A plume with a hue

Archive for the month “November, 2021”

Review of my autumn exploration project

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Back in September, I set myself a list of intentions for autumn. You can read about them here:

Now that autumn is transitioning into winter, I thought I would see how this went.

1. Spend a long weekend visiting my daughter. I’m pleased to say I did this and spent Thursday to Sunday in a rented cottaged in Essex, meeting up with my daughter to go for lunch and walks and generally hang out together.

2. Go for a walk in the autumn countryside. We have had a mild autumn in the UK and took the opportunity to do a four mile walk around Westcott in the beautiful Surrey countryside. It was warm and peaceful and made me appreciate the amazing places I have within a short drive.

3. Have a weekend away. My partner and I had a weekend away in Kent where we relaxed in the hotel spa, walked around Godinton Gardens, and went dancing.

4. Go to the theatre. I’m pleased to say I made two visits to the theatre: one to see the musical Come From Away and the other to see The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonough, the latter being one of my favourite plays, emotionally draining and powerful.

5. Read eight books. I’m not sure how many I have read but it is more than eight. This year I set myself a target of 52 books and have so far read 96. I’m now aiming for 100 by the end of the year.

6. Work on and complete the soul4thesoul book. I’ve worked on this but haven’t quite got round to completing it yet. I’m nearly there though with just pages 13 and 14 to finish off, and pages 15 and 16 to start. Find out more about Anne Brooke’s projects here:

7. Master a ballroom dance to a level that gets me round the dance floor. My attendance has been a bit erratic and I can’t seem to get the momentum going. However, I did learn a waltz routine that I particularly liked (and could do!). I would, however, feel a whole lot happier if I could get past the heel turn in the foxtrot.

8. Blog about creative projects. I’m too busy doing them to blog about them. I’ve recently taken up embroidery and slow stitching, and have returned to knitting.

9. Host an evening of dance. I had planned on doing this in November. However, I keep getting invited to meals and parties – I think people are making up for lost time. This will have to move to next year now that we are entering the busy Christmas period.

10. Do something spontaneous or different. I am a big fan of spontaneity and last weekend I booked myself on a yoga nidra workshop, which was both interesting and nourishing.

I’ve found this kind of seasonal focus beneficial as it helps me to attune myself to the changing seasons. Consequently, I plan on writing a winter wonder list in the forthcoming week.

My reading week: 47/52

Currently Reading

I have just started the second novel in Margaret Atwood‘s dystopian trilogy, The Year of the Flood.

I am listening to Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper.

Recently Completed

The first novel I finished this week was The Dinner Guest by B P Walter. From the blurb:

Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave. Charlie didn’t want Rachel at the book club. Matthew wouldn’t listen.

I was fully engaged at the beginning of this novel as the mystery slowly built. However, as it progressed, it became somewhat unbelievable and thus disappointing.

My second completion was Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat. From the blurb:

Ville Rose, Haiti. An enchanted girl goes missing by moonlight on the shores of a poor fishing town. As family, friends and even strangers join the search for her, each remembers a loved one they too have lost. And the threads of memory bind them: together, apart; the secrets they hold close and the stories that they share are like stars reflected in a dark sea leading her home.

I chose this novel as it appeared on a list of magical realism books and I had just enjoyed a short story by this author. It wasn’t what I expected. The individual stories, although tenuously linked, didn’t hold together as a novel, and I expected ‘Claire’ to feature more prominently throughout. Although it was well-written, I felt it lacked the thread necessary to define it as a novel rather than a collection of short stories, and I found I wanted more of an emotional involvement with who I thought would be the main character.

Finally, I finished listening to The Foundling by Stacey Halls. From Halls’ website:

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst – that Clara has died in care – the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed – by her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.

Less than a mile from Bess’ lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.

This was a good novel to listen to and the East London accent of Bess gave it an authenticity that I wouldn’t have experienced if I had read it. It raises an interesting moral question: is a child better off being raised in comfortable surroundings with someone who is not their parent or living a life of poverty with their birth mother? The novel doesn’t give an easy answer. It is also particularly effective at demonstrating the impact of class on life in London in the late 1700s.

