Margery Sharp day a day late…

snip20170126_2Wonderful Jane of Eden Rock in Cornwall has hosted a Margery Sharp day. Several bloggers read a book by her and then posted a review for 25 January. I have just slid in by the seat of my pants to make it the 26th here but I am sure it is the 25th somewhere in the world. Hawaii?

I had never heard of this author but now I am glad I have found her. The book I read was The Eye of Love published in 1957.

Miss Diver lives in an English house with her orphaned niece Martha. She is a somewhat eccentric woman who is in love with Mr. Gibson. Mr. Gibson has doted on her for the past 10 years although he still lives with his mother. Twice a week he visits and the two of them cuddle and coo each other. She is his Spanish rose (sometimes referring to her as Old Madrid, which made me laugh.) She is his big King Hal who is her protector. Their world verges between fantasy and reality.  When Miss Diver’s brother died she begrudgingly took on her pre adolescent niece Martha whose only interest is being left alone to draw the shapes she sees in every object. She is a very peculiar little girl, who does not attend school and lives completely in her own world with the art in her mind.

The book opens with Mr. Gibson having to say farewell to Miss Diver and Martha because his furrier businsnip20170126_1ess is in trouble and he must marry Miranda Joyce who is the daughter of the top furrier in the city Mr. Joyce, in order to keep a job.

Miss Joyce is quite privileged, spoiled and very shallow. He does not want to marry her but feels he must. Miss Diver is devastated and at loose ends without her big King Hal.  Martha is not fussed either way.
One day Martha meets  a man who is in need of accommodation. Mr Phillips returns home with Martha and becomes a border in Miss Diver’s home. Over a bit of time he weasles himself into Miss Diver’s life. His aim is to marry her as he thinks she owns the home, with all of the valued items in the sitting room Mr. Gibson has given her over the years. If he becomes her husband he can get rid of Martha, have a home and reign supreme over this resience and Miss Diver’s life. He really is a sleazy, creepy little man.

That is where I will leave you. The questions remain: **What happens to Martha and her increasing talent? **Will Mr. Gibson marry the insipid Miranda? **snip20170126_4What happens to the friendship that has developed between Miranda’s father and Mr. Gibson. **Will Mr. Phillips succeed in his plan? **Does Miss Diver find happiness, find the money she needs to keep her home when her income runs out? **Who lives happilon’s wedding day approaches.  There is humour in it. The writing is descriptive enough without being over bearing and the characters came to life for me. I still think of them.

I really enjoyed this book. A quirky tale, concisely told with enough subplots to keep me interested and believe it or not quite a bit of suspense as Miranda and Mr Gibson are pretty obscure characters.

There is a sequel to this book about Martha in Paris as she becomes an adult enmeshed in the world of art.  This book is certainly on my list to read. I liked Martha. She is a funny child and not all roses and buttercups. She has a mind of her own and is eccentric and quite uncaring of the rest of the world in her own mind.

If you wsnip20170126_5ould like to know more about Margery Sharp you can find a biography of her on Wikipedia here.

I will certainly be looking out for her other books.

American travel book-all population and weather?

snip20170117_2Travel writing is one of my favourite genres of books to read. Especially if the authors have walked across a country, ridden a bicycle, motorcycle, donkey or horse. I love  the different ways people see the world.

I came across Old Man on a Bicycle: A Ride Across America on a Kindle special deal so decided to give it a try. It was a pretty easy read and the style of it made me laugh. The book is in a combined paragraph to journal format. Don was 71 yrs of age when he decided to ride his bicycle from New Hampshire to San Francisco, California.  The journey itself is amazing. Unfortunately he gets tied up not so much in the trip itself but stating what Australian people always tell me about Americans. “They love the weather and they love to know the population of various cities.  While attending a conference once in Brisbane, Qld, we had a keynote speaker from a university in Maine, USA. My Aussie friend sitting beside me said, “You wait, her power point presentation will have initial photos of the state of Maine, where it is on the map, what the population is of her state and city and what the weather is like. They always do this.”  I, of course said, “No they won’t.” Her reply was, “Yes she will.”

The speaker is introduced, the lights go down and the large screen in front of us lights up with a huge picture of Maine. She introduced us to her university (photo 2) and then told us the population and showed two more photos. Maine in summer and Maine in winter. Well of course my friend and I were paralysed with silent laughter.  She whispered, “I rest my case.”  Over the years I have watched for this and I have to admit that is what American speakers do when visiting here. I find it highly entertaining.

