What’s Making Me Happy – Two

What a fast week! I suppose it was all the busyness at work–so many people are on vacation just now but new jobs just keep coming in. No complaints though; it’s good to be busy. But what’s making me happy this week?

Purple Cone Flower and Brown Eyed Susan

  • My bullet journal – I only just started one about two weeks ago, so I’m still working out just how I want to use it, but both the organizational system and the freedom I’ve given myself to let it not be “perfect” and to experiment are making me very happy. Come to think of it, organization can make me strangely happy, despite how much I hate to clean…
  • As a Northeast Ohio partisan, and ignoring all politics [please don’t air political views here!], all the positive press for the city of Cleveland coming out of the Republican Convention this past week–apparently we’re rather nice in the Midwest, and outsiders are starting to recognize Cleveland’s rebirth.
  • Revisiting the artwork of Beatrix Potter for my final post on her Twenty-three Tales from earlier this week–so delightful!
  • Delicious seasonal peaches (well…imported from the South) and plums.

And you–what’s making you happy this week?

Beatrix Potter Tales Part 3

Oh dear, it’s been so long since I read the rest of the Twenty-three Tales by Beatrix Potter, finishing up shortly after the end of the Classic Children’s Literature Event. But I do want to post something, and fortunately, I took notes as I read. Really, I have no excuse for taking so long, but just a sort of writing avoidance. I seem to be finding that I either have to a) write something up the moment I finish a book or b) sneak up on myself to write a blog post. That last one’s tricky.

The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse (1918)

I feel like our main character is really Timmy Willie, the country mouse. But no mind. This is a tale of a city mouse and a country mouse. Timmy Willie accidentally visits town and is quite out of place—the noise keeps him awake, the cat frightens him, and the food not at all to his taste. He is much more at home in the country, with his gardens and quiet. He returns home and eventually Johnny returns the visit, but just as Timmy Willie is unsuited to the city, Johnny is unsuited to the country.

 

The Tale of Mr. Tod - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Mr. Tod (1912)

Another tale that seems a bit misnamed, for while Mr. Tod is part of it, and the most exciting action is at his house, it seems to be as much about Tommy Brock and the efforts of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny to recover Benjamin’s little ones from the oven where the badger, Tommy Brock, has hidden them. It is thus a darker tale than the preceding, both for the greater danger the bunnies are in at the hands of the badger than any we have seen yet, and because the illustrations themselves are largely in darker colors than typically used. But it is also quite amusing, to see Mr. Tod’s machinations to get at Tommy Brock and Tommy Brock’s pretending to sleep that he might get the better of Mr. Tod.

Notably, this is the first of these I’ve read with black and white line illustrations as well as watercolors. I read the tales in the order they are numbered in my set, which is not strictly chronological, and it seems whoever ordered them put all the stories containing black and white line illustrations (they still have watercolor images, just not as many) at the back half.

The Tale of Pigling Bland - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Pigling Bland (1913)

We return to the story of a good little animal who due to outside forces finds himself on an adventure. In this case it is Pigling Bland—who doesn’t misbehave, but due to circumstances—the frivolity of his brother, a mixup of papers, and some mistaken turns, winds up lost and in a farmer’s clutches, where he must not only escape, he must rescue a girl-pig, Pig-Wig, from a future as bacon and ham.

It does seem, perhaps, that Pig-Wig may be nearly as frivolous as his brother, so one wonders in the end if Pigling Bland has gained anything? Other than, of course, female companionship.

Although there are many of these tales that only barely ring familiar, really, I’m not sure I ever read this one!

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding (1908)

We follow up with Tom Kitten & his family – Mrs. Tabitha (an “anxious parent”!) is trying to place her kittens in the cupboard to keep them out of trouble while she bakes, but she has lost Tom Kitten. While she searches, Mittens and Moffit also disappear, and she doesn’t find them until a neighbor, Mrs. Ribby, appears and searching together they find the two girls, who have seen two enormous rats—Anna Maria and Samuel Whiskers—running about stealing kitchen supplies. The rats have Tom and are preparing him as a dumpling, when John Joiner (rat terrier, I believe) shows up, and the rats run away.

