Monthly Archives: August 2009

Reads: The Desperate Ones by Allyson Shaw

The Desperate Ones

The Desperate Ones follows the story of 7 people. They are all very different but are connected by the fact that their world is about to end. Dominion Capital has declared that the city of Pottersfield is to be destroyed. There is no separation of church and state, the government’s religion rules. In this world of quirky technological advancement in an unknown time, hackers have created a new religion to resist Dominion Capital. They want to re-code and create a fresh start. Caught in the middle of the impending fall out are Rhubarb, who is a war veteran recently released from prison with a curious implant; Lola is a drug addict; Professor Clymenus Bell teaches media history but can’t remember yesterday’s events; Rabine is a working girl devoted to her religion and is willing to risk becoming a martyr; and Cora is a young girl lured to Pottersfield while everyone else clamors to escape. Even in the face of collapse there are some who will discover that this end is not game over.

In this pre-apocalyptic tale, there is a great deal of social commentary. There is of course the heavy rule of government, censorship and propaganda; seemingly manipulative and blind adherence to government and religion and of course the issue of humanity’s relationship with the poor.
The premise of this book is a great idea, however, I wanted more and not really in a ‘it was gripping and I didn’t want it to end’ kind of way. Shaw leaves much of the themes in the novel unexplored and the characters seem a bit underdeveloped. Grammatical and spelling errors throughout would throw me off.

a passage I liked:

    She was clean, going to Wishful thinking, clean! She never thought she would see the day. No blue fire, not even the scraping-insides pain of the last blue surge before downing. She laughed as the sun bled a yellow stain in the sky. Rows of boats flanked her wet path and wild vegetation claimed the discarded foam-sheet and tech carapaces. She loved the dying place. It was hers, after all. It had let her run wild through its maze, and had always given her what she wanted, what she needed. It was the only thing that never left her.

I won my copy from the Goodreads First Reads program.

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Reads: Flush: A Biography-Virginia Woolf

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I don’t think I’ve read a story about a dog, surely not a Spaniel. And definitely not about a dog as opinionated and observant and amusing as Flush. It is exactly as the cover says, the biography of Flush, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s golden brown cocker spaniel. He spends much of his time sitting with Elizabeth as her companion. Flush, however, is no dull puppy. There are adventures romping through the streets of Italy, meeting other dogs, a series of kidnappings, attacks on his owners’ suitor, and profound self-exploration. Flush is a busy little man. What is even more interesting than his adventures is the comment on society that lies underneath his exploits. A direct nod towards class, Flush is of the highest pedigree and knows this. Rather he has learned this. There is one particularly scene where Flush is aware of his pedigree as compared to other dogs on the street. His desires to run free, to hunt, and mate are stiffled by his attachment to his owner. At times he decides to resist and remain inside perched on a chair at her feet, “the prime lesson of the bedroom school”. Other times, he can not resist for long and romps about. In addition to this pedigree business is the idea of repression, especially of Elizabeth Browning by her father and possibly Elizabeth Browning repressing Flush. Elizabeth is forced to remain inside and is not encouraged to write. Eventually she decides against her father’s wishes and marries and leaves for Italy. I think we would all expect this sort of commentary from Virginia Woolf. So Flush’s name is fitting: spaniels are birds dogs and so ‘flush’ game from the brush for hunters and through the eyes of this doggy, undercurrents of society are flushed from hiding and put on display for contemplation.

Picture: Tucker is a golden cocker spaniel and sat nicely to have his picture taken. I suppose he looks just like Flush after being treated for fleas (his hair was cut short)

Claire of PaperbackReader also read Flush this week. Read her lovely review here.

