Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

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Conversations with Friends: New Read

The system finally worked! What system? My notecard system to keep track of why I put a book on my TBR list! I have a pile of notecards nearby and when I find a book I need to read, I write the title/author on one and below it I write where and when I learned about it. Then, when I get the book, I put that card inside of it so I can write about it later.

conversations with friends
My Afternoon Read – I DESERVE this!

I needed a short, lighter book to read, so I picked Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney off my overburdened TBR shelf. It was late at night, I couldn’t sleep, so I sat up late reading. Two hours later, I was nearly halfway through the book wondering why I had added it to the list. It didn’t seem like my kind of book.

My card had no other notes than the title (something I have vowed to change), so I went to the original book, How to Live. What to Do by Josh Cohen. I just went back looking for a post about that book and it’s one I didn’t write about. I must have been in a blogging slump when I read it back in June. Thank goodness for his notes in the back of the book. I found where he had mentioned it and read the section again. Ahh… here we are.

It was in Chapter 4 – Adolescence Part 2: First Love. The book is clever because he is a psychoanalyst and uses characters from books as case studies. He brings up Frances in her story Conversations with Friends, mentions the relationships and their communications styles. “Roony’s novels turn on a similar problem: the weird and unsettling proximity of love to cruelty.”

Is that love? Really? We can be very cruel to each other when we are fearful of being vulnerable. The dance between new people is dangerous. If I open up to you, will you hurt me? It’s terrifying and delicious.

“In novels, as in life, we find the inner self is annoyingly uncongenial to the maintenance of a steady state. It is divided, pulled in different directions by different impulses – it wants safety and risk, consistency and change, to say yes and to say no.”

I’m trying to remember that he’s talking of adolescents, but Conversations with Friends characters are all over twenty-one years old, some are over thirty. When does he think we come out of this phase of our lives? I guess it depends on how much work we put into growing up. It’s something I feel we’re not encouraged to do these days. Many of us remain childish our whole lives, never learning our inner selves and knowing what real love is.

This was not what I was getting from reading Conversations with Friends. At halfway through, I was more drawn to the politics of these girls and their so-called “friends.” The way they talk to each other and treat each other doesn’t seem like friends at all. They seem closed off, never opening up to themselves or the people they call friends. They hide their true feelings, always pretending to be something they aren’t.

Also from How to Live. What to Do, “Frances, the complex, spiky narrator of Sally Rooney’s Conversation with Friends (2017), is immersed in this ether of doubt as she wanders the treacherous landscapes of love and sex. Her Dublin is a wired global city of big banks and coffee chains and trust fund kids, a far cry from the shuttered repression of the city of James Joyce’s Dubliners.

But much as we shouldn’t understate the place of historical change in determining the ways we love, perhaps we should be equally ware of overstating it. If Conversations shows us how our post-liberation age has transformed the conduct of love, it also reminds us how much stays the same. Confusion, anxiety and volatility are as present for Frances as they were for Werther.”

THAT book is sitting on my TBR shelf as well, and it’s on my reading list for The Classics Club, so guess what I’ll be reading next?

This morning I read more and my feelings about them are starting to change. The author is revealing them to me, and I like it. I seem to remember the same feeling when I read Normal People.

One thing I’m not liking is the lack of quotation marks in the dialog. I’m having a terrible time following who said what or just thought it. I know this is a new thing. Call me old, but I’m not a fan. I’ll post more about the book when I finish reading it.

East of Eden: Finished

Finished! 18.58 hours - 778 pages

Fiction Can Transport You: East of Eden #2

East of Eden. Sometimes fiction can transport you to whole other world. It may surprise you, but I’m not usually one to read the same book non-stop for hours. I typically read for about thirty minutes, go to the bathroom, get a cup of coffee, read another thirty minutes, get some exercise, write some, read another thirty minutes… It goes on all day. About an hour is the most I can read in a single sitting, even when the book is thrilling and I’m getting a lot out of it. My mind wanders.

But this… It’s just different.

fiction can transport

I didn’t sleep well again last night. I’m a light sleeper anyway, always have a hard time staying asleep, but summers are worse. It’s hot and uncomfortable, at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I’m on day three of eating less, one cup of coffee in the morning, no candy, and no alcohol. It’s an attempt to see what it is that is keeping me up. I’ve tried just about everything.

