Completed: A Swiftly Tilting Planet

A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Madeleine L’Engle
1978, US

They moved through the time-spinning reaches of a far galaxy, and he realized that the galaxy itself was part of a mighty orchestra, and each star and planet within the galaxy added its own instrument to the music of the spheres. As long as the ancient harmonies were sung, the universe would not entirely lose its joy. (Chapter Four)

Unfortunately, it’s been many months since I reread A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and I simply don’t remember it as well as I would wish–not merely to write about, but because, going back through passages I marked, it is a beautiful book.

A beautiful book for a dark time, a book of hope and joy, A Swiftly Tilting Planet was published in 1978, and so written in a time, in the US at least, of great cultural upheaval, political turmoil, economic fears and environmental concerns. And it reflects these concerns. Opening as the Murray family is preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner, the catalyst for the plot is a phone call from the US President to Mr. Murry: the leader of a small (fictional) South American country, “Mad Dog Branzillo” is threatening nuclear war. What follows is an interesting mix of Celtic and American myth and L’Engle fantasy as fifteen-year-old Charles Wallace and the unicorn Gaudior travel back in time, seeking out the “Might-Have-Been” that they can change and so avert disaster. Meg, married to Calvin by now and expecting their first child, joins in remotely, “kything” (a sort of mind-reading) with Charles Wallace so that she knows what is going on, and providing a connection for the reader between his story and the present day. All the while, the enemy, the true Enemy, is not Branzillo, but the Echthroi, who seek to destroy the world’s harmony and will attempt anything–including killing Charles Wallace–to have their way.

“Has the world lost its joy? Is that why we’re in such a mess?” (Meg, Chapter Three)

It struck me last summer when reading the novel, and again today rereading the passages I’d marked, how timely the story felt, how applicable to the world now. And while perhaps that is an indictment on the world we humans have created, and our failures to create an environment in which we interact with love and joy and peace, it is also a reflection of the timelessness of L’Engle’s work and her ability to illuminate the types of concerns that have been present throughout human history. It is the beauty of the novel that it doesn’t create a limited world in which the evil element is defeated and all is well, but that it acknowledges a continual battle while giving hope for victories ever to come.

Her father said, “You know, my dears, the world has been abnormal for so long that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in a peaceful and reasonable climate. If there is to be any peace or reason, we have to create it in our own hearts and homes.” (Chapter One)

At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the wind with its swiftness along its path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness
All these I place
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness
(Chapter one and throughout)

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And So It’s a New Year

Image of pathway lined with brick pillars and lattice overhead

Happy New Year! In some ways it really sneaked up on me this year – where has the time gone this past week?!

I always find it a good time to look back before I look ahead, and this year is no different.

My goals for the year were few:

Non-reading Goals, 2018

This year is one I want to make more about being deliberate: with how I spend my time, in what I acquire (or get rid of), in what I create, in what I read.

Ouch. I didn’t do this as well as I would like – except in one area: I made a conscious decision in the spring to really emphasize my reading, and it definitely paid off.

And it is a year when I want to focus on finishing: all those many projects and lists I feel are constantly hanging over my head.

Mixed. I finished some projects (mostly knitting!), but there are still many on the TBR list. I’ve decided, for now, to just consolidate lists and get to them as I can, without making it a dreaded obligation.

Reading Goals, 2018

The 2018 TBR Pile Challenge

I read and posted about (5) books for the challenge [A Wrinkle in Time , A Wind in the Door, Lady Susan, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, The Warden]. One title was abandoned and permanently removed from my shelves. I also finished (3) additional books that I haven’t yet written anything for [A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Woman in White]. Considering that I wandered away from focusing on this challenge about halfway through the year, I’m actually pretty happy with what I accomplished.

Back to the Classics Challenge

In addition to the (6) books I read and posted about [The Warden, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, Lady Susan, A Wrinkle in Time, Crooked House, Cold Comfort Farm], I read another two qualifying titles that I haven’t (yet) written about [The Woman in White, Tess of the D’Urbervilles]. Which is actually better than I’d hoped for at the start of the year.