So I was not surprised when 71 year old Don stated on almost every page of his journal, the population of all the towns he went through and gave me detailed weather updates.

I did enjoy this book but was glad it wasn’t any longer than it was. He described the roads in detail, the winds and what their measurement was. He would start riding about 5:00 am and finish about noon to 2:00 pm. I admired his stamina. I admired his determination. I also admired him when he was wiped out by an inattentive driver in Utah (She was reaching for her coffee on the floorboard when she veered to the right and wiped him out on a freeway) and returned to the same spot a year later to finish his journey to California.

What I found tedious was the health information. Whenever he mentioned something to do with his training he might say he didn’t smoke, he ate well, all the things you would expect a 71 yr old man to mention while training for a cross country ride.

snip20170117_4However, if smoking was mentioned he would then go into a long page or two lecture about the physiological things that happen to a body when one smokes. That would include statistics (another American favourite).  Then he did the same thing to nutrition, African politics (more on that later) as well as aging complaints and illnesses.

There were several topics he mentioned while continuing with the story that the lecture began. I found it tedious and skipped over those bits.  The one paragraph or two I did agree with him on was the aging factor and how society views and talks about the elderly.  I have always maintained the elderly are their own worst enemy as they continually pass cartoons and jokes around about incontinent, brain dead, droopy breasted, technologically phobic oldies.  They complain with one hand how the elderly are treated but then go on to absolutely denigrate the whole range of elderly in the same conversation.

When I produced the regional Senior’s Association newsletter I put a stop to the aged cartoons and jokes. I received several and I said I would not be continuing this practice. I do feel strongly about it so don’t feel too left out if I never post one here.

I wondered why this book was written like a military manual. Then as the ride progressed he began telling us about himself. First thing is he was an ambassador to Somalia in Africa in the early 1980’s. Then he talked about being a congressman for the state of New Hampshire.  That is when everything fell into place about my thinking. A retired politician. No wonder the writing was so vague.

When I read travel writing I like to hear about the people, the quirky places, the conversations in the various places they visit. The only conversations this guy reported on were those of people in diners telling him how “awesome” he was for undertaking this trip.  Many Americans don’t seem to realise there are people doing these things all over the world and we barely hear a thing about it unless it involves the moon.

So get over yourself and read a couple of Anne Mustoe’s incredible bicycle journeys (the British woman who truly was awesome).

Would I recommend this book?  I think it would be good to read by a person contemplating this journey because of the detailed weather reports, wind speeds and how one must adjust their mileage to better find accommodation in a country that has vast spaces and none available.  Though had he begun in San Francisco and gone eastward to New Hampshire he wouldn’t have spent half the book talking about the head winds. They almost always come from the west.screen-shot-2013-05-22-at-16-40-48

To the armchair traveller there is more exciting travel writing.  I do admire his undertaking and his perseverance.  There were a lot of bits I did truly enjoy reading but over all I would say it was pretty average writing.  And being an American-Australian I did enjoy hearing about the population, weather and statistics.

Merry Christmas 2016

 

It is hard to believe another Christmas is upon us. The food is packed for a picnic. The weather forecast has been checked.

The dogs are in their harnesses and we’re ready for a family day at the beach. Mr. P, myself, Odie and Molly.

It was quite a year around the world. Much tragedy in the world. We will think of more peaceful days ahead. May our world leaders make considered decisions.

May more people find shelter in the world. May people find that simplicity brings as many riches as wealth. Let 2017 be the year we look for kindness and simplicity.  The wagging tail and smiling eyes of our dogs. The softness of a child’s hair or the happiness of a purring cat.   Going out for coffee or a movie with a friend.

Package up the greed for what you want but cannot afford. Put it on a top shelf and take a walk. Smile at people you meet. Enter a coffee shop or a food court and sit next to the elderly person who sits alone and chat to them. (one of my favourite things). Don’t be shy. Hold a door for someone. Give up your seat on the bus. Have patience with a family member even when they do something that drives you nuts. Don’t yell unless you’re at a sporting event. Get out of your comfort zone once in awhile.

If someone around you gets grumpy start to laugh and tell them it isn’t so bad. Shake your head. Defuse. Walk away. Check in on troubled friends. Ask “Are you  okay”.

