Archive for the ‘Book Talk’ Category

I’ve been enjoying exploring Robert Frost’s poems and finding many new favorites – but I’m breaking my own rule and posting something else for this final Friday of National Poetry Month.  I know, I know, I’ve already shared an e.e. cummings poem with you this year (I have to do at least one every April!) but how could I not also share:

when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having –
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
– it’s april(yes, april;my darling)it’s spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be
(yes the mountains are dancing together)

when every leaf opens without any sound
and wishing is having and having is giving –
but keeping is doting and nothing and nonsense
– alive:we’re alive, dear: it’s(kiss me now)spring!
now the pretty birds hover so she and so he
now the little fish quiver so you and so i
(now the mountains are dancing,the mountains)

when more than was lost has been found has been found
and having is giving and giving is living –
but keeping is darkness and winter and cringing
– it’s spring(all our night becomes day)o,it’s spring!
all the pretty birds dive to the heart of the sky
all the little fish climb through the mind of the sea
(all the mountains are dancing;are dancing)

e.e. cummings

Happy spring to all!

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Reading Emily’s Quest for the umpteenth time, I was struck by a thought about the social nature of L.M. Montgomery’s heroines.  Many of her heroines – including her most famous, Anne Shirley – have a rich inner life, where they dwell in “marble halls” of their own building.  A Montgomery heroine’s inner sanctum is a rare place, and to be admitted there is no common favor.  Emily Starr is no exception.  As a poet, Emily has a keen eye for natural beauty and she is prone to experiencing bursts of creative energy that she calls “the flash.”  You’re less likely to find Emily neglecting chores around the house in favor of daydreaming – like her literary sister Anne would and frequently did – but Emily will travel worlds in her mind while pulling onions from Aunt Elizabeth’s garden.

Yet as inwardly-focused as a Montgomery heroine can be, they are not solitary creatures.  They may often be found alone, conjuring up fanciful worlds, but they are just as often found in a group of friends.  Anne Shirley and Sara Stanley are, I think, the most social Montgomery heroines.  Sara runs in a pack throughout The Story Girl and The Golden Road.  And Anne’s life is immeasurably richer because of the bonds she forms, not only with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, but with all the people of Avonlea – her “bosom friend” Diana Barry; enemy turned friend turned love Gilbert Blythe; college pals Stella, Priscilla and Philippa; fellow Avonlea girls Jane and Ruby; even Mrs. Rachel Lynde and all the many people she meets as a young wife.  When a Montgomery heroine is missing those social bonds – like Jane Stuart during her winters in Toronto in her grandmother’s big unfriendly mansion – she feels the lack very deeply.

Warning – spoilers!

Emily spends most of Emily’s Quest feeling very lonely and solitary indeed.  When the story opens, she has returned to New Moon after three years at Shrewsbury High School, and the solitary life she dreaded in Emily Climbs, when it seemed that all three of her closest friends would be going to high school without her, is now upon her.  Teddy and Ilse have moved to Montreal to study for their chosen careers as artist and actress, respectively, and Perry is an apprentice lawyer in Charlottetown.  Emily, meanwhile, has declined Janet Royal’s offer of a position on a magazine in New York City, and is back in her old room at New Moon, looking to climb the Alpine Path.

Of course Emily is not completely alone.  Aunt Elizabeth, Aunt Laura and Cousin Jimmy all remain at New Moon – although everyone is getting older.  The people of Shrewsbury make sure to include Emily in the town’s social life, since they’re all concerned she’ll “put them in a book” if they offend her.  And creeper Dean Priest is still coming around, sometimes seeming like the only friend Emily has left.  He’s far from a friend, though – jealous and possessive, he lies to Emily about the merits of her first book, telling her that it is, basically, clunky and wooden – because he hates and is jealous of her writing.  (A very Mrs. Kent-ish thing to do, although neither Emily nor Dean seems to realize that.)  The result is that Emily burns her book and then takes a near-fatal fall down the New Moon stairs.  When she recovers, Dean proposes to her and she accepts, even though she knows she does not love him.  The only person who is really happy about this turn of events is Dean.  The New Moon elders aren’t thrilled but don’t feel they can do anything to prevent it.  Emily herself is determined to make the best of things and insists that she will be contented as Dean’s wife and mistress of the Disappointed House, which he buys for her.  Yet after a supernatural episode in which she prevents Teddy from sailing on a doomed ship, Emily realizes that she cannot marry Dean, because she loves Teddy – even if he does not love her.  She breaks the engagement, and then Dean confesses that he lied to her about the merits of her first – still burnt – book.

