Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Daffodils

The Daffodils by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


Oh, the beauty of daffodils in Spring makes my heart soar! I plant them often in autumn, but alas, the resident squirrels in our garden love to eat the bulbs! And so, our annual crop will never allow me to see even a hundred at a glance!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

'How' to interpret a poem when reading it aloud?

Please visit my new website:
to read and share your comments about how to interpret a poem when reading it aloud. Be sure to listen to the recorded readings of The Lake Isle of Innisfree.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

All Quiet on the Western Front

Written by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, was first published in German in 1929. Like the narrator of this novel, Remarque had enlisted in the German army at the age of eighteen. Years later, he noticed that he and his friends who had also been soldiers, were still being negatively affected by their war experiences. On that same day he began to write this novel, and finished it in six weeks. Like A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (see blog for March 16), All Quiet on the Western Front focuses on the humanity of these young, young men as they are forced to confront the horrors of warfare. It is a tough book to read, but read it you should!

In the novel, the narrator tells us that his schoolmaster, Kantorek, had persuaded all the boys in his class to enlist.
Page 8
There was, indeed, one of us who hesitated and did not want to fall into line. That was Josef Behm, a plump, homely fellow. But he did allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracized. And perhaps more of us thought as he did, but no one could very well stand out, because at that time even one's parents were ready with the word "coward"; no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for.
There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that there was only one way of doing well, and that way theirs.
And that is just why they let us down badly.
For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress - to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a manlier wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.
While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one's country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards - they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from the true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Finnegan's Wake

Here is a link to a YouTube posting of James Joyce reading from Finnegan's Wake.

I am making an exception for James Joyce! I have not yet read this book, but I can't help adding the clip so you can hear his voice too.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Secret Life of Bees

I really loved reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, which came out in 2002. The kernel of the novel is that when people are blessed with inner kindness, they instinctively behave kindly towards other people. If only this were a more common trait! August is the woman who is abundantly wise, kind, and understanding. The novel is wonderful: the story is tough in places and heartwarming in others.

After running away from Lily's home, Rosaleen and Lily have just turned up at the home of August Boatwright and asked for her. They don't even know her but they want to stay with her. They pretend they just want to earn a little money on their way to find Lily's aunt in Virginia.

Page 74:
The narrator is Lily, and August is the first speaker here:
"I'm from Virginia myself," she said, and for some reason this stirred up the current that had moved in my limbs when I'd first entered the room. "All right, then. Rosaleen can help May in the house, and you can help me and Zach with the bees. Zach is my main helper, so I can't pay you anything, but at least you'll have a room and some food till we call your aunt and see about her sending some bus money."
"I don't exactly know her whole name," I said. "My father just called her Aunt Bernie; I never met her."
"Well, what were you planning to do, child, go door to door in Virginia?"
"No, ma'am, just Richmond."
"I see," said August. And the thing was, she did. She saw right through it.

The novel is wonderful

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was published in 1850 and it was this novel that made him famous. It is totally absorbing and wonderful. We are filled with a range of mixed emotions for Hester: sadness, admiration, fear, pity, but never condemnation. Hester Prynne is an outsider and remains one. She holds very deep feelings of love and loyalty, even though they cause her great grief as she raises her child alone.

In the Puritan setting of the novel, an adulterer is usually put to death. In this case, the adulteress Hester Prynne, gets a lighter punishment. She is given a prison sentence with her infant, is put on public display for three hours, and she is forced to wear the letter 'A' on her clothing for the rest of her life.

Page 58:
...... - was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.
"She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," remarked one of her female spectators; "but did ever a woman, before this brazen huzzy, contrive such a way of showing it!....................
"Oh, peace, neighbors, peace!" whispered their youngest companion; "do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it in her heart."

Efforts are made to ascertain who is the father of her baby, and she is told that she will be able to remove the scarlet letter if she names him. She steadfastly refuses.
Page 72:
........"And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

William Butler Yeats (4th Poem)

Easter 1916 by William Butler Yeats

Listen to Yeats as he reads his poem about the 1916 Rising in Dublin.

Then please read some of the comments posted on YouTube in response to the way Yeats reads the poem. What do you think?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Emily Dickinson (2nd Poem)

Here's another poem by Emily Dickinson. It struck me as being quite optimistic and enjoyable. Remember how easy it is to enjoy more of the simple things in life that are all around us, if only we open our ears (as in this poem), or our eyes to enjoy the beauty of nature. If you'd like to read a little information about the poet, please look back at the blog: Emily Dickinson (1st Poem).
(Poem from The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson published by Barnes & Nobel, 1993.

Heart not so heavy as mine,
Wending late home,
As it passed my window
Whistled itself a tune, -

A careless snatch, a ballad,
A ditty of the street;
Yet to my irritated ear
An anodyne so sweet,

It was as if a bobolink,
Sauntering this way,
Carolled and mused and carolled,
Then bubbled slow away.