Despite yet another example of a story in which a young animal is in danger of becoming someone else’s dinner, it really was a rather delightful, fun story. And, it should be noted, Miss Potter makes an appearance. I don’t think this is the first time, but it is the first by name. (The others she has just referred to herself, “I.”)

The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan (1905)

Ribby, whom we met in Samuel Whiskers, invites Duchess to tea, and promises to serve a delicious pie. Duchess accepts, but then fears it will be a mouse pie, which she couldn’t eat, so she attempts to switch it out with a veal and ham pie she made, only things don’t quite go to plan, in a most amusing way.

I must say, poor Ribby! It would seem she needs better options for guests. Though I quite understand Duchess’s reluctance to eat mouse pie, her antics in trying to switch out the pies—well, no wonder at the end she feels silly!

The Tale of Ginger and Pickles - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Ginger and Pickles (1909)

An economics tale! Ginger (cat) and Pickles (terrier) run the same-name shop, and they do rather well as far as quantity of sales—10 times Tabitha Twitchit!—, but as most of their business is on credit, they never seem to get paid. But the taxes must, so they are forced to close up shop and take up new occupation (trapping for Ginger, gamesman for Pickles). The community is dismayed at the loss of the shop, for Tabitha raises her rates and doesn’t take credit, and other options are scarce. Eventually, Sally Henny Penny reopens the shop, much to everyone’s delight, for while she won’t take credit, she is less frightening than a dog or cat and has good bargains.

It is delightful to see so many critters from previous stories in this one—more in the illustrations than show up even in the text. The reader paying good attention to Potter’s illustrations is always rewarded.

The Tale of Little Pig Robinson - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930)

“The Owl and the Pussycat”

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

This is the longest of the tales and the only one with chapter divisions; it is nonetheless delightful and diverting, even with far fewer of Potter’s always charming illustrations. Inspired by the Edward Lear poem “The Owl and the Pussycat,” it is the story of the risks of a young pig going alone to market, for although he may be good and sensible, he may not be invulnerable to harm from others. Sure enough, danger finds young Pig Robinson, and there is very real risk he may be—gasp—eaten!

Although Potter has never shied away from the realities of life—that many of her critters may be eaten, either by humans or other predators—here she has one line in particular that is both forthright and amusing: “They led prosperous uneventful lives, and their end was bacon.” (Ch. 1)

With the greater length of this story, Potter has plenty of time to set the scenery—I was truly transported to not just the countryside found in so many of her tales, but to the bustling sea-harbor of Stymouth. I wonder what else she might have done had she turned her attention more to longer stories.

The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit - Beatrix Potter

The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit (1906)

A very short little moral tale: bad rabbit = consequences! It is a very simple text, as if it is designed not only to impart a lesson (not sharing could lead to bad things), but as if it is meant as an early reader. Quite in contrast to some of the other tales, with their more complex vocabulary and structure (e.g., The Flopsy Bunnies or Little Pig Robinson). It is also one of the earlier stories, as is the following.

The Story of Miss Moppet - Beatrix PotterThe Story of Miss Moppet (1906)

Another very short, simple text, although with delightful illustrations—the expressions! It is a cute story, however, without the moral of the preceding, but rather a vignette of a cat-and-mouse game! Quite charming

Appley Dapply's Nursery Rhymes - Beatrix Potter

Appley Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes and (1917)

Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes - Beatrix Potter

Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes (1922)

Two short collections of nursery-rhymes, some I recognize from elsewhere (e.g., “Three Blind Mice,” “Goosey, Goosey, Gander”), others by reference, and some I believe to be Potter’s inventions. Although charming in their own right—and easily learnable to recite, with their patterns and rhymes–I’m not sure but that perhaps Potter used them as a raison d’être for more of her imaginative illustrations, which really seem to be the stars in these books.

What’s Making Me Happy – Week One

I’ve about had my fill of negativity lately.

It’s hard enough that the news seems headlined by one disaster or crisis or violent act after another, with nary a space to breathe, but add to that general negative attitudes and behaviors towards others. I find I have to limit my intake of news and social media so that I don’t become overwhelmed by it. It is not that I think that politics or the news (or political news) isn’t important–and there are some very important conversations happening right now–, but too much is unproductive and too much exposure, even of plain news from quality sources, can be paralyzing and unhealthful.

