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Well!  Wrapping up another year – here we go.  We’re a couple of weeks into 2018 now, but it always takes me all of January to get through my posts looking back on the last year, especially when it comes to books and reading.  2017 was another banner year for me in books – no matter what else may change, or how crazy life may get, books are always my refuge, so I guess it makes sense that I read as much as I did in 2017.  Here’s how my numbers are looking, now that I’ve closed the book (sorry) on the year.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Looking at the numbers alone, it looks like I read 102 books this year – which is a pace of juuuuuuust a hair under two books per week.  That sounds about right to me.  It was a busy year, full of travel, parenting and work stress, so it seems that no matter what I do, I come out around 100 books in a year.  That seems to be the sweet spot.

 

My longest book, clocking in at 904 pages, was Middlemarch, by George Eliot (which I actually listened to on audiobook this time around, although I have read it in print, in the past).  My shortest book, at a slim 46 pages, was Simplify, by Joshua Becker.  Funnily enough, Simplify was also the first book I read in 2017.  It’s a good New Year’s book.

Pie-Oh-My

One of my favorite exercises to do at the end of a year (or beginning of a new year) is look back over all of the books I read in the previous year.  It’s always fun to see where I began, where I went, and where I ended – and of course, to relive a list of wonderful books.

Fiction/Non-Fiction

Always the easiest place to begin.  As always, I was a big fiction reader this year – that never changes.  72 fiction to 28 non-fiction – more than twice as much.  Non-fiction represented a little more than a quarter of my reading this year, which – again – is pretty consistent for me.  What did change is that I read two books of poetry this year!  I considered placing them in the non-fiction category, but they didn’t quite fit there, so I’ve got a new category on this graph this year.  I hope it’s a bigger sliver of the pie in 2018.

Format

Unsurprisingly, I was heavily into physical books this year – always am.  I don’t have a particular prejudice in favor of physical books; they just tend to be what I pick up.  And when you consider that the comics/graphic novels (only three this year, which is a departure from the past couple of years) and journals that I read this year are also physical objects, that’s even more.  I did read more electronically this year – five audiobooks and eleven ebooks – than I have done in the past, which is interesting.  (Despite what this chart may look like, I don’t place a value on reading physical books or reading electronically, so I have no 2018 goals in either direction.  I gravitate more toward physical books because I can’t read on my phone, as many ebook readers do – too much time looking at my phone screen gives me debilitating headaches.  My kindle doesn’t have the same effect, so most ebooks I’m reading are completed with that device.)  The one thing that I really like is that it appears I read across a number of different formats – including two journals – this year.  I’d like to keep that up, and to read more journals and more comics, in 2018.

Source of Book

As usual, I was a heavy library user this year.  Reading 102 books in a year, I guess I have to be – or I’d break the bank.  (Plus there was Project 24 to contend with this year – I only bought 24 books for myself all year, and while that may seem like a lot to some people, I am confident that here, among my kindred spirits as I am, you all are praising my fortitude and forbearance.)  The change was that I was actually not as heavy of a library user as I have been in the past.  While library books still made up the bulk of my reading this year, Audible (I have a membership) and Kindle (thanks to Modern Mrs. Darcy‘s daily ebook deals emails) chipped away at the graph, and I also made an effort to read from my own shelves.  I have a lot of beautiful editions of classics that I’m hoping to finally get to in 2018, so that number will – I am optimistically predicting – grow even more in 2018.

Fiction Genres

Now comes the fun part – getting into the weeds a bit more.  Starting with fiction genres – I was thrilled to see that I read 22 classics this year; by far the biggest chunk of all the fiction genres.  Literary fiction, clocking in at 16 books, was also a big category for me (it always is) but I love to see classics top the chart.  Mystery is usually a reliable genre for me, too, and six books is respectable.  As for the rest, I was dabbling all over the place this year, and it shows in small numbers over a bunch of categories – one short stories, one romance, two historical fiction – you can see.  This chart is pretty normal for me, and for 2018 I’m predicting an even heavier weight toward classics, since I’m feeling very drawn to them at the moment (could this tumultuous national atmosphere have anything to do with that, I wonder?).