It was as if a chirping brook
Upon a toilsome way
Set bleeding feet to minuets
Without the knowing why.

To-morrow, night will come again,
Weary, perhaps, and sore.
Ah, bugle, by my window,
I pray you stroll once more!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Inheritance of Loss

Written by Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss was published in 2006.

As I read this novel, I was taken right into Sai's world with her, and could feel the invisible chains all around this young 17-year-old orphan, living with her cold and grouchy grandfather, in his delapidated and crumbling house. Though he is a retired judge, her grandfather simply cannot afford to make any repairs, and can just about manage to retain the services of his last servant, the cook. Likewise, they live their daily lives without any changes or improvements. Change is going on around them, however, as India experiences social unrest and insurgents roam around, some of whom even rob Sai's family. Sai is quite isolated in this environment and it is easy to understand how she might begin to fall in love with the only young man who regularly visits their home: her tutor.

I loved how Ms. Desai's developed the characters and thought that her ability to evoke sympathy for them was terrific. I understood the grandfather better after reading his experiences in England during his studies there as a young man. Because he was so lonely, he spent long hours studying.

Page 45
He retreated into a solitude that grew in weight day by day. The solitude became a habit, the habit became the man, and it crushed him into a shadow.

But shadows, after all, create their own unease, and despite his attempts to hide, he merely emphasized something than unsettled others. For entire days nobody spoke to him at all, his throat jammed with words unuttered, his heart and mind turned into blunt aching things,......


New York was portrayed as being a really harsh environment for the young son of the cook who came to make his fortune. But so too was India upon his return.


The writer's descriptive abilities are excellent and as example, I have to share with you the opening sentences. They are simply beautiful and very poetic.

Page 1
All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths. Briefly visible above the vapor, Kanchenjunga was a far peak whittled out of ice, gathering the last of the light, a plume of snow blown high by the winds at its summit.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

For the love of poetry

I believe that all poetry is meant to be read out loud. I believe that when you read a poem aloud, you are giving it life, and you feel the words, and the meaning, and the passion much more than just reading it silently.

And so I was intrigued by the essay written by Jim Holt in tomorrow's The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, April 5, 2009). Essentially, Mr. Holt feels that we should memorize poetry, and then we should recite the poem or poems aloud, from memory. He says that this method is deeply pleasurable, because, he writes, "the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within."

Nice essay, Mr. Holt!,%20Sunday%20April%205,%202009&st=cse

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Very Long Engagement

Un long dimanche de fiancailles by Sebastien Japrisot was first published in France in 1991 by Editions Denoel (sorry that I cannot put in the French accents with this keyboard). It was translated into English by Linda Coverdale.

This novel is set in World War I France, and introduces us to the lives of several soldiers, the horror of war and the mystery of their deaths. And we meet Mathilde, the young girl left at home to await the return of her boyfriend, Manech, from the war. She does not believe it when she is told that he has been killed. She tries to find out what really happened to him. A lot of intrigue is revealed as the story unfolds.

When we first meet Manech on page 15, we learn that:

he'd already spent more time at the front than the pitiful buffoon staggering along ahead of him, and, given his fevered imagination, he was even more tortured by fear than his companion.

And then there is a list of all his fears. It is such a compelling list that we know we would feel the fear too:

He was afraid of the war and of death, like almost everyone, but he was also afraid of the wind, that harbinger of gas attacks, afraid of a flare tearing through the night, afraid of himself, for he never knew what he might do when he was afraid, afraid of his own side's artillery, afraid of his own gun, afraid of the whine of aeriel torpedoes, afraid of mines that explode and engulf a whole section of infantry, afraid of the flooding that drowns you in the dugout,....

Thursday, April 2, 2009

That They May Face the Rising Sun

That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern was published in 2002 by Faber and Faber. In this novel, McGahern shows his wondrous talent for writing beautiful descriptions of the most ordinary circumstances and weaving great stories out of everyday occurences. He is outstanding at character development and the people you will meet in this novel will almost come alive.

A couple have partially dropped out of their working life in London and have bought an old house in Ireland. The man is originally from the area and his wife is English. The novel's depiction of them and their interactions with the locals is beautifully written and a delight to read.

This is the first book by John McGahern that I have read. Since I had picked it up at Dublin Airport before the long flight back to the US, I was especially glad that it turned out to be really good. Just look at the opening paragraph below. I was, and still am, awed by the beauty, by the poetry, of it.

Page 1
The morning was clear. There was no wind on the lake. There was also a great stillness. When the bells rang out for Mass, the strokes trembling on the water, they had the entire world to themselves.