Reading Next

I may well continue my chronological reread of Anne Tyler‘s novels, the next on the list being A Slipping Down Life.

My quotation this week is from Claire of the Sea Light and made me think about those impactful moments.

…you are talking about one moment that changed your life. A moment that made everything that had come before it seem meaningless. A moment that had transformed you inside and out.

Edwidge Danticat

My reading week: 46/52

Currently Reading

My current read, which I’m just about to finish, is The Dinner Guest by B P Walter.

I’m also listening to The Foundling by Stacey Halls, which has been chosen for my December book club.

Recently Completed

This week, I finished Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. From the blurb:

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a sudden fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that Hamnet will not survive the week.

Hamnet was Shakespeare’s son and this is an account of events surrounding his death. I’m not a fan of historical novels, particularly fictionalised renditions of real people, and I would never have read this had it not been lent to me. However, I found the novel surprisingly compelling, with an almost timeless quality. The characters are sympathetically drawn and their world beautifully created. I can understand why it won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020.

Reading Next

I’ve hit a bit of a wall and don’t know what I want to read but while I’m thinking about what the next few novels will be, I’ll go for Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat.

The 52 Book Club Reading Challenge – 2021

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For the past couple of years, I have been taking part in the 52 Book Club Reading Challenge, which you can find out more about here:

This year, I completed the challenge very early, having got the year off to a great reading start whilst everything was closed down. I finished my final category around May/June.

Here are the categories and the books I read for each one.

Set in a school – Jennings goes to School by Anthony Buckeridge

Featuring the legal profession – The Secrets of Strangers by Charity

A dual timeline – What We Owe by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde

An author that is deceased – Daisy Miller by Henry James

Published by Penguin – Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello

A character with the same name as a male family member – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (John)

An author with only one published book – What’s Left of Me is Yours by Stephanie Scott

A book in the 900’s of the Dewey Decimal System – Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Set in a Mediterranean country – The Mersault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

Related to the word “fire” – A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Book with discussion questions inside – How Hard can It Be? By Allison Pearson

Title starting with the letter “D” – Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

Includes an exotic animal – Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (the tralfamadorians)

Written by an author over 65 (when published) – Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

A book mentioned in another book – Washington Square by Henry James

Set before the 17th Century – Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

A character “on the run” – The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Author with a 9-letter last name – Water Street by Crystal Wilkinson

Book with a deckled edge – Intimations by Zadie Smith (the picture on the front is deckled)

Made into a TV series – Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Book by Kristin Hannah – The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (stretching this but I chose a book highly rated by Kristin Hannah)

A family saga – The Space Between Us by Zoya Pirzad

An ending that surprises you – Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

A book you think they should read in schools – The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

A book with multiple character POV – Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto

An author of color – Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden

First chapter ends on an odd page number – No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai

Includes a historical event you know little about – Girl by Edna O’Brien

Watch out for dragons! – Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall

Featuring the environment – The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk

Book that shares a similar title to another book – Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre)

A character who is selfish – The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

Featuring adoption – Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

A book you’d rate 5 stars – The Outsider by Albert Camus

Set in a country that starts with the letter “S” – Liberty Walks Naked by Maram al-Masri (Syria)

A nameless narrator – Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea

An educational read – Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Recommended on BookBub – Flex by Annie Auerbach

An alternate history novel – The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N Murari

Found via #bookstagram – Convenience Store Woman by Sayata Murata

An endorsement by a famous author on the cover – Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel (endorsed by Kamila Shamsie and Colm Tóibín)

An epistolary – Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011 by Paul Auster and J M Coetzee

A character with a pet cat – The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

Includes a garden – The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

A coming of age novel – The Tree by Joan Tate

Winner of the National Book Award – any year – Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

A character with a disability – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

A cover with a woman who is facing away – 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

A book with a flavour in the title – Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

A book with a shoe on the cover – I, The Divine by Rabih Alameddine

Published in 2021 – The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Re-do one of the previous 51 categories from this 2021challenge – Endgame by Samuel Beckett (an author who is deceased)

This is fun to participate in and it’s good to see that the list for 2022 has just been released. Whilst there are one or two categories that will challenge me, the majority are easily manageable.