Nonfiction Genres

I was really surprised to see so many memoirs.  I had no idea that genre interested me as much as it does.  Part of it, I think, is the grey area of classification – for instance, I put both Hillary Clinton’s What Happened and Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? into the memoir category, but either or both could have fit into the politics category just as neatly.  The discretion and judgment calls involved in assigning categories do sometimes result in one category getting weighted, and I think that’s what’s happening here.  But expect to see a heavy memoir year in 2018, too, because I’ve been stockpiling Slightly Foxed Editions, and those are all classic-but-forgotten memoirs.  Another one to file in the non-surprise category – five books about politics!  (And that’s leaving out Hillary and Alyssa, as noted.)  Usually I lump politics, history and social science into one category; this year, I read so many that I ended up breaking them apart.  Again – I wonder if the tumultuous national atmosphere has anything to do with that.  I’m sure I’m not the only one turning to books to make sense of what’s going on.

Settings

Always a fun one to review!  No surprise here – England and the USA were by far my two biggest categories.  They’re usually fairly close to even, but this year, the USA pulled way ahead.  I’m guessing that was at least partially due to the heavier slate of political books and political memoirs, but I don’t think that can totally explain it.  I’m going out on a limb and speculating here, but I also was actively seeking out books about the African-American and immigrant experiences, as part of my effort to read diversely, and that may have inflated the USA total as well.  Other items of note – four books set in multiple settings, and funnily, two of those were evenly divided between Italy and England (who’d have thunk?).  Also, I read a book set in outer space – Octavia Butler’s Dawn, which takes place entirely aboard an alien spaceship.  Wild stuff.

Diverse Voices

In 2017, I set the goal to read at least 33% diverse voices (which I sketchily defined as including racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and underrepresented religions, or a combination thereof).  That goal doesn’t quite get me to 33% people of color (which is the American population, roughly) because some of the categories – like LGBTQ+ and underrepresented religions – can and do include white writers.  But I like the number 33% because I think it’s a serious goal.  (Note: I didn’t actually set a number or percentage goal for 2018, but I am still paying attention and actively seeking out diverse books.)  Anyway, the chart above shows how I did – and it’s good.  For the second year in a row, I exceeded 33% of my booklist being devoted to diverse books.  At 40 books out of a total of 102, I came in at about 39.6%, and I am really pleased with that.  Some of the best books I read this year were by diverse writers and writers of color – like Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng, and The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas – and I don’t know that they would have come my way if I hadn’t been actively seeking them out.  That effort is the thing, and it’s so important.  I don’t say that to congratulate myself – goodness knows I have room to improve – but to point out that it’s easy to fall into a pattern of not seeking out diverse books.  This is a problem in publishing.  It shouldn’t require planning and legwork and commitment by the reader to track down and obtain these books; they are compelling stories told in great prose and they deserve a lot more exposure.

Diverse Groups

Final pie chart – a bit more detail on my diverse reading efforts.  Consistent with 2016, African-Americans and African Diaspora authors were the largest group.  This is unsurprising, because I try particularly hard to seek out those stories.  I also read a lot of Asian and Asian-American authors this year, and really enjoyed the time I spent with them (Kevin Kwan and Celeste Ng, I’m looking at you).  One thing that disappointed me?  My LGBTQ+ number, which I’d like to see a lot higher.  (It’s not as bad as it looks, though.  Both of the books that I classified as “multiple” diverse groups were from LGBTQ+ authors, who also happened to be people of color.  But five LGBTQ+ authors is still not enough.)  A pleasant surprise was my Native American total, although six of those seven books were Louise Erdrich novels.  I’d love to keep growing there, so please, hit me with your best Native American/Native Canadian/First Nations recommendations.

So – there it is!  A year in reading, broke down in the nerdiest way imaginable.  I had a good bookish year, if you couldn’t tell from the above.  Lots of laughter, lots of thought, some tears, and quite a few new fictional friends.  And now – onward to 2018, which I hope will be a banner year for both classics and diverse books.