Page 68
'What about Mary and Jamesie?'
'Mary's the best in the world,' his face brightened. There's none better than Mary. Jamesie would give you the shirt off his back. Once I was coming to borrow their mule. He had the mule tackled and was putting out topdressing. As soon as he saw me come he had the mule untackled in seconds. He declared before God that he was doing nothing with the mule. The mule was there for me to take.'

Sunday, March 29, 2009

In the Time of the Butterflies (revised post)

By Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies, was printed in 1995. This is a well-written and heart-wrenching work of fiction, and apparently is based on the history of the Dominican Republic from 1938 to 1960. Ms. Alvarez points out that in this novel "what you find here are the Mirabals of my creation, made up, but, I hope, true to the spirit of the real Mirabals." And she adds, "A novel is not, after all, a historical document, but a way to travel throught the human heart."

Page 114
Trujillo puts his dice back on the empty try. It's then I notice the sides don't balance. Of course, my good-for-nothing uncle would give his buddy loaded dice.

Page 115
Quickly I reach for the heavier set of dice and begin shaking them in my fist. Trujillo studies the wobbling scales. But without my set there, he can't tell which are his loaded pair. "Go ahead," he says, eyeing me closely. "Highest number wins."

Page 57
Later, lying in the bed we were sharing, I joined Mama in her goodnight rosary to the Virgencita. Her voice in the dark was full of need. At the first Sorrowful Mystery, she said Papa's full name, as if she were calling him to account, not praying for him.
"What's wrong, Mama?" I whispered to her when we were finished.

Friday, March 27, 2009

First Confession

A Penguin Books volume of short stories by Frank O'Connor entitled My Oedipus Complex and Other Stories contains one called First Confession. I love this timeless story and hope you will too.

Only eight-and-a-half pages long, it describes in great honesty and simplicity the trials of a young Irish boy who has to put up with frequent torment by his sister, the rough manners of his granny, and overcome his great fear of having to confess his sins for the first time.

It did not help that his mother was unable to take him to make his first confession and sent his sister instead. She taunts him all the way to the chapel.
'Isn't it a terrible pity you weren't a good boy? Oh, Jackie, my heart bleeds for you!'
Another excerpt:
'There you are!' she said with a yelp of triumph, hurling me through the church door.' And I hope he'll give you the penitential psalms, you dirty little caffler.'

Penguin Books first published these stories in 1963, but they had been previously printed in 1953 and 1957 by Hamish Hamilton. Frank O'Connor is the pseudonym of Michael O'Donovan (1903-1966).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

John Boyle O'Reilly (Poem)

A White Rose by John Boyle O'Reilly, an Irish poet who lived from 1844 to 1890. I found this poem in a terrific collection of poetry entitled Irish Love Poems which was edited by A. Norman Jeffares. It was first printed in 1997 by The O'Brien Press, Dublin. Remember to read it out loud.

A White Rose

The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.

But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Literature Business Directory - BTS Local

Support your local bookstores!

Please support your local bookstores!

Years ago, we frequented an independent bookshop in New York City on First Avenue, in the low 50s. It was run by a wonderful man, who was friendly and helpful to all his customers. We received terrific information and recommendations from him, and our selections of books were usually available, or quickly obtained. We enjoyed chatting with him about various topics, as well as about books and writers.

While we have long forgotten specific conversations and recommendations, here is one story I'd like to share. I was looking for a good Italian cookbook and didn't know what to choose. He recommended one to me, telling me it was his wife's favorite: The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan. I bought it and am still very grateful for this terrific recommendation. I have cooked many, many wonderful dinners using recipes from this book.

Unfortunately, this man was forced to close his shop a few years later. He told us it was because he simply could not compete with the bigger booksellers.

I have just read this article in today's New York Times:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spartanburg River Otter

Seamus Heaney reads his own poem, Spartanburg River Otter, in this post on YouTube. Please click on the link below to open it. Enjoy not only his poetry, but also his wonderful voice.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Sive, a tragic play by John B. Keane, was published in 1959, and was first performed by the Listowel Drama Group in the same year. It was also performed by other groups soon thereafter and the play received great praise around Ireland and England. (Sive's name is pronounced like sigh-ve (it rhymes with hive, as in beehive).

Act One, Scene I
On stage are Sive and her grandmother Nanna. Sive is the illegitimate child of Nanna's dead daughter. Mena (married to Nanna's son) enters and addresses Sive.

Mena: Your uncle and I work ourselves to the marrow of the bones to give you schooling and the minute I turn my back you're cohackling with that oul' boody woman in the corner. (To Nanna.) Some day the pipe will take fire where you have it hidden and you'll go off in a big black ball of smoke and ashes.

Nanna: (Slowly.) If I do, 'tis my prayer that the wind will blow me in your direction and I'll have the satisfaction of taking you with me. Aha, you'd burn well, for you're as dry as the hobs of hell inside of you. Every woman of your age in the parish has a child of her own and nothing to show by you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

William Butler Yeats (3rd Poem)

This is one of my favorites. You must read it aloud!