Read great books. Not just books I love or enjoy or comfort reads, but GREAT BOOKS.

I read books I enjoyed, books I love(d), books that made me work for it (and that may perhaps be great books – but they beat me up too much to appreciate at the time) – but no one book really stands out to me as a GREAT BOOK. I feel like perhaps Tess of the D’Urbervilles or The Warden or perhaps Cold Comfort Farm belongs here…but none of them is really sticking with me the way I was hoping for.

Overall, I DID read more in 2018 than I’ve read in a long time–31 started and finished in the calendar year, matching my best year since I started blogging. Not one of these was a translation, however. (This should be remedied in 2019, however – see my TBR Challenge list!)

  • 21 by women (or roughly 2/3) – this was chance, not planned!
  • 8 rereads
  • 8 non-fiction books – this was the big surprise of 2018. I hadn’t expected to read more than one or two non-fiction books, especially since they tend to take me longer than fiction, but instead they made up a good chunk of my reading time

My favorite reads for the year, in order I read them (* = reread):

  • A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle (1962, US)*
  • Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie (1934, England)*
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons (1932, England)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling (1999, Britain)*
  • Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs With Any Camera – Bryan Peterson (4th Ed., 2016, US)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling (2000, Britain)*
  • Off the Clock – Laura Vanderkam (2018, US)
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke (2004, Britain)
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith [J.K. Rowling](2013, Britain)
  • Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson (1886, Scotland)
  • Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan (2013, US)
  • The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins (1859, England)

2019

So now I turn my eyes to the new year. New plans. My goals, again, are slight:

  • 2019 TBR Challenge
  • 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge
  • Building on my successful reading year, I’m hoping for 36 books in 2019, or an average of 3 a month. If I stay away from non-fiction, this might be doable! And hopefully, one of those, at least, will be a GREAT BOOK!

Non-reading:

  • Finish the (4) knitting projects I currently have started + (1) yet-to-be determined project
  • Continue taking ceramics classes, aiming for greater consistency
  • And to echo 2018, being more deliberate in my use of time

All very doable, I think.

Happy Reading!

 

Back to the Classics 2019

Button: Back to the Classics Challenge 2019

They say (whoever “they” is?) that success breeds success, so in the spirit of having finished 8 books for this in 2018, I’d say it’s only appropriate to join in on Back to the Classics for the fourth year in a row. Right?

Hosted by Karen from Books and Chocolate, the categories this year are (all books must be at least 50 years old):

1.  A 19th Century Classic
2.  A 20th century classic
3.  A classic by a woman author
4.  A classic in translation
5.  Classic Comic Novel
6.  Classic Tragic Novel
7.  Very Long Classic
8.  Classic Novella
9.  Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean)
10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia)
11.  Classic From a Place You’ve Lived
12. Classic Play

(More details/rules at Karen’s original post.)

I have some ideas (based largely on my TBR list), but most likely selections will be determined as I finish books. 19th and 20th century classics will be whatever I read first that doesn’t fit another category. A Classic by a Woman will most likely be something by Elizabeth Gaskell or Edith Wharton. I have sooooo many translations planned for next year, that #4 will be whoever’s first up!  On the other hand, #10 will definitely require planning (nothing on my shelves at the moment fits the bill) and I may have to do some thinking for the comic and tragic novels. The one book I know for sure – Place I’ve Lived. I’ve been working on an Ohio-reading project off and on for a few years, and next up on the list is The Farm by Louis Bromfield. (Really, “Ohio” is too easy to find books for this challenge–if I wanted to make it difficult, I’d have to narrow it down to my hometown or its general region. That might be hard to find!)

Thanks again to Karen for hosting. Now what to read first…?

My participation tracking page.