Spend time with books if the weather is bad or you don’t have the cash for a movie or a trip. Make that second cup of tea and coffee. Wrap that fuzzy polar fleece around you. Bring your pets in from outside if it is cold. A bit of fur on the floor won’t hurt anything.

Enjoy nature if it is only a dandelion with an ant on it on the nature strip. Look up when you walk. Notice what is around you. Don’t avert your eyes as you encounter others on the street.

snip20161217_4Remember, we never really know another’s story. Everyone has one. Coax it from them if you can. Pay for another’s cup of coffee. Let someone cut in front of you  in the grocery line if they have fewer items than you do.Help someone with their bags.
I think the main resolution for 2017 isn’t to read more books, lose weight or keep the house tidy (though that is nice). I will carry two words with me next year and hopefully for every year after that.

Be Kind.

(even if you have to go out of your way or wait a few minutes to do so. Look for opportunities)

Pollyanna Penguin? snip20161217_5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts of trivia for 2017

I snip20161218_1was soaking in a bubble bath on a rainy, windy Sunday afternoon in Hobart (as you do). I should have been out with our Ulysses motorbike group following our motto of ‘Growing Old Disgracefully’. The wind was strong and I don’t like being around gum trees in the wind. They don’t call them widow makers for nothing. Instead I was going through a backlog of Good Reading magazines (Australia) and Bookmarks (USA). I had my cup of decaf and my green marker pen and I kept coming across a lot of Trivia. Pieces about authors, funny quotes, literary tours; you get the idea.

I thought of those bookish bloggers I follow and how much I know they would enjoy the information I was reading.I started thinking about how much I enjoy Simon’s Stuckinabook Sunday posts of Weekend Miscellany. Each Sunday (quite often) he features a link, a book and a blog post. Short snippets that give one something to look up on a Sunday afternoon.

I thought as I have been revamping my own blog to give it a bit of life I would start something similar. I thought, “hmmm” quite  a bit as I sipped my coffee.

Now, book bloggers seem to love alliteration and without thinking another moment, the decaf must have kicked in, I thought, “That’s it. Tuesday Trivia”

No doubt someone else probably does something like this out in the blogosphere but I am not familiar with it so the name stays.

My trivia or wealth of UBI’s (Useless Bit of Information) needs to be showcased a bit. I know I don’t have the blog following of a Trump rally but the few good friends I have made through cyberspace might like it.

I would also like to invite readers to add their own bits of trivia in the comments at the end of each post. I will probably put up something each Tuesday. I am sure I can find enough, as I originally thought I’d do it fortnightly but I’ll start weekly and see how I go.

To name a few, information will be garnered from the various magazines, book reviews and information related to those awful publications in hairdressers and doctor’s offices. I will search online. I will listen to people as I traverse various Op, Tip, Secondhand and Independent book shops.

I am looking forward to it. As always a new year always presents itself as a big, blank white paged diary waiting to be touched with a sharp fountain pen full of ink. (Don’t you love that image).

Let me know if this idea appeals and if you would be willing to add additional information either on your own blog (put your link in comments) or add to my post in the comments. I think it would be great fun.Think how popular you will be at the next dinner party when you casually drop in a bit of information you may have learned from a James Joyce tour in Dublin or on our blogs.

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Travellin’ through the Year with Eden Rock today

screen-shot-2013-05-22-at-16-40-48 Eden Rock has posted up an interesting game. See it here.  You go back over 2016 and take the first sentence from the first blog you did each month. You should have 12 sentences that form a bit of an overview of your year if you did a post each month.I just went back and copied each of my first sentences and it has been quite fun. I did so many interesting things during the year that I had actually almost forgotten. All I can say is “Wow, what a year!”

See what I mean? Starting with January-

January:  This was the story I picked at random through the Deal Me In Short Story Card Challenge.
February:  This past week was busy but all I said would happen did, plus more. I did do the 900 km (540 mile) bike ride last weekend.
March:  Loss of my little dog really knocked us around. People who don’t love dogs won’t understand that, others will.
April:  I have done some interesting Penguin things over the past couple of weeks. Our book group is reading A Little Life.
May:  I have just returned from the Opening Address with Kate Tempest at the Sydney Writer’s Festival.

June:  Who would have thought I would find vintage Penguin books from Alice Springs?