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven (written between 1899-1904)

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Blackwater Lightship

Happy St. Patrick's Day! To honor St. Patrick, I will blog about talented Irish authors all this week.

The Blackwater Lightship, by Colm Toibin (with accents on the 'o' and second 'i' of Toibin, so that it is pronounced Tow-been), was published in 1999.
This is a deceptive novel. It is very simply and beautifully written, but the topics are complex and also really sad. A young man, who will soon die of AIDS, wants to spend time at his grandmother's house by the sea. In recent years, his friends had more or less replaced his immediate family. Now, at his grandmother's house, he is nursed by some of those close friends, plus his mother, sister and grandmother. Old family memories and tensions naturally surface, and Toibin skilfully draws us into the intricacies and difficulties of relationships within this family.

Page 106
She did not know how her grandmother would respond to their arrival. She realised that for the first time in years - ten years, maybe - she was back as a member of this family she had so determinedly tried to leave. For the first time in years they would all be under the same roof, as though nothing had happened. She realised, too, that the unspoken emotions between them in the car, and the sense that they were once more a unit, seemed utterly natural now that there was a crisis, a catalyst. She was back home, where she had hoped she would never be again, and she felt, despite herself, almost relieved.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Long Long Way

A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, was published in 2005. This outstanding novel interweaves Irish history along with telling us about the experiences of Irish men who signed on as soldiers in the British Army during World War I. Young Willie Dunne, an 18-year old Dubliner, is the central character, and we follow his path from youth and innocence, into the horrors of battle. It is a powerful novel and a terrific testament to the futility and destruction of war. Barry's beautiful writing and descriptive ability is absolutely tremendous.

Page 56
Now Willie's lot were shunted back almost to the edge of the true world where there were quite peaceful-looking farms all frosted and beautiful under the moon, crisp and familiar as some stretch of Irish midlands under the struggling light of day. Even woods were impressively standing. The roads were all cobbled with mere fieldstones as you might find in a Wicklow yard, and they were rough ways to walk upon, in your hobnailed boots. But they marched the roads in three stages, and although they were weary from the stretch in the trenches, nevertheless they took some pride in their marching. Exhausted boys were carried by their pals, so as not to hinder the rate of progress. It was good to get the blood going round and it was better than sitting in trenches with the frost threatening fingers, toes and noses without cease. There was a timetable for everything and it pleased the men to make the distances on time.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Atonement by Ian McEwan, was published in 2001. This is a beautifully written novel, set in upper-class England, and centers around a huge injustice meted out to a lower-class young man in the summer of 1935. The characters and their lives are well drawn, and when coupled with class expectations, everything fits perfectly to allow this horrible unfairness to go undetected. I loved this book so much when I read it that I really did not wish to see the movie when it came out years later (2008). I relented. While the movie does a good job and is quite faithful to the novel, nothing can compare with the joy of actually reading this finely portrayed story.

page 157
"What did he say?"

"Nothing. I mean, it was the sound of his voice, breathing, noises. But I couldn't see. I couldn't say for sure."

"Well I can. And I will."

And so their respective positions, which were to find public expression in the weeks and months to come, and then be pursued as demons in private for many years afterward, were established in these moments by the lake, with Briony's certainty rising whenever her cousin appeared to doubt herself.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I am Charlotte Simmons

I am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe, was published in 2004. I wonder how many parents did not allow their daughters to go away to college after reading this version of the campus scene? This is good, gripping, and is a fast read, because you won't be able to put it down for long!

On pages 150/1, we read a letter to her parents that is being written by Charlotte at college. We see what she would really like to write to her parents. She settles for several sentences similar to the following:

"So everything is going along pretty much the way I hoped it would. I have to pinch myself to make sure this isn't just a dream and I really am a student at one of the best universities in the country."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, was first published in 1943. This heartbreaking and beautiful novel is set in the Williamsburg slums, starting in 1912.

Excerpt from Chapter 3
"My father was like me - never held the one job long." He smoked in silence for a while.

Francie ironed quietly. She knew that he was just thinking out loud. He did not expect her to understand. He just wanted someone to listen to him. He said practically the same things every Saturday. The rest of the week when he was drinking, he would come and go and say little. But today was Saturday. It was his day to talk.

"My folks never knew how to read or write. I only got to the sixth grade myself - had to leave school when the old man died. You kids are lucky. I'm going to see to it that you get through school."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Facing out to Sea

Facing out to Sea, a novel by Peter Adamson, was published in 1997.
A young hotel waiter in Sri Lanka moves effortlessly between the elegant surroundings at work and the urban slum where he lives. Adamson contrasts the two worlds very well and develops interesting, credible characters. His descriptions of life in urban slums are vivid, and are so true to life that he even provides solutions for improving the lot of slum residents. Because of Peter Adamson's long career spent travelling in developing countries, plus filming and writing about development matters, he has much credibility. While this is a great novel about human relationships and hardships, it doubles as an extremely interesting lesson in development economics and slum improvement.