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Reads: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding-Julia Stachey

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Persephone Reading week continues today with Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Stachey. Originally published in 1932, the back cover describes the story as sardonic. Virginia Woolf thought it was astonishingly good and published it under her and her husband’s Hogarth Press, that’s enough to peak my curiosity. So off I went.
We meet Dolly Thatchmen who is to be married to the Hon. Owen Bigham in just a few hours. Everyone is getting ready for the big day. The servants are preparing lunch for the guests, bridesmaids are checking and fussing over their attire, young boys argue about green socks, the mother dashes about checking for and verifying the cheerful weather, adjusting pillows, greeting guests, and giving conflicting orders. She is at once forgetful and agitated, but does not seem to realize that she provokes many of the things that agitate her. This of course seems like a typical day, typical wedding preparations, a typical family. We have perhaps experienced a similar situation.
Stachey creates for us a complicated and dense few moments in the lives of this family, her work is extremely observant and comical although in a dark way. We see these perfectly groomed people in a way that they would most likely be mortified to present in public. They may in fact not even be aware of the behavior. What’s even more, as the day passes and everyone whisks about, no one seems to notice the gloom in Dolly’s face or Joseph, the young man in the next room who refuses to engage his hosts in conversation and mopes about waiting for a glimpse of the bride. Things have been left unsaid between these two. What is unfortunate is that they both realize this and long for a chance to settle it. Ultimately, the pair is unable to share their true feelings and so their unhappiness continues.
Where is the comedy in all of this you ask? How about the bride and her bridesmaid guzzling rum just before they go down to the ceremony or her engrossing concentration to hide the bottle away in the folds of her lovely dress and running into a stand holding black ink. Or that poor broken hearted Joseph is the only one around to help Dolly hide the offending stain. Or maybe my favorite, the cheerful weather is described for us:

    “…in the furious March gale, everyone felt as though they were being beaten on the back of the head and on the nose with heavy carpets, and having cold steel knives thrust up inside their nostrils, and when they opened their mouths to avoid the pain of this, big wads of iced cotton-wool seemed to be forced against the insides of their throats immediately, so that they choked, and could not draw any breath in.”

Picture: Cheerful Weather poses in front of my Persephone shelf (really this is my nightstand as I’ve run out of proper bookshelf space). The original dove greys are lined up on the right and the classics are stacked to the left.

As further celebration of the week you can read my previous posts on three Persephone titles. You will find Mariana by Monica Dickens here and Making Conversation by Christine Longford here and Consequences by EM Delafield here.
Enjoy!


Persephone Teaser Tuesday

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“Dolly knew, as she looked round at the long wedding-veil stretching away forever, and at the women, too, so busy all around her, that something remarkable and upsetting in her life was steadily going forward. She was aware of this; but it was as if she were reading about it in a book from the circulating library, instead of herself living through it.”
-Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey


Reads: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day-Winifred Watson

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Persephone Reading Week Challenge started today, hosted by Claire and Verity. For a refresher of the details look here. There are lots of wonderful things happening this week. You can try your hand at 2 different quizzes here and here. I’ll admit they are tough (I’m still working on one).

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Persephone Classics)

The first Persephone that I read for this challenge was Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. It was the first Persephone I ever bought and many people have said that it was the first they’d ever read and started their love for the books. My book is a classics edition and looks just like the picture above. This book has also been made into a film which I will have to check out. I watched the trailer and it seems to be just as funny as the book.

We meet Guinevere Pettigrew a failed governess who is looking for work and has been in and out of jobs. She has signed up for an employment service and is given an assignment. What follows is a complete day literally marked by the hours. Miss Pettigrew knocks on the door of a glamorous singer, Delysia LaFosse, and is swept up into her world. There are men, friends, make-up and dress up, evening parties, and extended nights at a club. Miss Pettigrew gets to see how the other half lives and realizes that it’s not as terrible as she thought and that even a little moral corruption can be fun. No longer on the outside, Miss Pettigrew finds that she has a new demeanor in the presence of these new friends, she is more outspoken, she takes charge, she solves their problems sometimes unwittingly, and most of all she is likable. She succeeds in a way like she hasn’t before. For Miss Pettigrew this is liberating: “Now she, herself, had a destination. What a difference that made! All the difference in the world. Now she lived. She was inside of things. Now she took part. She breathed Ambrosial vapour.”

What I liked most about this story is that even as we see Miss Pettigrew become a stronger, happier person this is not without a bit of faltering and questionable decisions on her part. For example, Miss Pettigrew is stern in her recommendations to Miss LaFosse about her boyfriends’ behavior but in her mind she admits that she would do the exact opposite and “…have lain on the ground and let him walk all over me.”