July:  I am going to have a bit of a rant here.
August:  I am writing this to you from the local laundromat on my 45th wedding anniversay.
September:   Two days ago we finally got to Hay on Wye again. It has changed since I last saw it.
October:  Goodbye Blogspot- Hello WordPress
November:  This evening I was looking through the 1001 Children’s Books….and the first book recommended is The Little Engine Who Could.
December:  I can’t believe we are so close to Christmas. This year has passed incredibly quickly. However I am ready for 2017. I always enjoy a new year. It is like a clean slate.

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RIP- Shirley Hazzard Australian

I am passing on this article from the Australian online publication of Online Plus. snip20161218_1

“Shirley Hazzard passed away on Monday night, in New York, at the age of 85. Like most of her admirers, I came to know her through her sentences. Reading her novels, I was enchanted and compelled by her characters; I delighted in their astonishing reversals and revelations, and I revelled in the narrative lines of good and evil, justice and devastation and confusion and error.

But it was her sentences and phrases that hooked me in. With their leaps of sound and sense they forced me to read with unfamiliar attentiveness, a thrilling sense of narrative trust, and a demand that I take the work of reading seriously.

Many of her readers who have been similarly beguiled by her style. As novelist Gail Jones put it in 2012, in a panel discussion of Hazzard’s style, Hazzard’s readers admire “the imagistic exorbitance” of her writing, “its quality of audacity, of ingenuity, of bold excursiveness”.

Jones’s own striking phrases here pay tribute to the vibrancy of Hazzard’s language, echoing something of its linguistic facility and richness. Hazzard’s great novel from 1980, The Transit of Venus, opens with this extraordinary paragraph:

By nightfall the headlines would be reporting devastation. It was simply that the sky, on a shadeless day, lowered itself like an awning. Purple silence petrified the limbs of trees and stood crops upright in the fields like hair on end. Whatever there was of fresh white paint sprang out from downs or dunes, or lacerated a roadside with a streak of fencing. This occurred shortly after midday on a summer Monday in the south of England.
The calm authority of the opening sentence is broken apart by the startling comparison of the sky and awning, which leads us, in some trepidation, into a surreal landscape full of menace. The full significance of the scene will be revealed much later in the novel, and only to the careful reader.

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The Transit of Venus, Shirley Hazzard, 1980. Virago
This week, in the wake of Hazzard’s death, Michelle de Kretser observed: “Reading her has always made me long to be a better writer. In some irrational yet profound sense, I wrote for her. Few writers can match the lucid beauty and import of her sentences.”

There is a lovely sense of writers as readers hovering in the space between these three highly literate novelists. It speaks to the experience other readers have of a strangeness in Hazzard’s style, with its linguistic felicity, densely packed metaphorics and tone of high seriousness.

In part this strangeness is the experience of reading prose that has been built, meticulously, from poetry remembered across a life devoted to reading. Interviews with Hazzard are full of references to her extraordinary recollection of poetry, as well as to the breadth of her reading. In a very specific way, her style speaks to her own history and biography, and to her project of self-creation as artist and intellectual.

Born in Australia, Shirley Hazzard lived most of her life as an expatriate with no strong ties to her country of origin, moving nonetheless with authority in elevated cultural circles in New York, Naples and Capri. Although she left school at 16 without further formal study, she was a skilled linguist and autodidact deeply versed in Western art and literature, and familiar also with major works of other traditions.

snip20161218_3Alongside her commitment to art, she was a meticulously informed observer of local and international politics, intent on holding public figures to the highest ideals. She worked at the United Nations through the 1950s and remained a fierce critic of what she saw as its inept and compromised failure to be a truly international organisation.

The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard, 2003. Picador
Hazzard thus moved, as her fiction also moves, with ease across the worlds of politics and aesthetics. Her novels and stories have their action firmly grounded in the world of public and political life, as well as in the interior worlds, sensibilities and sympathies of their protagonists.

Although the narratives centre around romantic and sexual love, there is also a sustained concern with the recollections and consequences of world war. We see the administration of peace with all its brutal militarism in The Great Fire (2003), which won the National Book Award; ongoing agitations around the globe in relation to dissidents and refugees in The Transit of Venus (1980); the pernicious endurance and ineptitude of bureaucracies in People in Glass Houses (1967), as well as the expressly political dimensions of the domestic and international policies of diverse governments.