Did you have reading goals in 2017?  How’d it go?

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With Christmas around the corner now, I can’t let any more time go by without sharing one of my favorite holiday posts of the year – the kids’ Advent book haul.  Adding a few books to our Christmas library has become a beloved holiday tradition in my house.  (Show of hands: who is surprised that book-buying is a holiday tradition around here?  Nobody?)  When I was growing up, we had a stack of books that my mom would pull out for the holidays and I looked forward all year long to the Christmas books reappearing.  (My favorite, The Littlest Angel, was also my first experience of book-induced sobbing.)  Naturally, I have made sure that my kids have a robust Christmas library of their own.  When Peanut was a baby, the Christmas books appeared on my doorstep in veritable floods.  Once I felt that we had the basics down, I slowed the acquisition action and for the past couple of years have been adding three books to the library each December: one for our family library, one for Peanut, and one for Nugget.  Want to see what we’ve added this year?

For the family library, I picked up The Twelve Days of Christmas in Virginia, by Sue Corbett.  I first became aware of the series when I spotted the charming The Twelve Days of Christmas in New England and added it to Nugget’s Amazon wish list – but when I realized that there was a series covering pretty much every state, there was no question which state had to be the first on our list.  Perhaps in future years, I’ll pick up the states that we visit on our travels through the year (I considered grabbing the California and Florida books this year, but decided not to) – but we had to take care of our home, first.

Peanut’s book is another one that I have had my eye on for years, but – full disclosure – we haven’t read it yet, although we’ve had it for a few weeks.  The illustrations are gorgeous and I have high hopes for anything written by Rumer Godden, but… it’s really long.  Nugget doesn’t have the patience to sit and listen to such a lengthy book (he’s got a great attention span, but – guys, I’m not kidding when I say this book is REALLY long) and Peanut’s longer evening storytimes are currently dedicated to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  We’ll get around to it.  Keepin’ it real.

Nugget’s Advent book, by contrast, we have read MANY times already.  The kid is a gigantic Richard Scarry fanboy and there was no question that we were going to have to have The Night Before The Night Before Christmas for our Advent library this year.  It’s funny, silly and charming – everything you’d expect of a Richard Scarry book.  My only complaint is that Lowly Worm is completely absent from the story!  THE PEOPLE WANT LOWLY.

So, there you have it!  I love the tradition of adding a few books to our Christmas library each year, and I spend months trying to decide which we should acquire next.  I hope the kids continue this tradition on to adulthood – both for their own children, and for themselves.  Thanks to kindle deals (which I don’t count toward Project 24, sorry if that’s cheating) I kept the tradition going for myself, too – hello Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Christmas in High Rising!

What’s your favorite holiday read?

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(Not quite the wild woods that Valancy and Barney wander in, but I feel sure they would be at home on this golden path in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.)

It’s a sad fact of the reading life that when one is in love with an author who is no longer living and writing, one will eventually run out of new books from that author.  I faced this fact with my beloved L.M. Montgomery years ago, and have been rationing out her books ever since.  Oh – they stand up to re-reading, of course, but there’s nothing like the experience of reading one for the first time.  So it was with trepidation that I picked up The Blue Castle to read along with Naomi and Sarah.  What if I didn’t love Valancy as much as I love my friends Anne Shirley, Emily Starr, Jane Stuart and Sara Stanley?  Worse – what if I loved Valancy just as much, or even more, and then I’d have met her and never get to meet her again for the first time?

Well – in the end it was the second (and let’s be honest, inevitable) scenario that came to pass.  But I can’t regret meeting Valancy, even if it means that we’re now friends and the fun of the first impression is behind me.  After all, I can re-visit her, and I will.  LMM’s books, as I said, reward re-reading by yielding something new and different every time you read them.  Of course, this time, it was all new for me – and I found that what made the biggest impression on me – other than the nature writing, which was as finely-wrought and evocative as always – was the power that names had in the story.

