Showing posts from March, 2021

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard: A review

  Ever since reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek as a young adult, I have been enamored of Annie Dillard's style of writing about Nature. Teaching a Stone to Talk first came out in 1982 and it feels like I have been intending to read it almost since that time. An e-book edition was published in 2019. At long last, I have fulfilled my intention to read and I'm very glad that I did. Better late than never. The book comprises fourteen essays, most if not all of which have been published elsewhere but here they are in one collection. The essays are broadly about Nature but they also cover themes of time and memory, as well as touching on religion. The first essay in the book tells of Dillard's and her husband's experience in viewing a total solar eclipse. She describes the feelings of awe and even fear that she had, in spite of the fact that she understood what was happening. Imagine the feelings of those who have experienced such an event without knowing that it will soon en

Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews: A review

  Who is Maud Dixon? She is a fabulously successful writer, author of the book world's newest sensation, a coming-of-age story about two teenage girls and a murder in a small town in Mississippi. But who is she really? No one knows except her one contact at her publishing house because Maud Dixon is her nom de plume . She chooses to ferociously guard her anonymity.   But never mind Maud. Our main protagonist here is Florence Darrow who at age 26 is an assistant at a publishing house in New York. (Not the one that publishes Maud Dixon.) Florence is from Florida, a graduate of the University of Florida at Gainesville and she feels decidedly inferior alongside all the well-connected Ivy Leaguers that she works with. Florence is devious, amoral, and resentful. She wants to divorce herself from her past and grab hold of the life which she believes that she is meant for and deserves, namely that of a brilliant writer. The only thing that is stopping her is that she can't seem to writ

Poetry Sunday: Poem to the First Generation of People to Exist After the Death of the English Language by Billy Collins

English a dead language? Well, perhaps in a world where people increasingly seem to communicate by emoji or by a series of letters which one has to consult Google's Urban Dictionary in order to understand what they mean, it may not be too far a stretch of the imagination. Certainly, Billy Collins' imagination stretches that far. Poem to the First Generation of People to Exist After the Death of the English Language by Billy Collins I’m not going to put a lot of work into this because you won’t be able to read it anyway, and I’ve got more important things to do this morning, not the least of which is to try to write a fairly decent poem for the people who can still read English. Who could have foreseen English finding a place in the cemetery of dead languages? I once imagined English placing flowers at the tombstones of its parents, Latin and Anglo-Saxon, but you people can actually visit its grave on a Sunday afternoon if you still have days of the week. I remember the story of

This week in birds - Not!

"This week in birds" is taking the day off to celebrate the blogger's husband's birthday. We'll be back as usual next weekend. In the meantime, I hope you have an opportunity to be outdoors enjoying the birds and the environment and that you will remember to take whatever action is in your power to protect them both.

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen: A review

  The Sympathizer who we met in Viet Thanh Nguyen's previous book has survived his time spent in a re-education camp run by his blood brother, Man. Now it is the 1980s and he and his other blood brother, Bon, are out of the camp and have made their way to Paris which is where we meet them in this book. The narrator is the only one of the two who knows that the re-education camp had been run by Man and that he is the one who was in charge of the torture which they endured there. The narrator who describes himself as a man of two faces and two minds has a voice that demands the reader's attention and that voice mesmerizes us during the first part of this book. It is an eccentric and fractious voice that makes this story memorable and hard to put down. We learn more about the narrator's history. We know that he was born in Vietnam and that he is half French, half Vietnamese. His father was a Catholic priest and this son has very conflicted feelings about the land of his father

How to Order the Universe by María José Ferrada (Translated by Elizabeth Bryer): A review

  María José Ferrada is a Chilean journalist and writer of books for children. Now she has written this quirky little book for us adults. It is her first book to be translated into English and I read the translation by Elizabeth Bryer. It reads flawlessly as if its first language had been English. Ferrada's first foray into adult fiction has a child as its narrator. At the start of the book, the child narrator who is identified only as M is seven years old and she adores her father, a traveling salesman who hawks Kramp hardware products in small towns across Chile. She is fascinated by her father's work and longs to be a part of it. Her wish is fulfilled when her father agrees to let her skip school and travel with him as he attempts to make his sales. All of this, of course, must be kept secret from her mother who would not approve and who seems to be emotionally absent from her daughter's life. Thus, M and D (the father) go on their adventures and the life of the travelin

Poetry Sunday: Lines Written in Early Spring by William Wordsworth

Spring and Wordsworth just seem to go together. While spring may be the favorite season of most Nature poets, I can't think of anyone who wrote more poems that reference spring than Wordsworth. And so, even though I have featured this poem here before, it seems worth repeating. The sentiments it expresses never really grow old or stale. Lines Written in Early Spring by William Wordsworth I heard a thousand blended notes, While in a grove I sate reclined, In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts Bring sad thoughts to the mind. To her fair works did Nature link The human soul that through me ran; And much it grieved my heart to think What man has made of man. Through primrose tufts, in that green bower, The periwinkle trailed its wreaths; And ’tis my faith that every flower Enjoys the air it breathes. The birds around me hopped and played, Their thoughts I cannot measure:— But the least motion which they made It seemed a thrill of pleasure. The budding twigs spread out their fan, To

This week in birds - #443

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : The adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are passing through. The adult males always arrive first to be followed soon by the adult females and the immatures. *~*~*~* There was more progress for the Biden administration on getting its department heads in place this week. Most notably, Deb Haaland was confirmed and then sworn in as head of the Department of the Interior, the first Native American to head the department. Worldwide, indigenous people are often the most effective stewards of Nature and their leadership will be important in protecting Earth's land and water. *~*~*~* Many countries are making an effort to curb the trade in plastic waste , but the United States is one of the greatest contributors to the problem. *~*~*~* A new study of whale behavior after being attacked by whaling ships in the 19th century indicates that information about attacks was shared among the whales and that they then modified t

