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.