I smiled, I laughed at the never ending antics. It became expected. Each time the adventures waned Miss Pettigrew would wait a few minutes sure that another adventure was approaching fast. At the end I’m thinking yay! Miss Pettigrew. Cinderella gets to go to the ball and possibly finds a happy ending and potentially a prince. She gets to enter a fantasy world and delightfully realizes that it is her new life.

Up next I’ll read Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey


Reads: The Lifted Veil- George Eliot

The Lifted Veil (Virago Modern Classics)

The Lifted Veil is a novella that follows Latimer, a man with a sensitive nature who discovers that he has clairvoyant powers. He meets the soon-to-be fiance of his brother. A brother who is by all accounts much manlier and favored by their father. Latimer becomes infatuated with Bertha even though he sees horrid visions about her he refuses to listen to his visions and what ensues is a twisted tale of despair.

Latimer is not glad that he can read minds and see what will happen before it has actually happened, he thinks that people are petty and he is not excited about being aware of so much. I’m thinking his clairvoyance is the lifted veil as he informs the reader of his recent “experiences”. What is interesting to me is that Latimer often mentions poets and he attributes his visions to being amongst this group of poetic and insightful people. Yet, when he sees visions that foreshadow Bertha’s doubtful character, his choices are not at all swayed. In a Frankenstein type scene Latimer finally sees the light, or see’s Bertha for who she really is and “we all felt that the dark veil had completely fallen”.

George Eliot is the pen name of Marian Evans.


From the balcony: When garden pests are cute

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Flipping through the garden books they show you all of these clever ways to combat pests. Little chirping birds however, are not listed among the pages. I had the company of the little birds for about two weeks. I have no idea how long they were there before Sophie, the bird dog pointed them out to me. I’d watered and fertilized them. Four little birds crammed into a tiny but neatly woven nest, tucked deep into my swinging and swaying fern. Originally lush green and reminiscent of paradise the fern began to die on one side, the leaves becoming crinkled and brown. Bits were torn away to make room for the new family. A small brown bird sat watch outside. Each morning they chirped and stretched their necks for their food while Sophie made circles and whimpered in front of the door. As they grew, from bald gray bodies with bulging eyes to miniatures of their parents the fern looked sicker and sicker. I watered the one side that wasn’t inhabited and clipped back the leaves. It held on. It’s been a while since the birds have left and Sophie still looks for them.


Reads: Consequences-E.M. Delafield

Consequences is the story of Alex Clare who we meet as a young girl learning to play a game of the same name. Alex learns to play the game quickly and wants to show her siblings her way of playing. While we see that she quickly gets the childhood game, she remains perplexed about the life of grown-ups and what she later sees as a mockery of personal closeness for which she desires. DSCN0230The inability or refusal to play this game of navigating through society is of course inexcusable (particularly for women) during this time and since there are limited options for women, leads her to her ultimate consequence. Alex watches while all around her people win at society’s game, even people who may be undeserving. As a child she marvels at the follies of her school friend and younger sister. I began to see as Alex aged that she became more thoughtful and perceptive of her situation and the reasons for her struggles. My attitude toward Alex changed dramatically as she began to open to further thought and analysis of her position. By the warmth of a fire she reflects on forgiveness, about what it means to her and why her family was not able to bestow forgiveness upon her. The few reviews that I have read about reactions to Alex’s character include frustration with her behavior and her naivety, but really she could have acted in no other way. After all, it is the way she was raised.
I am not yet ready to say that Alex is a (true) failure. Throughout the novel she repeatedly pronounces that she is and feels surely that everyone around her knows that she has failed: “Only 10 years, and the bitterness of a lifetime’s failure encompassed her spirit”. For a woman living in her time period she is a failure simply for not marrying, she is a failure for leaving her religious Order, she is a failure for many many things. Alex is not a failure though because she has the courage to defy society even when she knows it will mean disgrace. The consequences for such defiance during this time were very real yet she always selected her path. She is a hero, possibly in the same manner that we now view Edna of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Anna Karenina.
Maybe she fails because she is Alex, a mixed up, confused, and ungrateful person. Maybe if the convent, in which she sought the ultimate love, had been more open to personal relations, maybe if Alex’s family had been able to be closer to her instead of “hard and self-contained” they may have been able to redirect her. Maybe it is because of their failure to attempt to understand her distress that she fails. This we see clearly in the epitaph where her family sits puzzled. This of course is another artifact of the time.