A Fatal Lie by Charles Todd: A review

  In one of the more complicated plots in this long series of books featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge, he is sent to a Welsh village to investigate a death that, at first, looks like an accident. The body of a man is found in a river and he appears to have fallen from a great height. There is a nearby canal aqueduct spanning the valley, and the assumption is that he fell from the top of the structure. He is unknown to the local residents and has no identification on him. Rutledge suspects this is no accident. The time is 1921, some three years after Rutledge had returned from the trenches of France suffering from shell shock, haunted by actions he had taken in the war, and barely able to function. It has been a struggle to get back to an appearance of normal and he is still haunted by the voice of Hamish MacLeod, the Scottish corporal whom he executed on the battlefield for failing to follow a command, but he has a talent for investigation and is a successful Scotland Yard inspector, al

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - March 2021

As you may have heard, Southeast Texas, and indeed much of the southeastern corner of the country suffered an unusual and devastating freeze in February. For several days and nights, the temperatures hovered in the teens and low twenties (Fahrenheit), an event that our gardens with their many tropical plants are not generally meant to endure. On the coldest night, the temperature actually went down to nine degrees according to the thermometer on my back porch and if it was nine degrees on my sheltered back porch, it was probably colder out in my yard. After it was all over, my garden looked as though it had been swept by fire. It was all brown and black. I wondered if I would ever see green again. But that was then, this is now. The redbud tree is in full bloom. And the bees are grateful. In a tale of two Carolina Jessamines, the jessamine in one part of the garden, on a trellis near the garden shed, was savaged by the freeze and turned into a brown collection of sticks which are still

Poetry Sunday: The Racist Bone by Cornelius Eady

I remember from long ago the Vincent Price movie that Cornelius Eady writes about here and man, was it scary! Possibly not as scary though as the racist bone. But it may well be that, as Eady says, we never believe that we have it in us - the Tingler or the racist bone - until the pincers close around us.  The Racist Bone by Cornelius Eady I know this is a real thing, because When I was a kid, my big sister took me To the Capitol Theater, in my hometown Of Rochester, NY, And there was a movie that afternoon, The Tingler , which starred Vincent Price, And what I remember best about the film Was that it was about this extra, insect-like gland, that We all appeared to have been born with, But nobody but sci-fi movie scientists knew about. If it wasn’t fed properly, it would crawl up Your leg, and choke you to death with its claws! Your only hope was if you saw it coming, and knew What it was, you could scream—loud. Which we did, when it crawled across the screen. Then the lights blacked o

This week in birds - #442

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  Many of our avian winter visitors are beginning to move on now that spring temperatures have arrived in our area, but the Cedar Waxwings are still with us. I photographed this one in my next-door neighbor's pear tree which is just beginning to bloom. A fairly large flock of the waxwings have been enjoying a feast in my yard over the last couple of weeks. Most of the berries that they normally dine on are gone now but when our February freeze came, there were still a large number of oranges on my two orange trees. The freeze spoiled them for human consumption but that hasn't bothered the waxwings. They have been eagerly consuming the fruit. I'm just glad I didn't hurry to clean up after the freeze. Sometimes procrastination pays. *~*~*~* FINALLY! We have an Environmental Protection Agency director who is actually interested in protecting the environment. President Biden's nominee for the post, Michael

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion: A review

  This short book comprises twelve of Joan Didion's previously published essays, most of them published in magazines. They cover the period of her work from 1968 to 2000. Several of the pieces were written in the momentous year of 1968 and for those of us who were alive and paying attention at the time, they bring back a lot of memories. Others were written in later years, the final one in 2000. That one was about Martha Stewart. The other eleven cover a wide range of topics from Nancy and Ronald Reagan and his tenure as California governor to the Vietnam War to personal meditations such as the 1976 essay entitled "Why I Write." In "Why I Write," she tells us that it is all to do with the sound of those three words - I, I, I. She writes, she says, "to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means." She acknowledges that she is not an intellectual, a thinker, and so the way that she orders her thoughts is the writ

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler: A review

This is Lauren Oyler's debut novel after a career as a critic studying and explicating the novels of others. It is an innovative work that describes the way that social media has surreptitiously crept into our daily lives and, in some ways, has come to redefine our relationships with others and even the way that we think of ourselves. The relationships described include online stalking and the creation of fake identities, as well as the descent into paranoia and conspiracy theories and a kind of social disengagement and political derangement. That's quite a lot and it isn't even all; the book also includes numerous references - some of which I caught and some I probably missed - to other contemporary writers. The narrative begins at a specific and unsettled point in time, the months between the 2016 presidential election and the inauguration of Donald Trump. Our narrator (who of course is nameless - how could it be otherwise?) is a young woman with a boyfriend who is named.

Poetry Sunday: Every day as a wide field, every page by Naomi Shihab Nye

Of all the poems I read over the past week, this was the one that really grabbed me. I hope it grabs you, too, because... "When you paused for a poem it could reshape the day" Every day as a wide field, every page by Naomi Shihab Nye 1 Standing outside staring at a tree gentles our eyes We cheer to see fireflies winking again Where have our friends been all the long hours? Minds stretching beyond the field become their own skies Windows  doors grow more important Look through a word swing that sentence wide open Kneeling outside to find sturdy green glistening blossoms under the breeze that carries us silently 2 And there were so many more poems to read! Countless friends to listen to. We didn’t have to be in the same room— the great modern magic. Everywhere together now. Even scared together now from all points of the globe which lessened it somehow. Hopeful together too, exchanging winks in the dark, the little lights blinking. When your hope shrinks you might feel the hope