LMM has a fascination with names and their importance.  Take, for instance, our kindred spirit Anne Shirley.  Names are tremendously important to Anne.  First of all, would you please call her Cordelia?  And if you won’t oblige there, at least you can be so good as to spell her name Anne-with-an-E.  Anne values names highly, and she spends a lot of time thinking about them – not just her own name, but others’ as well.  She dislikes her last name, Shirley, but is proud that her parents had romantic names – Walter and Bertha.  She refuses to call Gilbert by name – he’s “Gil- some of the others” when she’s worrying about losing her place at the head of the class – at least, until they become friends and he earns the right to a name.  (A right which he lost by calling Anne names – the terrible “Carrots.”)  She’s pleased as punch to have a best friend with a romantic name such as Diana – and Diana shows her love for Anne by naming her daughter after her – “Small Anne Cordelia.”  Cordelia.  Of course.  In Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne expresses delight that an acquaintance, Katherine, spells her name with a K instead of “smug C” – and then is dismayed when the next note from said acquaintance, rejecting Anne’s overtures of friendship, is signed “Catherine” – with a C!  Anne is fixated on names and their importance, and it seems her creator is too, because this thread runs through The Blue Castle too.

Warning – spoilers ahead!  Stop here if you plan to read The Blue Castle and don’t want me to reveal its twists and surprises.

Take, first, the heroine: Valancy Jane Stirling.  Valancy’s name matters to her a great deal.  She’s fixated on her first name – as LMM tells us right off, Valancy doesn’t much like her middle name, Jane, but she is very fond of her first name.  To start with Jane, I thought it was interesting that Valancy doesn’t like it – since she reminded me of no other LMM heroine more than Jane Victoria Stuart.  I wondered if LMM meant it to be significant that both heroines have the letters V, J, and S in their names, and that while Valancy rather dislikes “Jane,” Jane Stuart absolutely loathes “Victoria.”  I found it particularly fascinating, because I believe that had Jane not discovered PEI and had her summers with “Dad,” she would have grown up to be Valancy – at least, Valancy as we first meet her.  I’ll come back to this.

Then, there’s the matter of a first name.  Valancy has a nice ring, and our heroine does like it – but her family insists on calling her by the nickname of her babyhood, “Doss.”  Not only does “Doss” have nothing to do with “Valancy” (as far as I can tell) but – ugh.  I don’t blame Valancy for favoring her given name over the one hissing syllable her family allows her.  And she has my hearty sympathies, because I, too, am saddled with a hated nickname.  I have relatives – and a few people from high school, although I’m not in touch with many – who will never, ever, ever give over calling me “Jackie.”  I’ve pretty much accepted this, but still – there’s nothing that sets my teeth on edge quite like being called “Jackie.”  It is not my name, and more than that – it is not me.  Hearing it spoken aloud shoves me right back into middle school.  So I don’t blame Valancy for the cold grip of irritation she feels every time one of her family members calls her by the hated “Doss.”

Finally, the last name – Stirling.  Has there been a more evocative surname in all of LMM’s bibliography?  Stirling – the perfect name for a family of upstanding, status-obsessed, well-to-do and thoroughly disagreeable relatives.  To me, Valancy’s maiden name is very suggestive of her family’s place in their insular community, and – even more – of the self-congratulatory view they hold of their family.

