Saturday, November 25, 2023
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
The postman comes early here, so when I heard him this morning shortly after I got up, I got dressed in a hurry and had a look. I knew I'd be getting happy mail today or tomorrow because Bill recently got me a voucher from Kenny's Bookshop and I'd gotten an email saying the order was shipped. After he gave it to me, I spent a few days pondering and clicking around, deciding what to get. I kept a list and made my decisions from that. I was thrilled to see the box in the entryway this morning and even more thrilled when I opened it.
In anticipation of the arrival of the new books, I organized the ones I already had. We don't have any bookcases, so we do what we can with boxes and the floor. We have a few book towers tucked away in accessible, but out of the way spots. I had some books that I've read so wanted to put elsewhere. As I was shifting books around, I was reminded of how many great books we have. I've been reading so many NetGalley and library e-books that I've been letting my physical books languish. I've decided to focus on those for a while. I've been on a classics kick for a few years now and that shows no sign of abating. I have lots of chunky old books in my pile that I am eager to get to.
For the past year, I've been enjoying old writing that makes me laugh. E.M. Delafield and her Diary of a Provincial Lady books, E.F. Benson's six Mapp and Lucia novels, and the occasional P.G. Wodehouse e-audiobook have brought much laughter. I'm looking forward to the comedic elements of my new books--I think I'll start with The Caravaners. It will be a good contrast to the e-book I'm reading now--the last one on my NetGalley shelf. It's an excellent nonfiction book that reads like a thriller, about what would happen in the event someone fires off a nuclear weapon at the US. Given the current situation globally and the threats within the US itself, it's a timely book (to be published in March, if I remember correctly). The author is laying out the history of the military thinking about nuclear weapons, the effects of such a blast, and the minute-by-minute response process that would ensue. The president would have about 6 minutes to decide where to launch the response nukes--and what people to kill/maim. This is not a defensive situation--in spite of what we are told, the interception systems are likely to fail--it would be pure retaliation. And I must say that as I have been reading, I have of the exploding head emoji many times. Of course we all know the very idea of nuclear weapons is nuts, but it's hard to wrap my mind around how very flimsy the entire edifice is. So much can go wrong at so many points in the process--and almost has. Once again, I am astonished that human beings as a species have survived for this long. I have a feeling it will be something of a relief to turn to a comic novel, written more than a century ago, about a pompous German general on a caravan holiday in Kent (UK) in 1906. It's apparently based on a true story. I'm looking forward to it.
Posted by Shari Burke at 15.11.23
Thursday, November 9, 2023
Into the Dark: What Darkness Is and Why It Matters
by Jacqueline Yallop
I sometimes joke that I must be part bat--usually when Bill asks me, 'How can you see?' I tell him that I can see just fine. I love the dark in its different gradations. I prefer night to day, cloudy days to sunny ones, and dim light to bright. I'm a night owl and I love the long nights of winter. With the exception of the occasional day of sun on a cold day, bright sunshine agitates me while grey days bring a calm feeling. I need light to read, stitch, or do other tasks at night, but I have a portable USB lamp and a headlamp that I can adjust to shine directly on the page or project, leaving the rest of the room dark. I never turn on the overhead lights. So when I saw this book, I was eager to read it. I'm so glad I did!
Jacqueline Yallop has paid attention to the dark since she was 7 or 8 years old and on holiday, spending a night in a farmhouse. It was the first time she ever experienced real darkness--not the kind I described above, but a deep dark that prevented her from seeing the hand in front of her face. From that moment, she was fascinated and paid attention to the dark. This interest only deepened when her father was diagnosed with dementia. One of the things that changed for him was his relationship to the dark. His experience was the opposite of my own. Bright light calmed him and even the fading light of dusk agitated him. He would turn on every light in the house every night. The author knew she could not fully understand her father's experience, but she decided to try to get as close as she could by investigating the dark. What are the ideas we have about the dark? How do we 'see' the dark? How do our bodies process light and dark? This excellent book is the result of her investigation. She observes and cares for her father. She takes herself to unfamiliar places on very dark nights and is very aware of what she is feeling in an attempt to get a little bit closer to understanding the new terrain he is having to navigate.She draws on human experience, biology, philosophy, literature, poetry, visual art, popular culture, folklore, architecture, language, and culture. Her writing is beautiful and often lyrical. There were times I stopped and let the words just sink in.
The book is structured in chapters that go along with the phases of the moon--waxing, full moon, waning--and also her father's progression through dementia. This book is so well written and is such a joy to read.
I thank NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for a digital review copy.