Emily was solitary throughout her engagement to Dean – cut off from her friends, bearing alone the pain of knowing that she was engaged to marry a man she did not love – and she is solitary after it ends.  She feels freer once the engagement is broken, but she is soon burdened again by sadness – this time brought about by her misunderstanding of the relationship between Teddy and Ilse.  Believing Teddy to be in love with Ilse, Emily draws back from both old friends, but Teddy in particular.  There are several misunderstandings that contribute to the situation, and Emily’s “Murray pride” makes everything worse.  When Ilse announces her engagement to Teddy, Emily makes a heroic – Elinor Dashwood-style – effort to be happy for her friends, silently heartsick with the prospect of a lonely life for herself.  Of course, enough misunderstandings and you’ll find yourself back on course; when a wedding guest blurts out that Perry Miller has been killed in a car crash in Charlottetown, Ilse – with ten minutes to go before she is supposed to become Teddy’s wife – bolts to the side of the man she has always truly loved, leaving Teddy free and Emily to pick up the pieces and smooth over the scandal. (Don’t worry – Perry is actually fine.)

Emily’s Quest is one of L.M. Montgomery’s darkest books.  No sun-drenched picnics with school friends here – Emily labors alone through her days, and much of the book takes place in the bleakest months of fall and winter, matching Emily’s emotional state.  Even as Emily racks up career successes – more thin envelopes containing acceptances than fat ones containing returned manuscripts these days – she feels the loss of her friends and her chance at love.  I have always thought of Emily as one of the more self-sufficient heroines in literature; I think she is – but she’s no hermit.  She may understand that walking the “Alpine Path” to fame as a writer is a solitary pursuit, but Emily needs to come down from her heights occasionally and bask in the love of her family and friends.  Ilse, bless her, does not realize this at all, believing Emily to be single-mindedly devoted to writing and without a care for any human of the boy variety.  Yet Emily wants friendship – she wants love – and she spends most of Emily’s Quest starved for both.  It’s a reminder to those of us (raises hand) who sometimes daydream about living the hermit life of a modern-day Thoreau – no woman is an island.

But I can’t close on a bleak note.  The writing in Emily’s Quest is just as evocative and transporting as the writing in the first two Emily books – and, indeed, in all of Montgomery’s work.  So I give you my favorite passage from this installment in Emily’s journey:

I picked strawberries on the banks of Blair Water this afternoon among the windy, sweet-smelling grasses.  I love picking strawberries.  The occupation has in it something of perpetual youth.  The gods might have picked strawberries on high Olympus without injuring their dignity.  A queen – or a poet – might stoop to it; a beggar has the privilege.

And tonight, I’ve been sitting here in my dear old room, with my dear books and dear pictures and dear little window of the kinky panes, dreaming in the soft, odorous summer twilight, while the robins are calling to each other in Lofty John’s bush and the poplars are talking eerily of old, forgotten things.

After all, it’s not a bad old world – and the folks in it are not half bad either.  Even Emily Byrd Starr is decent in spots.  Not altogether the false, fickle, ungrateful perversity she thinks she is in the wee sma’s – not altogether the friendless, forgotten maiden she imagines she is on white nights – not altogether the failure she supposes bitterly when three MSS. are rejected in succession.  And not altogether the coward she feels herself to be when she thinks of Frederick Kent’s coming to Blair Water in July.

That’s it for me!  Thanks very much to Naomi for hosting #ReadingEmily and giving me an excuse to visit with my favorite Montgomery heroine again.  It’s been fun not only to re-read the books, but to meet new friends and read others’ take on “that proud Miss Starr.”

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Weekend, please don’t leave us!  Who else needs another day?  Everyone?  We had a really nice weekend, and I for one am not ready for it to be over.  I’ve been feeling pretty burnt out lately and like I don’t have enough attention to spare, but I was hoping that if I could just dig out of the hole at home, at least, things would feel a little easier.  So Saturday’s theme was productivity.  Mainly during naptime, I finally finished cleaning out the bedroom – long overdue, and it felt like a real accomplishment.  I still have clutter on top of my nightstand and dresser, but that’s a project for next weekend (or one evening during the week) and won’t take long.  When we lived in temp housing while we were planning our move back home, we never unpacked our bedroom – so we’ve been sleeping amongst boxes since January of 2016.  It feels great to be unpacked, finally, and our room is so bright and airy now.  On Sunday, we took the kiddos out for a walk around the neighborhood.  We stopped by the fire house and Nugget got a tour, which was way too much fun.  The firefighters showed him their extra ladders and hoses, turned on the lights on one truck for him, let him “drive” and stand on the back of the truck, and inducted his tricycle into the company.  (It’s now “Tricycle 205” per the battalion chief.  So adorable!)  We also hit the playground and the pizza joint, and I ended up falling asleep on the couch while the kids napped away the afternoon.  I didn’t get much done, but sometimes you need a day like that, right?