2019 TBR Challenge

Have I ever mentioned how many times I have tried and failed to complete a TBR challenge? I actually got off to a really good start last year and then let my attention wander… But having an official TBR list, as Adam requires really is very beneficial in getting me to read books I’ve been “meaning to get to.” Of course, this year, I realized that I not only had too many books on the TBR stack, but too many of those I want to read NOW. Or otherwise fit in with my intentions for 2019 reading. Meaning, it turned into a very lengthy process, relatively speaking, to narrow my list down to 12 books + 2 alternates. I had some very heated arguments with myself, let me tell you! 🙂

Listed from shortest book to tallest (seems a reasonable order, right?), with two alternates at the end.

2019 TBR Challenge PileThe list

1) Three Exemplary Novels (Miguel de Cervantes)

Some short fiction (the three together are less than 200 pages) from Spain’s golden age that’s been on my shelf since high school. Shouldn’t be too hard, except…my copy’s in Spanish! At least it’s a version meant for students, so there are end notes for the more tricky translations.

2) The Man Who Was Thursday (G.K. Chesterton)

I don’t know much about this one, but I was struck by the whim to pull it off the shelf and include. I believe it’s a bit of a thriller?

3) An Acceptable Time (Madeleine L’Engle)

A holdover from last year’s list, the is the only title left for me in the Time Quintet. (Well, except Many Waters, but see “Rejects” below.)

4) Njal’s Saga (Anonymous) and 5) The Nibelungenlied (Anonymous)

I have been struck by the desire to read some of the books that may have influenced J.R.R. Tolkien. These happen to be the two already on my shelf (and have been there for a while). Looking forward to these, rather.

6) The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories (Leo Tolstoy)

Will this be the year I finally read Russian lit? I’m especially looking forward to Hadji Murat, which I’ve read some really good things about.

7) Ficciones (Jorge Luis Borges)

I started this story collection quite a few years back, but only finished a couple. I was inspired to include it on this year’s list when I saw a copy on a coworker’s desk recently.

8) Cranford (Elizabeth Gaskell)

An alternate from last year; this year, really, I’m going to read it! (Please ignore how many years I’ve been saying that.)

9) The Farm (Louis Bromfield)

On last year’s list, and I sadly never read more than two or three pages. A classic by an Ohio-native author, I’ve been wanting to read this since I started my Ohio reading project a few years back, but somehow other Ohioans kept jumping ahead.

10) 2666 (Roberto Bolaño)

I almost started this in the spring of 2018, but other books popped in ahead. This year.

11) The Aeneid (Virgil)

Somehow, it seems as if this needs to be read the same year I try out Nordic lit. Not sure why.

12) The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner)

Why haven’t I read this yet?! I’d previously started it. Loved what I read. And it got re-lost on my bookshelf when something else sneaked in ahead of it. It was on my 2018 list, but unfortunately  nothing about that changed in 2018, so here’s hoping 2019’s the year.

Alternates:

Considering how difficult it was to choose my fourteen books, picking which two were only alternates was rather easy. Of course, I’m hoping to read these on top of all the above 12. What’s life without a little over-ambition?!

13) The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)

I’ve heard so many good things about this one! However, someone had to be an alternate.

14) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Jane Austen + Seth Grahme-Smith)

Truthfully, while I do want to get this read, it’s mostly here to provide a light-weight alternate just in case (ha! guaranteed, pretty much…) my ambitious plans above go awry.

Rejects

(AKA, I’m intend to read these in 2019 anyways, but someone couldn’t make first string.)

2019 TBR Pile "Rejects" - Beowulf, Many Waters, Iliad

A) Beowulf (Anonymous, J.R.R. Tolkien translation)

Technically, a reread (of Beowulf, not this particular translation), so I’m thinking it wouldn’t have qualified under the no rereads rule.

B) Many Waters (Madeleine L’Engle)

Another reread, one I’d hoped to finish in 2018. Ah well, best laid plans. January?

C) The Iliad (Homer)

This one was sooooo close to making the official list – since I’m “supposed” to read it for the current Classics Club spin by the end of the January. But when  I was picking my books, there was still the off chance that I would get started in December…that and someone had to miss the cut.