EM Delafield is best known for her novel The Diary of a Provincial Lady and appears from my reading of the preface to have had a similar life. I loved this story and intend to seek out more of Delafield’s work.


The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers

Have you heard of The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers?

I happened across this series in a used bookshop. Small but thick volumes in a bluish gray cover. They were side-by-side so at first I thought they were the same book. DSCN0237I’m always looking for an excuse to collect more books and I’m always looking for books written by women. Since this series features women writers, and long forgotten black women writers at that, I was all over it.

Originally published in the late 1980’s, there are 49 books in the series and most are still available from Oxford Press. The information on the back of both of the books that I have reads: “The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers series, under the general editorship of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has rescued the voice of an entire segment of the African-American literary tradition by offering volumes of compelling and rare works of fiction, poetry, autobiography, biography, essay, and journals, written by nineteenth-century black women.”

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture located in New York contains art, manuscript, rare book, and digital media collections.
In my internet search to find out more about The Schomburg I came across Digital Schomburg hosted by the New York Public Library.

This list shows that works by Phillis Wheately, Harriet Jacobs, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells have been published in the series. What’s even more exciting will be the discovery of writers that are unknown to me and probably much of the reading world.

Other series that have caught my eye
Beacon also published a Black Women Writers series (I have a few of these). I own their reprint of Octavia Butler’s Kindred and have read Joanna Russ’ Female Man reprinted in their Bluestreak series which features women of all colors.


From the balcony: What I know about container gardens

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One of the most difficult parts of container gardening is that your plants lean and can become one sided. This is because all of the light comes in at one direction and the plants want to be there (thus the title of my blog). So you end up with lopsided plants that you can’t really see from where you are sitting inside. You can turn them often but I wonder if this is stressful for them. Also with containers you have to worry about drying out especially if you have hanging baskets and especially with the heat here.

Spring and summer are some of the best times to experiment with your garden and watch it grow. There are quite a few things to remember. Enjoying a small break from the stifling heat I was able to spend a few moments out on the balcony checking on the plants. I thought about the work I did this spring (unfortunately no documentation as the blog is still very new) and the things that I’ve learned about gardening in containers.

  • it’s hard work and you will learn how to expertly pick dirt from your nails
  • beware of the bugs, and fight back
  • water appropriately: know your plants & use good water. I had a big problem after moving to my new apartment. Just about every plant stopped growing had brown tips and the soil began to look ashy…the tap water was the problem. I now buy distilled in jugs or if I’m in a pinch I filter tap water and let it sit out for a few days. The plants have never looked better
  • stay tuned in for signs of unhappy plants: droopy or yellow leaves, dropping leaves, ashy soil, brown tips, bugs, stretching (succulents). One of the best things I bought this summer was a plant care guide to help me diagnose the water issue
  • let there be light
  • fertilize about once a week during growth spurts. If a plant has new leaves it’s actively growing and might need some food. Read the directions so you don’t burn or overfeed your plant
  • that thing you’ve heard about talking to your plants is not crazy. I have to say I don’t talk but as I remember I do blow on them as I walk by
  • use a good quality soil! I like miracle grow
  • keep indoor plants dust free. A quick and gentle wipe with a damp cloth is all you need
  • Share! Take pictures! Enjoy! I take cuttings of my plants often. It keeps the parent active and bushy and you get free plants that you can repot and share or keep for yourself. My mom and I share plants and tips all the time
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    This year’s garden has had a few ups and downs, mainly I think between the move and the sketchy tap water but the plants seem to be rebounding now while some are still puny. This was the first year that I experimented with flowering annuals. I loved the splashes of color. I also expanded my herb garden to include parsley, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and lavender. This made for very tasty meals. Now when I cook without them I miss them. I also added more succulents as they do well in the heat and come in a lot of interesting varieties. Next year I plan on adding more flowering plants, experimenting with larger containers and mixed varieties as well as adding a few vegetables which will make for even tastier meals.

    About the pictures: The pictures up top are from last spring. Those are the bottom were taken this year.