Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My August Reading

I was not able to get as much read this month as I'd planned, because the whole issue surrounding the book For Such a Time took up so much of my time and energy. But what I did read was a welcome departure from the horrors of that read.

The Venetian Affair by Helen McInnes
Categories: mys
Commentary: Recommended by Janet Webbb and Liz McCausland. My first McInnes. Just started reading it.

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin
Categories: rom, hist
Diversity: Jewish characters
Commentary: I wrote about it in detail earlier this month.

Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim
Categories: memoir
Diversity: Based in North Korea featuring North and South Korean people in addition to volunteers from other countries.
Commentary: I started reading it last month and finished it this month. What a powerful look into a closed culture. Despite the division of Korea in recent times, the difference in the cultures of the two countries separated by a common language is vast. South Korean-American journalist, Suki, posed as a teacher and traveled to Pyongyang to teach English to elite college students. This gave her a rare insider authority on North Korean culture and student life. I'll be commenting much more on this in my September TBR Challenge post.

Shadowskin by Shveta Thakrar
Categories: poetry
Diversity: POC character, in e- format
Commentary: This poem was recommended by author Victoria Janssen. The poem talks about how two girls dream similar things, but one girl's dreams are achievable, acceptable, but the other's are not. Why? The first girl is white-skinned with blonde hair and blue eyes, the other is brown-skinned with black hair and eyes.

Brown-Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas
Categories: romance, contemporary
Commentary: I've been dying waiting for this book from Kleypas's fabulous Travis series. They are the strongest of all her books other than some of her historicals, such as the New Orleans series and Devil in Winter among others. Her Texan contemporary voice is very distinct, as is her characterization. The experience of being married to a Texan and having lived there for many years shows in the ease and confidence of her voice. I was hooked from the beginning of this story. Her writing is superb and easily matches the rest of the series despite the many years between Smooth Talking Stranger and Brown-Eyed Girl. There're passages like these...

Sofia let out a little yelp of excitement. The atmosphere in the studio seemed instantly diluted—my lungs had to work harder to obtain the necessary amount of oxygen.

The heroine tells the hero how some people make the proposal into an event, like proposing mid-air on a hot-air balloon ride or proposing underwater on a scuba dive.
"That's ridiculous," Joe said flatly.
"Being romantic is ridiculous?"
"No, turning a private moment into a Broadway musical is ridiculous."

I had a great discussion with Robin about Kleypas's aggressively alpha heroes in all her books, whether historicals or contemporaries. Their caring side comes out really strong and ever-present in the story, and that makes their stories and the longevity of their HEAs believable.

Reykjavík Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason, translated by Victoria Cribb
Categories: mys
Diversity: Male author
Commentary: It was recommended by Miss Bates and her review is here. Set in Iceland, the beauty of the setting is what drew me to the book. However, this is set wholly in Reykjavík with no forays into the countryside. My interest was still sustained by this look into Nordic summer city life. This mystery story is just my speed: painstaking police procedural work minus violent gore or horrifying psychological twists (except for one terrible DV). This is policeman Erlendur's first foray into detecting. Unlike later in the series, he isn't a detective here yet, but has a personal stake in the investigation that he follows through on his own time and his own dime. Dogged, unflappable, and meticulous, he interviews people, carefully parcels out information, and uses his policeman status sparingly. His approach is as a friend of the deceased and a concerned citizen. I enjoyed Indriðason's writing style very much and look forward to more of his books.

Thrush Green by Miss Reed
Categories: lit fic
Commentary: Recommended by Sunita and her review is here. For a big fan of Enid Blyton books and the miniseries Cranford, I instantly fell in love with this novel. Like the Enid Blytons, there are pen-n-ink illustrations sprinkled throughout the text. The voices and scenes are so distinct, I could picture them in my mind as I read the book. It's been a while since I read a book where the images are so vivid. The inciting event is that the owner of the fair, which does a show every May Day in Thrush Green, might be closing down the show after this last hurrah. Set against this event, the lives of the main inhabitants of the small village revolve. The enjoyment of this book is in the very small details. While to some this could be boring, to me they're what make the story so enjoyable. Entire lifetimes and personalities unfold in those delicious details.

Then there are also passages like this one...

People nowadays seemed too busy for gaiety, and what was worse, appeared to frown upon innocent enjoyment. Life was too dreadfully real and earnest these days and all the young people were middle-aged at twenty.


He felt his dislike of this tough ungainly woman growing of an hour, her massive legs planted squarely apart to display the sturdiest pair of knickers it had ever been dr. Lovell's misfortune to observe. In shape and durability they had reminded the young man of his father's Norfolk breeches used in the early days of cycling.

Veranda: A Passion for Living: Houses of Style and Inspiration by Carolyn Englefield
Categories: nonfiction, coffee table book
Commentary: I LOVE THIS BOOK! Ahem! I discovered it thanks to Vassiliki. I enjoy gawking at the furnishings and inner architectures of the houses of the wealthy, but especially, oh, so especially, the old estates of England. I'm always interested in what taste people exhibit when money is largely not an issue. Englefield writes, "Houses are like Wunderkammers, those curiosity cabinets of the Renaissance where each carefully selected object has a story waiting to be told. A Passion for Living is a synthesis of the belief that our homes are the places where we live our lives with joy, grace, honesty, and personal style." This is not to say that all the photos are picturesque or très élégant. Some of them are hideous. But that's the fun of reading a book like this. Even when it cannot possibly work for you, it's fascinating how on earth they managed to put those things together in that way.

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula Freedman
Categories: children's
Diversity: People of various ethnicities and religions
Commentary: Recommended by my daughter and Smart Bitches and the review is here. First of all, let me GUSH over the cover and book design. I have the cover here, but the inside book design from its endpapers to its beginning pages, font and so on are also beautifully done. This has to be the best one of the year for me. Totally appropriate for the story and a work of art by itself. Delicious!

I would've leveled a charge of "exotiticizing" at the author if I had not been aware that the girl depicted in the story will be similar to her children's blended family experience (when she has children). The author herself is Jewish-American, who's married to an Indian -American, so a Basmati Bar/Bat Mitzvah would be in her children's future as well. From the get-go I liked the young girl's voice: clear, personal, and age-appropriate. Too many kids in books sound precocious where their voices don't fit in with the type of story the author's trying to tell through them. Here, it felt like the girl herself is telling her story. Great characterization!

