Showing posts from October, 2019

Middle England by Jonathan Coe: A review

How have I not met Jonathan Coe before? And how was I unaware that Middle England is actually part of a series, the third book in that series? Never mind, the book works perfectly well as a stand-alone. But now I really want to go back and read those other two books. Coe's writing is humorous, insightful, and humane. This book deals with the effects of politics on families and on England and can be extrapolated to extend to other Western countries. America, for example. Reading the book gave me (finally!) a sense that I better understood the human issues around Brexit, as well as perhaps the human issues driving the wave of white exceptionalism in my own country.  Coe's novel begins in 2010 and the narrative includes perspectives from a daunting number of characters, but all of the characters are connected in some way to two: Benjamin Trotter, age 50, who we meet as he is leaving the funeral reception of his mother along with his father, Colin, a former car factory emplo

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves: A review

Continuing with my reading of the DI Vera Stanhope Mysteries, I've reached the fifth entry in the series. This one begins with Vera returning home from work to find her "hippy-dippy" neighbor, Jack, waiting for her in her parlor. He is distressed because his wife, Joanna, has disappeared. Even though she left him a note saying that she needed a break and would be gone for a few days, she didn't say where she was going and he hasn't heard from her since she left a few days ago. He wants Vera to find her.  Well, that proves easy enough. Vera contacts the taxi driver who picked her up and learns that she went to Writer's House, a country retreat where aspiring writers go to attend lectures and workshops and polish their stories. Vera goes to the Writer's House to check on Joanna and let her know that Jack is worried. As luck would have it, her arrival at the retreat coincides with the finding of a dead body in the glass room. The body is that of Profe

Poetry Sunday: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

I guess I've been in a Mary Oliver frame of mind recently. I seem to turn to her poetry often. I especially like this one. The wild geese are returning to their winter home here on the prairies and wetlands of Southeast Texas. When I am outside, I sometimes hear their voices now as they fly "high in the clean blue air" and I think about that last passage in this poem: Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - over and over announcing your place in the family of things. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies

This week in birds - #375

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : This Blue Jay is checking out what's on offer at my backyard bird feeders. *~*~*~* Acidification of the ocean can cause the mass extinction of marine life. This is what happened 65 million years ago when the meteorite hit near Yucatan. Not only did it mean the end of the age of dinosaurs, it caused acidification which also wiped out three-quarters of marine species. It is happening again , not with a meteorite this time but with the absorption of carbon emissions which also causes the oceans to acidify.  *~*~*~* As large swaths of California are burning and thousands of people have had to evacuate their homes and have their lives disrupted, it brings home the question of how we are going to live in a world of a warming climate where fire is a growing problem. As hotter temperatures dry out plants making them easier to ignite, we can expect wildfires nationwide to become an increasing problem .  *~*~*~*

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet: A review

Author Jennine Capo Crucet was recently invited to speak at Georgia Southern University. She accepted the invitation and the focus of her presentation to the students was white privilege. Some of the privileged white students at the school objected to a Latina speaking on that subject and they staged a protest during which they burned her first novel , Make Your Home Among Strangers , which had been published in 2015. When I read that story, I knew I had to read that book. Crucet is a Cuban-American with ties to the Miami area. She is currently an associate professor at the University of Nebraska. The protagonist of her novel is a Cuban-American young woman from Miami named Lizet Ramirez. She is the first of her family to go to college. She had secretly applied to an elite (fictional) Northeastern school called Rawlings College. And she was accepted! This causes consternation in her family. Her parents are separated and not on good terms and she has an older unmarried sister who

Poetry Sunday: Citizen of Dark Times by Kim Stafford

This poem is from a collection of poetry written by Oregon poet Kim Stafford after the presidential election of 2016. It was his effort, he said in an interview, to find the "flavor of unity" in divisive times. It seems particularly appropriate at the moment. Citizen of Dark Times by Kim Stafford Agenda in a time of fear: Be not afraid. When things go wrong, do right. Set out by the half-light of the seeker. For the well-lit problem begins to heal. Learn tropism toward the difficult. We have not arrived to explain, but to sing. Young idealism ripens into an ethical life. Prune back regret to let faith grow. When you hit rock bottom, dig farther down. Grief is the seed of singing, shame the seed of song. Keep seeing what you are not saying. Plunder your reticence. Songbird guards a twig, its only weapon a song.

