Wednesday, March 01, 2017

My Reading Life: Russka (Rutherfurd)

I picked this one during my Fall Reading Challenge 2016-17, and after on-and-off reading over 18 weeks, I've finished. The 760 pages are not difficult though text-dense, and skimming would just almost desecrate the text and dishonor its author. After I got to about 350 pages, I had to take a break; Rutherfurd's books are long and slow-going (not in a negative way, though), primarily because the scope is so broad (this one covers 1800 years). Plus, Rutherfurd has that gifted ability of description to transport the reader right into the midst of the story. Sometimes he'll regress into his description of a character or a place, giving the reader a store of background information, and this description can go on for several pages before he brings you back. In so doing, you have a much deeper understanding and bigger picture he intends to impart.

These books are not literal page-turners for me because I do not fly through books. These are books to savor. I’ll read a chunk and stop at a natural point in the story, usually at the end of one of the long chapters, lay it aside to read something else, then pick it back up again. Russka is so long and dense and covers so many years with so many people that it is easier to dip in and out with it. The map and the family tree at the beginning are invaluable. So if you read this or any of his others, don't overlook the family tree especially.

A few quotes I marked that I particularly liked, either for what it said or how it was said:

      But, she smiled, it seems to me he has a warm heart.

     Guilt makes a proud man dangerous.

     It was early in the morning, three days after he arrived there, that Ivanushka came out of the fort soon after the sun had risen above the trees, and sat on a bare stone gazing across the landscape to the south.
     How silent it was. The sky above was pale blue, so crystalline that one might, it seemed to Ivanushka, have soared unimpeded into the clear air and touched the edge of heaven. The snowy landscape extended as far as the eye could see, the darker lines of the trees stretching until they seemed to become one with the snow of the endless steppe beyond.
     The edges of the river had recently begun to melt. Everything was melting. Only a little at a time, softly, so that you could scarcely hear it; yet inexorably. The more one listened, the more one became aware of the faint popping, the whispering of the whole countryside melting.
     And as the sun acted upon the snow and ice, so, Ivanushka could almost feel, were underground forces similarly at work. The whole gigantic continent -- the world itself as far as he knew -- was softly melting, snow, earth and air, an eternal process caught, for a moment, in this shining stasis.
     And everything, it suddenly appeared to Ivanushka, everything was necessary. The rich black earth -- so rich that the peasants scarcely needed to plow it; the fortress with its stout wooden walls; the subterranean world where the monks like Father Luke had chosen to live, and certainly to die:  why it should be so was beyond him, but it was all necessary. And so, I see, was the winding path of my own confused life, he thought. That, too, was necessary. Father Luke had perhaps seen it all, years ago, when he had said that each moral finds his own way to God.
     How soft the world was, how shining. How he loved, not only his wife, but all things. Even myself, unworthy that I am -- I can even loved myself -- because I, too, am part of this Creation, he pondered; this being, he perceived, his Epiphany.

     From dawn each day the boats traveled, until their shadows grew so long that they joined each vessel with the one behind so that, instead of resembling a procession of dark swans in the distance, they seemed to turn into snakes, inching forward on waters turned to fire by the western sunset ahead. While on the bank, the last red light from the huge sky eerily caught the stands of bare larch and birch so that it appeared as if whole armies with massed lances were waiting by the riverbank to greet them.

     The answer to Russia's problems lies here, in Russia. . . . The church is the key. If Russia's guiding force is not religion, then her people will be listless. We can have Western laws, independent judges, perhaps even parliaments -- but only if they grow gradually out of a spiritual renewal. That has to come first.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

An equipped bookmark

When I read (and I only read print or listen to audio), I need two things: a bookmark and page flags to mark quotes and descriptions I want to keep. 

I use a bookmark with a paperclip and a short stack of page flags (from Dollar Tree) on the front. The bookmark uses two paint chip cards glue-sticked together with a large metal paperclip in the middle. A thin strip of plastic tape keeps the paperclip seated a little above the book page and prevents it from digging into the page. The page flags are on the front of the bookmark for easy and quick access when I find things to mark. 

The blue bookmark with lavender flags shows the front side, and the back side is pink with the paperclip.

These are quick and easy to make......I can't believe it took me so long to combine the two!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The dawning of a new idea: Grinding wheat outside. In January!

I've recently revived bread baking using up previously ground flour I had stored in the freezer. I attempted my first-ever Ezekiel bread. While I wasn't really disappointed in the loaves, I had to tweak the recipe right in the middle of kneading because the recipe I had was way too sweet. Adding more wheat flour helped, and the taste is just plain wonderful now, especially for toast. The loaves did not rise as high as I'd like, but that may well have been my rusty skills. 

I never grind only enough flour for a baking but grind a lot and then store it in the freezer. This has worked perfectly for me. Today, I needed to grind more flour but really dreaded it because of the noise, cleaning up flour dust from the counters, cabinets, and floor (not a lot of dust, but it does lodge in more places than I would like). Suddenly I thought, Well why not do it outside? It is the last day of January in Virginia, but today's temperature rose to the mid-60s after an early morning 27 degrees. And the wind has been blowing furiously. Perfect! I set up my utility table under the ceiling-mounted retractable extension cord in the carport and went to work. In no time, I had flour and the cleanup was quite doable. Once I loaded the grain, I pulled up two large loads of wood since the grinder was within hearing range.

I ground about 6 quarts hard white wheat. Then I ground about 5 quarts of a mixture of spelt, millet, barley, red and white beans, pinto beans, and lentils. This mixture is used in the Ezekiel recipe, but I'm going to experiment just adding it into my regular bread recipe. Plus I'm planning to add some quinoa and ground flax seed.
I'd say I'll start grinding all grain outside now. And I don't know why I'd never thought of it before!