…sigh…

I skipped our morning walk today. I woke up at 4:45 and just didn’t have the energy to put on shoes right away. I dove into East of Eden while my husband got ready for work. Before I knew it, the sun was up, the livingroom was flooded with light, and it was two hours later.

What happened?

Reading East of Eden is like being there or watching an amazing movie that you can’t take your eyes off. It isn’t a complicated read. The words flow and the scenes pull you in. The story is simple, yet so deep. It’s one of those books that you talk out loud to while you read. “No!” “You can’t!” “Why?” can be heard from the livingroom couch as I roll through each chapter.

Hopefully, as I write about what piques my interest in this book, I won’t give away any big spoilers. If you’re sensitive to that, maybe skip this next part if you haven’t read the book yet.

“When a child first catches adults out – when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgements are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just – his world falls into panic and desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”

Do you remember realizing this? I wonder if it’s different for different kinds of people. Some people are far more sensitive, maybe they build others up to impossible standards in their minds, and when they fail to meet those standards, the repairs are complicated. Adam learned and accepted that his father wasn’t a god early in his life. Charles learned later. Neither of them is a well-adjusted and heathy adult. But then, good stories aren’t told about well-adjusted and healthy people. It would be boring. But we find little bits of ourselves in these stories. It makes us feel better about ourselves and others.

“As with many people, Charles, who could not talk, wrote with fullness. He set down his loneliness and his perplexities, and he put on paper many things he did not know about himself.”

I identified with this piece. I do talk, a lot, but it’s generally not about much. When I write, I feel like it’s easier to put my thoughts in order, but then I wonder how much of it is truly understood. Like Charles, I get little written response. It doesn’t detract from the value of writing though. I’m not writing too anyone specifically, as he was.

“…maybe love makes you suspicious and doubting. Is it true that when you love a woman you are never sure – never sure of her because you aren’t sure of yourself?”

That’s not love, my friend. It’s ego and possession. He’s right. To be that suspicious and doubting doesn’t say anything about who or what you love. It speaks about your love of yourself. You can love anyone, with all their flaws and mistakes, if you love and respect yourself. That’s something I only recently discovered and have begun to practice.

“I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of the truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape. I suppose if that definition is strictly held to, then a writer of stories is a liar – of he is financially fortunate.”

Every story is just a grand lie, right? We know that and accept it as listeners/watchers/readers. The teller isn’t trying to sell us false goods. But a liar…that’s different. We know it instinctually, but it’s fascinating putting it this way.

As you can probably see, I’m returning to my old way (way back to the beginning of this year) of writing a little about each day’s reading as I go. It seems the best way to tease out what I’m thinking and makes my little heart happiest. I hope it works for you too.

East of Eden: New Read

I love it when a plan comes together!

What plan? Michelle, you never have a plan. You just run into life head on, no regard for consequences, and then see what happens. Later, when things slow down, you sit back and put the puzzle pieces together as if you had a plan all along.

Yeah? So? I bought a book.

No! Really? You?

Yes, I did. And it was a book I didn’t need. I have a whole shelf of books to read. In fact, I have four shelves of books to read, even though I swore that I would never have more than one. That…well… it wasn’t working out for me and it all started when a friend moved out of state and gifted her library to little ol’ me.

east of eden
My brother said I find books in my yard like an Easter Egg Hunt.
I should try a better storage system. Always the comedian, my family is.

There I was, relaxing in Big Bear, out for a day in the (slightly) cooler temps of the mountains and a dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant. I can’t be there and not check out the used bookstore. That would be wrong. I don’t need more books, but then again, “need” really is subjective. Isn’t it?

I try to keep my spontaneous book purchases to used books, preferably classics. I need to find a way to create a list on my phone of what I already have though. Suggestions are extremely welcome in the comments. I picked up five books that day, one of which was a disappointment. I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Probably the extra margarita. And it turned out to be an abridged version of a book I had been wanting to read. I don’t like those. But at least I only paid $4.

I came home and posted a picture of my haul on my Facebook page, and my brother mentioned he wanted to read one of them, East of Eden. I told him I’d send it to him and then rethought it and told him to buy one of his own. That way, maybe we can read it at the same time.