So this morning, listening to NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, specifically the “what’s making me happy this week” segment, I decided that I didn’t want to just limit my exposure to the negative, I wanted to take deliberate steps to remember the positive. Starting today, and with any luck, once a week for the foreseeable future, I will post a small list of things making me happy that week—no matter how small. Feel free to join in—we all could use a little more happiness!

Lantana

Happy Flowers

  • The brightly colored gold finches and blue jays at the feeders
  • The (brief) break in the heat
  • Watching Zootopia a second time
  • The smell of summer rain
  • Happy song of the week: “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves

Completed: Pedro Páramo

Cover: Pedro Paramo by Juan RulfoPedro Páramo
Juan Rulfo
(1955, Mexico)
Margaret Sayers Peden, translator

And though there were no children playing, no doves, no blue-shadowed roof tiles, I felt that the town was alive. And that if I heard only silence, it was because I was not yet accustomed to silence–maybe because my head was still filled with sounds and voices. (8)

I had meant to read Pedro Páramo for last spring’s Classics Club “spin,” as well as for Richard’s (Caravana de recuerdos) Mexicanos perdidos en México winter-spring event. I started it, but didn’t finish on time, more due to lack of free time than the book itself. Fortunately, I’ve been similarly remiss in writing up a post as now I find I can make a small contribution to Spanish Lit Month, even if I don’t finish anything else on time.

The story of a man in search of his father, Pedro Páramo can be at times disorienting and confusing, as it flits from present to past, narrator to narrator with no more notice of its current time and location than what context clues may provide. Narrators–even he who opens the story, Juan Preciado–do not name themselves, simply breaking into their little portion, providing their identity only if asked by the audience at hand. It demands the reader’s complete attention, not letting go until the last page is turned.

But at the same time it is engaging, the story of Juan Preciado–young?, middle aged?, we don’t know really–returning to his mother’s hometown, Comala, in search of the father (Pedro Páramo) he has never known, at the request of his dying mother. But it is more the story of Páramo, and to some measure the town itself, and in Preciado’s search for them–learning about them–he becomes ensnared by the dying town. Or perhaps already dead town. It is never entirely clear if all those he meets–and Preciado meets many people–are already dead, or only most of them. It is a ghost story: the ghosts of all the hidden stories of the past, come to light as now the dead are given voice and take the turn to tell their tale, with no more to fear from the dominating Páramo.

‘This town is filled with echoes. It’s like they were trapped behind the walls, or beneath the cobblestones. When you walk you feel like someone’s behind you, stepping in your footsteps. You hear rustlings. And people laughing. Laughter that sounds used up. And voices worn away by the years. Sounds like that. But I think the day will come when those sounds fade away.’

That was what Damiana Cisneros was telling me as we walked through the town. (41)

Reading Pedro Páramo, I could sense–but not put my finger on precisely where I saw it–Rulfo’s influence on Gabriel García Marquez. There was a familiarity to it. There was also perhaps a hint–though maybe I imagine it?–of William Faulkner. I could easily see reading Pedro Páramo again, looking to see all that I surely missed on this first go-round as well as visiting Rulfo’s short story collection, The Burning Plain and Other Stories [El Llano en llamas].

I originally read Pedro Páramo for The Classics Club spring “spin” (ended May 1 – oops!) and Richard’s Mexicanos perdidos en México (ended May 15 – oops!). But it’s worked out nicely for Richard’s and Stu’s Spanish Lit Month and for the category “a classic in translation” for the Back to the Classics Challenge. It is also on my Libros españoles project list.

Week’s End Notes (29) – At the Half

FuchsiaHappy July!

Where has the year flown?! I’m quite sure that March took a leave of absence and June was on a two-week vacation (likely to someplace slightly cool and with a nice bit of rain; June, why didn’t you invite me along?) and so that I really can’t be held to account for the speed with which this year is zooming by.

