A Carol for the Season

Villagers all, this frosty tide
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fie to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet–
You by the fire and we in the street–
Bidding you joy in the morning!

Mice Caroling at Mole's door (The Wind and the Willows)
Illustration by EH Shepard from The Wind in the Willows

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison–
Bliss tomorrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow–
Saw the star o’er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go–
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
“Who were the first to cry Nowell?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!”

From Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Wishing a Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Welcome 2020!

Happy New Year! Sitting here in NE Ohio, I know that it’s already 2020 in parts of the world – a rapidly growing list. This turn of year makes me happy; I’ve long had a fondness for even number years (and the repetition of “20” is particularly pleasing to my brain). Every new year brings with it a chance to reflect on what’s passed, an opportunity to create new plans for the path forward (that new leaf of a new year), and the hope of an unknown, blank slate. (Though in these often troubled, turbulent times, I am not blind to the reality that the new year could also usher in less optimistic options. I prefer to hope for and act to bring better.)

While we didn’t have a white Christmas this year, as I sit here typing, it seems we will have a white New Years—the snow is softly falling and cars are already covered in a fine layer. It seems appropriate; snow often brings with it a sense of newness. I look forward to curling up with a fresh new book tomorrow, starting the new year on literary note.

But what of 2019?

I had goals for the year, and although the blogging fell by the wayside, I never stopped reading.

  • I managed 29 books for the year, short of my goal of 36. Interestingly, I read 19 of those in the second half. There are various reasons why, including which books I read when, but I suspect I simply spent more time reading in the least 6 months than in the first (more time off work in the time frame helps!).
  • Seven of the books—and some of the best—I read this year, were non-fiction. This is down by (1) from 2018; I may have to reconsider my mental image of myself as “not a non-fiction reader.”
  • I also read a novel completely in Spanish for the first time ever! Sure, it was a kid’s book that I’d previously read in the original English (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, translated as Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal), but I read the entire thing and understood it, learning some new words along the way. I hope to build on this success going forward; after all there’s a small stack of books on my shelf in the original Spanish.
  • Other than that, I only read two works in translation this year—and they were also the oldest books I read, Iliad and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (Interestingly, also both poems.) Iliad I struggled with, finding it very slow, but Sir Gawain I quite enjoyed: if I hadn’t been trying feverishly to finish three other books this past week, I probably would have reread it for the Christmas season. (Which I guess technically doesn’t end until the 6th of January, so there’s still time!)
  • Both books were read for my Classics Club list, as was House of Mirth, which also doubled as one of the two readalong titles that I read. (Both hosted by Cleo of Classical Carousel.) Alas, I only just finished House of Mirth, two weeks late, and I never wrote anything (though I finished it on time) for The Four Loves (C.S. Lewis). However, regardless of my level of participation/lateness, I always find readalongs great for pushing me to read books that I might not get to otherwise.
  • Most of the books I read this year were by women: I count 20 books written or co-written by a woman and 11 written or co-written by a man. (Two books I read had a M/F author combo.) This only represents about 14 different female authors—I read a lot of books by the same authors!
  • I also read a lot of books from the past decade, including two from 2019, which skews my reading “younger” that it might typically be. This is in part because most of the nonfiction I read was from the last few years. But also because I decided to toss all other plans aside and read both sequels to Crazy Rich Asians (so much fun!) and books 2-4 of the Comeron Strike series (when’s the next one out?!). Unsurprisingly, mysteries turned out to be the second-largest category for my reading this year (six), after non-fiction.
  • Although the bulk of my reading was by US authors—far and away, with 16 different writers—I did travel  a bit, with books set in Canada; Ancient Troy (Turkey); Scotland; London; as well as hotspot hopping with the characters of China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, most notably Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

In the end, I finished the year with several new favorites (listed in order read):

  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – Anonymous – I really need to read more Medieval lit.
  • Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates – which as Toni Morrison is quoted as saying, should be required reading. I want to read more of Coates’ writing.
  • The Comoran Strike series – Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) – I simply enjoy these so much.
  • How to Do Nothing – Jenny Odell – A very thought-provoking extended meditation on resisting the “attention economy” of social and traditional media.
  • The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton – it took me a while to get into it, but definitely a finely drawn portrait of a specific time and social milieu.

