National Poetry Day in Britain

logo-no-dateIn the United States, April is designated as National Poetry Month, but September 28th is Britain’s National Poetry Day with this year’s theme of freedom.  The official website offers many poems – Poems on Freedom – not all by British poets, but I like this one by Mary Coleridge:

I had a boat, and the boat had wings;
And I did dream that we went a flying
Over the heads of queens and kings,
Over the souls of dead and dying,
Up among the stars and the great white rings,
And where the Moon on her back is lying.

One of my favorite poets is William Butler Yeats, who received the 1923 Nobel Prize for Literature.  When I was in Dublin, I visited the exhibition of his work at the National Library of Ireland, and I bought a small illustrated anthology of his poetry – one of the books I treasure on my limited bookshelf.

Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree is among the poems on freedom included by the National Poetry Day site. Perhaps you remember memorizing it in school. My favorite stanza…

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

As I read through my small volume of Yeats: Romantic Visionary, I was struck by this one:

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
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Do Not Become Alarmed

shopping-3Maile Meloy hooked me with her Apothecary series for young adults; when Meloy’s fellow Guggenheim winner, Ann Patchett, praised Do Not Be Alarmed, the book became my next must read. Unfortunately, I started the book late at night and pulled my first all-nighter in a long time to finish it. I just couldn’t put it down.

If you’ve cruised to the Panama Canal and toured the Central American countries along the way, you will immediately connect with the venue. When three families decide to explore one of the ports of call – what seems like Costa Rica (although Meloy does not actually name it), their lives are traumatized and changed forever. The husbands take advantage of a golf club connection to spend the day on the links and the three wives with children ranging from six to fifteen hire Pedro, a handsome young local, to drive them to ziplining through the trees. When Pedro’s vehicle gets a flat tire, the plot takes the turn from happy vacation to danger.

The parents’ interpersonal issues offer some relief to the constant terrors the children face, from drug-dealing kidnappers to hungry crocodiles. Meloy manages to feed their helplessness and shows a range of ways people deal with threat.  But it’s the children who captured my attention, from 6 year old June who worries about her bunny, eight year old diabetic Sebastian who will not survive without his insulin, fourteen year old Isabel blooming into adolescence, and calm centered eleven year old Marcus. My favorite was Penny, an eleven year old who reminded me of Reese Witherspoon in her perspicacious role as a teenager in the movie “Election.”

Do Not Become Alarmed is a thrill ride; the ending brings all the strings together as almost an afterthought. And you wonder what kind of lives they will all have, especially the children, years later when their misery catches up with them.

If you liked Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Meloy’s Do Not Become Alarmed will give you the same thrilling yet thoughtful experience. You may find it as impossible to put down as I did.

 

Read my review of The Apothecary –  here

The Wright Brothers

After someone berated me for publishing a negative review of a book being discussed the next day at one of my book clubs, I decided never to again.  In this case, I am waiting to publish after I hear what others, who may be more likely to connect with nonfiction, have to say about David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers.  To be fair to myself, I needed to write what I thought first.

Reading nonfiction often feels like reading a textbook, with dates and facts clogging the forward motion. The eerie feeling of being tested always lurked in my mind, as I blithely skipped over mathematical formula and engineering theory, intruding on McCullough’s easy storytelling style.  Overcoming the urge to stop reading several times, I did finish the book, and was glad of it.

9781476728759_p0_v3_s192x300  The history of flight and the Wright brothers clear claim to overcoming man’s resistance to air are well documented.  I too have visited the site of flight in North Carolina and wondered at the sand dunes where Wilbur may have fallen over and over until he captured the magic.  With McCullough’s version, the brothers’ story became human and relatable, and their genius revealed – creating the engineering marvel of an airplane without a degree in physics or mechanical engineering.

Avoiding their personal stories until the Epilogue, McCullough focuses on their difficulties and successes and reveals the same obstacles many overcome when  they imagine a new idea:  someone else tried to take credit, the government would not provide backing until a foreign agent became interested, money was tight and trust outside their inner circle was nonexistent.  The year in France and their contemporary and rival Alexander Bell were surprises to me, as was Wilbur’s death at a young age, and Katherine’s late marriage.

Orville died in 1948 – not so long ago – and lived to see their invention become a weapon in wars, but not long enough to witness the evolution to jets and rockets. Perhaps someday we will not even need a mechanical contraption to get us where we want to go – Star Trek’s “beam me up” facility is always a possibility.

McCullough captured the moments of innovation and creativity and grounded them with realistic sweat and problem-solving to give the Wright brothers their rightful due.  I look forward to someone writing historical fiction about Wilbur’s year in Paris.

Bookstores and Travel

My good friends know I can get lost in a bookstore and often try to steer me away from one if time is short. When the entire travel section of the New York Times was devoted to bookstores last Sunday, I got lost in its pages and decided to save the section for a time when I could meander (hopefully before the next Sunday issue came out).