These worlds meet most pointedly in the moral and ethical choices presented to her protagonists in their personal and professional lives as artists, scientists, activists, lovers, or friends.

The bond between writers and readers

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Shirley Hazzard’s Gauss lectures were published in 2016 in We Need Silence To Find Out What We Think. Columbia University Press
Hazzard was committed throughout her life to articulating and defending the public role of writers and artists. In 1982, shortly after the acclaimed publication of The Transit of Venus, she presented the prestigious Gauss lectures at Princeton University. In these lectures titled “The Lonely Word”, which were published for the first time this year, Hazzard insisted on the closeness of bonds between writers and readers as part of the announcement of her own ethical proof; her right to speak as an author, through the practices of literary emulation and apprenticeship.

These close bonds also ground poetic posterity: she wrote that “art is the only afterlife of which we have evidence – the transmission of human experience and thought”.

She found the value of literature in its capacity to compensate for loss: “Through art we can feel, as well as know, what we have lost; in art, as in dreams, we can occasionally retrieve and re-experience it.” Literature also has a capacity for immediacy, an ability “to transmit sensations and sentiments”. Its “directness to life” draws from a commitment to the rightful labour of writing, and to its veracity, what she called “a responsibility to the accurate word”.

The only authentic response to literature is through pleasure. Reading is, she argued,

in part an act of submission, akin to generosity or love; and confession to it, through praise, is a commitment to a private, ‘unauthorised’ response.
With these resonant claims, Hazzard presented a kind of apologia for amateur reading, one which spoke directly to her own role as a writer working outside the circuits of professional literary criticism. Amateurism was central to her constitution as an intellectual, drawing on a tradition of literary devotion and nourished by a privately gleaned intellectual rigour.

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Defeat of an Ideal (1973) was the first book Shirley Hazzard wrote criticising the UN’s failings. Little Brown and Company
These same qualities have always informed her fiction and are the bedrock of her writing style. They bear witness to the writer’s knowledge of and respect for other writers, and draw all readers into the circle of labour and responsibility. These are important principles, which might inform the discussions taking place today around the value and significance of the arts and humanities, and of scholarly and intellectual work more broadly.

In 2011, as I neared the final stages of my study of her work, I sent Shirley Hazzard the chapter I had written about her writing on the United Nations, for her approval. I asked her if she could let me know if I had made any errors in my account of historical events.

She returned the typescript, marked up with corrections not to the content but to the style, expression and phrasing. Some were slight tweaks, but there were also points where she had clearly been irritated by some particularly infelicitous or injudicious expression or repetition.

I was meeting Shirley Hazzard once again at the level of the sentence, but this time the sentences were my own, and some were found wanting. Of course I followed her suggestions. I have kept that document, treasuring it as a testament to the professional generosity but also to the sharp scrutiny of one of the great prose stylists of the last half-century.

snip20161218_6It recalls to me her abiding conviction that the arrangement of words on the page matters enormously, not just in relation to literature, but all writing, and that writing itself is a point where our private worlds become public. In teaching us to approach literature with an ear to poetry, she reminds us of the endless and important labour of art.”

RIP author E. R. Braithwaite

I was sorry to hear on the news last night that the author of the wonderful book To Sir With Love had died. I have the old Penguin book of this memsnip20161216_2oir that came out in 1959. I remember when the movie came out I was in high school or just out of it. Sidney Poitier had broken onto the film scene and everyone loved him. I have not read the book but this has reminded me of it and of how much I loved the story. I should find it on  my shelf and have a read. (So many books jumping out at me lately.)

I lifted this short bio below from Voice of America news so the credit goes to them.  I didn’t want this to pass without recognising how much I appreciated his story especially at the time it was written.
WASHINGTON —

Guyanese author, teacher and diplomat E.R. Braithwaite, whose 1959 book To Sir, With Love told the story of a black teacher struggling in a classroom in a white London slum, has died in surburban Washington at age 104.

Braithwaite moved into teaching after a career as an oil worker and serving in Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War II.

He chose the profession after being denied an engineering job because he was black and found himself facing a schoolroom of antisocial, violent and occasionally racist poor whites in a London slum.

But he soon discovered that by showing the unruly students simple respect, he got the same from them and wrote about his experiences in his memoir To Sir With Love.

The book was made into a highly successful 1967 film starring Sidney Portier and British pop star Lulu.snip20161112_6