Reading.  Last week was another busy work week and slow reading week.  I started out the week, as I said I was going to do, with Count Rostov.  But while I was still really enjoying A Gentleman in Moscow, I had to – once again – set it aside, because the deadline for returning Pachinko to the library was creeping up, and since it has a miles-long waitlist, I can’t renew it.  So I’ve spent most of the week with the Baek family in Osaka, and while Pachinko is beautifully conceived and composed, and I am enjoying it, I keep forgetting that multigenerational family sagas… aren’t really my thing.  Why do I keep trying to make them my thing?  But don’t let that turn you off – Pachinko is wonderful.

Watching.  We are still working our way through the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.  We’ve watched five episodes out of the six episode miniseries, and so we’ll probably finish the adaptation tonight or tomorrow.  I’ve seen it many times, of course, and I’m so excited that Steve has finally agreed to watch with me.  I think he likes it!  Not sure what we’ll watch after we finish this – I might want a break from TV so I can finally finish some of the partially-read books I have laying all over the place.

Listening.  I listened to a couple of podcasts earlier in the week, but I was really fancying something a bit more involved – but not an audiobook at the moment – so I used my April credit on The Great Courses Classics of British Literature.  I’m about four lectures in now (with many, many more to go) and listening to the lecture on Spencer’s The Faerie Queene (which I need to read).  I’m kind of chomping at the bit to get to Austen, but I have a long way to go, I think, because we seem to be going chronologically beginning with the Anglo-Saxons.

Moving.  Nothing to report this week, except that I was sad on Sunday because the GW Parkway Classic took place and I didn’t run.  I wasn’t even remotely trained – so, maybe next year.  It’s been hard to do anything for myself recently and running has taken a backseat – I haven’t really run regularly since Nugget was born.  I want to get back to it, because I miss it, and I need to figure out a way to make it work in my schedule.  My plan had been to train for the race in the mornings before everyone else woke up, and during lunch breaks – but the mornings have been mostly spent logged on to my firm’s remote access, working until it’s time to do things like make lunches and wrestle small feet into socks, and lunch breaks – well, those are not a thing that exists in my life right now.  But I know I deserve to run if I want to (and I do want to), so I need to find a way to make that happen.

Blogging.  I have more spring adventures to share with you, but they have to wait a little longer, because I am all books this week.  On Wednesday I have my final post for Naomi’s Emily readalong, and on Friday, one last poem to share for National Poetry Month – and it’s not Robert Frost!  There’s another e.e. cummings poem coming, because it’s too perfect not to share.

Loving.  The cutest thing ever happened as I was putting Nugget down for his nap yesterday.  I always sing him a song and we pretty much rotate between Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, This Land is Your Land and I Love the Mountains.  Yesterday, he asked for Winnie-the-Pooh and as I started singing it – HE SUNG ALONG WITH ME.  You guys.  It was.  So sweet.  That I almost passed out.

Asking.  How was your weekend?