Of course, Valancy doesn’t keep the name “Stirling.”  She trades it in (for another S name – is that an LMM thing?  Shirley, Starr, Stuart, Stanley, and Stirling – that can’t be unintentional).  After receiving a letter from her doctor bluntly informing her that she has incurable heart disease and no more than a year to live, 29-year-old Valancy decides to make herself happy.  She starts by slipping out from under her domineering mother’s thumb, shocking her family by saying precisely what she thinks instead of biting her tongue and playing the role they’ve all assigned her – of cowed, colorless “Doss.”  Then she ventures further – leaving her mother’s home to take a job as nurse and companion to a disgraced peer, Cissy Gay, who is dying of tuberculosis.  I didn’t think it was a coincidence that Valancy, seeking happiness and life in what she believes to be her last year, flies from the home of the (upstanding) Stirlings to the Gay household.  Her flight shocks her family, and they embark on an unsuccessful campaign to lure her back home to salvage her reputation, which she has apparently damaged by her association with the Gays.  Valancy, for her part, figures – whatever, she’s dying.  She likes Cissy and her father, she feels more comfortable in their home, and she couldn’t care less about her reputation.  So she stays on until Cissy dies, and then she shocks her family even more, by marrying local scoundrel Barney Snaith and moving out to his ramshackle cabin on an island “up back” in Muskoka.  (Shades, again, of an adult Jane Stuart – defying snobbish relatives for a chance at happiness, keeping house, and feeling needed – first by caring for Cissy Gay, and then embracing her own little space, warming it and tidying it and bustling about in it.  Jane would do these things – Jane does do these things, when she and Dad set up house on Lantern Hill.  Had Jane grown up without Dad, without PEI, I believe she would have become what Valancy was at the beginning of the novel – colorless, cowering before her indomitable elders.  Jane, like Valancy, yearns to be needed, and Jane, like Valancy, finds fulfillment in feeding and caring for those around her.  Jane, like Valancy, longs for a home to call her own, and Jane, like Valancy, finds herself a gifted housekeeper when she gets that home.  The difference between them is that Jane is 12 and Valancy 29, and Jane finds hearth and happiness with her father; Valancy with her husband.)

Snaith – what a name.  The Stirlings and the rest of the local society can’t abide him, and they’re all convinced he’s done something terrible and shameful – a misapprehension he encourages – and they gleefully speculate about Snaith’s dark deeds over dining tables and coffee.  One can’t entirely blame them, because with a name like Snaith… After all, the “sn” sound can’t be trusted.  Think of the other words that it heralds.  Sneer.  Snicker.  Snide.  Snark.  Sneak.

Snaith does seem to do many of those things.  He certainly has a way of sneering and snickering – more than once are his “mocking” smiles and laughter described.  Valancy, for her part, doesn’t care about anything he’s done.  She loves him, she’s dying, she wants to be happy.  And Snaith does make her happy – giving her a home on a private island in the Ontario wilderness, leading her on tramps through the woods, canoe trips in velvety twilight, red-cheeked ice-skating races – a life of adventure and joy.  As Valancy Snaith, our heroine is filling up on a lifetime of fun while she can.

Of course, Snaith has secrets.  (How could he not, with a name like that?)  He has his “Bluebeard’s Chamber” – a lean-to he forbids Valancy to enter.  Valancy doesn’t care what Snaith has in the lean-to, and she’s not particularly interested in what he does there.  (Much speculation has ensued on why Valancy isn’t more curious, and why she seems so unconcerned that her husband has secrets; I believe she’s simply not interested.  She was open – both with Barney and with herself – about her expectations of marriage.  She didn’t think it was going to last long, and all she wanted was a little earthly happiness and companionship before her time was up.  Barney holds up his end of the bargain – gives her that and more – and she is content.)  To Snaith’s secrets – they, too, have to do with names.  And more to the point, with his other names – because he has two.

Barney Snaith is John Foster – a nature writer Valancy admires.  When cowed by her mother, Valancy was not permitted to read novels, and her one joy in life was the (non-fiction, but one step away from poetry) nature books written by her favorite author, John Foster.  Barney flatly refuses to discuss Foster with Valancy, and he sneeringly dismisses Foster’s writing as “piffle” when Valancy does browbeat him into listening to her quote a passage.  Allow me to pat myself on the back for a minute?  I guessed immediately that Barney was John Foster, and that what he was doing in his “Bluebeard’s Chamber” was processing photos and writing the luminous nature books that Valancy devours.

Barney is also Bernard Snaith Redfern – only son of a multi-millionaire who made his vast fortune in inventing and selling tonics and pills (which Valancy’s stiff relatives swear by).  As a boy, Barney is mocked for his father’s business, yet is also sought-after for his wealth – and the pain of being simultaneously bullied and pursued stays with him his entire life – until Valancy comes along, ignorant of his vast wealth and its embarrassing origins, and pleased to paddle around in a canoe and cook potatoes over a campfire.  As Bernie Redfern, he had no chance of love.  As Barney Snaith, he has a companion and lifemate who has fallen in love with him for who he is, not for what he can buy.  One can only imagine the happiness.

