Listening In on Grownup Conversations

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When I was a child, my bedroom was an upstairs windowless closet with a slanted roof. There was barely room for a bed to the left and a dresser to the right. A lonely light bulb hung from the ceiling. My dresses floated from a pole across the ceiling. Don’t think Dickensian: I loved my own cozy cocoon.

The room was at the top of a stairway that had two ninety-degree turns. As the youngest in a home where parents sent their littles to bed at 8:00 p.m., I often sensed that I was missing out on the important stuff of life. I’d hear the murmur of conversations that I wanted to be part of. I would tiptoe out of my bedroom and down the five steps to the landing where the stairs turned. As close as could be and still remain out of sight. Hugging my benightgowned knees, I would strain to hear the grownups talk.

Even when I didn’t understand the talk, I enjoyed the aura, the camaraderie. When laughter erupted, I sat in the darkness and smiled.

That, my friend, is how I feel reading C.S. Lewis’ academic work The Allegory of Love. I’m sitting in the dark, listening to the adults, not quite understanding all the fine points, but basking in the atmosphere. Smiling when I grasp a point, soaking up the delicious banter.

Happy to be in the company of such witty erudition.

Like that little girl long ago, I need patience. Lewis quotes Latin, Greek, French, Old French, Old English without translation. He writes about writers whose names I’ve never before heard. He uses words that have never come close to my radar.

Sometimes the words are clear. It was the misfortune of Jean de Meun to have read and remembered everything: and nothing that he remembered could be kept out of his poem.  Yeah, I think, I’ve heard sermons like that.

So I will continue sitting in the dark, craning my ear, hoping to hear something wonderful. Why? Because I’m stubborn; but mainly to be in the delightful company of CSL.

 

Let’s Have a Catch Up

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I write blog posts in my head. Shoot, I write series of blog posts in my head. (One imaginary series is entitled A Walk to Remember, with photo highlights and musings from different locations and walking partners.) But still, the blog stays silent.

Today, I’m going to interview myself. Maybe if I can clear out my mental debris the ‘flow’ will return.

Who are you? The big project of the last five months is to reinvent myself. {laugh track} When I wake up in the morning, I typically anticipate that day’s reading, be it audio, Kindle, or print. I can plant my bottom and sit; sit through noon, sit until the moon is high in the midnight sky. I also love two-hour phone calls with my siblings (while sitting) or copying quotes into my journal. Or playing the piano (sitting down). Or entering every receipt into Quicken.

It’s all rather boring. Unless you’re me. Then it’s a delight.

But I long to be able to consider myself an outdoor woman without smirking. The kind whose face lights up when someone suggests a hike. A person who thinks there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.  Let’s be kind and say this is a work in progress.

What’s not working? Photography, for one. I’m in an in-between space: shooting raw photos, but not editing them. Meanwhile the backlog grows. Wanting to improve, but not putting the time in or buying the software. Frustrated by my lack of discipline to learn a new skill.

Um, OK. Is anything working?  Yes! There is one hack I’ve discovered. Ditch the snooze alarm. I started walking with some friends in September. My alarm goes off eleven minutes before I leave the house. When the choice to keep sleeping is removed, one gets out of bed. It’s truly been a life changer.

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Anything new?  Yep. The day after I received this wooden sign, a deer ran into my car. Where I live, sadly, it’s so common that people start yawning when you mention it. The deer didn’t stick around, so I don’t know the extent of its injuries.  I am grateful that the only damage sustained by me was to my car. Cars can be fixed.

What surprises you?  When I was a student, science was my least favorite subject. Suddenly, I’m studying science! Neuroplasticity, metabolic issues, hormones, biometrics. Weird.

What are you reading?  Much on nutrition by Jason Fung, Gary Taubes, David Perlmutter, and Nina Teicholz. I always have a C.S. Lewis book going, but found that some of his earlier books are rough sledding. Reading classics along with the Close Reads Podcast is fantastic. Most recently, we read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory.  And for comfort and joy I’ve been residing in Mitford with Jan Karon and in Thrush Green with Miss Read. My goal is to read through the Bible yearly. This year I chose the Living Bible that my dad gave me when I was 15. (It looks just like the one in the link.) Reading notes my teenaged-self wrote has been interesting and the vernacular in this paraphrase is fresh.