Saturday, November 4, 2023
This morning, one of the Irish online news sites had a poll question about whether it is 'acceptable' to be playing Christmas music now. There is so much of this kind of thing and sometimes there is anger about it as well. It's a peeve. My issue is with the word 'acceptable.' Acceptable to whom? If you want to play Christmas music now or in January, or in June, or whenever, go ahead. Enjoy. If you don't want to play Christmas music until December, then don't. If you do play it then, enjoy. If you hate Christmas music and never want to hear a bell jingling or what some greedy jerk wants from Santa Baby (I'm with you on this one), then don't listen. Enjoy the silence. If people get some joy, peace, happiness, comfort, or whatever else from listening to Christmas music at any time of year, as long as they're not standing outside blasting it outside someone's window, why on earth should anyone else care--or even notice? I know some people get annoyed when it's played in stores at times unacceptable to themselves. Such is life. When we go into our local wee grocery store, they almost always have a local radio station playing and most of the time, it's playing country western music. I loathe and detest country western music. We get what we are there for and we leave, sometimes laughing at the song/lyrics. We don't get pissed off and demand that it be turned off. It's a different matter when it enters my home, but when I am out in public, I know that people are going to have different tastes from me. I am well into adulthood and can handle it. No one ever asks if it's 'acceptable' to be playing twangy tunes at any time of year and Christmas music should be no different. Some towns have speakers blasting Christmas music in the square. We walked out of a shop in Donegal town a few years ago and Last Christmas--a song I abhor--was playing. Bill and I had a laugh. It ended. I was unharmed. 😉😏
|needle felted base, sea glass, french knots, crochet trim|
Posted by Shari Burke at 4.11.23
Friday, November 3, 2023
Thursday, November 2, 2023
by Kathleen Farrell
published by Faber and Faber, Ltd
In this fabulous, darkly funny book, which was out of print for a time, members of an extended family who really don't care for one another very much are getting together for Christmas at the behest of the needy, controlling matriarch. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty. Let's just say that things take an unfestive turn and tidings of comfort and joy are not exactly there in abundance. As an example of the feelings people have towards one another, one character says to another, " The very essence of the stupidity of countless generations has solidified into one person. And that person is you..." Yes, one big happy family group together for the festive season.
Rachel, the matriarch, and her niece by marriage, Bess live in the house. Arriving for Christmas this year as they do every year are Rachel's daughter and son-in-law, a niece, and a nephew. New this year is Rachel's ne'er do well son who left under a cloud a long time ago and hasn't been seen since. There is also a cook/housekeeper who is a snoop and a bit nasty. Already complicated relationships are stressed and no one is having a particularly good time.
The book takes place over the course of 3 1/2 days. Each section of the book describes one of those days--The Day Before Christmas, Christmas Day, The Day After Christmas, and The Return. There is an afterword at the end, which describes the way in which the book came to be republished and a bit about the author herself.
I loved this book. The family is quite dysfunctional, each member in their own way. People are stuck in various ways, which is bad enough individually, but creates new issues when the dysfunction is all enclosed in the space of one house at a time of year when the pressures of the season cause problems of their own. Then the return of the son--a surprise to all of the visitors--adds another layer of tension. All that said, the book is quite funny, in a dark sort of way. I'm thrilled that the book is being republished--the time is definitely right for it--and delighted that I've had the chance to read it! I hope to read more by this author in future. Highly recommend.
I thank NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy.
Tuesday, October 31, 2023
Direct Sunlight: Stories
by Christine Sneed
Northwestern University Press
Change is always with us, in big and small ways. Sometimes we get to direct it, sometimes it drops down shockingly upon us, and sometimes it sneaks up and surprises us. However it appears, the result is that we have to think again about who we are, who we want to be, what we will do next, and how we will go on with our lives. New relationships begin. Established relationships shift. Sometimes they, along with other parts of our everyday lives, end. We can feel adrift, unmoored, afraid, exhilarated, and more. We adapt and go on.
The 12 stories in this collection show us people navigating through changes in their everyday lives. Some of the stories are quietly devastating. Some are hopeful. Some are poignant. All are excellent. Usually in any short story collection there are stories I like better than others and at least one or two that I am not that keen on. Not so with this book! I loved every single story. I did not race through the book, but rather savored one story at a time, before setting the book aside for several hours or a day. Short story as a form can be tricky--there is a lot to do in a small space--and Christine Sneed skillfully and beautifully does it all. With these 12 stories, she has created 12 little worlds inhabited by people going about their daily lives and navigating changes they may or may not have wished for. I felt myself immediately immersed in each world and interested in what was happening to each of these people, sometimes feeling empathy for their situation, sometimes sadness, and sometimes hope. It's not easy for writers to evoke these kinds of feelings, even in long novels. To do so within the confines of the short story form is a particular kind of skill. I had never read any work by this author, but I will definitely seek out past work now.
Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for a digital review copy.