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Archive for the month “February, 2022”

My reading week: 8/52

Currently Reading

I’m reading Piranesi by Susanna Clarke and listening to The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak.

Recently Completed

Having not finished any books last week, I’ve managed to complete four this week.

The first was Mr Cadmus by Peter Ackroyd.

Two apparently harmless women reside in cottages one building apart in the idyllic English village of Little Camborne. Miss Finch and Miss Swallow, cousins, have put their pasts behind them and settled into conventional country life. But when a mysterious foreigner, Theodore Cadmus – from a Mediterranean island nobody has heard of – moves into the middle cottage, the safe monotony of their lives is shattered.

Soon, long-hidden secrets and long-held grudges threaten to surface, drawing all into a vortex of subterfuge, theft, violence, mayhem . . . and murder.

I’ve never read anything by Peter Ackroyd before and was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable and entertaining the first two thirds to three quarters of this novel was. Then it took a decidedly bizarre turn – and not in a positive way – and I didn’t know quite what to make of it. Judging by its reviews on Goodreads, I wasn’t alone in my response!

This will fulfil prompt 11 of the 52 Book Club Reading Challenge: A book with less than 2022 Goodreads’ ratings.

I also finished listening to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, which was chosen for my March book club.

Tom Sawyer and his friends seek out adventure at every turn. Then one fateful night they witness a murder. The boys swear never to reveal the secret and run away to be pirates and search for hidden treasure. But when Tom gets trapped in a cave with the murderer, can he escape unharmed?

It’s taken me a long time to have my first encounter with this children’s classic. It was better than I expected but I felt pretty ambivalent towards it.

Prompt 39 of the Challenge: A middle-grade novel.

I also listened to Black Vodka, a collection of ten short stories by Deborah Levy.

‘Elisa said Yes and I said Yes. We said Yes in all the European languages. Yes. We said yes we said yes, yes to vague but powerful things, we said yes to hope which has to be vague, we said yes to love which is always blind, we smiled and said yes without blinking.’ (‘A Better Way to Live’) ———– How does love change us? And how do we change ourselves for love – or for lack of it? Ten stories by acclaimed author Deborah Levy explore these delicate, impossible questions. In Vienna, an icy woman seduces a broken man; in London, a bird mimics an old-fashioned telephone; in adland, a sleek copywriter becomes a kind of shaman. These are twenty-first century lives dissected with razor-sharp humour and curiosity, stories about what it means to live and love, together and alone.

I enjoy Deborah Levy’s writing (Hot Milk is one of my favourites) and these stories were interesting. I think I would have preferred to read them so I could ponder them more.

Prompt 43: An author who’s published in more than one genre.

My final completion was The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin.

No-one knows that better than seventeen-year-old Lenni. But as she is about to learn, it’s not only what you make of life that matters, but who you share it with.

Dodging doctor’s orders, she joins an art class where she bumps into fellow patient Margot, a rebel-hearted eight-three-year-old from the next ward. Their bond is instant as they realise that together they have lived an astonishing one hundred years.

To celebrate their shared century, they decide to paint their life stories: of growing old and staying young, of giving joy, of receiving kindness, of losing love, of finding the person who is everything.

Although this novel has a thread of sadness woven through it, it is an enjoyable and life-affirming read. The convergence of an unlikely selection of characters makes for an endearing story.

Prompt 8: Involving the art world.

Reading Next

I’ll probably return to At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano.

My reading week: 7/52

I made a trip to the library this week, for the first time in over two years, and was seriously impressed at the restocking they seem to have done. I found many books that I’ve been wanting to read so it was hard to limit these to what I can read in three weeks. As a result, I now have several books on the go!

Currently Reading

I’ve temporarily set aside At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano. This is one I’ve bought so I’ll return to it soon.

In its place I’m reading Mr Cadmus by Peter Ackroyd, which I hadn’t heard of but am enjoying and have almost finished.

I’m still listening to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, but I also borrowed a hard copy.

I’m also still reading Emotional Agility by Susan David and will spread this one over a few weeks.

Another library find was Five-Minute Watercolour: Super-quick Techniques for Amazing Paintings by Samantha Nielsen.

Recently Completed

Nothing has been finished this week.

Reading Next

Surprisingly, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke was available in the library so this might be next on the list.

My quotation this week comes from Emotional Agility and contains an important truth:

The paradox of happiness is that deliberately striving for it is fundamentally incompatible with the nature of happiness itself. Real happiness comes through activities you engage in for their own sake rather than for some extrinsic reason, even when the reason is something as seemingly benevolent as the desire to be happy.

Susan David

Review of my winter wonder list

A view down the Thames to Tower Bridge from the Millennium Bridge

Towards the end of November last year, I began considering my intentions for the winter season. You can read more about them here. Now that winter is drawing to a close, it is time to review how these went.

Read Wintering by Katherine May. This is one of those books that keeps popping up all over the place and so I saved it to read at the start of this season. It helped me to think differently about my least favourite season and the benefits of ‘wintering’ in our lives. Instead of yearning for warm days and feeling dissatisfied with cold, dark mornings and evenings, I changed my perspective and embraced all that winter has to offer: frosty, sunny mornings and cosy, snug, indoor evenings. As May points out:

Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season when the world takes on a sparse beauty, and even the pavements sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order.

Light candles and snuggle in a blanket. I’ve savoured doing this and it has made the cold evenings far more cosy and enjoyable.