I won’t get deeper into plot, other than to assure you of what you already knew – this is LMM, after all – it all comes right in the end.  Valancy doesn’t die (it was all a mistake!  woohoo!) and her family is more than happy to accept her as “Mrs. Bernard Redfern” after cutting her out of their lives when she was “Valancy Snaith.”  Such is the power of a name.

Have you read The Blue Castle?  Did you love it?

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Happy new week, friends.  How was everyone’s weekend?  Mine was a bit of a roller coaster.  Steve has been gone since Thursday for a boys’ weekend (a very looooooooong weekend) so it’s been me all alone, juggling school and nanny drop-offs and pick-ups, running to and from work, and managing the kids without another adult to help (or sympathize) in the evenings and all weekend.  We had a fun Saturday – I might be insane, but I took them to the zoo, and they had a blast.  We visited all of our friends – lions, tigers, great apes, pandas, elephants, seals and sea lions, you name it – and they had a fabulous time running around in the splash pad near the pinnipeds, now that the water is on for the season (yay!).  To pay me back for that fun day, the universe thought it would be amusing to throw me a curve, and I spent Sunday going insane at home, trying to care for a sick preschooler and a toddler who was climbing the walls.  My strategy with Nugget is to keep him on the go as much as possible; it’s the only way he can get his energy out in a small living space without driving everyone else nuts.  On a normal weekend, if Peanut was under the weather I’d leave her home with Steve and take Nugget out to the playground or the pool to work off his antsies.  But since I was all alone, he couldn’t go out and he had to be a little bit patient, and, well, he’s two.  I did a lot of deep breathing.  Anyway, Steve is getting home today and we sure will be glad to have his help around the house again.

   

Reading.  With all that going on, you’ll not be surprised to hear it has been a slow reading week.  I finished A Traveller in Time on the last day of May, and it was a lot of fun.  (You know I have a weakness for time travel books!)  Over the weekend I also finished Hope in the Dark, which I’ve been reading on my phone in fits and starts for a couple of months now.  Reading on my phone gives me terrible headaches, so I rarely do it, but it happened that iBooks had the best price on Hope, and my library didn’t have a copy.  I never enjoy books I read on my phone as much as books I read in other formats – physical book or kindle – probably because I have to read them in such tiny, choppy reading sessions thanks to my headaches.  Anyway, I finished it.  The rest of my reading time this week, which hasn’t exactly been ample, has been devoted to Commonwealth.  It’s due back to the library tomorrow and has a months-long waiting list (I know, because I waited months for it) so I have to churn it out.  I’m close to being done; one more evening should set me up.  So I think I’ll get it returned on time.  Whew.

Listening.  Since I’ve been car-commuting for a few days, and have had headaches which kept me from reading on the metro other days, I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with my earbuds.  I’m listening to Alyssa Mastromonaco’s memoir of her time in the White House, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, on Audible.  The audiobook is read by the author and has been fascinating.  Although I live in northern Virginia and work in Washington, D.C., I’m about as far from a political insider as you can get.  Mastromonaco’s memoir – so far – has been unspeakably cool.

Watching.  Before Steve left for Texas, he and I finished up the 2015 season of The Great British Baking Show and moved on to the first episode of the 2016 season.  We’re still totally obsessed.  But I’m kind of ready to be done with the Netflix seasons, so I can go back to reading every evening.  I haven’t turned the TV on in the last five days – I never watch it if Steve isn’t home – and it’s been nice to spend time reading and chatting on the phone to friends.

Moving.  It’s been another dud of a week, with the exception of Saturday.  Spending the morning dragging a large wagon with sixty combined pounds of child riding inside is challenging on flat terrain, and the National Zoo has hills, man.  It’s a serious workout.  With gorillas.

