On the positive side, the back-to-school supplies are starting to appear in the local stores. I absolutely LOVE shopping for new notebooks, pencils, pens, markers, folders, etc. I think this time of year is more reminiscent of New Year's than January 1st. It symbolizes the beginning of a new academic year - new teachers, new subjects, new activities - a fresh start. There is nothing like a row of newly sharpened, number two pencils, with unused erasers, ready to take notes that will somehow translate to a greater appreciation and understanding of curriculum. Each new notebook symbolizes endless possibilities: annotations of a new favorite book; journal entries that record another milestone event; research notes that probe deeper into the knowledge of a favorite subject. Different colored folders and highlighters and ballpoint pens help to organize my life and my learning. Yes, I look forward to walking the aisles of Walmart and Bed, Bath and Beyond to purchase necessary supplies and daydream of new ways to become more efficient.
Mom was able to come home from the hospital this week, and after a minor setback on Wednesday, she seems to be doing well. I have been more proactive in finding necessary help for her in the hopes that she will feel more comfortable and secure, and I can return to being a daughter rather than a primary care provider (a role in which I do not excel). The weather is too hot to do anything outside, so I have taken advantage of these new-found hours in my day and finished reading three books this week (which is a record number of books for me): one short story collection, one novel, and one non-fiction book. A rather eclectic mix, but it suited me just fine.
Life Studies by Susan Vreeland was a delight from beginning to end. As I stated last week, this is a collection of historical fiction short stories. The first two-thirds of the book focus on artists and paintings from mostly the Impressionist era; and the remaining one-third of the book focuses on those of the modern era. Rather than center the story on the art or artist, the author has instead told the story from an "ordinary" person's point of view. This could either be a model in the painting, or the wife or lover or neighbor. I was very impressed with the variety of story ideas - they are all so different. I am afraid if I were to tackle such an anthology, the stories would begin to sound the same.
I won't recant the different stories here (but I do highly recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in art or historical fiction. Since each story stands on its own, you can easily read this along with another novel, and by reading one story each night, you could complete the book in about two weeks). I do, however, want to share a fantastic event that was showcased in the second portion of the book, and one in which I hope I have the opportunity to visit some year: The Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, California. It sounds like an amazing show where Masterpieces of Art are portrayed on stage by real-life models. Have any of you attended this spectacular? If so, I'd love to hear your review.
Once I completed Life Studies, I decided to skim through a few of my recent library acquisitions. In my typical style, I read the book flaps and the first couple of paragraphs of each book to get an idea of which one to read next. I was about three pages into The Season of Second Chances when I realized that this was the book for me at this moment in time. Joy Harkness has been a literary professor at Columbia University for several years, and she has decided that she is tired of the politics, tired of the Big Apple, and tired of her life. She is wooed to Amhurst by a well-respected academician and she jumps at the opportunity to start over again. This story chronicles her move to a new city, a run-down house that is in desperate of major renovation, a new work environment, and several new relationships. I liked that story - but I think what truly resonated with me about this book was how much I saw myself in Joy. It was almost as if this could have been my story - in an entirely different place and time.
Rather than keep track of significant quotes of the book, like I usually do, I decided to keep track of our similarities. Here are just a few:
- She lived in New York approximately the same time that I did, and her recollection of the merger of Chemical Bank and Manufacturer's Hanover (Manny Hanny) brought back many fond memories (page 3)
- She loves to research the answers to any question (academic or household) and she marks passages of books with loads of post-it notes which "stuck out like messy tongues" (page 21)
- She can't grow plants to save her life "I never so much as sprouted a plant from an avocado pit" (page 23)
- She grades LOTS of papers, noticing a pattern in students' writing from year to year "the early work of first year students rarely sings with originality. Somewhere in the year they begin to find their voice. Somewhere in their last year they begin to exercise a degree of control over that voice, and sometime before they're sixty, if they're very lucky, they decide what it is they really have to say." (page 39)
- She has collected the furniture and knick-knacks of parting relatives - not really knowing what to do with it all, and yet not able to give it away because "the world might be told about me through exposure to their loveliness and the stories contained within each chip and crackle of patina." (page 66)
- She is not comfortable with sharing emotions and showing affection, particularly when it comes to sitting with someone in the ICU of a hospital "Oh, God. I began to panic. Stroke her skin? I'm not good at this. I'm not one to talk to someone awake, no less comatose.....you can't trust me to do this right." (page 143)
- She believes that we should all strive to be all we can be - and sometimes in sharing that message with others, we are misinterpreted --- they view us as not accepting them for who they are. "Everybody needs to be more. Everybody needs to find out how much more they can be. I think that is our mission. If there's any reason at all we are alive - isn't it to find out how much we can be and find the courage to try to be all those things in the time we've got here?" (page 211)
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is probably why it only took me about a day to read it!
When I finished that novel I immediately felt drawn to read, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. Honestly, I cannot remember who recommended this book to me (one of the back-to-school items I will purchase this week is a small notebook that can be devoted to the blog: book recommendations, site recommendations, etc) --- but whoever it was THANK YOU!!! I do believe this is one of the best books on the writing process that I have read in a long time. Ms. Ueland comes from the premise that all human beings are creative - we just need to be patient (creativity is not something that happens on command) and we need to free ourselves from the tyranny of perfectionism. I think I found two or three gems to quote per chapter - but I will share the one that really spoke to me at this point in my writing journey:
For years I persuaded myself it was hard to use the imagination. Not so. The only hard part in using it is the anxiety, the fear of being mediocre.....But now I know that imagination comes, works, when you are not trying, when you have a peculiar passive clarity (page 160)
I have been trying to "work" on awakening the creative forces within me this summer. I have found a few blogs that focus on creativity using a variety of mediums: art, photography, writing, etc. Joan's blog focuses on poetry and doodling and I have greatly admired her artwork over the past couple of weeks. I asked her about her doodling style and she led me to zentangles. Have you heard of this? Well, it was new to me, but I am now obsessed. I have looked at several photo groups on flickr that focus on tangles and have even ordered a book, Totally Tangled, which should arrive later this week. I have no aspirations of being a "true" artist, but I think I can handle doodling.
Anyway, I was so enthralled with Ms. Ueland's book that I requested my own copy from Paperback Swap and it should arrive this week. I look forward to re-reading the book again and again.
Now, as if this were not enough new books to come into my household, let me explain why I am a little late writing this Sunday Salon post. The family took advantage of the Half Price Bookstore 50% off coupon today. All five of us -- my eldest and her husband, my youngest, my husband and myself, left the house around 9:00 and went to shop #1 where I was able to purchase a lovely two-book set on What Great Paintings Say for $15.00 (score!!) We then had a scrumptious breakfast at Ma's 39th Street Diner, which was featured a couple of years ago on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. We then hit store #2 where I was able to purchase a copy of The Christmas Cookie Club for $3.50 (I enjoyed the book when I read it over the holidays - and I have another book idea that is told in this format, so I wanted my own copy for research purposes). We then hit store #3 where I could not resist the purchase of The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England for $6.50 (I plan to read this book prior to teaching the Canterbury Tales as enrichment for myself that hopefully I can pass along to the students). We returned home exhausted around 3:00. It was a very good day!!
This week looks low-key which hopefully means I will have time to read and write. What plans do you have?