Tara Friedman's father is Jewish-American and her mother is Indian-American, who converted to Judaism before her marriage. Tara is in Hebrew school preparing for her Bat Mitzvah but she's struggling with her commitment to her faith and the process of the Bat Mitzvah. At the same time, she's concerned whether she's losing her Indian side to her Jewishness. She doesn't want to lose the affinity she has with her Indian grandparents who've now passed away, while at the same time, she loves the closeness she shares with her Jewish grandmother. She wants to feel at one with both her cultures and the story is about her working through this.

She's also grappling with her belief in G-d and can she be Jewish without believing in G-d completely. She discusses this with her Jewish and Christian friends and also tangentially with her Rabbi.

It seemed incredible t0 me that someone could keep believing in G-d after living through something as terrible as [the Holocaust]. And if he did, then why did I have any doubts whatsoever?

Tara's also disturbed when she finds out from Hebrew school that Jewish people used to own slaves. That they could do so when Jewish people themselves faced constant persecution throughout history is abhorrent to her. Again she brings this up with her Rabbi. He reminds her that the Jewish faith places very high value on dialectics and debate, and nothing was sacred from discussion.

What's interesting to me about this story is how unlikable and at the same time likable she is. Her confidence, her easy friendships, her smartness make her likeable on one hand, but her sense of self-entitlement is off-putting at the same time. She receives far more than she gives and is always upset when she isn't receiving what she insists she deserves. A treasured saree that her Indian great-grandmother carried with her safely through the chaos and horror of the partition of India and Pakistan is bequeathed to her. She plays with it with her friend regularly. And one time, they spill burning incense on it, which burns holes in the ancient fabric and ruin it. I gasped out loud with anger and sadness. She and her Jewish grandmother then convince her mother that the only way to save the fabric was to cut it up and make it into a dress for her. I again gasped aloud with anger and sadness though it is the logical solution to the problem. A precious heirloom has been destroyed by her carelessness and the only thing she feels is fear of her mother's anger. Yes, she's young, but at 12-13, she's not too young to be able to appreciate what she has destroyed.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Illumination from a Medieval Manuscript

Spectacular example of an illuminated drop letter "S" from folio 229 recto of a medieval manuscript located at the British Library shelf mark Royal MS 1 E IX. It is a "Bible, in Latin, of St. Jerome's version with the Gospel of Nicodemus. Produced in England (probably London) during the first quarter of the fifteenth century."

[Image copyrighted by Robert Miller.]

Friday, August 21, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Rare Black Vellum Manuscript

A rare black vellum Book of Hours from Bruges c.1480. It's kept at the Morgan Library and Museum in NYC. (MS M.493, folio 18 verso and 19 recto)

[Image copyrighted by Europe's History.]

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

2015 #TBRChallenge Reading: Poetry by Walt Whitman

2015 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Poetry by Walt Whitman edited by Jonathan Levin
My Categories: Poetry
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Impulse Read (I'd been meaning to read this book for ages. Then I was walking by my shelves looking for something to read for this challenge and chose it at random.)

And I'm very glad I did. I'd forgotten the Whitman poems I'd studied in my school years. My poetry education ended in twelfth grade. In recent years, I've done some reading here and there but nothing formal. I've rediscovered my love of the poetry of the Romantic poets, while also attempting others. I seem to be drawn to pastoral themes.

One of the most remembered of Whitman's poems I studied was "O Captain! My Captain!" Imagine my delight when I heard those lines recited as a clarion call to literary arms in the movie "Dead Poets Society"! Whitman deeply mourned Lincoln's assassination and immortalized his admiration and sorrow in this poem.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
     But O heart! heart! heart!
     O the bleeding drops of red,
     Where on the deck my Captain lies,
     Fallen cold and dead.

Whitman, like Frost whom I wrote about here, was very much an out-and-about tramping kind of a poet, and he wrote about what he saw and experienced during his rambles. He celebrates it in his poem "On Land":

O the gleesome saunter over fields and hillsides!
The leaves and flowers of the commonest weeds, the moist fresh stillness of the woods,
The exquisite smell of the earth at daybreak, and all through the forenoon.

Over his wanders, he discovered the miraculous in the ordinary and plain. Using the poetical device of the catalog, Whitman gives examples in his poem "Miracle":

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or animals feeding in the fields;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

Unlike many poets of his time, who took great effort in setting their poems in well-ordered rhyme and meter, Whitman's poems flow in an uncontrollable flood of words and emotions. However, they're not without their own rhythm. Whitman often recited his poetry out loud as he walked and you can hear the pounding of the surf, tramping of the boots, the crackling of twigs underfoot. Listen to these lines from "I Tramp a Perpetual Journey":

I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
This day before dawn I ascended a hill and look'd at the crowded heaven,
And I said to my spirit, When we become the enfolders of those orbs, and the pleasure and knowledge of every thing in them, shall we be fill'd and satisfied then?
And my spirit said, No, we but level that lift to pass and continue beyond.

Whitman was a great advocate of and believer in democracy and in the rights of all men. In stanza 24 of 52 of his first poem "Song of Myself," he says:

Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son,
Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding,
No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them,
No more modest than immodest.
Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!
Whoever degrades another degrades me,
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.
I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy,
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.

And this brings me to one of the most heartbreaking pieces in this collection. It is also from "Song of Myself" and is about assisting a runaway slave in defiance of the federal laws of the time.

The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside,
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile,
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,
And went where he sat on a log and led him in and assured him,
And brought water and fill’d a tub for his sweated body and bruis’d feet,
And gave him a room that enter’d from my own, and gave him some coarse clean clothes,
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,
And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;
He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass’d north,
I had him sit next me at table, my fire-lock lean’d in the corner.

Friday, August 14, 2015

My Comments on For Such a Time by Kate Breslin

I want to make one thing clear up front. The commentary below is of the BOOK, not the AUTHOR. I will not, nor do I have the right to, comment on the author, but I can and will comment on what I see on the page, colored by my biases. This is purely my subjective opinion and is by no means authoritative. There are most likely spoilers and upsetting triggers in my comments.


