Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Encore

Here is a repost from 2011. 

Cheer up, friends and neighbors,

Now it's Eastertide.
Stop from endless labours,
Worries put aside:
Men should rise from sadness,
Evil, folly, strife,
When God's mighty gladness
Brings the earth to life.

Out from snow drifts chilly,
Roused from drowsy hours,
Bluebell wakes, and lily:
God calls up the flowers!
Into life he raises
All the sleeping buds;
Meadows weave his praises,
And the spangled woods.

All his truth and beauty,
All his righteousness,
Are our joy and duty,
Bearing his impress:
Look! the earth waits breathless
After winter's strife:
Easter shows man deathless,
Spring leads death to life.

Ours the more and less is;
But changeless all the days,
God revives and blesses,
Like the sunlight rays.
'All mankind is risen,'
The Easter bells do ring,
While from out their prison
Creep the flowers of spring!

--#147 from the Oxford Book of Carols

This particular song took the children's fancy when they were quite small. They dug it out of the Oxford Book of Carols and, being unable to read music, sang it to the tune of a Christmas carol. In the last line of the second verse, in order to preserve the rhyme, they used to pronounce "splangled wood" as "spangl├ęd wud," a usage which passed into family vocabulary. Fillius gave me a rousing rendition of it as we drove home from Mass this morning, bringing a nostalgic tear to his mother's eye.

2013 Update: Fillius came caroling down the stairs this morning lifting my heart which had been rather low last night: lo, the power of words, music, and memory. 

A blessed Easter to one and all!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Katy was naturally fond of reading. Papa encouraged it, He kept a few books locked up, and then turned her loose in the Library. She read all sorts of things: travels, and sermons, and old magazines. Nothing was so dull that she couldn't get through with it. Anything really interesting absorbed her so that she never knew what was going on about her. The little girls to whose houses she went visiting had found this out, and always hid away their story-books when she was expected to tea. If they didn't do this, she was sure to pick one up and plunge in, and then it was no use to call her, or tug at her dress, for she neither saw nor heard anything more, till it was time to go home."

--What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, 1872.

I always enjoy meeting kindred spirits, even when it's only between the pages of a book.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Really Weird Summer

A Really Weird Summer by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

I found this book on the "For Sale" rack at the public library, and I snatched it up because I've loved every other book by this author which I've ever read.

It's a story about four siblings who have been sent to spend the summer with a great aunt and uncle while their parents are working out the details of their divorce. All of the kids are miserable at being removed from their home, friends, and neighborhood. And they are sooo bored. And then certain elements creep into the story which seem to indicate that this will either be a fantasy or a book with supernatural bits. But alas! It all turns out to be merely psychological.

The eldest, Nels, is coping with the pressures of having to parent the younger children while himself grieving over his parents' abandonment. And he's secretly worrying about where and with whom they'll all be living after the summer ends. Unbenownst to his siblings, their father has privately proposed that Nels go to live with him in Alaska after the divorce. Nels doesn't know what he wants to do, and as the summer progresses, withdraws further and further from his brothers and sister. Then he discovers a wonderful secret and a perfect friend. Or has he?

I think the book would have been much improved if it had been more ambiguous about whether Nels' adventures with Alan had really taken place. But to be baldly informed at the very end that it was "all in his head" was deeply disappointing and far too didactic for my taste.

And I was kind of repulsed by the book's "lesson" which was that kids must stick together because adults cannot be depended on for anything. Family identity has shrunk to include kids only. As Nels tells his younger brother on the last page, "All us kids have to to stay together, that's the big thing. We've got to promise each other. If we stick together, then whatever happens outside -- whatever the grown-ups do -- it won't matter so much D'you see? We'll still be us."