I’ve seen plenty of other lists around, so I know I’m in good company. Good luck and happy reading!

My official participation page.

Christmas Reads 2018

With the New Year fast approaching, Christmas season is nearly past as well. I didn’t expect this year that I would complete any seasonal reading (too many in-progress  books already), but then my mom told me about a P.D. James short story collection, and I found that some Christmas-set reading was only my to-do list. One thing leads to another, and soon an Agatha Christie was on hold at the library as well

I’m not sure that one should really call any of James’s or Christie’s stories “seasonal” – peace, love, goodwill to all men with a side of murder just doesn’t seem very Christmas-spirit. But on the other hand, both Christie and James knew that the holidays can bring with them stress and strife, as the obligations of the season often bring together estranged family members who otherwise might conveniently forget each other’s existence. Perhaps one might say the Christmas season is actually ripe for murder?

Cover: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by PD James

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories
P.D. James
2016, England (collection of previously published stories)

“The Mistletoe Murder”

Set during World War II, a young war widow is invited to her grandmother’s estate for the Christmas Holidays, along with a couple other  relations. But the seemingly peaceful gathering is shattered when a distant cousin is found bludgeoned to death and our young heroine feels the need to solve his murder. This felt to me rather of the Golden Age of detective fiction, though perhaps more graphic or at least more serious. In fact, it made me nostalgic for Christie (thus my second seasonal read). I was not surprised by the “who” though I was so caught up in the narrative that I’d forgotten my suspicions until all was revealed. It was my favorite of the short collection.

“A Very Commonplace Murder”

A first person narrative, told by the witness to a crime, who at each phase of the investigation confirms to himself his reasons why he shouldn’t come forward…yet. The title is both apt–and not quite. I found this little tale tawdry and out of step with the others.

“The Boxdale Inheritance”

The first Adam Dalgliesh story I’ve read. (Really, I should read some full-length PD James!) Interestingly, the actual mystery is from the past, over 60 years, as Dalgliesh is asked by a friend to investigate his uncle’s murder; Dalgliesh’s friend doesn’t fell comfortable accepting an inheritance form  his late aunt if she were really the guilty party.  Although a short story, it plays with both murder and ethical concepts.

“The Twelve Clues of Christmas”

Much like the first story, this tale seemed also to have something of Christie about it – which Dalgliesh himself notes: a country house full of family only arrived for the holidays, an unexpected death, and so many clues. Twelve, to be exact. While the mystery is no match for Dalgliesh, the story and setting bring a comfortable whiff of Golden Age detective nostalgia with them (and perhaps the question – do the British really have so many family homes in which to set murders?!).

Overall, I found the stories an enjoyable afternoon diversion, but left me wanting more…

Cover: Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
Hercule Poirot’s Chrismtas
Agatha Christie
1938, England

My immediate solution to the need for more Christmas-timed murder and mayhem was to turn to the queen of the Golden Age. A quick search turned up Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (also known as Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder). It is yet another tale of long estranged family gathering at home for Christmas, summoned by the patriarch, Simeon Lee, ostensibly to reconcile for one last family Christmas. However, Simeon is an unrepentant scoundrel, more interested in setting his sons and daughters-in-law at each other’s throats than in familial bonding. Throw in a Spanish granddaughter, a son of Simeon’s former partner from his South African diamond mining days, and a sneaky valet and it is a combustible mix, with nothing good bound to happen. Fortunately, Hercule Poirot happens to be staying nearby for the holidays, so justice is bound to be served.

The mystery is solid, and the clues and personalities laid carefully, so that while I often saw the significance of Poirot’s line of investigation, I didn’t actually work out the “who” in advance of the big reveal. Which is how I prefer my mysteries: tantalizingly close to figuring it out, but not so close that the ending is a let down. On the whole, a mostly satisfying read. On the other hand, I find myself agreeing a bit with Simeon’s granddaughter Pilar: it wasn’t quite an English Christmas. Perhaps “Hercule Poirot’s Boxing Day” would have been better?