What I did NOT do this year was complete any of my challenges/goals. Only three books for Adam’s TBR Challenge and five for Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge. And the only book I posted about at all for either was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Oops.

So what does this all mean for 2020?

Just keep reading. Specifically, average 5 hours of reading time a week. (It doesn’t sound like a lot when you know a week is 168 hours, but based on everything else on my schedule, is realistic. And better than nothing.) And write about anything I might read for Classics Club or readalongs.

That’s it. My only hard and fast goal/challenge for 2020.

Sure, I have other ideas of what I might read. Tentative plans. More mysteries. Some Shakespeare, I think. Some books I’d like to clear off my shelves. And of course, I’d like to join in on readalongs that catch my eye:

  • Cleo has a The Odyssey readalong planned for April-May.
  • I’m also tempted by a March-April readalong of One Hundred Years of Solitude planned by Ruth and Silvia (it would be a reread, if I join in).
  • Richard is hosting “Argentine Literature of Doom,” which fortunately just means read something Argentinian (see his post for the “doom” explanation). I’m planning to join in so that I finally read Jorge Luis Borge’s Ficciones (in English).

I’ve also signed up for Erica’s Reading Classics Books Challenge, but it’s designed to be low-stress and fun, so honestly, I’m hoping it acts more as a way to choose which book I’m reading next rather than a challenge to conquer. The first book for it will be my Classics Club spin title, Far from the Madding Crowd.

But as the old year turns to new, I’ll be starting here, with a small library stack tying in to my 2019 reading – more mysteries and non-fiction. A good place to start, I think.

What are your 2020 plans?

Oikan ayns Bethlehem (The Babe in Bethlehem)

Pen and Ink drawing of The Nativity with the Dream of Joseph
The Nativity with the Dream of Joseph c. 1527/30? Parmigianino (Italian, 1503-1540), Cleveland Museum of Art

Nish lhisagh shin yn feailley shoh
Y reayll lesh creeaghyn glen
Ayns cooinaghtyn jeh Yeesey Chreest
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Daag Eh cooyrtn sollys E Ayr
Goaill er yn dooghys ain
Ruggit jeh Moidyn ghlen gyn chron
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Eisht ainleyn Niau ren boggey ghoaill
Haink lesh ny naightyn hooin
Ginsh jeh Saualtagh ruggiy jiu
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Nagh mooar yn insblid as y ghraih
V’ayns Yeesey Chreest yn Eayn
Tra ghow Eh er cummey Harvaant
Oikan ayns Bethlehem

Now keep we this festival,
With purest hearts,
In honor of Christ:
The Babe in Bethlehem

He left his Father’s palace,
Taking on our human form,
Born of the pure Virgin,
The Babe in Bethlehem.

Then the angels rejoiced
And brought us tidings –
A savoir born today,
The Babe in Bethlehem.

How great the humility and love,
Which was in Jesus Christ the Lamb,
When He took the form of his Servant,
The Babe in Bethlehem.

Wishing a Merry Christmas to You and Yours!


Musings on the Start of a Season

I was bent over a potter’s wheel yesterday, inscribing my initials and the year on a pot (Vase? Cup? Curio that just sits in a box or gathers dust in the corner for years? To be determined…) when I realized that my brain still hasn’t really caught up to the reality that this year is 2019. Which means next year is 2020, a number that somehow seems important, even if only for its neat repetition. It’s odd this flow of time, how dates can both seem so near and so distant. I was trying to remember when I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories” and had to flip through my “books read” lists all the way to 2012. Twenty twelve! Surely it can’t have been that long—I still remember it well. In contrast, I have read several books in the past year, where turning the final page, it’s felt as if it was years ago when I started the books—not in a negative way, but rather a feeling brought about by the growth and changes in the characters that made me somehow feel as if I had grown and changed as well. A strange sensation, one that usually requires me to put some space between one book and the next.