It is difficult to choose any one excerpt from an entire novel as a sample of what is in store for a reader. I choose this one because I'd like you to read it aloud, while you imagine the scene.

Page 4
On the verandah of No. 29, Vijay Jayasinghe is slowly smoking a cigarette. It is a little after seven in the evening. Light swarms of midges are gathering over the drain and the strip of sky between the roofs has turned to indigo, smudged with the smoke of fires. On the latrine wall a neon light fizzes. A few of the older children of the garden are sitting beneath it, doing their homework under an inspectorate of insects. Somewhere a voice is raised and a dog begins to bark. As is usual for the hour, the women are embedded in the recesses of their homes, scouring pans with ashes from the dying fires, stacking the blackened pots, pouring the cooking oil back into its bottles, lowering the bed-boards, smoothing the worn covers, spacing out the garments that have bunched together in the middle of coir ropes slung diagonally across dark rooms. Outside, the men are relaxing on the verandahs, talking in tones which fall imperceptibly with the light, their glowing cigarette ends tracing their eloquence in the evening air.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde was published in 1890.
This book is horrifying, but really well written and intriguing.

These excerpts are from the first Chapter.
"It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done," said Lord Henry, languidly. "You must certainly send it next year to the Grosvenor. "
"I know you will laugh at me," he replied, "but I really can't exhibit it. I have put too much of myself into it."
"Harry," said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, "every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the colored canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul."

Friday, March 6, 2009

William Butler Yeats (2nd Poem)

The Song of Wandering Aengus
(written between 1899-1904)

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. I first read, and loved, this novel when I was a teenager. I re-read it last year and was again awed by it. You simply must read this book - it is excellent.

Excerpts from Chapter 3
"First of all," he said, "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - "


"- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."


"If I didn't go to school tomorrow, you'd force me to."

"Let us leave it at this," said Atticus dryly. "You, Miss Scout Finch, are of the common folk. You must obey the law."


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy, was published in 1891 as one complete novel. Parts of it had been printed in different publications in the two years prior to appearing in book form.

Page 33 - Tess speaks to Alec.
"Our names are worn away to Durbeyfield; but we have several proofs that we are d'Urbervilles. Antiquarians hold we are - and - and we have an old seal, marked with a ramping lion on a shield, and a castle over him. And we have a very old silver spoon, round in the bowl like a little ladle, and marked with the same castle. But it is so worn that Mother uses it to stir the pea-soup."

"A castle argent is certainly my crest," said he blandly. "And my arms a lion rampant."

"And so Mother said we ought to make ourselves beknown to you - as we've lost our horse by a bad accident, and are the oldest branch o' the family."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men, a short novel written by John Steinbeck, was first published in 1937.
It is a beautiful novel about friendship and protecting the innocent, even when that it is a losing battle.

Page 28
"Jus' wanted to feel that girl's dress - jus' wanted to pet it like it was a mouse - Well, how the hell did she know you jus' wanted to feel her dress? She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin' for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outta the country. All the time somethin' like that - all the time. I wisht I could put you in a cage with about a million mice an' let you have fun." His anger left him suddenly. He looked across the fire at Lennie's anguished face, and then he looked ashamedly at the flames.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
First published in French, in 2000, it is about two young Chinese men who are forced to be re-educated and sent to live under harsh conditions on a mountain.  In real life, the author was sent for "re-education" at around the same age as the two main characters of this novel.  He left China in 1984 for France where he still lives. 

Page 6
A few words about re-education: towards the end of 1968, the Great Helmsman of China's Revolution, Chairman Mao, launched a campaign that would leave the country profoundly altered.  The universities were closed and all the "young intellectuals," meaning boys and girls who had graduated from high school, were sent to the countryside to be "re-educated by the poor peasants."
The real reason behind Mao Zedong's decision was unclear.
Page 23
The princess of Phoenix mountain wore pale pink canvas shoes, which were both sturdy and supple and through which you could see her flexing her toes as she worked the treadle of her sewing machine. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the cheap, homemade shoes, and yet, in a place where nearly everyone went barefoot, they caught the eye, seeming delicate and sophisticated. The fine shape of her feet and ankles was set off by white nylon socks.

A long pigtail three or four centimetres wide fell from the nape of her neck down to the small of her back, where the end was tied with a brand-new red silk ribbon.