But speeding it is. And while sometimes that seems a good thing—every day past is one day nearer an autumn vacation; every day past is nearer the end of what does seem to have become a downer of a year. Every time I turn on the national news or nose around online, it seems there is some new terror or tale of woe; it is no wonder that the escapism of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was so appealing to me. (Though it must be said, here in NE Ohio we had a nice one-week respite after the NBA finals—every day for a week it seemed that to turn on the local news or open the local paper was to find yet another bit of celebration and excitement. In some ways, a sport like that is so unimportant in the grand scheme, yet the magic of the joy that a win—finally, a championship win—brought the region is nothing to disregard in such angry and hurtful and frightening times.*) And it feels that it will only be more so, as the November election, sure to be fraught with negativity and threatenings, fast approaches. I find I can only stomach so much of negative news and politicking, and find the lure of escape (or avoidance) compelling. The internet is dangerous, an opinion at every corner. Television is a hazard; already the political ads are fast and furious. (Sorry, networks, I won’t be watching TV this fall.) So to books I must turn. Certainly not a bad thing in general, and certainly not if I actually expect to finish off my goals for the year, this year!

Actually, considering the real slump I feel like I had around about March, I don’t think I’m doing too badly. I’ve managed to read eleven “books”† so far (plus finish a few I started in 2015), which, while not exactly halfway to my goal of twenty-five, is closer than I might have expected in April. And I’m currently in the middle of three. I’m actually really optimistic about this goal as much of my planned summer reading is of the more relaxing variety. I never said those twenty-five books had to be difficult… (Although, of course, the two books I just impulsively requested and received from the library are both non-fiction. But the read-fast type.)

Looking over my other goals from the start of the year:

Reading Ohio – two so far (Folks from Dixie and Selected Poems, both by Paul Laurence Dunbar). I’d hoped to do better by now, but Dunbar proved a larger challenge than expected.
The Classics Club – four titles read! (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Pedro Páramo, Titus Andronicus, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream) This is actually a bit better than expected, although it helps that three are plays. Pedro Páramo hadn’t been on my radar at all at the start of the year, but ended up as a Spin title.
Women’s Classics Literature Event – alas, so far all I can count are the lovely Beatrix Potter Tales. The only other women I’ve read this year have been too recent to count as classic. Must rectify.
Bardathon 400 – Well, as you may have noticed under The Classics Club heading, I’ve read three (and watched filmed adaptions of two of those) so far. The Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate are next, at which point I will count this one “complete.”
Reading England – none yet, but two currently planned for summer reading.
Ancient Greek – oops. Not even anything on the horizon. Maybe I should start thinking about a play or two?
Books in Translation – two so far (Emil and the Detectives and Pedro Páramo), plus The President (Miguel Angel Asturias) in progress. Not too bad for me actually.
Contemporary Translations – but none of the translated work has been what I call “contemporary.” This may actually prove to be the most difficult challenge for me this year, just on a time available basis.
Children’s Classics – well, with the Event in April, I was bound to do well here. Either four or twenty-six, depending on how you count! (Emil and the Detectives, The Jungle Book, the Beatrix Potter Twenty-three Tales, and The Grey King by Susan Cooper) I’ll have a few more by the end of the year, but I never really had a set number in mind.
And finally, Back to the Classics – I’m actually surprised by how well I’m doing, four of twelve so far, without a specific effort. But I was able to count Pedro Páramo for a translated title, the two Dunbar titles for non-white author and short story collection, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona for a place in the title. I would really like to finish this one, but that will definitely take some planned effort on my part.

At only the opening of July, it’s still easy to be optimistic about the reading for the rest of the year, and perhaps even let myself daydream that I might exceed my goal of twenty-five. (Hey, I’ve still got a week’s vacation planned. It could happen!) Of course, I still need to post about a number of the titles I’ve listed above…a challenge for another day.

How’s you’re 2016 reading going? Any exciting plans for the second half? I’ve already been seeing posts for July’s Spanish Lit Month–time to catch up!

*Something also noted by NPR’s Renita Jablonski, who finally found something to cheer for after a dreadful couple weeks.
†It seems more accurate to group the short Beatrix Potter
Twenty-three Tales as one book than to count them separately.

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