For those of you who haven't read For Such a Time, it's an Evangelical Protestant inspirational historical romantic fiction book set in a [then] Czechoslovakian transit concentration camp in 1944. The story is between a Nazi SS Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt and Jewish prisioner Hadassah Benjamin set in the Theresienstadt camp. Her blonde-hair blue-eyed "Aryan" looks allow her to use her false paper to pass off as non-Jewish. She is initially tattooed, shorn, and slated for the firing squad at Dachau, because she offended a Gestapo officer by rebuffing his advances. The Kommandant is there, because he sees the discrepancy between the Aryan paperwork and "Jude" stamped on it. He takes one look at her and wants her, so he rescues her and spirits her away to Theresienstadt. There he installs her in his house as his secretary.

Initially, Hadassah thinks of the Kommandant as a "Jew Killer." Over time, she's beguiled by his obvious interest in her and her own growing attraction to him. She realizes that he is bruised in spirit due to his war experiences and is convinced that she can change him. She appeals to him to grant concessions to the Jewish prisoners.

Initially, she feels abandoned by her G-d, because of all her suffering. Over time, her progressing relationship with the Kommandant leads her to believe in the Christian God through the Bible that appears whenever she's in crisis and "speaks" to her. The central questions of the story are: how can she reconcile herself to him, how will he change, how will their love survive reality, and do both of them turn to God.


My many learned colleagues have done a far better job of addressing the historical, religious, and textual contents of the book than I ever could. So I'm not going to try. My focus is the impossibility of the love relationship and the personalities of the two protagonists.

When you write a historical fiction novel, you're required to be true to the history you're setting your story in. Yes, sometimes in service to your story, you may change a few small details here and there, but by large you try to stay true to the facts. Otherwise, what you're writing isn't historical fiction, but alternate reality fiction.

When the history in question is full of anguish and is in living memory of the survivors and the descendants of the survivors, it behooves you to be scrupulous of adhering to all of the well-established details of the history. Tampering with those details results in the erasure of the experiences of entire swaths of people; of the people themselves. The Holocaust wasn't just a heinous crime against the Jewish people, the Roma, gays, and others. It was a crime against all humanity. It was a crime against the basic tenets of what makes us human.

In that context, he's the representative of the perpetrators of the crime and she's the representative of the victims of the crime. He uses her to assuage his supposed despair over his experiences as a soldier. She uses him for the warm shoes, warm clothes, soft bed, and good food he provides.

Scearp scyldwiga [sceal] gescad witan worda ond worca.
A sharp warrior must know the difference between words and deeds. —Beowulf

The Kommandant suffers from the horrors he saw—not what he did—in the battles in Russia. That is what he tells her and she can sense it all beneath his "punishing," "desperate" kisses. But he has no remorse or even disquiet—in fact, he's indifferent—over the thousands of Jewish people he sends to Auschwitz or starves, over-works, and has tortured in Theresienstadt. It doesn't matter in the story that his sergeant or his captain actually do the torture. He's the Kommandant. The buck stopped there. But he only cares that he is not hurt by a refusal to participate in everything and that Hadassah not find out about it all so that she won't withhold her affection from him.

Also, his war experiences and supposed sensitivity to them should've given him a classic case of PTSD. I saw no evidence of that.

A true love relationship exists between mature, consenting adults who're respectful of each other. This certainly wasn't that. There can be no consent between a jailor and a prisoner, where he's the aggressor and she's subsumed herself in him. At the least resistance from her, he gets angry, threatens her, and forces his will on her and she accedes the power to him. He has no respect for her, and she respects his power over her, not as his equal. A true love relationship between them is impossible.

Did romantic feelings—note, not true love—develop in similar circumstances in reality during WWII? The Daily Mail published a piece on the real-life story between a Jewish woman and an SS guard at Auschwitz. Years after the war, from Israel, Helen Citronova said, "'I thought I'd rather be dead than be involved with an SS man. For a long time afterwards there was just hatred. I couldn't even look at him.' But she admitted that her feelings for Wunsch changed over time" when he saved her and later her sister from death. After the war, "...her relationship with Wunsch never developed further...." Helena said, "'There were moments where I forgot that I was a Jew and that he was not a Jew.... But it could not be realistic.'"

Yes, not realistic. Take the stresses of war away, and what do they have left? Horror of what they've experienced and horror of what they've done. No relationship can survive that. Thus, I cannot believe that there's any future for the Kommandant and Hadassah. There's no HEA (happily ever after), no love, nothing. But that is the point of a romance novel. A HEA is a requirement.

"You're not a monster." Her voice came to him soft and steady. "Or a martyr either. You're just a man, nothing more."

She's right. It's Hadassah who's the monster of the story, not the Kommandant, not the evil caption, not the traitorous sergeant, not the SS General. They are behaving true to form. But Hadassah? She sends thousands of her own Jewish people into Auschwitz's Krematorium, in exchange for good food, a warm roof over her head, and sexually exciting kisses. Thousands. And in all of this, her emotional state of mind is ephemeral, self-serving, and remarkably bloodless.

Here's an example. She has been found out as the traitor who deleted a few people from the lists of those bound for the Auschwitz trains. The Kommandant is extremely angry and rough with her and threatens to hit her. He purportedly loves her but sends her off with his captain to the ghetto. Her kaddishel ten-year-old Joseph has been badly beaten and brought to her in the ghetto. He was the Kommandant's houseboy and the Kommandant purportedly cared for him, but did nothing to stop Joseph from being beaten up.

Later, the Kommandant comes to see them.

...he removed his hat and gloves before lowering himself to kneel beside the boy. "How is he?"

His white-knuckled grip on the cane told her his legs pained him more than usual. Caution overruled any compassionate urge, however. He had yet to state he purpose for his visit."

She feels compassion for him? After what he's done to her and Joseph? And the only reason she's not going to show him her compassion is because he hasn't said why he's there?

The hand on his cane wavered slightly. "You must hurry and get strong, Joseph. There is much to do, and I need your help." His gentle voice tore at Hadassah's heart.

He makes those self-serving statements and she's touched by them?

Hadassah searched the face of the man before her, feeling joy, frustration, even laughter. Most of all, she ached for the comfort of his embrace.

After all that has occurred—two trainloads to Auschwitz, torture of her uncle, starvation of all the prisoners at the camp, Joseph's beating, her own treatment—she feels like laughing? And wants him to hug her?

Hadassah fills me with horror. Classic case of Stockholm's Syndrome.