Perhaps this was not a surprising conclusion for the children to have come to since their parents had shuttled them off to spend their summer in a holding pattern. (And by the way, I wondered why the children had to be sent away just because their mother was now working. Nels was 12, an age at which I was already looking after my siblings, and their mother had planned that during the school year he'd take care of the other children after they got home from school. So why couldn't they have spent the summer in the security of their own home? I'm sure there were latch-key children back in 1977. I felt that the whole dislocation thing was just a clumsy device by the author to set her characters up for the particular psychological response she had in mind.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May-Every-Day: Update

I'm not doing very well at meeting my self-imposed challenge to blog every day during the month of May. Part of the blame may be attributed to Blogger which has been doing Weird Things to its clientele. And now my modem is malfunctioning. Verizon says that the modem is communicating with them but ignoring my computer. They promised to ship me a new modem, but in the meantime I no longer have Internet access at home.

Yesterday I dragged my laptop to the public library so that I could use their free Wi-Fi to read my backlog of email. Today I brought my computer to Borders (while Fillius spends his gift card) in hopes that I could do a little blogging.

Administrative Details: Since I'm dating my posts as if they were written consecutively, this one is dated May 14th even though it's actually May 24th. And my daily blog posts are split between my two blogs, this one and Quilting Bibliophagist.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Frivolity: The Self Arranging Bookshelf

I was thumbing through Sunset Magazine the other day during my break at work when I saw something that caused me to squawk in dismay. It was an artsy home decorating article featuring clever storage ideas. I love that sort of thing -- especially when it involves bookshelves. But what raised my ire was the author's suggestion that the client arrange his books by color. How could you find anything with that sort of system? I may not have a degree in library science, but I must have a librarian's soul as evidenced by the fact that in our home library the fiction is arranged by author and title and the nonfiction is arranged by subject. (I have not, however, gone to the lengths of marking their spines with Dewey decimal numbers.)

Nevertheless, I did enjoy this whimsical video featuring a self-arranging bookshelf in which the books sort themselves by color.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

For Where Your Treasure Is . . .

'"Wicked people never have time for reading,' Dewey said. 'It's one of the reasons for their wickedness.'" --The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket.

However much we biblio-geeks might like to think so, people who do not read are not actually wicked. Yet I can't help being charmed by the above quote even though I hold it to be untrue. I think it must have something to do with the all too human tendency to divide the world into "us" vs. "them," whether it's sorcerers vs. muggles, fans vs. mundanes, or readers vs. nonreaders.

Still, people who don't care much for reading never do seem to have time for it. And those of us who do love reading seem to have no trouble squeezing it in. As I often tell my mom, when she marvels at the amount of time I spend reading or quilting, "We all make time for what we love." (Personally, I marvel at how much time she spends working in her garden and sweeping her patio.)

So here's a question for those of you who did not grow up in a family of readers:

Do you feel that your ability to enjoy reading, or just the fact that you spent so much time doing it, was prized or looked down upon by your family?

I'll go first:

When we were young, my brother and I were the only readers in our extended family. And although there was a general feeling that children ought to be outdoors doing something healthy, such as getting hit on the head with volley balls, there was still a grudging admiration for our ability to spend our free time doing something that everyone else perceived as a chore to be done only under duress. As for our immediate family, I think that our love of reading, a love that was not shared by our siblings, was prized because my non-reading parents had a high regard for education. And the fact that I could read quickly was also seen as evidence of a high intelligence, an assumption which was probably responsible for my having had such a good opinion of myself when I was young.

I think that I was also fortunate in that my parents practiced a benign neglect when it came to supervising my reading material. My mother didn't feel qualified to do so, and both parents had the perhaps naive belief that only good books would be found in our public or school libraries. (And perhaps in the '50s that was not far from true.)

So although I was aware of the negative stereotype that readers had in the culture at large, in my family at least I was more than merely tolerated. I may have been an oddity, but I was their oddity, and they were proud of me though probably glad that they themselves were "normal."

On my part, I don't think I looked down on non-readers, but I'm afraid I did feel a tiny bit superior to them -- at least in the sense of being glad I wasn't one of them. To the classmate who announced, as we stood in line for a mandetory pep rally, that there was more to life than books, I replied, "There's more to life with books!" And therein, I think, lies the source of my sneaking sympathy with the quote from Lemony Snicket.