My reading week: 45/52

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Currently Reading

I am currently reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I’m not a fan of historical novels, preferring 20th century onwards, but this has been lent to me and I know it is highly acclaimed so have decided to give it a try.

I’m listening to The Foundling by Stacey Halls, which has been chosen for my December book club and is another historical novel.

Recently Completed

I reread (second time this year) The Outsider by Albert Camus for my November book club. For this reading, I went back to the translation I like best – Joseph Laredo. From the blurb:

Meursault leads an apparently unremarkable bachelor life in Algiers until his involvement in a violent incident calls into question the fundamental values of society. In his classic existentialist novel Camus explores the predicament of the individual who is prepared to face the benign indifference of the universe courageously and alone. In this world, cut off from a sense of God, society has created rules so binding that any person breaking them is condemned as an alien, an outsider. For Meursault it is an insult to his reason and a betrayal of his hopes; for Camus it is the absurdity of life. To him Meursault was not ‘a reject, but a poor and naked man…who, without any heroic pretensions, agrees to die for the truth’.

I adore this novel and feel a tremendous sympathy for Meursault. Yes, what he did was wrong; however, he isn’t judged solely on his crime but on unrelated actions which do not fit in with society’s expectations of an individual’s behaviours. How often do we act in a manner which goes against our nature, lie to fit in, make the right noises to conform to the norms? How often do we impose meaning on others’ actions and judge them harshly when they do not match society’s standards? Meursault refuses to be inauthentic and to say what he does not mean – and society cannot accept this; there is no room for such transgressions.

This translation is for me is superior: powerful in its simplicity and succinctness. I never tire of reading this masterpiece, each time discovering a new idea to contemplate, a new action to consider, a new image to explore. As Meursault explains, ‘I realised then that a man who’d only lived for a day could easily live for a hundred years in a prison. He’d have enough memories not to get bored.’ If I only had this book to read, I would have enough never to get bored.

I also completed The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain. From the blurb:

Amjad cradles his baby daughter in the middle of the night. He has no time to mourn his wife’s death. His children, Saahil and Zahra, are relying on him. Amjad vows to protect them always.

Years later, Saahil and his best friend, Ehsan, have finished university. When their celebrations turn dangerous, the devastating effects will ripple through the years to come.

Zahra is now her father’s only source of comfort. Life has taken her small family in different directions – will they ever find their way back to each other?

I enjoyed the first two thirds of this novel: the characters are interesting, the events absorbing and I was drawn comfortably into their story. However, it went on for too long and, for me, became slightly tedious, with the ending being a little too neat for my liking.

I finished listening to Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. This was the 2018 winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. From their website:

Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she resumes a dream long deferred – studying in America. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream – to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to – or defy. The fates of these two families are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

This was a satisfying novel to listen to. I particularly liked the structure with sections focusing on the different characters, giving insight into their stories. It shows how people, in naivety, can find themselves in unexpected situations or take actions which result in unintended outcomes. It explores complex issues in an interesting way.

Reading Next

My TBR pile continues to shrink so I may read The Dinner Guest by B P Walter.

This week’s quotation comes from The Outsider and contains, I believe, a truth.

Anyway it was an idea of mother’s and she often used to repeat it, that you ended up getting used to everything.

Albert Camus

Summer of fun review

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Back on 20th June, I wrote a list of twelve things I wanted to do during the summer. You can read more about them here:

Here’s how my intentions unfolded.

1. Go on a yoga retreat. This was a fantastic experience. Read more about it here:

2. Walk in the countryside. I was hoping to do lots of walking on my trip to the New Forest. However, I (fortunately) chose the hottest week of the year to go and it was just too hot to do much walking. We did, however, do lots of early morning and evening walks along the extensive beach, which was particularly lovely, and managed a couple of countryside walks around Burley during the last two days when the temperature dropped.

