Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Comforters

"If you're going to do a thing, you should do it thoroughly. If you're going to be a Christian, you may as well be a Catholic."
~Muriel Spark

Religion is an important theme in the books of writer Muriel Spark, who became a Roman Catholic. In her first novel, The Comforters, Muriel Spark is also a metafictionist. Published in 1957, the book focuses on a young woman, Caroline Rose, who, like Muriel Spark, is both a writer and a converted Catholic. Caroline hears voices in her head, along with a typewriter. (At this point, the quiet voices in my own head dictate that I partake in metawriting, and write a bit about writing. The voices Caroline hears may be just a step beyond a writer's often obsessive thoughts: that certain ideas and words must be written down--at once--before they're gone and forgotten. Thoughts that certain ideas and words need to be recorded, revised, and rearranged--and ultimately read by others. Perhaps this is the plight of the "crazed" writer.) These recurring hallucinations make Caroline question her own sanity. She soon becomes aware that, oddly enough, she is a character in a novel, and that the voices she hears are tied to the future.

Muriel Spark presents fiction about fiction with finesse. I think a lesser writer would not be able to carry this off nearly as well as she does. I could hear the typewriter clicking and tapping in the background as I read this novel about a character in a novel who's also a character in a novel. Additionally, Caroline is writing a book called, Form in the Modern Novel, but is struggling with the section on realism (one of countless perfect details by Spark). Instead of being able to focus on her writing, these voices interfere with Caroline's ability to write, because of her worry that she's going mad and an eerie awareness that she's a character in a book. It may sound confusing and hard to follow, but it really isn't, because the voices are italicized. I was thoroughly entertained by this masterful novel. The Comforters is metafiction in its prime.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tonight's the Night

Tonight I'll be relaxing in Botswana with a cup of steaming rooibos. The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency movie series, based on the books by Alexander McCall Smith, debuts tonight in the U. S. on HBO at 8 PM PDT (please check your local listings as times may vary). I can't wait to see it at last! I expect it to be wonderful. For a peek at the show, you can watch The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency trailers.

I've read all of the books in this series, with, of course, the exception of the new one, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, which is due out next month, and which I look greatly forward to reading.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Does reading make us kinder, more sensitive people? I think it does, and John Connolly, author of several books including The Book of Lost Things, sums this up well:

"I think the act of reading imbues the reader with a sensitivity towards the outside world that people who don’t read can sometimes lack. I know it seems like a contradiction in terms; after all, reading is such a solitary act that it appears to represent a disengagement from day-to-day life. But reading, and in particular the reading of fiction, encourages us to view the world in new and challenging ways (…) It allows us to inhabit the consciousness of another, which is a precursor of empathy, and empathy is, for me, one of the marks of a decent human being."
~John Connolly

In keeping with this theme of kindness, I'd like to award my friend, Kim, of Writing Space with the Your Blog is Fabulous Award pictured below. On Tuesdays, she posts about kindness and I especially look forward to reading these posts. I wish I had thought of such a wonderful concept! Kim has given me not one but two blogging awards and also an Amazon gift card (what better gift for me?); I appreciate these kind deeds as well.

Thoughts on Kindness:

"Kindness gives birth to kindness."

"Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver."
~Barbara De Angelis

"Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind."
~Henry James

"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."
~Mark Twain

"Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love."

“You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true."
~Robert Brault

"If you haven't any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble."
~Bob Hope

Have you had a kindness shown?
Pass it on;
'Twas not given for thee alone,
Pass it on;
Let it travel down the years,
Let it wipe another's tears,
'Til in Heaven the deed appears -
Pass it on.
~Henry Burton, Pass It On

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

From Suko to Readers

Dear Readers,

I have a confession to make, and the sooner I get it off my chest, the better. I admit that the outlandish title of this book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, left me wondering if I'd ever actually read it. Many recommended this book to me, but I couldn't get past the awkward sounding, eight-word title. Guernsey brought to mind that special breed of cows--not anything to do with books or literary circles-- and it took me a while to even be able to recite the title properly. Furthermore, potato peel pie, quite frankly, sounded utterly unappealing to me, and I wondered if the book held any appeal for me at all. But, because this book received so many glowing reviews, I knew I'd read it--eventually. And I'm glad that I made the effort recently. Now I realize that the title is just right--its very oddness is wonderful--and I don't stumble over the title words quite as much.