[Edited to add since I already received a couple of troll comments. I shall be ruthlessly deleting comments that are not respectful of me or other commenters.]

Picture Day Friday: Medieval Waistcoast Made From Manuscripts

These days, purses made from book covers are popular with the bookish crowd. But this trend was popular in the Middle Ages, too. Here's a medieval waistcoat made in Iceland from a manuscript on parchment dated c.1375.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

2015 TBR Reading Challenge: Truckers by Terry Pratchett

2015 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Truckers by Terry Pratchett
My Categories: children's, fantasy, male author
Wendy Crutcher's Category: RITA book (That this book ain't!)

I loved this book. I laughed out loud in many places. I marveled at the intricate society and culture of the ordinary world that Pratchett build up.

The story's about these tiny, outer-worldly creatures called Nomes. Some of them live outdoors and are called Outsiders. The majority of the Nomes in this story live under a departmental store called the Store. This is their world. The ceiling is the sky, the departmental sections of Ironmongery, Stationeri, Corsetry, Millinery, and so on are the clans under which the Nomes have organized themselves. Within each clan, there's the head honcho, an advisory team, and other such titles. The clans war with each other and some are stronger / more dominant than others. There's a food hall where, by mutual agreement, everyone comes to the table as equals. Sensible!

Due to a problem with their habitat, the Outsiders hitch a ride on one of the lorries (trucks), which brings them to the Store. Almost all of the Nomes there are astounded by the presence of the Outsiders. Some refuse to believe in them and think they had simply been living elsewhere in the Store.

"It is very hard to meet someone who doesn't believe you exist."

Patriarchy is alive and well among the Nomes of the Store. Not so among the Outsiders.

Their exclamations of surprise or anger are "Grand Finale Sale" and "Everything Must Go." The villain of the story is "Prices Slashed," the security guard.

All the Nomes of the Store believe in a god called...wait for it...Arnold Bros (est. 1905). The Outsiders believe in a black Thing box that once it has access to electricity acts as an oracle and information supplier. It is the computer that came with the Nomes thousands of years ago when they left their planetary home.

And stranger still is that the Thing tells the hero of the tale, Masklin, that the days of the Store are numbered and the Nomes need to move elsewhere to survive. Slowly some of the clan leaders come to accept that the Black Thing and Masklin might have a point. The majority of the book is devoted to how Masklin achieves their removal via a lorry before the Store demolition deadline.

There are nuggets of Pratchett's writing that had me sticking Post-its all over the book.

"I don't know enough words, he thought. Some things you can't think unless you know the right words."

But the best part of the book is the humor. LOL was really L.O.L. Masklin decides that the best way for them to escape was to drive a lorry. Imagine the scale of things.

"It's too far up. It's a small step for a man, but a giant leap for nomekind."

So Masklin and a bunch of higher official Nomes stand on the dashboard and navigate by reading the book The High Way Code and a map from a pocket diary with areas marked "Europe" and "Asia." They tell the signaler to signal left or right. He in turn tells the conductor on the floor of the truck who orchestrates teams of Nomes on the gas pedal, the brake, the clutch, the gear stick, the turn indicator, and the steering wheel.

Imagine this. Hundreds of Nomes manage to maneuver a huge semi out of the garage, out on the city roads, and out into the boondocks. That whole process of coming together to make it work...my sides hurt, because...

"'Well, laddie,' he said. 'I've seen a lot of people, and I've got to tell you, if you lined up ten Nomes and shouted "Pull!," four of them would push and two of them would say "Pardon?" That's how people are. It's just nomish nature.'"

But they do it. They make it safely to outdoor caves. Huzzahs!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Picture Day Friday: A Water Bridge !!!

This is one of the coolest things I found out this year. There's such a thing as a water bridge consisting of one waterway connecting two waterways over a fourth waterway. The Magdeburg Bridge is located in Germany. According to Wikipedia, "[the aqueduct] spans the river Elbe and directly connects the Mittellandkanal to the west and Elbe-Havel Canal to the east of the river, allowing large commercial ships to pass between the Rhineland and Berlin without having to descend into and then climb out of the Elbe itself."

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My July Reading ... Part 2

This is part two of my reading in the month of July.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Categories: children's
Diversity: Book by a male author. The eponymous character, Stargirl, definitely falls under the diverse heading but not in any known category. It's in her attitude towards life—so unconventional, so free, so confident in her differentness.
Commentary: Recommended by my daughter. This is a gentle love story of this unconventional girl and a conventional boy. He likes her but is very conscious of his fall from social grace because of his choice. Her gentle strangeness is what brings her to his notice. At first he only marvels at her odd starts and ability to empathize with the disaffected. Gradually, her views are what draws him to her, and of course, the fact that she has declared her obvious interest in him and designated him as cute is clearly flattering to him. The first part of the story establishes her personality; the second half is his story and how he negotiates his relationship with her and society at large. My daughter was right—I loved the story.

Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm by Enid Blyton
Categories: children's
Commentary: I have read and re-read this book since I was under age 10. When my daughter was born, I scoured Book Depository and Abe Books for all the Enid Blytons I remembered from my childhood. Lucky for me, she has shared my love of these books. What do I love about an Enid Blyton? The innocent halcyon days of childhood when children were children and not sexualized mini-adults. (This is a rant long-time in the making.) These children had rough-n-tumble adventures, laughed a lot, ate a lot, worked hard, and seemed to live life larger than children these days.

Fifteen-year-old twins Jane and Jack and their 11-year-old sister Susan live on a farm in England. They grow up on a busy working farm and have morning and evening chores of feeding the chickens, mucking out the stables, and so on. The news that their father's brother's house went up in smoke, his wife is prostrate with grief at a hospital, and their three children are going to descend onto Mistletoe Farm is met with great dismay. Cyril, Melisande, and Roderick are town people and have grown up with governesses, prep schools, and expensive living. There's an utter disconnect between the two sets of cousins. But rub along they have to. They share bedrooms and bathrooms and schools and chores and in so doing, each child learns something from the others. They change, grow up, and grow together. Out of misfortune comes an opportunity for the betterment of self. Blyton writes such uplifting stories.