Stephanie Rosenbloom’s  Bedding Down with Books  teased me with hotels and cafes from Zurich to Savannah, Georgia, housing libraries for customers.  Her Seneca reference jarred me a little: “It is in the homes of the idlest men that you find the biggest libraries.” Nevertheless, I’ve noted places from her article to visit if I am ever in the vicinity.

I could empathize with Jennifer Moses in her “Bookworm with a Travel Plan,” in her fear of running out of books to read while traveling.  Despite having books on my iPhone and iPad, I always have two paperbacks in my carry-on, at least one or two hardbacks in my checked luggage, and a few books on Audible.  I agonizingly remember being seated next to someone who thumbed through the airline magazine and then stared at the back of the seat in front of him for the rest of the trip (short flight – no movies).  I would go mad if I had no book to read – maybe he had.

Perhaps the most comprehensive article in the section was author Ann Patchett’s “When A Bookshop is a Must.”  Owner of her own bookstore – Parnassus Books in Nashville (“in a strip mall, behind Fox’s Donut Den, beside the Sherwin-Williams Paint Store”),Patchett offers her recommendations of American bookstores to visit. I’ve made a list of my top ten – hoping my next trip includes a few.  If you get there first, let me know what you buy.  unknown

  1. Tree House Books in Ashland, Oregon
  2. TurnRow Book Company in Greenwood, MIssissippi
  3. The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles (see my review below)
  4. An Unlikey Story Bookstore and Cafe in Planiville, Massachusetts
  5. Provincetown Bookshop in Cape Cod
  6. Powell’s in Portland, Oregon
  7. Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.
  8. Malaprop’s in Asheville, North Carolina
  9. Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee
  10. Book Passage in Corte Madeiros, California

A few of my favorites not mentioned in the article:unknown-1

  1. Pilgrim’s Way in Carmel, California
  2. Sherman’s in Bar Harbor, Maine
  3. The Annapolis Bookstore in Maryland
  4. Northshire Bookstore in Vermont
  5. Book Soup in West Hollywood
  6. Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara, California
  7. Main Street Books in Cedar City, Utah

Where are your favorite bookstores?

Related ArticleThe Last Bookstore

 

 

 

 

 

The Arrangement – A Glimpse Into the Life of Writer M.F.K. Fisher

9780525429661_p0_v3_s192x300  Knowing something of the life of M.F.K. Fisher helped me to understand Ashley Warlick’s portrayal of the author in The Arrangement.  Based on Fisher’s love affair with a married man, while she too was married, Warlick imagines the conceits and innuendoes as the two couples continue their friendship and their marriages – at times all living together.

While the premise would seem salacious, the story is, like the real life it imitates, sad and desperate. When her husband Al, an aspiring poet with a doctorate from Dijon, France, belittles her writing about food, MFK turns to Tim, children’s book illustrator as well as a friend and neighbor, for solace and editorial advice in getting her first book of essays published. When Al loses interest in having sex, she turns to Tim again,  slipping into his bed at night while his movie star wife is at a party.  Eventually, after much angst and soul searching, as well as trips to Europe, M.F.K. marries Tim, her soul mate.

In her recently published 1939 novel, The Theoretical Foot, Fisher describes Tim’s degenerating Buerger’s disease and the amputation of his foot before he completely deteriorates  and dies. Warlick includes this piece and ends the book with Fisher giving birth to her first child two years later. I had thought Warlick might creatively solve the paternity of Fisher’s child since the real M.F.K. Fisher never revealed the identity of the father and it remains a secret. As a result, I read on longer than I should have.

Warlick’s narrative does not follow a steady timeline, and is told like a memoir, jumping in and out of Fisher’s life. Suddenly, Fisher is burning piles of notes, her first attempts at writing and later regretting it – as Fisher herself notes in one of her books. Next, Warlick reverts to Fisher’s conversations with Tim’s young wife, Gigi. But, wait, the ship is leaving for Europe months later with Tim, his mother, and M.F.K – with her husband’s blessing. In a recent article for the New York Times, Jessica Bennett noted “Research has found that when parties are getting along,they tend to mimic each others’ subtle speech patterns: ‘language synchrony’ as it is known.”  I wondered if Warlick had fallen into this mode – modeling Fisher’s brand of memoir mixed with descriptions. While Fisher is noted for nostalgic reminiscences coupled with her eclectic lifestyle, Warlick floats in and out of this sliver of time, trying to fill in the crevices of Fisher’s life before and after her affair.

The Arrangement includes a number of Fisher’s quotes from her books, as well as mouthwatering details of food cooked, served, tasted, admired. Fisher’s renowned hunger – of food and love – is noted and quoted.  But without at least the Scrapbook of Fisher’s life, the novel can be confusing and vague.  The best part of reading The Arrsngement was the interest it awakened in me to read the books of M.F.K. Fisher herself.

Related ReviewA Welcoming Life: The M.F.K. Fisher Scrapbook