The snowdrops are blooming, the hyacinths are poking up out of the soil and the buds on the trees are starting to swell. We still have another month of winter before the official start of spring in March. But spring is coming, and that means a much busier time for me as I juggle writing and reading with garden activities. Right now, though, I still have lots of time to curl up with a good book. And here’s what I’m reading this month.
Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewell by Pico Iyer
Welcome to Beach Town by Susan Wiggs
Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan by Alex Kerr
I agree with Carl Reiner who once said he found snow to be an unnecessary freezing of water. Nevertheless, when last week’s storm dumped a foot and a half of snow on our lawn, I tried to embrace it. And embrace it I did, for about two days. Just long enough to wrap up a deadline, read a book, clean the house and surf warm vacation spots. Then I was ready to get outside and walk. To get outside, period. But, alas, the snow kept falling.
So, I did what any writer worth her sand and salt would do in my position – I googled snow references in literature. It helped. For one thing, it kept me from looking outside and shivering. For another, it reminded me that some people do find snow beautiful.
In case you’re in the midst of a hellsnowscape, here are some lovely passages to help you see the beauty.
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
“The snow did not even whisper its way to earth, but seemed to salt the night with silence.” Dean Koontz, Brother Odd: An Odd Thomas Novel
“The old curly birches of the gardens, all their twigs laden with snow, looked as though freshly decked in sacred vestments.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.” Truman Capote, American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940’s Until Now
“It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.” Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales
“I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snows I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day. And it was on that day I made the snowman.” Raymond Briggs, The Snowman
“Snow flurries began to fall and they swirled around people’s legs like house cats. It was magical, this snow globe world.” Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen
“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.” Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” James Joyce, The Dead
“There’s just something beautiful about walking on snow that nobody else has walked on. It makes you believe you’re special, even though you know you’re not.” Carol Ritka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home
And finally, to end on a hopeful note, here’s my (current) favorite passage about snow: “The sight of snow made her think how beautiful and short life is and how, in spite of all their enmities, people have so very much in common; measured against eternity and the greatness of creation, the world in which they lived was narrow. That’s why snow drew people together. It was as if snow cast a veil over hatreds, greed, and wrath and made everyone feel close to one another.” Orhan Pamuk, Snow
When I began planning my November blogs, I did a quick search, as I always do, to check literary events and birthdays for the month. I was struck by the number of literary types who were born in November.
In fact, a number of well-known authors were born today, November 8th. Bram Stoker, best known as the author of Dracula was born. So was Julian of Norwich whose Revelations of Divine Love became the first book written in English by a woman; Margaret Mitchell who wrote Gone With the Wind; and Kazo Ishiguro who wrote The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.
Writers born on other days in November include Neil Gaiman, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Voltaire, C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, Isaac Singer, Carl Sagan, Kurt Vonnegut, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Margaret Atwood. Whew, that’s quite the list.
November feels like a bookish kind of month. It has, as someone once said, a poetic soul. The days are often foggy and moody, we’re surrounded by brilliant color from the changing leaves, the crisp air is scented with cedar and pine, and there are many book-related events and activities happening this month too (it’s Picture Book Month and National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to name just two).
Here’s to all the writers born in the month of November, and to the longer nights that give us more time to read the wonderful books they’ve written.
The world outside my window is misty today. The rain is falling, the wind is up, and the autumn leaves are swirling. The garden is nearly put to bed for the winter, though the hardier leeks and chard and kale are still in the ground promising us some good eating ahead. Inside, the fire kicks on more often in the mornings now, the manuscript revision calls, and there are plenty of books waiting to be read. Here’s what I’m enjoying this month:
Today is the autumn equinox, that point of the year when we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night time. From here, as the calendar marches us towards winter, the days get shorter and the nights get longer. Trees lose their leaves; plants go dormant or die; and animals begin to hibernate. Humans tend to draw inward at this time of year too, and since I have books to write and books to read, I’m fine with that. Here’s what I’m reading this month:
Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
Prom Mom by Laura Lippman
Kitchen Bliss: Musings on Food and Happiness (With Recipes) by Laura Calder
The idea that we don’t always get instant results came to mind again recently. On this date in 1501, Michelangelo started carving the statue David . . . and he finished it three years later. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, considered one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, took Michelangelo four years to paint (and speaking of churches, La Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona – one of Gaudi’s most famous works – has been under construction since 1882 and it’s still not finished).
In my small corner of the world, I’m revising a novel I’ve been fiddling with for probably three years now. Some books come together quickly, but others don’t. I’m more accepting of that than I used to be. Maybe because I’ve been at this writing gig for decades. Maybe it’s life experience. More likely it’s a combination of both.