This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman
Categories: romance, western
Commentary: Ever since I read the first western by Jo Goodman in Never Love a Lawman (2009), I have loved every western by her. This current book was no exception. Her understated style with deadpan low-key humor, quick repartée, authentic, well-researched details, and great, great characters always make her books engrossing reads for me. Most importantly, she does not employ known melodramatic tropes to inject action into her stories. Her characters generate their own chemistry, their own drama, and are very mature about it all.

She is a bounty hunter. (Yes, really.) He's a lawyer, cattle rancher, and federal marshal. (Yes, really.) They meet in a brothel. She threatens to shoot him. (Yes, really.) Out of such improbable details comes a tender love story. Calico has had a tough upbringing but she's revels in it and is proud of the unconventionality. He's had a traditional upbringing but has a problematic relationship with his religious family. And yet the two are drawn together emotionally when they're brought together to play bodyguards to a daughter-father duo. I liked the suspense aspect of the story as well. It's nuanced and despite small details dribbled here and there, the answer's not obvious. There's no grovel scene, no huge proposal scene...just a quiet acknowledgment of their love and a few chapters later, a quiet acknowledgment of their commitment to marry each other. They had disagreements, but there was no immature bickering. They settled their differences responsibly and respectfully. These were people I could like in real life. While this is not a criteria for liking a book, I do like to see characters behaving like adults.

Charlie All Night by Jennifer Crusie
Categories: romance, contemporary
Commentary: Without a recommendation by Vassiliki and MissBates, I would've missed this charmer. It was cute, it was tender, it was laugh-out-loud funny in places—altogether delightful. Allie is a primetime 6am radio show producer, who has an affair with her star. She gets dumped by him and from her job and is assigned to a 10pm–2am slot with a newbie DJ. Of course, they strike sparks off each other despite both thinking the other is an unlikely bet in the beginning. This is a type of story that I'm very fond of because you can see the two of them falling in love slowly and unknowingly and then committedly. This is what makes for a satisfying romance read for me every time. I want to watch the unfurling of personalities and the blooming of love between them, knowing every step of the way why they're right for each other and that this is forever.

Heaven's Fire by Patricia Ryan
Categories: romance, medieval
Commentary: I loved this book primarily for all the medieval manuscripts details in the construction, writing, and illustrating of them. I was particularly taken by the section on how the illumination was done. Great research well-told.

The central story takes place in Oxford when they are just talking about appointing a chancellor and setting up formal colleges. However, this Oxford of the mid-12th C. is already a place of learning with a well-established office of the Magister Scholarum. Unlike Paris, a more advanced place of learning, the scholar teachers here are not required to be priests. However, higher offices like the chancellor are required to be celibate.

So here we have this ex-priest, celibate scholar of a wealthy noble French family. The heroine is an Anglo-Saxon peasant, more comfortable in English than in Norman French. However, she can read and write, and is well-versed in Latin. Due to tragic circumstances, she arrives in Oxford and manages to earn a living illustrating and illuminating books. Previous circumstances where he saved her from smallpox has bound them together inseparably. Their love story unfolds under the shadow of the Sir Roger, a knight of her village who has always fancied her and has now set a man to find her after she has escaped to Oxford.

An excellent medieval story that conveys the period very well without resorting to known clichés. And it has medieval manuscripts. A decided PLUS!

Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase
Categories: romance, regency
Commentary: A favorite Chase that I've re-read multiple times. A bumbling aristocrat, a younger son of the highly-accomplished, very-powerful Earl of Hargate, is sent to Egypt by an exasperated parent, hoping he'll inflict this excesses on someone else. There he meets a scholarly, naïve bluestocking, who hides her expertise in languages behind her not-very-bright brother. The two set off on an adventure to find her kidnapped brother and a precious papyrus, where she's the brain and he's the brawn. Hijinks ensue and they fall in love.

I had an interesting discussion with author Emma Barry about how to define Rupert's character. He's certainly not a beta or an alpha. Emma said, "I've heard people call Rupert a beta hero, which I don't quite buy. But he's not typically alpha." So I said that that is what made Chase's story "revolutionary when it first came out. A bumbling less-heroic hero who turns out to be perfect for heroine." Then Emily Jane Hubbard asked if he is gamma. My contention was that a gamma's someone who's laidback, quiet, very competent but goes about without causing too much of a ripple. Thus to me, Rupert defies definition because he has some alpha tendencies, some beta tendencies, and some unique to him. Then Emma brought up a completely different definition of gamma: "I think of gamma as subverting institutions. Like Robin Hood." That's a very interesting look at a gamma. I suppose by that definition Dunnett's Lymond's a gamma. But this still leaves Rupert undefinable.

Monday, August 3, 2015

My July Reading ... Part 1

Now that half the year's over, time to take stock of my reading list. I started out the year with a—in retrospect—ginormous list of books. Taking into account my reading record of the past years but forgetting to account for the large number of slow, non-romance reads, I was Very Ambitious. Instead of a one-year-plan, I had launched a five-year-plan. Naturally, since then, new books have been added to my list due to recommendations by other people (the new shiny is always more entrancing than the good old). The original list saw few books being taken off it. As a result, it stands stalwart in guilting me well into the late 20-teens.

I read a fair bit this month, so I've divided my reading account into two parts. I'll post the second part tomorrow.

Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim
Categories: memoir
Diversity: Based in North Korea featuring North and South Korean people in addition to volunteers from other countries.
Commentary: What a fantastic look behind the curtain into North Korean life for its youth. The author is Korean-American, born and brought up in Seoul, who moved to the US with her family in her teens. She has maintained close ties with South Korea, traveling there for academic and journalistic work (she writes for Harper's among others) very regularly. Before publishing this book, she traveled to North Korea multiple times, every time worrying and enraging her family. She has written extensively and critically about the country. However, this is the first book she's written about her personal experience. Her Korean ancestry made for strong and conflicting emotions about her journey. She writes about it with a kind of "coming home" yet distancing tone that is by turns achingly sad, warm, confused, and at times patronizing. I liked her for this, except the last, because her feelings and thoughts felt authentic.

I'm still reading it.

The Great Wall of China by Franz Kafka
Categories: nonfiction
Diversity: By a male author
Commentary: Say, what? Kafka, you ask? This is addressing "the lack of humanities in my education" with a vengeance. I admit readily that I would've benefitted from having read this in a classroom setting so salient points and important suppositions could've been pointed out to me. I loved the fable approach to highlighting what he had to say. Brings back childhood memories of Aesop's Fables among others.