This week in birds - #374

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : American Redstart image from I was sitting on my favorite bench by my goldfish pond yesterday, daydreaming in the autumn sun, when I sensed movement in the redbud tree beside the pond. I looked up to see an adult male American Redstart perched on a twig looking at me, probably trying to decide if I was a threat. I sat perfectly still and tried to look non-threatening and soon he dropped down to my little fountain near the pond to have a drink. I was very excited because this was the first redstart I had ever seen in my yard. (Of course, as always happens with these serendipitous sightings, I didn't have a camera with me, so I had to borrow an image from the internet.) The redstarts and their fellow warblers, as well as other songbirds, are passing through and over my yard now in their fall migration, most of them headed farther south to Mexico and Central America. Their passage is mostly sil

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry: A review

So, this book calls to mind Beckett's Waiting for Godot . It's all about the waiting. Waiting for someone who never comes. The book actually reads more like a play than a novel. Reading it is a bit of a confusing slog at times because of the format. I'm not sure why some modern writers seem to have a prejudice against quotation marks, but apparently, Kevin Barry is one of them. It is not always possible to understand (without digging) just who is speaking and it isn't always clear at first that someone is speaking. In my opinion, that just makes the reading unnecessarily hard work and it annoyed me. Apparently, it didn't annoy the Booker Prize jurors who put it on the long list for this year's award. One can see why I suppose. The language of the novel at times rises to lyrical heights and its two curmudgeonly main characters are interesting. These are the type of male characters that a certain kind of male writer seems to love to write about. Elmore Leon

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2019

Oops! I almost forgot Bloom Day! Then I saw Carol's of May Dreams Gardens post this morning and, of course, I had to get busy and participate in my favorite monthly meme. In fact, I really don't have much to show you this month. It has not been a great year for my garden, but still, my old reliables continue showing up month after month. There is one new face in the crowd. The Lycoris Radiata has been in bloom all month. I prefer their common name, "Naked Ladies", so called because they pop out of the ground fully bloomed with no leaves on.  The fall asters are well past their prime but still sporting a few blooms. There is nothing more iconic of October in my garden than the blooms of the Anisacanthus wrightii and the little yellow Sulphur butterflies that love them.  And, of course, the yellow bell-shaped blooms of the Esperanza.  The large shrub reaches for the October sky. More down-to-earth is the Mexican firebush which lives up

Poetry Sunday: Invitation by Mary Oliver

I dip into poetry throughout the week. I do it quite randomly, without a plan or agenda. But I am often astonished to find that the poem I have randomly chosen is exactly the one that I needed at that particular moment. And so it was when I landed on this poem by Mary Oliver a few days ago. She writes: it is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world. Yes, exactly. Invitation by Mary Oliver Oh do you have time to linger for just a little while out of your busy and very important day for the goldfinches that have gathered in a field of thistles for a musical battle, to see who can sing the highest note, or the lowest, or the most expressive of mirth, or the most tender? Their strong, blunt beaks drink the air as they strive melodiously not for your sake and not for mine and not for the sake of winning but for sheer delight and gratitude – believe us, they say, it is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh m

This week in birds - #373

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A King Rail searches for a snack in the wetlands of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. *~*~*~* The National Park Service is one year into its effort to re-establish wolves on Isle Royale in Michigan. But there is a problem. Of the nineteen wolves that they have relocated to the island habitat, three have died of unknown causes . Another wolf walked across an ice bridge to the mainland in January. The NPS is trying to solve the mystery of the deaths and, in the meantime, has made some adjustments to its reintroduction procedures to try to reduce stress to the animals.   *~*~*~* Climate change is a threat to some of the oldest living entities on the planet - the giant sequoias. The not-for-profit conservation group Save the Redwoods has plans to buy the largest privately owned sequoia grove in order to try to protect and save it. *~*~*~* A new study confirms that North American bird species are attempting

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: A review

The main character in The Dutch House is the house itself. It looms over the lives of the human characters and haunts them to the very end of their days. The house was built in a suburb of Philadelphia by a Dutch couple, the VanHoebeeks, who had made a fortune in a cigarette distribution business that they started before World War I. The facade of the house was glass; you could look right through it. The lives of the people who lived in it were never so transparent. The VanHoebeeks raised their family there, but it was a family stalked by tragedy and by post World War II years, the only family member left was the mother who was cared for by a servant, Fiona (later nicknamed Fluffy). When the mother died, the house reverted to ownership by a bank and it was sold. The buyer was Cyril Conroy, a man who had grown up poor but through a combination of acumen and luck had parlayed a single investment in a property into an enormous real estate empire. He was a man with a wife whom he

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake: A review

On the surface, The Guest Book tells the story of three generations of a privileged white American family. Dig underneath that surface just a bit and you find the history of our country from the mid-1930s until the present day with the racism of the powerful who control everything always casting its shadow over events. The privileged white American family is the Miltons and in 1935 it seemed that Ogden and Kitty Milton had everything. They were rich and good looking and their marriage was a love match which everyone who knew them envied. They had three perfect children. Nothing untoward could touch them. Perhaps that is why when tragedy did come it was so devastating. I must say it was devastating to this reader as well. It was so unexpected and it hit me right where I live. After the family tragedy, Kitty was unable to recover and in order to bring her back and give her a reason to live, Ogden decided to buy an island off the coast of Maine. Crockett's Island. Because I g

Poetry Sunday: To Autumn by John Keats

We have the hope of some actual autumn-like weather in the coming week. The forecasters are saying that our high temperatures will be in the low 80s and may even dip into the 70s on one day! And nighttime temperatures could actually get as low as the high 50s. Those are the most pleasant numbers we've seen since April. We can only hope that they materialize. With such a prospect in view, let us dream on with one of the Romantic poets, John Keats. Here is his take on autumn. To Autumn by John Keats Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease, For Summer has o'e