When she leaned over her sewing machine, the shiny metal base mirrored the collar of her white blouse, her oval face and the sparkle in her eyes - without doubt the loveliest pair of eyes in the district of Yong Jing, if not the entire region.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Emily Dickinson (1st Poem)

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830 and died in 1886.
She was a recluse for most of her life and wrote almost two thousand poems. Only seven were published during her lifetime, all anonymously. When four poems were rejected by The Atlantic Monthly, she never again attempted to publish her work. Apparently her sister discovered them after Emily's death and arranged to have them published. I found this biographical information in my edition of The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, published by Barnes & Nobel Books in 1993. It had been initially published in 1924 as The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

Here is a poem I read for the first time tonight.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's is a short novel by Truman Capote and was published in 1958.

page 12 (in my edition)
I went out into the hall and leaned over the banister, just enough to see without being seen. She was still on the stairs, now she reached the landing, and the ragbag colors of her boy's hair, tawny streaks, strands of albino-blond and yellow, caught the hall light. It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned. A pair of glasses blotted out her eyes. It was a face beyond childhood, yet this side of belonging to a woman. I thought her anywhere between sixteen and thirty; as it turned out, she was shy two months of her nineteenth birthday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Our Man in Havana

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, was published in 1958. He called it "An Entertainment", rather than a novel. Wormwold is a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana. Despite his shortage of money, he is unable to say no to his daughter's expensive tastes.
See what happens when he becomes a spy, fabricates reports and falsifies expense reports.
It is a very well written and enjoyable book.

Excerpt from Chapter 3/1
It was Wormold's day-dream that he would wake some day and find that he had amassed savings, bearer-bonds and share-certificates, and that he was receiving a steady flow of dividends like the rich inhabitants of the Verdado suburb; then he would retire with Milly to England, where there would be no Captain Seguras and no wolf-whistles. But the dream faded whenever he entered the big American bank in Obispo. Passing through the great stone portals, which were decorated with four-leaved clovers, he became again the small dealer he really was, whose pension would never be sufficient to take Milly to the region of safety.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Othello at the Duke on 42nd Street Theater

It was the riveting photo by Katie Orlinsky in today's New York Times that caught my eye. It portrays Othello (John Douglas Thompson) and Desdemona (Juliet Rylance) in Othello at the Duke on 42nd Street Theater. You must see it! Please click on this link for the photograph:

Then I read the review by Charles Isherwood. Wow! Is this ever a glowing review! Mr. Isherwood says "This is among the most sensitively directed, eloquently designed and impeccably acted productions of a Shakespeare tragedy that the city has seen in years." For the link to the review, please click:

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Chosen

The Chosen, a novel by Chaim Potok, is about two Jewish men and their two sons. Set mostly in Brooklyn, it was published in 1967. I found the writing to be wonderful, but I also learned a lot about Judaism. The relationship between the two boys is heart-warming. The father-son relationships are completely different and I guarantee you will love the one between Reuven and his father.

excerpt from Book One, Chapter Three
"What I tried to tell you, Reuven, is that when a person comes to talk to you, you should be patient and listen. Especially if he has hurt you in any way. Now, we will not talk anymore tonight about Reb Saunders' son. This is an important day in the history of the world. It is the beginning of the end for Hitler and his madmen. Did you hear the announcer on the boat describing the invasion?"

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Woman in White

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. This novel was published in 1860.

Chapter XII
While these ideas were passing through my mind I saw the woman in the cloak approach close to the grave, and stand looking at it for a little while. She then glanced all round her, and taking a white linen cloth or handkerchief from under her cloak, turned aside towards the brook. The little stream ran into the churchyard under a tiny archway in the bottom of the wall, and ran out again, after a winding course of a few dozen yards, under a similar opening. She dipped the cloth in the water, and returned to the grave. I saw her kiss the white cross, then kneel down before the inscription, and apply her wet cloth to the cleansing of it.

After considering how I could show myself with the least possible chance of frightening her, I resolved to cross the wall before me, to skirt round it outside, and to enter the churchyard again by the stile near the grave, in order that she might see me as I approached. She was so absorbed over her employment that she did not hear me coming until I had stepped over the stile. Then she looked up, started to her feet with a faint cry, and stood facing me in speechless and motionless terror.

'Don't be frightened,' I said. 'Surely you remember me?'

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Great Expectations

Great Expectations, a novel by Charles Dickens was initially published serially from 1860 until 1861. Many years have passed since I first read this and still the descriptions of this lady have remained etched in my memory. And I love Dickens.

Chapter Eight (excerpt)
This was very uncomfortable, and I was half afraid. However, the only thing to be done being to knock at the door, I knocked, and was told from within to enter. I entered, therefore, and found myself in a pretty large room, well lighted with wax candles. No glimpse of daylight was to be seen in it. It was a dressing-room, as I supposed from the furniture, though much of it was of forms and uses then quite unknown to me. But prominent in it was a draped table with a gilded looking-glass, and that I made out at first sight to be a fine lady's dressing-table.