The first part of the eponymous story was taken up with analyzing how the Great Wall was built and how the morale of the workers affected how the construction went. Initially, they started building from one end and continued going along. Then they realized that quite a few workers stuck in an inhospitable region for weeks and months on end lost hope and thus their work suffered. So the wall was built piecemeal for many sections so the workers had a small project in hand that they could finish in a short amount of time and start another project in a different region.

The workers were divided into two groups: one group was where the workers didn't mind how the wall was built or where they had to live to work at it and the other group was where workers needed constant encouragement, appreciation of their work, and reassurance of their purposefulness. This allowed the second group of workers to step out of their preoccupation with their inner self into thinking about the community and working together for a common goal. One thing I felt Kafka was at pains to point out was that everything about a communal goal isn't always laudatory. He took a step back from the flag-waving ideals of socialism there.

The narrator not only narrates the story and analyzes the nebulous characters but he or she also posits questions. Doubt is expressed about the piecemeal construction method but also about the purpose of the whole project. Was it really set up to protect against the northern hordes or was it something else or nothing at all? Defending against the nomads is a tacit acknowledgment that the command of men survives only if there are precise tasks detailed in a precise order of things. Thus, according to Kafka, men cannot survive "outside the law."

I could write and write about this and still not fully comprehend it.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Categories: literary fiction
Commentary: Recommended by Rohan Maitzen. I loved Eloisa James's memoir Paris in Love. It's a joyful chronicle of her sabbatical year in Paris, and it's written in small vignettes of everydayness elevated to the extraordinary through her writing. So when Rohan wrote about Speculation that it's also a story told in vignettes, I immediately put a hold on it at the library.

This is very much a "Brooklyn Book." It's self-conscious, stylistic, self-absorbed, spare. Hang on, you say, it's a fictional memoir so it's going to be about self. Well, there's memoir and then there's navel gazing. This is the latter. Many reviewers call it funny. That it is not. It aims for profound but doesn't get there.

It is not a book that celebrates life. It's a book that looks at life sideways and comments on the less savory aspects of it. I was not much in sympathy with the character for most of the book. She genuinely had difficulties—a colicky baby and a troubled marriage, for examples—but some were imagined or manufactured.

"So lately I've been having this recurring dream: In it, my husband breaks up with me at a party, saying, 'I'll tell you later. Don't pester me.' But when I tell him this, he grows peevish. 'We're married, remember? Nobody's breaking up with anybody.'"

I was in sympathy with her husband for most of the book, till I found out he had an affair with someone who was "easier."

Offill's prose describing the state of her main character's feelings and thoughts on this very difficult time in her marriage—as she is surprised by the affair, as she realizes she does love him, as they both try to reconcile with each other—is superb. Her character's reactions are unique and recognizable as ordinary at the same time. She reads a book about how different cultures handle repairing a marriage after an affair. She starts referring to herself in the third person as "the wife," disassociating herself from what was happening to her.

"The wife has taken to laughing maniacally when the husband says something, then repeating the word back incredulously back. Nice??? Fun???"

"Afterwards, the wife sits on the toilet for a long time because her stomach is twisting. Their towels are no longer white and are fraying along the edges. Her underwear too is dinged nearly gray. The elastic is coming out a little. Who would wear such a thing? What kind of repulsive creature?"

She's justifiably angry at him and makes him suffer through rants and fights. She seems to want to continue with the marriage as does he. He starts to make amends, to return to liking her. She refuses to respond, or perhaps she cannot (?). She's always been her own worst enemy. And now, with her mental balance being questionable—she's on medication and seeking therapy—it makes it all the more difficult for her to respond appropriately to the situation. This aspect of the novel was difficult reading and rendered very well by Offill. I was very much in sympathy with the character here as she was portrayed.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Medieval Illuminated Manuscript: Book of Hours

Book of Hours: Three Marys at the Sepulchre from Walters Art Museum's collection of illuminated manuscripts. This is manuscript W.102, folio 7 verso or page 14.

"This is a finely illuminated and iconographically rich Book of Hours, made in England at the end of the thirteenth century. The manuscript is incomplete and misbound. Its main artist can also be found at work in a bible at Oxford's Bodleian Library (Ms. Auct. D.3.2) and a psalter at Cambridge's Trinity College (Ms. O.4.16). This manuscript contains a number of unusual texts including the Hours of Jesus Crucified and the Office of St. Catherine. The patron of the manuscript is not clear: a woman is depicted as praying in many of the initials, but rubrics in the Office of the Dead mention "frères". The imagery is marvelously inventive, and the Hours of Christ Crucified are graced with images depicting the Funeral of Reynard the Fox in its margins. In the absence of a calendar, it is not possible to locate the origin of the manuscript precisely."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Medieval Paper Planner: They had them then, too!

Move aside washi tape and stamps and colorful inks and stickers. Medieval people loved to decorate their daily schedulers with illuminated images in brilliant colors, and they wrote with beautiful calligraphic hands in these beautiful planners. Here's a page from May (year unknown).

[Image copyrighted by the British Library's Medieval Manuscripts section.]

Another May calendar c.1500 from Ghent, The Netherlands. This was one busy guy.

[Image copyrighted by the British Library's Medieval Manuscripts section.]

Friday, July 17, 2015

Picture Day Friday: First Folio of Shakespeare's Plays

You can read the digital facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays held at the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. It was digitized two years ago and available free online.

According to Bodleian: "The First Folio is the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, dating from around 1623. During his lifetime, Shakespeare's plays were never published as a collection. It was only seven years after his death that two of his friends did so, publishing the First Folio. The 1000-page volume contains 36 plays — comedies, histories and tragedies — many of which would otherwise have been lost."

Friday, July 10, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Plato & Socrates

Plato instructs Socrates in how to transcribe a manuscript (Bodleian Library, Oxford University, Digby 46, f. 41v, s. xiv2)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Rare Book School at the University of Virginia

Every summer, the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville hosts week-long courses in June and July in the history of books and manuscripts, book design, book binding, paleography, history of illustrations and letterforms, and so on. In addition, the school offers certificate programs in various concentrations. Here's an overview of the type of things people will learn.