What about music?  So the neatest thing happened. OPB, our public radio station, gave our library heaps of CDs they had culled from their collection. Our library sold them for a quarter each. I brought heaps of them home. I’m listening to all kinds of music. Some go straight to the thrift store. But I’ve found several gems. It’s cheap entertainment!

I thought this was going to be quick.  I get the hint. Later, readers!

 

 

May Flowers

Oh, you vibrant May flowers. Your beauty near breaks my heart.

DSC_0389Western columbine.
They were all over in the forest when we were cutting wood. Exquisite.

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Garden variety chives. From my garden. A lovely addition to a salad. Edible beauty!

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Lovely lupine.

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Bejeweled by dew.

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I wish I knew my wildflowers.
The last time I tried to identify a flower by a picture on the webs,
I called a zinnia a Gerbera daisy. Oy!

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Glory!

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Delicate.

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These were everywhere. I’m astonished at the wastefulness of beauty. Who sees this? Perhaps ten people in the life cycle of these flowers.

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Eye-level lupines by the road.

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California Poppies! I love these! This is in a neighborhood near ours.

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I loved the contrast of this columbine and the dark tree trunk. Quietude.

CS Lewis Reading Project

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Last year my reading focus was breakneck Shakespeare (all in one year). This year I’m reading through C.S. Lewis at about the rate you drive through a residential area (which is ~ 50 pages a week). I’ve just finished my fourth book, The Problem of Pain.

It was one of the thickest 150 page books I’ve read. Heavy sledding with some sparkly quotes. I’m eager to dive into The Screwtape Letters. If you’d like to join for one or more books, find me on Facebook at the C.S. Lewis Reading Project.

I’m pulling a few quotes paired with photos I’ve taken. I will add them here from time to time.

Reading Evening

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It was a weekend of colossal snowflakes. Twirling, swirling, pirouetting, waving-to-the-audience snowflakes. So cute, you can’t stop staring snowflakes. Snow that puts the world on mute. Snow that drapes over every horizontal surface and beautifies barbed wire. Snow that provokes stillness. We stoked the fire and settled into a reading evening.

We submerged into our book(s) and sat in companionable silence. We forgot all screens and beeps malfunctioning computers. After an hour of pure silence, I put on a CD (remember those?). This set of four CDs has been one of the soundtracks of my life for the last twenty years. (A great score!)

Furiously reading Martin Gilbert’s Churchill, A Life, trying to finish the 1K book before the inter-library loan ends (this is how I do marathons), the mounting crisis of Hitler’s threatened evasion of Czechoslovakia was creating inner tension.

Slowly I became aware that the music playing was such a befitting accompaniment to the words I was reading. Minor key, evocative, simply sad music. Naturally, it was Chopin. Recorded by the Slovak National Orchestra.

 

Joining the Club

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I’ve never been a big Book Club participant. Because, well, I could be reading instead of listening to Mary Lou talk about her aunt’s friend’s next-door neighbor who published a tantalizing article on loofahs in a women’s magazine.

But, last year, I joined a Facebook Group called Shakespeare in a Year, and read the bard with a few friends and a few strangers. The group still exists, a fitting repository for links and comments and excursions. The participants are erudite, witty, and well-read. I feel smarter just sitting in the proximity of their thoughts.

Then a friend opened the door to Close Reads. A podcast on reading literature? Yes, please! I listened to the original three podcasts (Flannery O’Connor, Macbeth, and P.G. Wodehouse) and said  out loud, I’ve found my tribe. These are my people!

Wendell Berry, Tolstoy, Kenneth Grahame, Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers. Joy, joy, joy! Currently I’m listening to podcasts on E.M. Forster’s Howards End.

When Jan Karon said her last book was the final chapter of Mitford, I was ready to start at book one for a thorough re-read for one of my ultimate comfort reads. Behold! the Mitford Book Club, yet another group on FB, is reading four chapters a week. I am savoring this slow read.

I want to read through the written works of C.S. Lewis, but decided against cramming them into one year. I started The C.S. Lewis Reading Project on Facebook. We are in the middle of the Space Trilogy, reading ~ fifty pages a week. I’m a silent curator, but it has been a pleasant journey. You are welcome to join!

Meanwhile, in real life…

Some friends at our new church want to start a group that reads the classics. I’m in!

And I’m considering participating in our local communal reading (NEA Big Read) of Station Eleven. My druthers are to be a silent lurker, but I’m trying to stretch myself. I like that it’s a short-term commitment.