An interesting, well-written letter is worth it's weight in gold, especially in this age of email and instant messages. Published in 2008, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a set of letters from Juliet, a writer in London, to the other characters in the book, many of whom live in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands (part of Great Britain but located in the English Channel, close enough to see mainland Europe with the naked eye). This is an epistolary book, a novel written as a series of documents, letters in this case. (I wish I could write such dramatic letters!) Written with ample warmth and humor, these letters form a novel that's an original celebration of books and the written word, and of human connection. (Letters are an engaging, creative way to tell a story. I enjoyed reading West From Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose, which is also a series of letters. What other books are composed solely of letters?)

In this sensational novel, written by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows, the title literary club is formed, literally, in self-defense. During World War II, Guernsey was occupied by the Germans for five years, who, among other things, imposed strict curfews on the villagers. Caught heading home past curfew after an illegal dinner of roast pork, an assorted group of islanders form The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—out of the need for an immediate alibi. In order to validate their claim, the members of this newly formed literary group decide to hold actual subsequent meetings (sometimes featuring desserts such as potato peel pie, the only pie they could make with the scant supplies available). To their surprise, especially since several of the members had never read much before, the club soon ignites a genuine love of reading and books, as well as some intense literary debates.

As London emerges from the shadow of World War II in 1946, writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. She is contacted by a native of Guernsey, who has discovered her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb. As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the intriguing world of this man, Dawsey, a pig farmer, and other members of the book club who also write to her. Juliet begins a prolific correspondence with the society’s members--charming them (and us!) with her marvelous letters--and learning about their island, their book preferences, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sails to Guernsey, and the course of her own life is greatly altered.

I absolutely adore this line from the book, and although it is on the inside book jacket, I will repeat it here because it is superb:

"Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers."

That is exactly how I felt about this book: that it was precisely what I needed to read. This happens to me fairly often. I pick up a book and quickly realize it's what I need to be reading, that it has significance and relates to my life in some way in an almost uncanny manner. In this instance, it's significance was mostly due to all the "book talk".

If you have read this book, have an interest in reading it, or have a comment related to something else in this post, I would enjoy hearing from you. As always, thank you for reading.

Yours sincerely,

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Paddy's Day

If you're lucky, you learn something new every day. I didn't know that St. Patrick's Day is also simply called Paddy's Day (which you must admit is quite cute).

Wherever you go and whatever you do,
May the luck of the Irish be there with you.

If you're in the mood for an Irish post rather than an Irish toast, you can read (or reread) the post on
Becoming Finola by Suzanne Strempek Shea, a book set in a picturesque town in Ireland. But I warn you, you'll want to plan a trip to Ireland.

Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

(Which cover do you prefer?)

"One's prime is the moment one was born for."
~The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

Being an influential teacher is one of my fantasy jobs, so I was immediately drawn into this concise novel about a teacher, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, a writer I was introduced to on Kate's Book Blog. Published in 1961, this short novel uses words sparingly to present the story of a teacher and the great, lasting influence she has on the lives of her students. Intelligent and daring, this novel showcases Muriel Spark's droll wit and indicates that this author was "in her prime" when she wrote this book. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie enjoyed dramatic adaptations, including a stage play in 1968, and a film starring Maggie Smith a year later.

"One's prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognise your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. You must then live it to the full."
~The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
is set in the 1930's at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. Teacher Jean Brodie, undoubtedly "in her prime", stands out like a sore thumb at this traditional school. Her teaching methods are unorthodox, and she prefers love affairs to marriage. Miss Brodie is dedicated to her students, and in return her girls, the crème de la crème --are intensely devoted to her. In fact, they're even sometimes a bit in love with her, joining her for tea and trips to the museum, although one of them will betray her. Each member of the "Brodie set"--Eunice, Jenny, Mary, Monica, Rose, and Sandy--is "famous for something", and Miss Brodie over the years encourages them to become independent, passionate, and ambitious. But in contrast to this allegiance Miss Brodie also has staunch opponents at the school: the "thrilling" senior science teacher, Miss Lockhart; Miss Gaunt, sister of a strict Calvinist minister; the traditional headmistress, Miss Mackay; and other faculty members.