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Happy Easter Monday to my friends who are celebrating, and happy spring to all!  How was everyone’s weekend?  We were on the go for pretty much the entire weekend.  On Friday, I worked from home to help juggle childcare, since Peanut’s school was closed for Good Friday, Nugget’s nanny was on vacation, and Steve’s mom was arriving at the airport right in the middle of naptime – what a circus!  But I got a surprising amount of work done and got to start my weekend early with a late afternoon stroll over to the playground, Grandma in tow.  It had been way too long since we’d seen her, and the kids were over the moon that she was here.  (Nugget in particular – totally obsessed.)  I closed out the week with a 90 minute marathon phone session with my Aunt Maria – so good to catch up with her.  On Saturday we were out the door early for a visit to Grandma’s favorite spot in D.C. – the National Zoo.  It was fun, but absolutely crawling with people, and someone got the bright idea to set up a security line to get in, which was a new development.  As a result, we had to wait in line about 45 minutes just to get through the gate, and the kids were sort of nuts all morning as a result.  I don’t know what the rationale was for that, but I sincerely hope it was just a temporary thing to deal with the extra crowd of spring breakers.  It sort of ruined the experience, and from what I overheard in the line, we weren’t the only people who were frustrated.  But once we got in, we had a great time – got to see the big cats (my favorite!), sea lions for Peanut, and great apes for Nugget.  Sadly, the pandas were not out – bummer for Grandma, who loves them.  On Sunday, Grandma was off to the airport early – it was much too short of a visit! – and we headed out to Haymarket to visit a pick-your-own flower farm, which was absolutely stunning.  I was sorry to miss Easter services, but – let’s just say that Peanut and Nugget are not church material at the moment.  Working on it.  Anyway, we thought that it would be appropriate to celebrate Easter surrounded by gorgeous flowers, so that’s what we did.  I’ll have a post coming, with lots of pictures, but it won’t be for a few weeks – I have a lot to catch up on.  And now it’s Monday and another long stretch of working and running around.  Of course I’m starting it exhausted, because I was awakened by weird road work noises – humming? what is that? – multiple times during the night.  Here’s to the weekends!


Reading.  Sort of a slow reading week.  I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with work and family stuff, and entertaining – as fun as it is – also takes a lot out of me.  Over the course of the week I finished up Does Jesus Really Love Me?, which I had wanted to read anyway and tossed in my library pile when I realized I could also count it toward the Book Riot Challenge.  It was excellent – well-written, well-researched, sensitive and thorough – but I started finding it a bit tedious and wondering if the author couldn’t have shaved a few stops from his spiritual pilgrimage itinerary.  That’s due to my own (exhausted and overwrought) state of mind while reading it, no doubt – because it’s really a wonderful book.  Needing some comfort reading, I then turned to Emily’s Quest, the third and final book in the Emily trilogy, and I’ll have a readalong post for you next week.  Finally, I went back to A Gentleman in Moscow, which I’d had to lay aside in favor of library books, and I’m starting the week with Count Rostov.  After that – I think I’m going to read Pachinko, which I’ve got out of the library and will have to read quickly as it’s got quite the waiting list.

Listening.  I was sort of stressed out all week, from a few things, and it manifested in a lack of attention for long audiobooks – so as a result I’ve rather taken a break from The Once and Future King.  Made my way through my podcatcher and subscribed to a new podcast (The Mom Hour) which I’m looking forward to discovering.  Highlight of the week was Sarah McKenzie and Greta Eskridge discussing books to get kids interested in nature on the Read-Aloud Revival podcast.  They mentioned Thornton Burgess, which brought back such memories of my own childhood that I had to fly off to Amazon to order Old Mother West Wind and The Burgess Seashore Book for Children for Peanut.

Watching.  Ladies, I have a coup to report.  Steve has decided that it would enrich his life greatly to watch THE COLIN FIRTH PRIDE AND PREJUDICE ADAPTATION!  We’ve been reading the book aloud, because he’s nice and wants to know more about my favorite books, but he’s found it hard to keep track of the characters and decided that he might enjoy the book more if he’d seen it on screen first.  Personally, that’s not my style, but I won’t complain about my husband wanting to watch Colin Firth smoldering as Mr. Darcy.  Last night we watched the first episode and I think he liked it, although he is convinced that Caroline Bingley is a man, and he was mystified every time I shouted “FORESHADOWING!  OH, POOR CHARLOTTE LUCAS!”

Moving.  Another slow week.  I was feeling a little tense from work and family stress, so I did squeeze in a yoga practice, which helped.  And there were long walks around the zoo and Old Town with Grandma.  Strolling with a beloved family member much beats powerwalking or running alone.

Blogging.  I’ve got a fun post about spring at Mount Vernon for you on Wednesday, and another Robert Frost poem on Friday – check back!  This has been such a fun spring and I can’t stop myself taking millions of pictures or writing paragraphs and paragraphs about it.

Loving.  It’s been so wonderful seeing everyone in their Easter finery on social media over the weekend.  I was a bit lame this year – I did baskets for the kids, because I always do, but didn’t color or hide eggs, host a brunch or even make it to church – too stressed and angsty over things to make any of that happen.  But I have so enjoyed watching from afar-ish as my friends celebrated.  Next year, I will try hard to do a better job at being in the Easter spirit.  This year, I’m just enjoying living vicariously through people who have their acts together more than I do.

Asking.  How was your Easter, if you celebrated?

