, so I learned early how to turn it on and off, but as I get older, it becomes more of an effort to do so and  I have less inclination to play this game--less necessity as well. It's not that I don't enjoy interactions with some people. It's just that I don't want too much and not in large groups. Online interactions seem to be fine, as is apparently the case with many introverts..I do not have a smartphone and have no desire for one, am not on any social media at this point, and step back from the computer when I feel the need, so I am not constantly online, which may have something to do with this.

All that is to say that I am someone who is content to spend large amounts of time quietly at home with books, podcasts, stitching and other such activities. I have a great deal of compassion for people who need a lot of social interaction, because as I know from my own experience, it is hard to go against your nature, as they are now required to do. It is good to see people using technology to come up with creative ways to get the social engagement they need while still staying physically apart.

This must also be hard for the people who have children at home. It has been two weeks since schools and other places closed down and now the restrictions are tighter. This is as it should be, but it is a hardship for parents trying to keep kids occupied, especially for families who have members with special needs. And many will be trying to work from home and home school at the same time, which must be really difficult.

And there is the loss of income that people are experiencing. The government has put many supports in place, but inevitably, some people will fall through the cracks. Some small businesses will not survive. Our local community relies heavily on tourism and last week saw two big days eliminated for them--St Patrick's Day and Mother's Day. No parade, no people coming in from other places, and no local people packing into pubs and restaurants. We don't go out to eat very much, but I am inclined to start doing that more often when this is behind us, because the local restaurants will need our support. We can also go to a couple of the local pubs to listen to live music when that is happening again.

Of course, I am most grateful for the fact that Bill and I are both healthy and going through this pandemic together, as we've done with everything else for the past 40 years. We have each other and nothing is more important than that. My heart breaks for the people who are losing their loved ones. So while I certainly hope I do not get COVID-19, my focus is on doing what I can to help prevent the spread. It's possible that I could get it and not even know, but pass it on to others, which would add to the problem. So I will follow the instructions given by the public health and infectious disease specialists and remind myself of all there is to be grateful for while doing it. There are a few things we'd planned to do that we have to postpone. So be it. I have many things with which to occupy my time until this is behind us and we can get to whatever the new normal will look like. We can adapt. This can be an opportunity to really think about what is most important to us and to evaluate whether or not we've been living in ways that prioritise those things. Maybe some of us will find that there are changes we want to make as we move forward.

And now, I am off to wash my hands, make a cup of tea, listen to an e-audiobook, and work on a sock. Stay safe and remember--we're all in this together! ☮πŸŒπŸ’œ

Friday, March 27, 2020


We've just heard from our PM again and we're essentially in lockdown starting at midnight and lasting at least until Easter. We're being asked to not leave our homes, except for certain essential journeys. We can go out for walks, but must stay within 2 kilometres of home and keep 2 metres of distance between ourselves and anyone who does not reside in our household. No gatherings in the home that involve anyone outside the household are allowed.

The Chief Medical Officer also spoke and he said there is some evidence that the social distancing we've already been doing is having a positive effect, but we're in a new phase now.

We were reminded of the fact that the government is making decisions based on the science. I am grateful for this, along with so many other things.

Stay safe, keep your distance, and wash your hands, everyone!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Home Turf

Yesterday, after we walked to the pier and along the shore walk to the end, we turned onto Quay Street and walked down that way for a while. When we came to a narrow road, we walked up that, too, to see what we would see.

Not far up the road was this abandoned house.
It's sad to see homes like this--it could be a cute house and probably was once, but now it's just left to the elements. The way things are built here, using concrete block and sometimes stone, means that there are many abandoned buildings still standing. The buildings last, even when windows and roofs are long gone. This one isn't so far gone yet, but if left alone, eventually, it probably will be.

This pile of turf was a bit puzzling because of where it is.
It's a lot of turf--the work involved in cutting it, drying it, and piling it up would have been extensive,. The pile sits in a back garden (yard), behind a stone wall and in back of a house that does not look like it is currently occupied, but is having an extension built. I am not sure whether work has stopped on the extension or not as there was no one working on it yesterday. I wondered at first if someone who lives nearby was using the space to store their own turf, but the house across the road has old stone outbuildings and we could see in one of them that no longer had a door that they use it to keep wood. It's a mystery.

Back on Quay Street, we saw this tableau in a front garden. I didn't notice the daffodil peeking out from behind the little house until I looked at the picture. I love the old couple on the bench.
Today's walk was to Aldi for a weekly shop. We stopped at the hand/trolley handle sanitising station at the entrance. There were few people in the store and while most of the shelves were full, the produce section had some bare spots. I got everything on my list, though. They have marked distances on the floor for when waiting at the till--rectangles of bright colour that say, 'please wait here.' People were complying.

There was one person who passed us heading the other way when we were on our way there, but on the way home, the only people walking were on the other side of the street. When we got home, I put the groceries away and washed my hands. We went to the store today because we were about out of milk after last week's shop. We figured that since we were going to the store anyway, we might as well pick up more things at the same time and avoid any extra shopping trips.

The Irish government announced some new measures yesterday--closing non-essential businesses, telling people not to be together with people outside the household in groups larger than 4, increasing the financial assistance to businesses and individuals harmed by the pandemic, and more. Closures have been extended to April 19 and may be extended further. I read today that postal carriers will be checking in on elderly people. All in all, I think the official response here has been good. And although there are people who think these rules and guidelines should not apply to them, it seems that locally, people are taking this seriously, at least based on what I've seen.

And now, I'm off to make a cup of tea with a splash of milk πŸ˜€ While I wait for the kettle to boil, I will decide what book to start next. I would not have thought that I could be any more grateful for the existence of books than I already was, but I have found that there is always room for gratitude to be moved up a notch. I am more grateful than ever for my books and yarn!

 I hope all is well with you! Stay safe!