And real time seems fickle as well, somehow. Days that pass by too quickly while weeks stretch on forever, time playing games with us, taunting, teasing.

I didn’t realize I’d gone nearly a month since last posting. But it makes sense—how many weekends has writing blog posts pushed to the bottom of the to-do list of late? Even on my recent “staycation” there was always something that seemed of more interest.

It’s a fine line. To stay “busy” enough that I feel I’m making progress on all my many (many – I perhaps need to develop a more limited focus…sigh) projects, but not so much as to be overwhelmed. To have something to look forward to that unexciting time might pass, but to embrace the current moment that the desired event might stretch out forever.

Some days I think I’ve found it. It was a fine—wonderfully full without being overwhelming—weekend even without today’s (US Memorial Day) holiday off. Of critical importance for me is shuffling the “must dos” to early in the day that they might be out-of-the-way so that it feels as if much more time is open for the things of interest. A hard lesson for a life-long procrastinator to learn.

Oddly enough, despite my fondness for timing to deadlines, I’ve finished my current Classics Club spin read already. (Fingers crossed I get my act together enough to post on it by Friday!) It’s been an excellent reading month, in fact—after months of finishing nothing, I finished three other books and started another two.

And at long last I finished my sweater as well. Started over a year ago (March 2018), this one fits best yet…but I’m not eager to pick up any new projects with seams for a while! Besides, summer—and summer weather fast approaches, when reading is a more suitable pastime. I envision lazy afternoons on the back screened porch, lemonade in one hand and book in another. I have a tentative “hope to read” list for the coming months. It’s unrealistically long, of course, but it’s time to make some progress on the TBR list and the library pile.

Then of course there’s Cleo’s readalong. Encouraged by my May progress, I’ve signed up to join in on her June journey through C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves.  It’s sitting here beside me; perhaps I will get started this afternoon. Or perhaps I’ll pick up the mystery immediately beneath it. Or any one of the various books scattered around, tempting me to their pages and the stories within.

This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer and so it seems to mark the start of a new season of limitless possibilities—here’s hoping it brings many good ones!

A Little Catch Up

It is December 26th. I’d say that I’m not sure how it is December 26th already except I happen to know how very busy–or perhaps “full” is the better word–2018 has been. There’s been so much going on–bookish and otherwise–that I thought I’d play a little catch-up before my end-of-year and challenge sign-up posts start going up.

I could blame work of course, but other than a couple evening meetings (public meetings – Board of Zoning Appeals, interesting things those…if only they didn’t start so late!), work hours have been reasonable. Nope, it’s everything else keeping me busy–but fun busy.

Allen Art Museum Courtyard

There was the day trip to Oberlin to see the Allen Art Museum and the Weltzheimer/Johnson House (latter by Frank Lloyd Wright). The art museum is a true gem of a museum–part of Oberlin College, it’s completely free and has a little bit of everything–sculpture, painting, ceramics; Americas, Europe, Asia; ancient to contemporary. When I was there, the current exhibits included a digital media piece (projected on 4k TVs) and a series of hand-painted scrolls, both by Asian artists, that I found fascinating meditations on the human impact on our environment.

Fall Decor at Stan Hwyet

Another day trip, much later in the fall, to the Hocking Hills region. I’d never been there before, and although dismayed by the cavalier attitude of too many towards nature (let’s tromp all over the place in the name of the “perfect” picture for social media), it was a lovely day. And a lovely chance to continue to play with my camera’s manual settings. I keep looking over my photos and finding faults, but if you can’t find areas to improve in your own work, you never will get better. Of course, learning the manual settings on the camera leads to learning more about (and therefore spending time on) post-processing. Always something new to learn!