Whether I should have made out this object so soon, if there had been no fine lady sitting at it, I cannot say. In an arm-chair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.

She was dressed in rich materials - satins, and lace, and silks - all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on - the other was on the table near her hand - her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her hankerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a Prayer-book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.

Robert Frost (Poem)

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost (written between 1923-1928)

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights, a novel by Emily Bronte, published in 1847.
I first read this book in secondary school, when I was about 14, and could vividly imagine the dashing, brooding, vengeful Heathcliff. The novel is intensely romantic, yet harsh and cruel.

Excerpt from Chapter 7
Catherine loved it too; but she said it sounded sweetest at the top of the steps, and she went up in the dark; I followed. They shut the house door below, never noting our absence, it was so full of people. She made no stay at the stairs' head, but mounted farther, to the garret where Heathcliff was confined, and called him. He stubbornly declined answering for a while; she persevered, and finally persuaded him to hold communion with her through the boards. I let the poor things converse unmolested, till I supposed the songs were going to cease, and the singers to get some refreshment; then, I clambered up the ladder to warn her. Instead of finding her outside, I heard her voice within. The little monkey had crept by the skylight of one garret, along the roof, into the skylight of the other, and it was with the utmost difficulty I could coax her out again. When she did come, Heathcliff came with her, and she insisted that I should take him into the kitchen, as my fellow-servant had gone to a neighbour's to be removed from the sound of our "devil's psalmody," as it pleased him to call it. I told them I intended by no means to encourage their tricks; but as the prisoner had never broken his fast since yesterday's dinner, I would wink at his cheating Mr. Hindley that once. He went down; I set him a stool by the fire, and offered him a quantity of good things; but he was sick and could eat little, and my atttempts to entertain him were thrown away. He leant his two elbows on his knees, and his chin on his hands, and remained wrapt in dumb meditation. On my enquiring the subject of his thoughts, he answered gravely:

"I'm trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back. I don't care how long I wait, if I can only do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do!"

"For shame, Heathcliff!" said I. "It is for God to punish wicked people; we should learn to forgive."

"No, God won't have the satisfaction that I shall," he returned. "I only wish I knew the best way! Let me alone, and I'll plan it out: while I'm thinking of that I don't feel pain."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Blessed Child

A Blessed Child, a novel by Linn Ullmann, published in 2008.
On many levels, this is a deep and wonderful novel by a very talented writer. I loved the story, the lyrical and descriptive passages, and I loved the full, round characters. It is set in Sweden and Norway.

page 38
And so, the summer days were indistinguishable, as were the summers themselves. Erika and Laura spent most of their time lying in the long grass in front of that house, reading Donald Duck comics and later
Starlet, which was really too advanced for them. They ate wild strawberries, staining their hands and mouths red. The sun shone every day, and it was outdoors time, which meant they weren't allowed to go into the house and be a nuisance. Outdoors time was decreed. It was never discussed, had never been explained. Everyone knew what it was. It was unchangeable, like the sun and the moon and the seasons. Outdoors time meant you stayed outside. You didn't go in to get a glass of water or use the toilet, because the pipes would gurgle and Isak would hear. You didn't go to your room to fetch things you'd forgotten to take out with you (like maybe a tennis ball for a game of sevens), because the floorboards would creak. Erika learned all this during her first week on Hammarso. If Isak was disturbed, it broke his concentration and sabotaged his working day. He would storm out of his room, stand in the middle of the kitchen, and bellow. Laura had stories to tell about Isak bellowing, about how scared she'd been, alone with him in the kitchen, about how his face blanched with all that bellowing. First white, then red, then mauve, like a tick ready to pop. Isak would get so angry that saliva dribbled from his mouth.

There was no reason not to believe this. Her mother had warned Erika before she came to Hammarso that Isak could be moody; but her mother didn't call it moody, she called it
temperamental. Elisabeh said several times that Erika must not disturb him when he was working, otherwise she risked a flash of his temperamental side - and that wasn't good. Erika would sometimes imagine Isak's temperamental side as a ton of plutonium inside his head. You wouldn't even have to disturb him a lot: annoying him just a little was enough to make the barrel tip over and the plutonium, pale lilac, run out over the floor.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Web of Secrets

Web of Secrets, a novel by Denise Harris.
This is a deep and powerful novel and Harris skillfully draws us into the world of this family. Her great powers of observation and analysis shine through clearly, and leave the reader with plenty to think about throughout this very polished book.

Excerpt from Chapter Nine
My mother has just left the room. She was quite irritated with me, says I have become very secretive. That I was once a very open child but lately I have taken on a very secretive attitude. I don't tell her things any more. I'm not sure what things she means. Anyway, that's what she said. Not a bit like Guy and Adrienne... they talk with her, particularly Guy. He tells her things, I know that. Things she seems very pleased with. Like his coming first every year at school and studying so hard. I heard her say one day to Aunt Eileen that he makes up for much of what she's been through.