Blogging.  I am big into my seasonal lists this week – wrapping up spring on Wednesday, and sharing my summer list on Friday.  Spoiler: I actually checked off most of the items from my spring list.  I’m delighted!

Reflecting.  Like the rest of the world, I was saddened and horrified by the events in London.  I always find myself silent after world tragedies – afraid that anything I say will seem trite, or like politicizing a horrible event.  I just can’t find the right words.  But I am sending thoughts and prayers and hugs to a city that I love dearly – a city that has survived the worst time and time again and today is vibrant and teeming with life and joy.  London, you are loved and the world stands with you.

Asking.  What are you reading?

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Morning, friends.  Everyone have a nice weekend?  We did – a low-key one, even more than the last few.  We stuck close to home base all weekend and didn’t do much of anything productive.  (Well, I didn’t.  Steve put together a new armoire for the bedroom and set up a sandbox for the kids, much to their delight.)  I’ve been particularly stressed at work lately (probably more stressed than I even should be, objectively speaking) and I just wanted to chill, so that’s what I did.  We took a walk to the farmers market and picked up some strawberries, asparagus, and a gorgeous bouquet of orange and yellow ranunculus – pictured above, and it’s actually two bouquets; the kind flower seller told me to go get another one for free after I paid for the first bunch, and also gifted Peanut with a white rose – and several walks to the playground, and on Sunday we also ambled down to the waterfront and saw the fire boat deploying on a call.  I spent both Saturday’s and Sunday’s naptimes reading, despite feeling vaguely guilty for not working, cleaning, doing food prep or making progress on anything I “should” be doing.  Whatever!

  

Reading.  Good reading week over here!  Last Monday, I finished A Field Guide to Awkward Silences, which was absolutely hysterical.  With some library deadline pressure eased, I went back to the books that I owned and was partially through, and finally finished Barchester Towers, and adored every moment of that reading experience.  I don’t know what took me so long to come to Trollope, but I’m now a convert and couldn’t be more delighted to have so many more of his books to read.  After Barchester Towers I picked up The Hate U Give, which is pretty much the opposite of Barchester Towers, but incredible in completely different ways.  I’ve been flying through it and it’s riveting, heartbreaking, and – as the cover blurbs promised – searing.  I’ll finish it in the next day or so, I’m sure, and I think at that point I’ll probably go back and finish A Gentleman in Moscow.

Watching.  New obsession alert!  After checking periodically with no success, last week I finally found The Great British Baking Show on Netflix.  I’d had a stressful day and watching British people bake cake seemed like just what the doctor ordered, so I requested that we check out an episode.  Steve and I are now both completely obsessed and spent most of yesterday evening, after the kids went to bed, glued to the TV watching the show that has understandably captivated Great Britain (or, at least, captivated the English book bloggers I follow, and one of my sorority sisters who lives in London).

Listening.  Hmmmmm, not much to report.  A few podcasts.  But with our SafeTrack surge over, I’m not standing as long on Metro platforms and I’m able to get a seat so I can pull out my book on the train again – plus I’ve had so much noise in my head recently that I haven’t felt like putting more in via my earbuds.

Moving.  Nothing to report here.  Still pedaling my DeskCycle and taking walks around town, but nothing more interesting.  Steve started the Couch to 5K program, so he’s doing better than I am at the moment.  I’ve got to get into a routine before the summer heat makes running really unpleasant, or else I’ll be writing the same non-update until fall.

Blogging.  Musings on life in “the Tired Thirties” coming up for you on Wednesday, and an overdue recap of our Easter Sunday in the tulip fields on Friday.  Enjoy!

Loving.  I’m trying to rein it in, but lately I can’t get enough canned sparkling waters.  I put them on the grocery list every weekend, and every week I run out by Wednesday.  La Croix grapefruit is a favorite, as is La Croix coconut and Wegmans coconut-lime.  I’ve never had a problem drinking still water, so I don’t need to use these to trick myself into hydrating, but they’re just so darn tasty and fun that I can’t stop pounding them.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

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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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