If you cannot make it to Charlottesville in June and July, the school also offers courses in other states: Lilly Library at Indiana University Bloomington (May); the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia in Philadelphia (July); at the Library of Congress in Washington (July); and at the Grolier Club and the New York Public Library in New York (October).

Prices are steep ($1295 per week) and the hours long and intense. If you cannot make it to any of the courses this or any other year, the school offers up for free advanced reading lists for all its courses. Students are required to have all the reading done before they arrive for the course.

Let me dream here. If I could've been in Charlottesville in June and July, this is what I would've taken:

June 7-12: Reference Sources for Researching Rare Books

June 14-19: The History of the Book, 200–2000; Introduction to Paleography, 800–1500; Printed Books to 1800: Description & Analysis

July 5-10: Advanced Seminar in the History of Bookbinding

July 19-24: Rare Book Cataloging; The Handwriting & Culture of Early Modern English Manuscripts

July 26-31: Provenance: Tracing Owners & Collections

Friday, July 3, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Rembrandt's Night Watch

In 1642, Rembrandt painted the Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq. It is popularly known as the "Night Watch."

Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum's Notes on the painting:
"Rembrandt’s largest, most famous canvas was made for the Arquebusiers guild hall. This was one of several halls of Amsterdam’s civic guard, the city’s militia and police. Rembrandt was the first to paint figures in a group portrait actually doing something. The captain, dressed in black, is telling his lieutenant to start the company marching. The guardsmen are getting into formation. Rembrandt used the light to focus on particular details, like the captain’s gesturing hand and the young girl in the foreground. She was the company mascot."

[Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Click above to see a larger view.]

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My June Reading

With family visiting us this month, sustained nanny troubles, and a major upset, I've had less reading time than usual. As a result, I read no meaty books. I also read more romance this month as compared with other months this year. Next month, I have many nonfiction books queued up, depending on which holds come due at the library. I hope to also start with my summer Big Fat Book in August: The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Categories: literary fiction, victorian
Diversity: By a male author
Commentary: On the 200th anniversary of Trollope's birth, I decided to read one of his novels. The Warden was recommended by Liz McCausland and Sunita. I'm still reading it. It was tough going at first. I'm not used to so much exposition unleavened by dynamic back-n-forth dialogue. Once I got used to the narrative style, the pace picked up. Liz said: "Trollope’s attention to the plight of the middle-class man is fascinating." And I agree in my reading so far. This is the character he’s always most in sympathy with and for whom he’ll willing to do a lot. I'll write in more detail on this next month.

A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer
Categories: romance, regency
Commentary: A discussion on Heyer with Heyer's biographer Jen Kloester made me hanker after reading one of Heyer's books. Every time I read one, I'm always reminded how very creative she was with her characters, her storylines, and the pacing and plotting of each book. This book was usual in the sense that a nobleman marries a wealthy Cit girl to save his estate from ruin. It's a marriage of convenience plot (one of my favorite tropes) with the heroine in love with the hero and he being completely oblivious to her and hankering after the noblewoman he would've married if he had not been impoverished. This book was unusual in that, once married, the hero doesn't cleave to the heroine in an insta-lust/insta-love pair of emotions. Sometimes he's even 'mean' to her, and he's not always likeable. However, what the hero and heroine eventually settle for is not intense passion but a gentle, loving marriage that sustains all difficulties with each being supportive and knowledgeable of the other. This is the sort of marriage that you can easily believe will endure forever. The high-passion/high-drama/high-grovel kind of marriages fill me with some misgiving on their future tranquility and longevity.

Truckers by Terry Pratchett
Categories: children's
Diversity: A fantasy novel by a male author. I'm trying to read more children's fantasy this year.
Commentary: On the day Pratchett died, I realized I hadn't read a single of his books. What a hole in my reading history! Set about to correct that error with this recommendation by Liz McCausland. What a delightful story about a race of "nomes" who are little people who came from outer space and now live under the floorboards of a department store. It was funny, silly, and heartwarming. The nomes have built an entire world within the department store, including a religion. We always talk about detailed world-building within fantasy novels, and this is (according to my limited knowledge of the genre) one of the finest.

Poetry of Walt Whitman edited by Jonathan Levin
Categories: poetry
Diversity: Written by a male author
Commentary: On May 31, I discovered a link to James Earl Jones reading "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman, and I realized that I had a book of Whitman's poetry languishing on my TBR. So I pulled it out, and hey, presto, I had my September TBR Challenge book. (I'm a shameless off-theme reader.)

Beloved Stranger by Joan Wolf
Categories: contemporary, romance
Commentary: Recommended by blogger Miss Bates. It's an old skool Joan Wolf, and I was bound to like it, despite it being a trope I don't like: snowstorm, strangers getting stranded, having unprotected sex, resulting in a baby. I know the story's set in 1980s, but the dominating male where the female runs after him picking up, getting ordered around, etc. is not a storyline that works for me. Despite the deck stacked against it, I enjoyed the story, because Wolf's characterization is very good. Joan Wolf does people really well—every book of hers that I have read has characters that I remember long after the book's done. MHarvey said it best: "The best books are the ones that make me love a trope I hate."

This book had an interesting storyline for me—it was very much the hero's book and about his journey arc, but told mainly from the heroine's perspective.

Sweet Talking Man by Liz Talley
Categories: contemporary, romance
Commentary: Recommended by Miss Bates. The premise of the story about second chances set in a small Southern town is something that I have always been fond of. I liked the characters, main ones as well as the large cast of adjunct ones—some were standard small-town fare (love!) and some like the hero were "interesting" (yay!). Talley did a great job of making the "opposites attract and complement each other" work really well in this story. I was also pleased to see both characters grow over the novel.

However, I had problems seeing the unfurling of the romance. I was told a lot that the other had completely changed the game for them, but I didn't see it happening. The part about romance novels I like is watching them appreciate each other, watching them notice and imprint upon the smallest details, watching them fall in love. I don't want to be told they're in love, I want to see it happening. And here I didn't get to experience that. So despite the good characterization and familiar setting, I wasn't able to sink into the story.

But please don't take my naysaying word for it. Do read Miss Bates's fabulous review for the definitive word on the book and how much she enjoyed it.

