The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own. -- Adam Gopnik

September 28, 2014

'The lighthouse'

So much depends then, thought Lily Briscoe, looking at the sea which had scarcely a stain on it, which was so soft that the sails and the clouds seemed set in its blue, so much depends, she thought, upon distance:  whether people are near us or far from us...

From To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
I'm glad I did this, giving myself the time this morning, to read the last section of  To The Lighthouse. {Not that I wanted it to be finished.} The third part, like the first, takes place in one day, one morning really, back again, ten years later, at the Ramsays' house by the sea. It is early morning [as it was when I started reading}; Lily is on the terrace overlooking the sea again, painting again; old Mr. Carmichael is reading and dozing in his chair again, and Mr. Ramsay is scolding James and Cam, because they are not ready on time for their trip to the lighthouse.

But this time, the children are forced into going, and have made a compact with each other to 'resist tyranny'; they will not speak to Mr. Ramsay, or enjoy themselves. But Cam finds herself admiring her father ('This is right, this is it ... Now she felt as she did in the study when the old men were reading The Times. Now I can go thinking whatever I like, and I shan't fall over a precipice or be drowned, for there he is, keeping his eye on me, she thought.'), and even James, who holds out longest, when his father and the old boatman praise his sailing ('There he sat with his hand on the tiller sitting bolt upright, looking rather sulky and frowning slightly. He was so pleased that he was not going to let anyone share a grain of his pleasure.') 

There is a wonderful scene where Mr. Ramsay interrupts her, asking (as he always does) for sympathy, and Lily wants just to give it and isn't able to; they only connect when Lily admires his boots.  As they sail, Lily paints, and thinks -- 'She was not inventing; she was only trying to smooth out something she had been given years ago folded up... ' -- about the Ramsays' complicated marriage ('she with her impulses and quicknesses; he with his shudders and glooms'), and dismisses Mrs. Ramsay, and longs for her, and remembers what was really there.

One need not speak at all. One glided, one shook one's sails (there was a good deal of movement in the bay, boats were starting off, between things, beyond things.) Empty it was not, but full to the brim.
{The image is from The Green Sea, Lamorna, by Laura Knight, found here.}

September 27, 2014

'Time passes'

Thinking no harm, for the family would not come, never again, some said, and the house would be sold at Michaelmas, perhaps, Mrs. McNab stooped and picked a bunch of flowers  to take home  with her. She laid them on the table while she dusted.  She was fond of flowers. It was a pity to let them waste. Suppose the house were sold (she stood arms akimbo  in front of the looking glass) it would want seeing to -- it would. There it had stood  all these years with a soul in it. The books and things  were mouldy, for, what with the war and help being hard to get, the house had not been cleaned as she could have wished. It was beyond one person's strength to get it straight now. She was too old. Her legs pained here. All those books needed to be laid out on the grass in the sun; there was plaster fallen in the hall; the rain-pipe had blocked over the study window and let the water in; the carpet was ruined quite; they should have sent someone down to see. For there were clothes in the cupboards; they had left clothes in all the bedrooms. What was she to do with them? They had the moth in them -- Mrs. Ramsay's things! ... There was the old gray cloak she wore gardening (Mrs. McNab fingered it). She could see her, as she came up the drive with the washing, stooping over her flowers (the garden was a pitiful sight now, all run to riot, and rabbits scuttling at you out of the beds) -- she could see her with one of the children by her in that gray cloak.  There were boots and shoes; and a brush and comb left on the dressing-table, for all the world  as if she expected to come back tomorrow.
from To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
Back to my book, to the middle section, the shortest one. I remember some of it, but not all.  It's years that pass, ten years, with losses ('So she was dead; and Mr. Andrew killed; and Miss Prue dead too, they said'), and the beginning of war ('Mr. Carmichael brought out a book of poems that spring, which had an unexpected success. The war. people said, have revived their interest in poetry.'), and the Ramsays' house standing empty, because the family did not come.  We learn all this through wandering images of wind and animals and weeds entering the house, through the old charwoman's 'witless' thoughts and memories, through village gossip {'Some said he was dead; some said she was dead. Which was it? Mrs. Bast didn't know for certain either.'}, and through simple. stark statements, in parentheses, of what has happened.
      So loveliness reigned and stillness, and together made the shape of loveliness itself, a form from which life had parted... Loveliness and stillness clasped hands in the bedroom, and among the shrouded jugs and sheeted chairs, the prying of the wind, and the soft nose of the clammy sea airs, rubbing, snuffling, iterating, and reiterating their questions -- 'Will you fade?' 'Will you perish?' -- scarcely disturbed  the peace, the indifference..., as if the question they asked scarcely needed that they should answer:  we remain.

For all our love of country houses in books, this is a different one. Haunting, more than lovely and still, until '(Lily Briscoe [has] her bag carried up to the house late one evening in September.)'.   