Sidenote: Searching for a link to East of Eden on Amazon, I found this: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. And now THAT is on its way to my house as well. I may have a problem, but how can I pass that up? Steinbeck wrote letters to a friend as a warmup while writing East of Eden. I’ll be reading this alongside the novel; as it should be, make it so, engage!

The next week, I stumbled across The Classics Club and immediately joined it. Looking through their classics list to create my own five-year reading list, I saw East of Eden and decided it would be my next read, the first one to check off the list. I started reading it this morning and lost my mind.

The only thing I knew about East of Eden before I started reading it was that it was by John Steinbeck. I wasn’t a fan of Steinbeck. I read Of Mice and Men when I was in high school, by force, and it was depressing and boring. And this book…wow…it’s a thick one, like Stephen King thick. 778 pages. I only hoped it wouldn’t be as terrible as I remember Of Mice and Men being.

I had a vague recollection there may be a movie of the same name. My husband confirmed it. East of Eden? Yeah, babe… James Dean? You don’t remember that?” I looked it up and, of course, it’s not on any of the streaming platforms that I pay for. Nothing that I search for directly ever is. But you bet I’ll be watching it once I finish the book.

When I started reading this morning at 4:30am, I was instantly pulled into the story. I was there. Forty-five minutes later felt like an instant to me when my husband walked in and reminded me we were going to go for a walk. All I could think was that I needed to get back there as soon as possible.

This is going to be a great read.

Want to read more of my thoughts about East of Eden? Check out:
Fiction Can Transport You
The Power in Stories
The Gift of Choice: Final Thoughts on East of Eden

Human Memory

Finished The ULTIMATE Guide

Finished! 21.58 hours - 815 pages

A Story That Left me an Emotional Mess

Wow, what a story The Dictionary of Lost Words was. There was so much to take to heart, so many leads in new directions. I was a emotional mess when I closed it.

I have a habit; one I refuse to get control of. I’m always looking for books to buy and read. I know! It’s crazy. I mean, buying them is one thing, but READ them too! I’m nuts! But it’s true. Wherever I am, I MUST browse any book section, and I cannot resist books about books, libraries, writers, or words. It doesn’t matter who wrote them or when, they are instantly tossed into the basket.

You know I’m kidding. They are carefully placed into the basket away from other items that may endanger them.

I picked up The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams at Costco a few months ago and it did not disappoint me. I’ll be honest. I didn’t know much about it, and it was slow to start, but then it just started to snowball, and I ended up devouring the last half in a mad rush to get it all in, as if someone might take it away from me. Much in the way I eat tacos, I might add.

Sitting here trying to tell you why I loved it has had me stumped. Like I said when I started reading it, at first, I thought I had already read it but then realized that it’s set inside a true story about the making of the Oxford Dictionary, which I’ve watched a movie about recently. In this book, the fictional character, Esme, grows up in the room where her father works helping create that first dictionary.

Doesn’t seem that fascinating until she gets deeper into the story. It spans from 1886 to 1928. Think about that. What else was going on in England at that time? A lot. And this book is all from a woman’s point of view. There were ideas about words, how they are used, what was considered vulgar. Women’s suffrage and World War I. Relationships (my favorite) and growing up female at that time, so different than my life. And “Esperanto,” a whole language “made up, in a way. It’s meant to be easy enough for anyone to learn – it was created to foster peace between nations.” I need to know more about THAT.

I closed it crying it was so beautiful. My husband thought someone had died.

It raised so many questions for me, so much I want to look deeper into, starting with women’s suffrage.

When I started thumbing through the book, thinking of what to share, I got stumped. I just sat here with a cup of coffee, staring out at the desert. It was all too much.

But then it hit me. I’m trying to convey the whole book to you when what I really want to do is tell you how it made me feel and that I think you should read it too. So here I am.

I’ll leave you with a few of my most favorite quotes. It was hard to pick just a few. The whole book was beautiful. I’m going backwards through the book, looking for my highlights.

“If war could change the nature of men, it would surely change the nature of words, I thought.”

Yes, it does. Every war brings with it new words, some funny like “boo-koo” and some not so funny, like new definitions of horror and despair that get us no where.