There were other things that bothered me about this story, and they are all tied into the historical versus contemporary sub-genres. There are storylines and plot details that I forgive in historicals that I would never tolerate in a contemporary. Being so close to my present-day life, I have opinions on what is happening to contemporary characters. Plausibility and possibility play a big part in my buying into the story. For a historical, the distance of two-hundred years and lack of intimate knowledge of the reality make it easier for me to swallow improbable and implausible storylines. It's not that I'm not seeking accuracy in historicals (because I most definitely am), but that the suspension of disbelief is easier. In a contemporary, I'm judging every tiny detail against my values. Knowing too much about something always spoils the magic of the romance.

[However, Jodi Thomas's modern-day small-town westerns always work for me, because the setting of those stories is like a foreign country to me.]

The Adventurers by Michelle Martin
Categories: Regency, romance
Commentary: Michelle Martin is one of my absolute favorite traditional Regency writers. Her wit and her Heyeresque characters and plot make her very few books one of the highlights of whichever month I choose to re-read them in. This book has derring-do, a cross-dressing heroine, an imposing peer of the realm bested by our intrepid heroine, a worthy quest, noble sacrifice, and laughter. And implausibility of plot. But who cares? I was enjoying reading the book too much to be bothered about practicality and reality.

Secret of the Templars by Paul Christopher
Categories: mystery/thriller
Diversity: Male author
Commentary: I read the word "Templar" in the title and borrowed the book from the library without reading the back cover copy. I figured it'd be a fast-paced thriller with religion, history, spying, McGyvering, and haring off to parts exotic at the drop of a hat. It was that. Except that the history and religious parts were thin on the ground; the Templars—the reason I picked up the book—non-existent. What was highly prevalent was the phenomenon of minor characters dying horrific deaths every ten paces. Our hero led a charmed life, just one pace ahead of the dozens of bad guys from all over the world, while around him everyone dropped dead like flies. It was a disappointing read and despite being fast-paced, boring. The mystery element, which should've been the driving energy behind the story, was completely dissipated by no character being safe from death. There was not a single character to sustain the intrigue, to provide a foil for the hero and his sidekick.

An aside: I had an interesting discussion with blogger Amy, Buried by Books and author Isobel Carr about the format and price of the book. It's in the larger mass market paperback size, called an upback or venti/grande. This one is taller and narrower than normal MMPBs. There are wider versions, too. Both are priced at $9.99 versus $7.99 and have larger fonts. It looks like the publishers are experimenting with seeing if people will pay more money for certain authors—the larger format signaling the price increase for otherwise similar fare to an MMPB. "Guy books," i.e., thrillers written by male authors seem to be more prone to this experimentation.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Rembrandt’s Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul

The Rijksmuseum in The Netherlands has digitized a staggering 210,000 of its works of fine art, including the masters, and they're all available online for free. They've organized it all by artist, subject, style, and even by events in Dutch history. More here about the incredible public service work the Amsterdam museum is up to.

This is a self-portrait as the Apostle Paul by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, painted in 1661.

The Rijksmuseum's Notes:
"His brow furrowed and eyebrows arched, Rembrandt peers out at us meaningfully. He has portrayed himself as the Apostle Paul, recognizable by the saint’s attributes, a sword and a manuscript. Paul preached Christianity and wrote about salvation through Christ. Is this what Rembrandt is trying to remind us of in this painting? Rembrandt rendered the light on the turban, forehead and book with heavily modelled brushstrokes (impasto)."

[Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum. Click above to see a larger version.]

Friday, June 19, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Durham Cathedral

The nave of Durham Cathedral in England was built during Norman times from 1093–1135. It is a brilliant example of Romanesque architecture.

[Image courtesy of @EuropeHistory.]

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

2015 TBR Reading Challenge: The Writer's Life by Julia Cameron

2015 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: The Writer's Life: Insights from the Right to Write by Julia Cameron
My Categories: nonfiction, writing
Wendy Crutcher's Category: More Than One (I have more than one book by Cameron in my TBR pile)

In January, Sunita wrote about wanting to try writing Morning Pages. I was struck by the perfectness of this idea. And lo and behold, I had The Writer's Life in my vast TBR. So I promptly retrieved it and read it within a few days and started on my Morning Pages. I have now been writing since the beginning of the year, and some days are easy and some days just aren't, but I have persisted. I have yet to see the pay off from this writing practice, but I shall be patient.

In order to write this commentary, I re-read the book last month. On with the book...

How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

That's the theme running through this book. People always take writing too seriously or try to appear smart or to approach writing as wanting to have written the perfect novel. But Cameron says that "writing happens a sentence at a time." And that "it's not so daunting to think of finding time to write a sentence or a paragraph." Enough sentences and paragraphs and you have a novel. People approach writing with an end product in mind and so find the task overwhelming. However, coming at writing by getting started and moving forward baby step by baby step is the way to achieve the goal.

Many consider that the biggest obstacle to writing is time. Cameron says, "The myth that we must have time in order to create is a myth that keeps us from using the time we do have. One of the biggest myths about writing is that in order to do it we must have great swathes of uninterrupted time." The trick to finding time is to tackle a writing task one bite at a time by integrating these small pockets of time into your daily routine.

If it is so hard, why take up writing in the first place? "It's human nature to write," much like singing or dancing. "The writing life is a simple life, self-empowered and self-empowering. It brings clarity and passion to the act of living." Cameron even compares writing to breathing. I took that to mean that like pranayama teaches us to breathe better, we can learn to write better, but just like breathing, the point is to do it no matter what.

Cameron says, "Doing it all the time, whether or not we are in the mood, gives us ownership of our writing ability." When your pocket of writing time shows up on your schedule, you write. All moods are good writing moods. Power through the mood and write. "It is choosing to write even when writing feels 'wrong' to us—because we're tired, we're bothered, we're any number of things that writing will change if only we will let it." Writing can take you out of your less felicitous mood. Let it do so.

Writing about a change will allow you to lean into it, to help it along, to cope. Writing also allows you to rewrite your life if you so desire. Write out your anger, your pain, your revenges. "You [can] turn the dross of your disappointments into the gold of accomplishment." Thus, writing becomes an act of self-cherishing.

Writing is also celebratory. You can brag as much as you want over your accomplishments. In fact, remembering to enjoy your triumphs and channeling those emotions into writing helps to change you and that affects how you write. Every mood can be mined for writing.

For all these reasons and more, I write my daily Morning Pages and Gratitude Journal.