3. Go for afternoon tea. My sister, daughter and I went to the Ivy for a delicious afternoon tea. It always feels such a treat to indulge ourselves in this way.

4. Have cocktails. After a trip to the theatre in London to see Everyone’s Talking about Jamie, my daughter and I found ourselves sitting outside a bar in Covent Garden enjoying watermelon mojitos. It had been a warm day, which had turned into a pleasant, sunny evening and London was buzzing – great to see so many people out having a good time.

5. Visit the New Forest. I had a lovely ten day break in this beautiful part of English, staying in a caravan/lodge (I have no idea what to call these types of places), a retreat, and a shepherd’s hut!

6. Go to a coffee shop. This a simple treat of mine, which I hadn’t done during the madness that was 2020 and the first half of 2021 so I made a point of heading off, and spending some relaxing time reflecting and reassessing. I find that coffee shops provide an ideal pause in life to check where I’m at and where I want to be.

7. Wear summer dresses. When I head to the Mediterranean, I make a point of wearing summer dresses. I vowed to do the same in England but unfortunately, with only a few exceptions, we didn’t have the best summer. I think I only managed this on three occasions, far less than I would have wished.

8. Spend a day at the beach. I made a couple of trips to the beach but the weather wasn’t great for actually sitting on it and spending the day there so I walked along it, which was lovely, just not quite what I had in mind. When I was in the New Forest, it was too hot(!) as we had the dog with us but we did sit on the beach for a couple of hours one evening.

9. Visit Sussex Prairie Gardens. This is a wonderful place that I had visited once before. When my daughter expressed a desire to go, it was an ideal opportunity for a revisit. It is a small garden, planted with tall borders with pathways through them so you can wander through the flowers. It is beautiful with a lovely creative feel to it, which is incredibly inspiring, and makes for a very pleasant afternoon out. We took a picnic and the dog!

10. Read and explore magical realism. I bought the books but only read two, both by Gabriel García Márquez: Leaf Storm and Love in the Time of Cholera. I’ll have to come back to this when I’m more in the mood.

11. Do something spontaneously. Read about my ‘Inspired to Stitch’ experience here:

12. Switch off and have a lazy day. I find this particularly difficult but when away in the New Forest, I managed to do just that. It’s harder to do at home though.

Being intentional in this way gave a real sense of purpose to my summer so I decided to do another list for autumn, which I’ll update on soon. I’m also in the process of preparing a winter list. Concentrating on the seasons in this way has had a positive effect on my wellbeing. Instead of dreading the move from summer to autumn to winter (the latter being my least favourite season), I feel more in tune with the changing seasons and feel quite welcoming towards this colder time of year.

Summer of fun review: do something spontaneously

Back in June, I created a list of things I wanted to do in the absence of having my usual summer holiday. Here is the original post:

One of the items was to do something spontaneously and I must say the activity I chose has had a major positive impact on my life!

On our visit to Sussex Prairie Gardens (number 9 on the list), I was reminded of what a creative vibe these gardens have; in fact, they have a resident artist and exhibition space, which they also use for creative courses. I decided to book a course and chose one entitled ‘Inspired to Stitch’. I contacted the tutor but was informed that it was fully booked. Oh well, it was quite expensive and ran over two non-consecutive days so it was probably for the best. Then, 24 hours after this disappointing news, I received an email advising that a place (there were only six) had become available. Without further thought, I booked myself on it, and then in a further act of spontaneity, I decided I wouldn’t drive backwards and forwards but would find somewhere to stay and turn it into a mini-break. The entire experience will definitely be one of the highlights of the year and has had a lasting impact.

I was slightly apprehensive as although I used to make my own clothes many years ago, I haven’t done anything in this field for a long time, and didn’t really know what the workshop entailed. I needn’t have worried. The tutor welcomed me to the group – now down to four of us – and when I saw her examples of what we would experiment with, I became very excited. It soon became apparent that this was just like art journalling (which I’d been doing for a few years until lockdown killed my mojo) but with fabric and thread. All I needed to do was choose some fabric pieces and thread and create abstract designs using variations of running stitch. All materials were provided and there was a vast array to select from. We created a series of three pieces using the same fabric and thread, breaking off every so often for more tutor-provided inspiration of techniques and possibilities that we could incorporate should we wish. We looked at Japanese boro and sashiko (hitherto completely unknown to me), at the tutor’s work and at books. It was inspiring, fun, relaxing, and completely pressure-free.