How about you? What is your Book Club experience? Fantastic? Meh?

 

 

The Year in Books

DSC_0543My makeshift stand-up desk for sustained reading

It was a year of Will and Winston. A year of drama, poetry, and history. A year of reading from my shelves, a year of reading aloud until I was hoarse, a year of reading with friends. A year of book podcasts. It was a good year for books.

Disclosure: I turned sixty (the letters aren’t as neon as the numbers). How did that happen? I’m happy to be old, really. But I push myself to get all I can from my remaining years. If I live four more years, I and my siblings will have outlived my folks. (My sister died at 67.) It would be helpful (so I imagine) to know how much time I have left. When will closure come?

How does this affect my reading? I toggle between two options.

1) Reading books to release them from my shelf. These are bookshelves groaning with books I own but haven’t yet read. Not many are books I need to keep. But I can’t let them go unread. I don’t want my books to be a burden on those who survive me.

2) Reading the most excellent books I can in the time I have left. Hence: Shakespeare, Lewis, Chesterton, Burroughs, Trollope, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Undset, Wodehouse. I find that having a big goal prevents me from being sucked into books from Kindle First or Free Kindle books or any vehicle that feeds me mediocre reading.

Back to 2017.

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The Literary Study Bible was my edition this year. Single columns, few cross-references made it a good one for reading.

I joined a group on Facebook group that read all of Shakespeare this year. I listened to Arkangel Audio productions as I read along. I treated this as if I were taking a class, planning three-five hours a week for unapologetic reading time. Daytime reading.  I discovered plays I’d never heard of (Coriolanus) and some I wish I’d never heard of (Titus Andronicus).  Marjorie Garber was a helpful guide. Overall it was a fantastic experience.


I’ve been trying to read from my shelf without being so squirrely that I make a silly vow to not buy a book this year. (ha ha!) One of my first rules for living is: Friends buy friend’s books.

I joined a Seasonal Reading Challenge. Each participant sculpts a list for intentional reading the next three months. In truth, this challenge usually adds more books to my TBR (to be read) list because I get so many enticing recommendations from friends.

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See all those Hank the Cowdog books? I’m reading Harry (Potter) and Hank (the cowdog) and passing them off to eager grandsons.

The other piece is audio books. I looked for audio productions of books I owned but hadn’t read. I discovered the Last Lion trilogy on audio and my husband and I listened together. Fascinating stuff! Then, it turns out that in 2017 three full-length movies were released about Winston. Win!

                   

As to podcasts, my affections have cooled for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s What Should I Read Next? Primarily because her recommendations don’t closely enough match my likes. There were a few episodes I loved. But, honestly, I’m tired of her pitching her own book.

I discovered Circe Institute’s podcast Close Reads where I have found my tribe. I started at the beginning and have listened to David, Tim, and Angelina discuss Flannery O’Connor, Wendell Berry, Wodehouse, Kenneth Grahame, Austen, Marilynne Robinson, and Agatha Christie. I’ll be caught up soon; we start reading Howard’s End in January.

For the two people still reading this crazy long post, here is a link to my Goodreads list which includes fabulous food writing, new fiction, mystery, memoirs, and books on architecture, cultural studies, sailing, shepherding, and art.

Tired and Worried

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I was new at this [National Geographic journalist], this was my big chance, and I knew I was going to mess up. So, every night, tired and worried, I would climb into my sleeping bag, under my mosquito net, and I would read from my book. And, instantly, I would be in another world, a world in which, whatever happened, it wasn’t my fault.

— Candice Millard, National Book Festival Gala, September 23, 2016

The full context of her remarks

Of Forest Fires and Hurricanes

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So began a life with “less schedule than a forest fire and less peace than a hurricane.” — Walter Thompson, Churchill’s bodyguard, quoted by Sonia Purnell in Clementine.

It tickles my fancy when details in what I’m reading correspond with my current situation. For instance, reading about the events on March 23, 1877 on March 23rd. Or reading about the view from an airplane while looking out an airplane window.

Forest fires and hurricanes are not at all delightful, but I found it noteworthy to come across this unusual pairing during the first week of September 2017, when Irma was approaching Florida and fires were consuming Montana, Idaho, Washington, and our beloved Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

Had I read this sentence in July, it would have glanced off me without notice. But reading it in September gave the description rich resonance.

Have you experienced such an intersection between your reading and your living?