In this book Miss Brodie repeatedly (amusingly) tells her students that she's "in her prime", and eventually the students repeat this phrase almost as often as she does. All this talk about "primes" confuses after a while and I started to think about about how we interpret the expression "the prime of your life", which is defined by the dictionary as "the time of maturity when power and vigor are greatest". I've heard people refer to others as "past their prime", often used in reference to a woman's fading beauty (as if that's the only thing that matters). It's also used to describe an athlete who's "past his or her prime" after a certain age (because unfortunately, the body has a tendency to break down due to the heavy toll of sports). However, in a more general sense we may place outdated limitations on people when it comes to their "primes". Miss Jean Brodie has a long "prime" in the book--and that was decades ago. Maybe we could have even longer "primes" in this era (due to health advances and awareness). And as Miss Brodie says, you need to be on the lookout for your "prime", which can arrive at any time of life (there's hope for late bloomers). As for me, I think I'm presently "in my prime", and hope to remain so until I'm 90 years old, or better yet, until 100.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Premio Dardos

Grazie! Grazie! Sono felice! Kim of Writing Space surprised me with a Premio Dardos award today. Premio Dardos means "prize darts" in Italian, and is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing.

Here are the rules:
1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person who has granted the award with a link to his/her blog.

2) Pass this award to another five blogs worthy of this award, and let each recipient know they have been selected for this award. (I'm only giving out three awards. Give out as many or as few as you'd like. We can bend the rules here a bit.)

Now it's my turn. I'd like to give this elegante award to the following bloggers because of their outstanding creativity:

Christie, Belly Acre Farm
Sassymonkey, Sassymonkey Reads
Susan, I Squidoo, Do You?

Congratulations to each of you!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

"I had only fifty thousand rupees, but every rupee had a Technicolor dream written on it, and they stretched out on a CinemaScope screen in my brain to become fifty million. I held my breath and wished for that moment to last as long as it possibly could, because a waking dream is always more fleeting than a sleeping one."
~Slumdog Millionaire, Vikas Swarup

Like so many others during my high school years, I yearned to visit India. In social studies class we'd studied the caste system and Hinduism and sacred cows, and I was entranced by this exotic culture and all things Indian, including an amazing restaurant called Nirvana in NY. As the years passed I retained my love for Indian food but my desire to see India lessened, and I've never traveled to India, although my sister, Amy, recently did; she graciously allowed me to use some of her photos in this post. When I watched Slumdog Millionaire win eight Academy Awards, I decided to renew my interest in India and vowed to go see the movie. First, though, I chanced upon a copy of the book to read (I'll go see the movie in the future).

While reading this book, I felt as if I had landed in the very heart of Mumbai, amidst the poverty, corruption, and violence. I was appalled by the way children and women were treated--but also by the way men were treated. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), life in India for many is very difficult, a fight for mere survival.

Slumdog Millionaire is extremely engaging (though heart-breaking at times) and tells a very exciting and well-crafted story. Originally published as Q & A in 2005, this book was written by Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat, and has been translated into thirty-four languages. Modern-day India is presented as very corrupt, and yet there are also people who care, and the powerful demonstration of hope over adversity among the people in the Mumbai slums. This is the story of an orphan, Ram Mohammad Thomas, who climbs out of one bad situation after another due to intelligence and more than his share of good luck. He's correctly answered all twelve questions on the TV show Who Will Win A Billion? (rupees, that is), and is arrested afterward because he's nothing more than an "idiot waiter" who has never attended school, and is thought to have cheated, and also because there is simply not enough money to pay him--no one expected such a big win. As he tells his story to his lawyer, he explains chapter by chapter how he arrived at each answer by recounting the adventures of his life. Ram's stories include many references to India's movies and actors, and to his best friend, Salim, who dreams of Bollywood stardom.

It will be interesting to see the movie, which stars Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, and others, and compare it to the book. The author says that changes have been made to the story in the film, and acknowledges that it's difficult for authors to be completely happy with adaptations of their work. But he called the movie "visually dazzling and emotionally satisfying", and said that filmmakers kept their promise to keep the "soul" of the book--which is ultimately about hope and survival--intact.

Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


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