Now she calls me secretive, but she has never told me what she's been through. For instance, I didn't tell her about the story I wrote which my teacher was very pleased with. My mother only found out by chance through her friend. She said she felt very embarrassed, almost stupid, standing there and not knowing what Mrs. Rodway was speaking about. 'What was there to hide?' she asked me. Why couldn't she see what I had written? I'll tell you why... I don't mind. Not because I like talking about it. Granny Irma's always telling me to watch my mouth as it'll get me into trouble one of these days. Well, anyway, in case you haven't noticed, in the six months and two days you've been here, Arabella - you see I'm still counting - six months and two days you came out of the bush to stay here, six months and two days and you still haven't said a word. Granny Irma says you can speak, that I'm not to take you at face value. She says if I spend enough time with you you will learn but I need patience and time. Anyway, I'm sure you've noticed by now that this is a house full of secrets, what with all I've been telling you. Rose said as usual that I'm too fast, and I'm going to get in trouble because of that fastness.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A sonnet for St. Valentine's Day

This untitled sonnet was written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being an ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, - I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! - and, if God Choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us, a terrific novel by Thrity Umrigar, was published in 2006. Set in Bombay, this is about the balance of power between the rich and the poor, between men and women, and the ultimate unfairness of the difference between a rich man and a poor girl. The language is beautiful and the novel is heartbreaking.

I selected some paragraphs from the first chapter.

Bhima wants to take the sobbing girl to her bosom, to hold and caress her the way she used to when Maya was a child, to forgive her and to ask for her forgiveness. But she can't. If it were just anger that she was feeling, she could've scaled that wall and reached out to her grandchild. But the anger is only the beginning of it. Behind the anger is fear, fear as endless and vast and gray as the Arabian Sea, fear for this stupid, innocent, pregnant girl who stands sobbing before her, and for this unborn baby who will come into the world to a mother who is a child herself and to a grandmother who is old and tired to her very bones, a grandmother who is tired of loss, of loving and losing, who cannot bear the thought of one more loss and of one more person to love.

So she stares numbly at the weeping girl, willing her heart not to take in the arrows of her sobbing. "Even tears are a luxury," she says, but she is unsure if she's spoken out loud or to herself. "I envy you your tears."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

James Joyce

Dubliners, a collection of short stories written by James Joyce, was first published in 1914.

The following excerpts are from The Dead. This story is a wonderful invitation into the lives of some people attending a Christmas dinner in Dublin. Joyce skilfully draws credible characters with beautifully chosen, almost poetic, words. This is an absolute treasure and one of my favorites.
She was fast asleep.
Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, that fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.
Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Quality of Mercy

The Merchant of Venice
By William Shakespeare
Act IV, Scene I

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Contact an old friend

Receiving a few kind words from an old friend is a joy beyond measure.

Be the person who reaches out and gives that joy.

There is a friend in your past you really identified with, but your lives just took you in different directions. Reach out to that person. Send a card. Or phone. Just say hello and ask how him or her how life is these days.

It only works for the truly sincere and unselfish.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

William Butler Yeats (1st Poem)

The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats is my favorite poet. I have stood in his home, and looked out on the surrounding fields. I could easily imagine how the serenity of the countryside and the peace of his house would lend themselves to the writing of good poetry.

When I was in primary school in Ireland, we learned this poem 'off-by-heart'. It has remained very close to my heart!

I believe that Yeats wrote this poem when he was living in London and it was published around 1890 or so. He missed the beauty of Ireland and longed to return there. For those of you who yearn to escape from city life and live a quieter one in the countryside, please contemplate this poem. It is even more beautiful if you read it aloud.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A new baby; and, childhood literacy

Welcome to the new baby in our family!
May he enjoy good health and much happiness
in his lifetime.

Just think of all the wonderful books and nursery rhymes you can
read to a child!

Please read to your child every day. It is never too early to start.
Even looking at pictures and talking about what you see is a great
start for a really young child.

And when your child can read alone, by all means let him/her.
But please also continue to read aloud with your child.

There is an added bonus: you will get just as much joy as your

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Winter's snowy beauty

I found this photo by Miro Slav Vajdic on
It conveys peace, and calm, and quiet.
Reflect on it and enjoy the beauty too.
Even though this snowy landscape is stark and bare, it
is incredibly beautiful.
Since it is copyrighted, I will not post it.
Please look at it yourself at

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why Bother To Blog?

Why bother to blog, when you can read a good book!

My goal here is to remind you of the simple pleasure of reading a great book, a great short story, a great poem. You might be introduced to something new, or be reminded of something you read in the past. I hope you will then be inspired to read or re-read the full text for yourself.