It's so easy to slip into a sense of superiority about personal gifts that are yours through no personal merit. I read voraciously because God made me a reader. That I find time read is hardly a personal virtue, though it is cheering to reflect that when I exercise my gift and do it well, I give glory to God by simply being what he made me to be. Sort of the way that cats or microbes give glory to God just by being cats or microbes.

Yet I also can't help remembering that "much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more," and I am neither a cat nor a microbe.
As a widow making her way through the final years of middle age, it is not surprising that I should have a sharpened sense of mortality and Last Things or I find myself reflecting more often on the question of what I'm supposed to be doing with what I've been given, even the relatively modest gift of being a reader.


(Well, I seem to have strayed rather off topic, but I'm still curious about the experiences of other readers who grew up in families of nonreaders. So please comment.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

On The Road With L.M. Montgomery

This week I've been on an L.M. Montgomery binge, thanks to my recent trip to Ohio.

The most pressing concern I have when traveling is not security restrictions or the high price of airport food or even how to squeeze into a restroom stall with all of my luggage. No, it's how to carry enough reading material for the trip without straining my back.

The last time I flew, I brought my laptop with me figuring that I could download enough e-books to keep me occupied even if the plane got rerouted to Australia. The problem is, there's at least a half hour at the beginning and end of each flight when you're not allowed to use any electronic devices -- not to mention the possibility of being stuck on the runway for extended periods -- which are all times when I'd want to be reading. And as I discovered, a laptop is a bit heavy and clunky, and you have to worry about Things Happening To It. Supposing a patch of turbulence sloshes tomato juice all over my keyboard? Supposing I drop it? And on this particular trip my carry-on included a large gift box with my granddaughter's First Communion dress, a bubble-wrapped icon which my sister had asked me to hand deliver, my purse, and enough food to sustain me through an eight hour journey. No way could I add a lap top without either going over my carry-on limit or hurting myself!

So I decided I'd better take lightweight paperback books, two in my carry-on for the trip there and two in my checked luggage for the trip back. The library where I work sells any donations they can't use, and I was lucky enough to find three of the "Anne" books and a novel by Madeleine L'Engle. (They were only 25 cents each, so I didn't mind buying traveling copies of books I already own in hardcover.) So I read Anne of Avonlea, Anne of Windy Poplars, and Anne's House of Dreams that weekend. By the time I got home, I was on a roll. So I went on to read Anne of the Island and Chronicles of Avonlea.

I don't mind reading books out of order like this when I've read the whole series before. And Montgomery didn't write them in chronological order anyway. Anne of Windy Poplars (1936) is a "sequel" to Anne of the Island (1915) and the events of Anne of Ingleside (1939) take place before Rainbow Valley (1919). I looked them up because I thought that I'd read the rest of the Anne books in publication order so as to get a feel for how Anne's world developed for people who read them as they came out. And while I was on Wikipedia, I discovered that a new edition of Rilla of Ingleside was published in 2010.
My own copy is a 1985 paperback published by Bantam. Although the copyright page states that, "it contains the complete text of the original hardcover edition," I'm not sure whether the notice refers to an abridged hardcover or not.

In 2009, Viking Canada also published The Blythes Are Quoted, a sequel to Rilla of Ingleside. This was something I had never heard of before. Apparently, it's a mixture of short stories, poems and vignettes. Most of the stories previously appeared in magazines, and Montgomery rewrote them to include cameos of or references to Anne and her family. (Something which, as I recall, she also did in Chronicles of Avonlea.) The poems are attributed to Anne and her son Walter. A significantly abridged version of the book was published in 1974 as The Road to Yesterday which I have never read.

Yes, back in the olden days, we were limited to books we could find in our local libraries and bookstores. But now that I'm living in the "technological vastness of the future," I've ordered both books online. (Hint: it's cheaper to order through Amazon Canada -- even with international shipping.)