And as always, the garden (and nature generally) reminds me on a fairly regular basis that some things take time. For instance, I’m harvesting tomatoes right now. We have a glut of them and they’re especially sweet this year, especially fresh off the vine. But they’re also wonderful in other ways too. I turned some into confit last week . . . it took about five hours in a very slow oven. While that was cooking, I filled the dehydrator with tomato slices. The process of getting them to sweet, dried rounds took a couple of days.
All things in good time. Or, maybe that should read: time makes all things good.
. . . a monster was born. Actually, that’s a bit of a stretch. The truth is, on this day in 1797, the woman who unleashed a fictitious monster into the world was born. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the creator of Frankenstein, entered the world in London, England. Why talk about someone born so long ago? Because Mary Shelley was responsible for singlehandedly changing the trajectory of storytelling as we know it.
Frankenstein is considered the world’s first science fiction novel. Published when Shelley was only twenty-one, Frankenstein raises questions about the origins of good and evil, the existence of God, the impact of solitude, and human nature’s tendency to judge others by appearance. More than 200 years after it first appeared, the story of Frankenstein is still considered universal and timeless. In fact, Frankenstein is one of the most adapted novels of all time.
Stories abound as to Shelley’s inspiration for the tale. Some say she created it after having a nightmare. Others suggest it was inspired by terrible global events. 1816 was famously known as the ‘Year Without a Summer.’ The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia triggered massive and sudden climate change, sending temperatures in Europe lower than they’d ever been (and the record for those low temperatures held from 1766 to 2000!). Those low temperatures, coupled with ongoing heavy rain, resulted in crop failures and the largest famine of the 19th century. It was during this gloomy time that Mary and her husband, Percy Shelley, vacationed in Switzerland with Lord Byron and a number of other friends. Forced to spend most of their time inside, Lord Byron suggested they all write ghost stories to share with one another. And that, as they say, is history.
True or not, it makes for an interesting piece of trivia about a story that has become a classic.
It’s the height of summer. That’s what I tell myself, though I know, technically, this is the last full month of summer and we are heading inexorably toward fall (I refuse to go there). The harvest has started – we’re picking masses of blueberries and plums and figs, tomatoes and peppers and eggplants. And beans. Lots and lots of beans. We’ve had friends come to stay and soon we’ll be having a family reunion of sorts with a beloved aunt and cousins. It’s a happy and productive time, but a busy one, and that means less time for reading. That said, I’m stealing a few minutes here and there, and I always fit in a few chapters before bed. Here’s what I’m reading this month.
The Echo of Old Books by Barbara Davis
The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work At 72 by Molly Peacock
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. George Orwell, Animal Farm
Seventy-eight years ago today, George Orwell’s Animal Farm was published. The novella is the story of a group of overworked and mistreated farm animals who rebel against their human farmer in order to create a society where the animals can be free, equal, and happy. Ultimately, the rebellion is betrayed, and under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon, the farm ends up in a state as bad as it was before.
Orwell wrote the book in late 1943, when the United Kingdom was allied with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany and at a time when the British intelligentsia held Stalin in high regard, something Orwell strongly opposed. Animal Farm is considered one of the most satirical fables ever written, painting a dark picture of what can happen when a group revolts against tyranny but ends up embracing a totalitarian dictator instead.
It wasn’t easy for Orwell to get his manuscript published, largely because of fears that the story might upset the alliance between Britain, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Considering it communist propaganda, four publishers turned it down, though one initially accepted it and then declined after consulting the UK’s Ministry of Information. Eventually, Secker and Warburg took a chance and published it.
Initial reviews were mixed, though the story gained traction and has only grown in popularity. Between 1952 and 1957, the CIA, in an operation called Aedinosaur, sent millions of balloons carrying copies of the novel into Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Time magazine chose Animal Farm as one of the 100 best English-language novels (1923 – 2005). It also featured at number 31 on the Modern Library List of the Best 20th-Century Novels. It won a retrospective Hugo Award in 1996, and it remains popular amongst students, coming in as the UK’s favorite book from school in a 2016 poll.
Animal Farm’s cutting clarity and message resonate deeply, even today. And it remains somewhat controversial, still being banned in Cuba and North Korea, and continuing to be the target of complaints and even bans in some US schools.
Summer here means drought and high temperatures, so when it rained earlier this week, everyone celebrated. Not only was the moisture desperately needed for the forest fire situation, it was also a refreshing change from bright sunshine. And it provided a little more incentive to stay indoors and read. Here’s what I’m reading this month.