Back to the Classics 2018 – Wrap Up

Will you look at that…I not only read six titles for the 2018 edition of Back to the Classics, I posted about them too! Actually, correct that, I finished books 7 and 8 in the past week, but I’m not sure when I’ll get anything written up.

However, six books is all it takes to be considered successful for this challenge (a number I really appreciate), equivalent to one entry in the drawing.

Books finished and their categories/post links:

  1. A 19th century classic: The Warden (Anthony Trollope)
  2. A 20th century classic: The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
  3. A classic by a woman author: Lady Susan (Jane Austen)
  4. A children’s classic: A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)
  5. A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction: Crooked House (Agatha Christie)
  6. A classic by an author that’s new to you: Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons)

(Master list is HERE.)

Karen asks that we include a contact email: simplerpastimes at gmail dot com.

Completed: A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

When I was poking around my drafts the other day, I realized that I has never hit “publish” on this post from back in June. Better late than never, I suppose!

Cover: A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'EngleA Wind in the Door
Madeleine L’Engle
(1973, US)

“My children,” Blajeny said gravely, “my school building is the entire cosmos. Before your time with me is over, I may have to take you great distances, and to very strange places.” (68)

Unlike its immediate predecessor The Arm of the Starfish, A Wind in the Door is of a kind with the style and tone of A Wrinkle in Time. Here, we return to the world of Meg and Charles Wallace Murray and Calvin O’Keefe, to cosmic battles and fantastic beings, to playing with time and space—and, now size. For while in A Wrinkle in Time the three children traveled the cosmos in search of Mr. Murray and to defeat the IT, in A Wind in the Door, it is Meg and Calvin who must travel into Charles Wallace–or more precisely, into his mitochondria. As the book opens, Meg is just starting to realize that not only is her little brother being bullied at school, he is deathly ill, a mitochondrial illness. The only hope is for Meg and Calvin, the cherubim Proginoskes, and, quite unexpectedly, Meg’s past nemesis, principal Mr. Jenkins, to journey into Charles Wallace in a desperate attempt to save his farandolae from being “x-ed” or “unnamed.” (While mitochondria are real, farandolae are an invention of L’Engle’s.)

“It isn’t just in distant galaxies that strange, unreasonable things are happening. Unreason has crept up on us so insidiously that we’ve hardly been aware of it. But think of the the things going on in our own country which you wouldn’t have believed possible only a few years ago.” (96)

“I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming—making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. That’s why we still need Namers, because there are places throughout the universe like your planet Earth. When everyone is really and truly Named, then the Echthroi will be vanquished.” (111-12)

As with Wrinkle it is a cosmic battle, but one that plays out on a microscopic scale. Good vs. evil. This illness is not of germs or viruses, but the deliberate creation of evil beings, the Echtroi, the unnamers. Naming, being named, given the full sense of self and not falling prey to the nothingness of being unnamed–this is the theme of A Wind in the Door. It is a theme I have seen elsewhere in L’Engle’s work, most notably (that I recall) in her nonfiction meditation on creativity, Walking on Water. And so it must be important to her. But it is not necessarily easy to fully understand. Indeed, A Wind in the Door is quite a conceptual novel. Farandole is to mitochondria as human is to galaxy. Kything and communing vs communicating. And so many scenes where no one actually sees or talks (kything only). Truly, this novel seems that it would be unfilmable!

But there is great wisdom here. It is not enough that we talk at or even merely to each other; we must commune together. It is not enough to know someone on the surface, we must know them well enough to name them and we ourselves must be open to being named. And just as love played a central role in A Wrinkle in Time, none of this is possible, neither Naming nor defeating Evil, without Love, either in L’Engle’s fictional world, or in ours.

“Yes. The Echthroi are those who hate, those who would keep you from being Named, who would un-Name you. It is the nature of love to create. It is the nature of hate to destroy.” (149)

Read as part of the 2018 TBR Challenge and my Classics of Children’s Literature project list.