Monday, January 30, 2017

My Reading Life: Rebecca (du Maurier)

Oh, WOW! What a tremendous story! It is no wonder that so many told me this was one of their favorite books. Yes, this is one of those stories that will follow me like a shadow for days after the last line.

Not only is the story full of suspense and those "I didn't see that coming" twists, the writing is superb. If you come to this book after recently reading fast-food fiction, you will need to press through for a bit to get used to a higher level of writing. But it is worth it. It is so worth it. I'm not a fast reader (as I've said many times before), and for me to finish this 400 page book (that doesn't lend itself to a lot of white space on the pages) in ten days, reading mainly at bedtime, says something for me.

If you've not read Rebecca, make plans to do so. You should not be disappointed.

Three quotes I marked worth remembering for both descriptive metaphor and truth :

" . . . the intolerable discomfort that floods one after lack of tact."

" . . . lost in the labyrinth of his own unquiet thoughts . . . "

“If only there could be an invention . . . that bottled up a memory, like scent. 
And it never faded, and it never got stale. 
And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, 
and it would be like living the moment all over again.”

Prior to reading this book, author Daphne du Maurier's name crossed my path (how often stuff like this happens!). I was browsing my library's Overdrive audiobook offerings and found My Cousin, Rachel which is now in my listening queue. In addition, while reading a (very little) bit about du Maurier, I saw that Alfred Hitchcock had made a couple of movies loosely based on some of her short stories. One that dropped my mouth open was "The Birds." I remember watching that when I was in 6th or 7th grade and being scared out of my wits! (This rabbit trail led me to add The Dark Side of Genius (Spoto) to my audio list.)

After reading du Maurier's "Author's Note" at the end of the book, I uttered aloud another "Wow, I didn't see that coming." This time, though, the wow was not about the turn of the story, but about the revelation of connections between authors in another one of those delightful synchronistic moments:  " . . . my friend Foy Quiller-Couch, daughter of the famous 'Q' . . . ." "Q" refers to Arthur Quiller-Couch, a Cornish author who turned some of his Cambridge lectures into On the Art of Writing which is sitting on my must-read-someday shelf. I get so absolutely excited when rabbit trails trek into my own bookshelves and become such serendipitous moments.

(Advice attributed to Quiller-Couch that I picked up somewhere but cannot find reliable attribution:  "Read incessantly, keep a daily journal, collect maxims, quips, and anecdotes, write a little bit each day, walk every afternoon, eat well, pursue beauty, and take delight in the process.") 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The end of an era

The end of an era: January 28, 1928 - January 6, 2017.

After a long and fairly healthy life, her body succumbed to disease after only eight months. She's finally free from it all now, her body laid to rest this past weekend, and her spirit singing praises to the God of Creation. 

The funeral was a reunion of sorts. All Georgia's nieces and great nieces (and there are a Lot of nieces but only two nephews) finally met my sister and me -- the ones Georgia, who never had children, always referred to as "my girls." They took us in as family and insisted that we sit with the family at the funeral, just like we did Georgia at our parents' funerals.

Georgia was our last tie in our hometown, ending another kind of era. This has been a bittersweet week.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Reading Life: 2016

(To see the books closer, right click to a new tab.)

    2016 was not one of my better reading years. I didn’t read as many print books as I had planned because I was really busy throughout the year with tasks. But, the upside is that during those tasks, I listened to more audio books than I ever have (24). The print books I read were generally longer and took longer to get through. Disappointingly, I abandoned several books I thought might be really enjoyable yet were not. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that I read off my shelves (12,654 pages of print books) as I intended and moved most of the books on to others. 
     This year was a Pat Conroy year. I had planned to read the rest of his books I had not at some point in the future, but after Conroy died in March, I decided to finish them all (except for South of Broad which I’d started on audio a couple of years ago but abandoned about halfway). I’m really glad I read the remaining ones together. They made sense that way, especially since I knew that Conroy wrote about his own life in his stories. Reading The Great Santini followed immediately by The Death of Santini was difficult because of the subject matter, but doing so gave good continuity.
     Another goal was to tackle a large tome on my shelves during the Winter challenge and chose A Father’s Tale (O’Brien, 1076 pages). It was an excellent book that I didn’t tire of. Like O’Brien’s Island of the World, I tracked protagonist Alex Graham’s trek on Google maps and Google images which made this read into a travelogue of sorts. 
     Of the twenty-eight audiobooks I listened to this year, my favorites were Brooklyn (Tóibín), The Nightingale (Hannah) and surprisingly, The Life We Bury (Eskens). I abandoned two (The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay / Jensen and The Little Paris Bookshop / George).
     Unexpectedly, I crossed several beach read authors off my to-read list: Mary Kay Andrews and Dorothea Benton Frank. Too predictable and too much gratuitous sex. 
     I read seven juvenile books (they probably don’t call them that anymore), and all but two were historical fiction. My favorite was Gary Schmidt’s Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
     One thing I’ve realized this past year is that I don’t need to spend time reading something I don’t like. Sometimes I’ve been my own worst enemy. And since I have plenty of books on my shelves to keep me busy for years to come, once I give a book a fighting chance and it loses, I’ll abandon it. Some books are long and slow-going and could easily fall into the abandoned black hole, but I’ve decided on an MO for those. Just as I’m doing with my current book, Russka (Rutherfurd), I’ll read a chunk and stop at a natural point in the story, lay it aside to read something else, then pick it back up again. Russka is so long and dense and covers so many years with so many people that it is easier to pull this off with it. 
     I’ve thought about picking up a directed reading challenge, one that gives you “rules” for picking your books, but I haven’t taken the time to it. For now, I’ll just read the ones I’ve chosen for the Winter Reading Challenge, invite you to join these seasonal challenges with no rules (leave comment), and press on!