“Say it,” he said.
“Say what?”
“Whatever is on your mind.”
I searched his face. I didn’t want anything to change the way he looked at me, but I also wanted him to understand me completely.

This went right into my soul. Have you felt this way? I have.

“Well, it’s easy to say the right things– “ she glanced towards me “– but words are meaningless without action.”
“And sometimes action can make a lie of good words,” Gareth said.

“People have always taken different roads to get to the same place,” Gareth said when he turned back to face us. “Women’s suffrage won’t be any different.”

Much of her words on women’s suffrage reminded me of the Civil Rights Movement.

“You are correct in your observation that words in common use that are not written down would necessarily be excluded. Your concern that some types of words, or words used by some types of people, will be lost to the future is really quite perceptive. I can think of no solution, however. Consider the alternative: the inclusion of all these words, words that come and go in a year or two, words that do not stick to our tongue through generations. They would clog the Dictionary. All words are not equal (and as I write this, I think I see your concern more clearly: if the words of one group are considered worthier of preservation than those of another…well, you have given me pause for thought.)”

So many languages of the past, whole cultures, are lost because that civilization never wrote anything down. Once writing was invented, things changed. That doesn’t mean those people had nothing of importance to remember. But how do you document what isn’t written? Those smart phones, the ones everyone has in their hands, recording just about everything…game changer.

“Mostly I set the type. I’m a compositor.” “You make the words real,” I said, finally looking at him. … “I prefer to say that I give them substance – a real word is one that is said out loud and means something to someone. Not all of them will find their way to a page. There are words I’ve heard all my life that I’ve never set in type.”

There were so many more wonderful quotes that gave me pause. But this next one grabbed hold of my heart. I’ve committed it not only to memory, but to a small post-it on my fridge.

Just because we have wounds and scars, doesn’t make us less useful. We’re only chipped, not broken. We keep going on in this life.

The Dictionary of Lost Words: New Read

It’s not like me but, I guess I’m just in the mood for fiction right now, any fiction. Lucky for me, I just happen to have a lot of fiction on my TBR shelf! I picked up The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams this morning after reading about ten pages of Haves and Have-Nots by Mortimer J. Adler, saying to myself, “Nope. Not happening.” I’m just not in the mood for politics or government, especially older ones. This one was written in 1991 and within a couple pages, I knew it would just depress me, so I shut it and looked for something else.

The Dictionary of Lost Words is another book I picked up at Barnes & Noble while “just browsing” and getting a cup of coffee, a.k.a. “escaping the heat.” This morning when I started reading, it sounded so familiar. A garden shed at a university used as a workshop to sort words and meanings to create and update a dictionary in the late 1800’s.

I googled, of course. Yes! The Professor and the Madman. Different story, same subject. But the movie was based on a true story, and there was a book. Yes, it’s now on my TBR list.

It was huge relief to find that movie. I was starting to think this was another one of those books I’ve read in the past and had completely forgotten about. And it would have been doubly bothersome because I paid full retail price for this novel.

So far as I’ve read this morning, only about twenty pages because my son is here visiting and we have BIG plans for pancakes and bacon when he wakes up, it seems like an adorable story. The professor’s young daughter plays under the table in the morning while he works and discovers lost words that drop from above and no one retrieves.

The back cover says, “As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded.” And “Set in the early twentieth century during the height of the women’s suffrage movement, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a missing narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men.”

The title is what prompted me to pick the book up off the table, and description is probably what prompted me to buy it.

Norwegian Wood: New Read

Hmm…let’s see… How did Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami get onto my TBR shelf? It’s not a long story. I was browsing in Barnes & Noble (something I really need to stop doing for various reasons) and saw the “Banned Books” table. I did giggle to myself, “Mighty bold to have a table right out in the middle of the store with all these ‘banned’ books, I must say.” Yes, I know they aren’t actually banned. They have been requested to be banned by a school district or local library usually.

That reminds me, the issue I received this month of Reason magazine was a “banned book” theme. I read an article there that really irritated me last week called Sensitivity Readers Are the New Literary Gatekeepers. I highly recommend it. If you read it, send me a message. I’d love to talk about it.

Hold the phone. Is it some kind of Banned Books Month? I googled it and there is a “Banned Books Week” but it’s not until September. So, some other “something” has created this marketing ploy.