{The painting is Woman Sweeping, by Edouard Vuillard, found here.}

September 24, 2014

R.I.P. IX: Crossbones Yard

I almost didn't read this book this week.  After spending several days with something so soft and lovely, and then starting and abandoning two books (probably because they, and everything, suffered in comparison), I wasn't sure I was in the mood for something modern and gritty.  But this book, and the two that come after it, came highly recommended by Fleur and Alex, and as if that wasn't enough, I thought that reading something a little out of my ordinary would be more fitting for R.I.P. IX.  {As you know, I read so many mysteries, most of them cozier, and so little gothic/horror/suspense, that I find it a little hard to find books that make the challenge a challenge.:) }

Our heroine is Dr. Alice Quentin, a psychologist working in a London hospital, who finds herself next on the rota to consult with the Met; she is asked to evaluate the dangerousness of Morris Cley, a depressed, clingy, wonderfully sad and sick murderer who is about to be released from prison. Alice grew up with an abusive father, and her claustrophobia, her mother's denial, and her brother's mental illness are the scars they bear. Running, almost literally pounding the pavement, is her therapy, and one night, running alone through empty London streets, she finds a woman's body.  Everything is connected, because Cley and the means of death of this first body, and the next one, all link back to murders committed by a depraved couple running a hostel for desperate young women and others. Then Alice is stalked, and receives threatening letters -- also connected -- and she leaves one mostly sexual relationship for a smouldering one with a detective involved in the case.

Plus, it's the start of a new series  and for me, that's like getting a present.  The writing is excellent, especially in the way that all of the characters are so well drawn. The only quibble I have with the book is that I knew for certain who the killer was, too early for the suspense to last.  Mostly because if it wasn't X, it could only be Y, so we probably needed more red herrings, more possibilities, to keep us guessing  Even so, it was both the writing and wanting to know what would happen next, to Alice in her peril, that kept me up late last night reading the last 50 pages.

{The first two books in this series - Crossbones Yard and The Killing of Angels - have been published in the U.S.  The third, The Winter Foundlings, is due here in February.  It sounds like they get better and better!}

September 18, 2014

A little learning


Do you ever take classes?  Academic ones? I don't, and I wish I did.  I should. I'm so much the kind of person who would take classes.  :)

I sometimes tell myself that as a reader (and one who reads a reasonably broad range of things), I can 'learn' on my own, without them.  But I'm not sure I have the self-discipline to do that in any deep or organized way.  I also tell myself I don't really have time, though that's probably not a valid excuse either.

I've been experimenting a little with Coursera, and edX, and their online courses -- I wonder if any of you have tried them? -- but (it's that self-discipline thing again) I have yet to follow one all the way through.  Then, over the past year, there were two or three that were really tailor-made for me, and I didn't even manage to start them. I regret that.

Poetry in America, coincidentally taught by a Harvard professor, was one of them, and I'm so glad it's being offered again. The first six-week session started last week, and focuses on the poetry of early New England. So up my alley. We're going to be reading Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor and Michael Wigglesworth (who wrote a poem of 224 stanzas about the Day of Judgment which was so widely and frequently read that  'we have no full copies of the poem was literally read to pieces'). I must have read all of them in college, but I don't remember much about them. I especially like the fact that it seems as though we'll be reading the poems with some attention to their historical and cultural surroundings, which is the way I most like to read things. And I loved this:  there was a little bit of controversy on campus last year because the faculty teaching the actual class asked the students not to ask questions during the lectures so it wouldn't interfere with the filming. Hee hee.  Hold me to this, OK? 
. . . . . . . .

I'm watching The Roosevelts:  an intimate history too, all 14 hours of it.  It's a real time commitment, but it feels like the best kind of homework. I've read a little about Franklin and Eleanor, but I'm realizing I know very little about Teddy.  Are you watching? Isn't it good?


September 14, 2014

Sunday, dinner


      'They've come back!' she exclaimed, and at once she felt much more annoyed with them than relieved. Then she wondered, had it happened? She would go down and they would tell her -- but no. They could not tell her anything, with all these people about. So she must go down and begin dinner and wait. ...
      But she stopped. There was a smell of burning. Could they have let the Bouef en Daube overboil? she wondered, pray heaven not! when the great clangour of the gong announced solemnly, authoritatively, that all those scattered about it, in attics, in bedrooms, on little perches of their own, reading, writing, putting the last smooth to their hair, or fastening dresses, must leave all that, and the little odds and ends on their washing-tables and dressing tables, and the novels on the bed-tables, and the diaries which were so private, and assemble in the dining-room for dinner.
from To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
I remember it now, from my first reading, the dinner party, and the Boeuf en Daube. This meal, this one  long, wonderful scene, goes on for 41 pages in my old college paperback, and that makes sense, because I had also forgotten that the first part of the book takes place in one day. It's a special dinner, because the cook has made her special dish, and William Bankes, the proper, fussy widower who Mrs. Ramsay wants for Lily Briscoe, has consented to stay for dinner, and Paul Rayley has confided in her that he is going to propose to Minta Doyle.

But as I've been saying, I'd forgotten everything that Virginia Woolf did to paint in her setting, and all of her characters, and the things that are in their heads, and how lyrical and beautiful the writing is. When I got to the end of Part I on Friday, I found myself wanting to stop, and breathe, make sure I hadn't missed anything, because I was rushing forward a little to get to the next sentence.

What are you doing today?  So far, I'm cooking and puttering around, but I'm going to curl up with cups of tea and a book later. If it's this one, I'm still not sure if I'm going to begin where I left off, or go back and read through this scene again. How often do I find myself wanting to re-read a book before I've even finished?

I hope your Sunday reading is as promising!

{The painting is by Pierre Bonnard, found on Pinterest.}

September 8, 2014

Anticipation: Delicious edition

October is going to be incredible!