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A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

~Robert Frost

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Don’t tell me it’s really Monday already.  No, don’t.  I can’t heeeeeeeeeear you – la la la!  Okay, fine.  I admit it.  It’s really Monday and I still need a weekend.  Last week was insane – and I know I keep saying that, but last week seemed worse than usual.  I billed 59.25 hours by Friday and I was so exhausted and loopy enough that I seriously thought about tacking on another 0.75 just to make it an even 60.  Law firm life is making me weird.  On top of it being busy, it was a really frenetic week, involving a couple of very high profile, very high stress, very rush projects and some family nonsense that was distracting me from work right when I could least afford to be distracted.  All that’s to say – by Friday I was seriously ready for a break.  And even though I could certainly have come up with work tasks to do this weekend, I didn’t – I figured I’d billed plenty last week (ha!) and I needed to let my mind relax as much as possible, to get some stuff done around the house (I made a lot of progress on unpacking the bedroom – almost there!), and mostly – to enjoy some time with my little family.  So that’s what we did.  Saturday found us at Mount Vernon checking out all that spring brings to the farm – which is a LOT.  I have a post coming at you next week, but a little preview: PIGLETS.  You’re intrigued, aren’t you?  Sunday brought another adventure – our April hike, which was one of the most gorgeous hikes we’ve ever done – sneak preview above.  I’ll have a big recap for you on Wednesday; I’m doing things a little out of order, but this one deserves to be bumped to the head of the posting line.  I won’t say more, except this: local friends, GET THEE TO THE BLUEBELL TRAIL RIGHT FREAKING NOW.


Reading.  What with that whole 60 hour workweek and personal stress and all, I had a bit of a mini reading slump last week.  (And because every time I say I’m in a reading slump, five people ask me if I’m pregnant: I’m not.)  I finished A Circle of Quiet on Monday, which was beautiful, moving and thought-provoking – and then I wandered aimlessly though my book stacks for the next few days, picking things up and putting them down.  I finally committed to The Princess Diarist, because (1) it was a two-week library book; and (2) I was curious about “Carrison.”  Then picked up Does Jesus Really Love Me?, with all the good intentions to finish it before the library deadline (which is Wednesday; I’m about halfway though it so wish me luck).  After I finish it, I’m not sure what I’m going to read next – I have a few books on the go, so will probably go back to one of those.  Or maybe Emily’s Quest.

Listening.  A bit of a slumpy week for listening, too.  The best thing I listened to was music – I know, you’re all falling out of your chairs right now.  I treated myself to a double CD compilation of cello and piano sonatas played by Jacqueline du Pre and Daniel Barenboim – it had been on my Amazon wish list FOREVER.  I have several other CDs with du Pre, but none that included Barenboim.  Anyway, so lovely.  Aside from that, I cleaned up my podcatcher – nothing earth-shattering there – and listened to a bit more of The Once and Future King, but found I was having trouble concentrating on anything because my brain was just fried.  I’ll go back to it soon.

Watching.  Actually, nothing.  Last week I worked every night after the kids’ bedtimes, so there were no shows.  And I was too exhausted for TV over the weekend – I just needed to let my mind breathe.

Moving.  No running this week – when was I going to fit that in?  I think I’m going to have to make my peace with not running the Parkway Classic.  At this point, I can’t train to run ten miles.  Maybe I’ll see about dropping down to the 5K.  I did get in two nice walks – around Mount Vernon on Saturday, and our bluebell hike on Sunday (which I really can’t wait to tell you all about) so at least I did something.

Blogging.  April hike recap coming at you on Wednesday – it was such a good one, you guys – and another Robert Frost poem on Friday.  Check back!

Loving.  At some point last week – between running around like a crazy person and working from sunup to sundown – I found THE BEST blog.  It’s called NOVAdventuring, and it’s exactly what I have been looking for – a clearinghouse of the best family-friendly activities and adventures in northern Virginia and the greater D.C. area.  I’ve already bookmarked several posts for summer fun and am slowly working my way through the archives in search of more ideas.  I suspect that quite a few of our spring and summer excursions are going to owe their inspiration to this blog.

Asking.  What are you up to this week?

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Happy National Poetry Month, my friends!  This is one of my favorite ways to welcome spring, and each year I focus on a different poet and spend a month with their words.  This year, instead of discovering a new-to-me poet, I’m craving some time with an old favorite – my first favorite, in fact – the first poet I read in school, whose bright and soft words about nature influenced my tastes and showed me what spoke to me at a formative time in my reading life: Robert Frost.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

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