Once again, I have digressed. I came here talk about how Norwegian Wood got on my TBR shelf. Remember?

There I was with my eyes on the “banned books” table, one hand holding three other books, the other hand hovering over the titles on the table. Most of them I had already read over the years, but there were some I hadn’t. Which one should I choose? Norwegian Wood won that contest. Why? Because I love that song…so hauntingly beautiful but then the lyrics make you wonder… What in the world is going on? Did he burn down her house because she didn’t sleep with him? I have no idea what that song is about, but I hum it every time I see the title of this book.

I finished reading it yesterday morning. It started out slow and kept a regular pace. I’m not sure what to think of it. It says it was written in 1987 in Japanese but translated into English in 2000. It reads like an American story set in Japan, except the dorm culture was very different than when I was at university. The casual approach to sex, the details, the attitudes…was that why it was considered banned?

And why the title? It was a hauntingly beautiful but sad love story. I loved reading it, but it felt strange. Some love stories you read and you’re right there with the characters. “No! Don’t do it!” and “Wait! She’s coming for you!” I end up crying right along with them, my heart broken in pieces. But this was different. I felt like I was reading it through an emotion filter, like I was on anti-depressants.

I read that this book was very different from Murakami’s previous books, so I think I might get another one and find out for myself.

Before I go, I’ll give you a couple of my favorite lines. Some of them were just too delicious!

“Death exists, not as the opposite but as part of life.”

This is a concept that I believe myself and think that most people refuse to accept, which causes all kinds of bigger problems than death itself. Death cannot be avoided. It will come to each and every one of us. It’s part of life and we cannot live without it.

“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature,” he added, “but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading a book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.”

That’s exactly why I avoid contemporary literature. Just because it was published doesn’t mean it’s good or that it will change me or enlighten me. The odds are actually against it, especially in the age of self-publishing. It isn’t that every book written more than fifty years ago was a gem of genius. It’s just that we only know about the ones that are still speaking to people, the ones still in print. They are in print because people still want them. Their message has stood the test of time. Life is too short not to use the filter of time and the insight of those that came before us.

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

This is one of the reasons I need to stop browsing at Barnes & Noble. It only gives me the novels and non-fiction that everyone else is reading right now. I need a broader perspective. I follow my own interests. One book leads to another, one podcast leads to a new subject. Like I was explaining in my last Podcast Roundup.

“…we are in here not to correct the deformation but to accustom ourselves to it: that one of our problems was our inability to recognize and accept our own deformities. Just as each person has certain idiosyncrasies in the way he or she walks, people have idiosyncrasies in the way they think and feel and see things, and though you might want to correct them, it doesn’t happen overnight, and if you try to force the issue in one case, something else might go funny.”

I loved the “asylum” that Naoko was staying at to get well. A large group of people voluntarily living a simple and quiet life to get back on track. I wanted to go there and live a year, but then I thought…in some ways I have. I changed how I lived years ago, and it was the best thing I could have done for myself and my family. But that’s a post for another day.

Do I recommend Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami? Yes, I do. It’s beautifully tragic and so different than any love story I’ve ever read. Have you read it? I’d love to hear what you think!

Early Saturday Morning Post

It’s very early on Saturday morning, and I’m so tired. It hasn’t been an extraordinarily busy week, but my body and mind seem to think so. Why am I here, writing to you THIS early? Why don’t I sleep in? Because I’m heading out for a mini-vacation today and I don’t want to break my daily writing streak!

saturday morning

Like said in an earlier post, I finished reading The Mayfair Bookshop by Eliza Knight and I left it every bit as in love as when I started it. So much was beautiful there, I wanted to jump into it and disappear. So many gorgeous characters, so many books written and read.

It inspired me to go looking for a book club again and this time I found one AND it’s local. They meet next month; I’ve bought the book and you know I’ll read it. But will I bring myself to attend? I want to, but I can’t say for sure. I need an emotional support human, but I think I’ll be facing this scary thing alone…maybe I could bring one of my personalities!

I was going to go back and quote this book a few more times, but the first one I saw this morning when I flipped through the book was perfect, so I’m leaving you with it.

“I stopped writing, so much more on my mind, and yet so little to say.” Yeah…I’ve felt that way all week and I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. I need more quiet space to think.

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