After the first day’s workshop, I wandered round the gardens before heading off to find the inn where I was staying. Again, I was apprehensive: staying on my own in an unknown place. And again I needn’t have worried. I was warmly welcomed and shown to a beautifully cosy room overlooking fields, and full of character. I ate in the restaurant, where they served delicious food, and spent the evening comfortably in my room absorbed in my stitching project.

The next day I headed down to the beach where despite being a sunny August day, it was blowing a gale. It was too windy to sit on the beach so I had a long walk along the seafront and lunched outside(!) an Italian restaurant before heading back to the inn for more stitching. I popped down to the bar in the evening for a snack – despite it being full, they managed to accommodate me as I was staying there, and looked after me well.

The second day of the workshop, we continued to stitch our designs, share our stories, and gain inspiration. Visitors to the gardens wandered into the room and admired what we were doing – the tutor had made it so easy, we looked like experts! During the course of the day, an Indian Bazaar had set itself up in the gardens so when the workshop ended, I headed over and managed to pick up some fabric scraps and sari ribbons to use in future projects.

All-in-all, this was a wonderful experience and has opened up a new world to me. Slow stitching is a cheap, easy, rewarding activity, which is very mindful and therapeutic, and thus fits comfortably into my life.

My reading week: 44/52

Currently Reading

The two novels I am reading/listening to at the moment both centre on Muslim families in Britain.

I’m currently reading The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain and am listening to Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie.

Recently Finished

This week I finished The Tin Can Tree by Anne Tyler, which is part of my project to read/reread all of Tyler’s novel in publication order. This is her second novel, which she subsequently disowned (along with her first and possibly her third). From the blurb:

When young Janie Pike dies in a tragic accident, she leaves behind a family numbed with grief and torn with guilt and recrimination. In this compassionate and haunting novel Anne Tyler explores how each member of the family learns to face the future in their own way.

In my opinion, this isn’t one of her stronger novels in that it didn’t seem to hold together so well. Whether that was the result of a less experienced novelist, or whether it was a deliberate technique to demonstrate the effect of grief, I’m not entirely sure. I felt I needed more information of the characters’ back stories to make better sense of their current position. There were too many loose ends and unvoiced motivations, which left me feeling somewhat confused and ambivalent.

I also finished listening to The Storyteller of Casablanca by Fiona Valpy. From Goodreads:

Morocco, 1941. With France having fallen to Nazi occupation, twelve-year-old Jewish girl Josie has fled with her family to Casablanca, where they await safe passage to America. Life here is as intense as the sun, every sight, smell and sound overwhelming to the senses in a city filled with extraordinary characters. It’s a world away from the trouble back home—and Josie loves it.

Seventy years later, another new arrival in the intoxicating port city, Zoe, is struggling—with her marriage, her baby daughter and her new life as an expat in an unfamiliar place. But when she discovers a small wooden box and a diary from the 1940s beneath the floorboards of her daughter’s bedroom, Zoe enters the inner world of young Josie, who once looked out on the same view of the Atlantic Ocean, but who knew a very different Casablanca.

It’s not long before Zoe begins to see her adopted city through Josie’s eyes. But can a new perspective help her turn tragedy into hope, and find the comfort she needs to heal her broken heart?

This dual timeline novel is told via Zoe’s reading of Josie’s diary. There is both tension and gradually unfolding mystery, although one event seemed to me contrived. I didn’t consciously see the plot twist despite the fact that I realised after it was revealed that I had been subconsciously questioning that aspect of the novel. This was an enjoyable listen.

Reading Next

My TBR pile is slowly decreasing and it seems a while since I bought any new novels (although ‘a while’ for me is about three weeks!). I’m considering reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell next.

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