Hocking Hills Falls

And then there’s reading. I’ve been reading too much to write about anything, I’m afraid (although I did find one write-up in my drafts that needs posted). I’d still like to do proper write-ups for a couple, but some brief thoughts on some of the others:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling (1999, Britain) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling (2000, Britain)

I’ve been making my way through a reread of the Harry Potter series. (Currently in the middle of Order of the Phoenix, optimistically hoping to finish by year’s end.) I haven’t quite put my finger on why, but I do find much of the series comfort reads (well, not Order of the Phoenix–I despise Dolores Umbridge too much).

Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs With Any Camera – Bryan Peterson (4th Ed., 2016, US)

I’ve only been brave enough to dare to play with aperture/shutter speed because of this book. A coworker highly recommended it, and if you have a fancy camera and want to move past the “automatic” settings, I highly recommend it as well. (However, “any” is a bit of a misnomer – you do have to have manual mode!)

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think – Laura Vanderkam (2011, US), Great at Work: How Top Performers Work Less and Achieve More – Morten Hansen (2018, US), and Off the Clock – Laura Vanderkam (2018, US)

I spent a lot of time reading about time management and related issues this summer. I’ve spent a lot of time overwhelmed by the “to do” list this year, and hoped these would help. I would say…the Vanderkam books did. Mostly because her books are really about adjusting your outlook rather than trying to squeeze more time out of life. Really, when I stop and consider how much time I really have, and where it goes, I have LOTS of free time, I just need to use it well. Nothing wrong with the Hansen book, it just wasn’t that revealing to me. However, reading it in combination with Vanderkam was fascinating. Hansen organized very careful studies to discover what makes a great performer in the work environment. So the focus was on work (rather than all aspects of life) and, specifically, performance. And while he started from the observation that top performers don’t necessarily work tons of hours, he wasn’t focused on time management. Yet, his studies often came to the same or nearly same conclusions as Vanderkam does via her analysis of existing time-use surveys. Completely different approaches–and focuses–leading to some of the same thoughts.

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan (2013, US)

Saw the film, enjoyed the film, so I had to read the book. I was a bit surprised to discover how faithful to the book the film actually was (necessary simplification of characters and plot to keep it manageable aside.) So enjoyable, and frankly, it was a delight to read something lighter than so many of the other books I read this year. I was also delighted by the inclusion of so many words/phrases from other languages – apparently a representation of the “Singlish” spoken by many Singaporeans. I’m tentatively planning to read the other books in the series in the coming year.

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith [J.K. Rowling](2013, Britain)

I’ve been wanting to try out the Cormoran Strike books for a while and finally decided to stop waiting. I forget, sometimes, how much I enjoy a good mystery, and I did really enjoy this (err…as much as one should enjoy a murder mystery). I managed to fail to stop myself reading the end before I was halfway through, so I didn’t have the opportunity to guess the solution, but instead got to enjoy seeing how the groundwork was laid for Strike to arrive at the solution. My only complaint was that I would have liked to see more of the character of Robin–maybe in the later novels?

My Plain Jane – Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows (2018, US) and Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater (2009, US)

It’s funny, I never read any YA when I was that age…though I suppose there’s a lot more now than then. But I’m an equal-opportunity reader, so… My Plain Jane is a fluffy retelling of Jane Eyre – a retelling where Victorian England is plagued by ghosts and Jane Eyre happens to be one of the few who can see them. And a retelling where Charlotte Brontë is a character, not the author. Delightful and clearly written by a trio of women who love the original. (Now I kinda want to reread Jane Eyre myself, but I’m trying to focus on new-to-me books for the moment.) Shiver, on the other hand, was less delightful. It is definitely one of Stiefvater’s early novels, and not nearly as enjoyable for me as her more recent efforts. I think a case, in part, of not being the target audience for this one.

Hey, just like that, I’m feeling a bit more caught up! Always a good feeling.

Happy reading!