Attempt to knit the Evermore sweater. I had my reservations about doing this as there was just too much that was unfamiliar (US instructions, circular needles, top-down pattern, i-cord bind off) but I took it slowly, started and restarted when I realised I was way out with the tension, and I have just one sleeve left to complete so it should be finished by the end of the month. It’s turned out far easier than I anticipated and I’m now planning on knitting another one because I’ve enjoyed doing this so much.

Knit a chunky hat. I’ve actually knitted three: one for me and one for each of my daughters, and even had just enough wool left over for a headband.

Wrap up warm and go for walks. I had planned on walking more in the Surrey countryside but apart from one visit, this hasn’t happened. I have, however, been out most days walking the dog in our large local park.

Host a Christmas or New Year celebration. It seems a long time ago now but we hosted Christmas day at ours. It was fairly low key as it was touch-and-go with the current situation but we had a relaxing and fun day of Christmas lunch, followed by games.

Visit London. I have really missed London theatres over the past couple of years so have made the most of them this winter. My daughter and I had tickets to see Mamma Mia for our Christmas trip but half and hour before we were due to leave to catch the train, I had an email saying that due to covid, the show was cancelled. Not to be deterred, I quickly got online and booked tickets for Pretty Woman instead – and our trip was saved.

We also went to see 2.22: A Ghost Story, which was excellent, and followed it with tapas at our favourite Spanish restaurant.

Last Friday, I met my other daughter and my four-week-old grandson at Liverpool Street and we had a leisurely lunch together at The Folly. As I was already in London, I decided to go to the theatre in the evening and booked a ticket for Witness for the Prosecution, which was taking place at County Hall, the headquarters of the former London County Council/Greater London Council. I walked from the City down to St Pauls, across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern and along the Southbank, past the National Theatre, Festival Hall, and the London Eye. The play was performed in: ‘The octagonal Council Chamber [which] sits at the centre of County Hall, and provided seating for over 200 council members and four galleries overlooking the Chamber for the public and members of the press.’ It was a unique setting for this play as it felt as though we were in a courtroom.

Choose a word for the year. After much deliberation, which you can read about here, I chose the word nourish.

Attend a yoga workshop. In the heart of the beautiful Surrey countryside, there is a vineyard called Denbies, where you can walk, have a tour, visit the cafe or restaurant, or stay in their hotel. There is also a yoga studio on site, which was the perfect location for an afternoon workshop of vinyasa flow, yin and yoga nidra.

Begin practising ‘Living Your Yoga’. This is a book by Judith Hanson Lasater, from which I have put together a programme of working through a chapter more or less each week in an attempt to integrate the practices of yoga into all aspects of my life.

Take part in Everything Art’s ‘Care December’ offering. I did most of the sessions on this programme and I’m pleased to say it managed to get my dormant creative juices flowing again.

Do something spontaneous. All the theatre tickets were pretty much booked spontaneously as I’ve been loathe to book anything too far in advance because of the risk of them being cancelled. We booked 2.22: A Ghost Story the day before we went. I also decided to try out a new ballroom and Latin dance venue, and have been attending regularly since. On a whim, I signed up to Helen Colebrook’s ‘Journal with Purpose’ and am enjoying making my journalling more creative.

Setting these intentions for winter has certainly made this time of year more purposeful and enjoyment. Now it is time to start thinking about my spring list!

My reading week: 6/52

Currently Reading

I’m listening to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, which has been chosen for my March book club.

I’m reading Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David because who doesn’t need to do this?

Recently Completed

I finished three novels this week. The first was No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood.

As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms “the portal,” where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats–from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness–begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void. An avalanche of images, details, and references accumulate to form a landscape that is post-sense, post-irony, post-everything. “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?”

Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: “Something has gone wrong,” and “How soon can you get here?” As real life and its stakes collide with the increasingly absurd antics of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.

This novel is divided into two parts, the first of which focuses on the world of the ‘portal’, which is simultaneously humorous, absurd and hits disturbingly home. It made me question my relationship to an online life and how far I want to delve into this parallel reality. I felt slightly ambivalent to this section, recognising it contains important messages but not particularly gripped.

In stark contrast, the second part shifts to a very real event in the very real world and is hard-hitting and incredibly moving. My response to the first half was knocked sideways and this novel became a great work, in my opinion. At one point, I had tears in my eyes and I am grateful I stuck with it.

I listened to this novel but I feel it is one that I should have read.

I will use it for prompt 31 of the 52 Book Club Reading Challenge: Technology-themed.

I also read The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa.

Nana is on a road trip, but he is not sure where he is going. All that matters is that he can sit beside his beloved owner Satoru in the front seat of his silver van.

Satoru is keen to visit three old friends from his youth, though Nana doesn’t know why and Satoru won’t say. Set against the backdrop of Japan’s changing seasons and narrated with a rare gentleness and striking humour, Nana’s story explores the wonder and thrill of life’s unexpected detours.

This easy-to-read novel explores the importance of friendship, both human and feline, and the impact that we have on the lives of others. I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the pleasant, comfortable journey, until I neared the end when it became incredibly moving and emotional.

This fits prompt 34 of the Challenge: Author’s photo on the back cover.

My final completion was Three Sisters by Heather Morris.

When they are little girls, Cibi, Magda and Livia make a promise to their father – that they will stay together, no matter what. Years later, at just 15, Livia is ordered to Auschwitz by the Nazis. Cibi, only 19 herself, remembers their promise and follows Livia, determined to protect her sister, or die with her. Together, they fight to survive through unimaginable cruelty and hardship.

Magda, only 17, stays with her mother and grandfather, hiding out in a neighbour’s attic or in the forest when the Nazi militia come to round up friends, neighbours and family. She escapes for a time, but eventually she too is captured and transported to the death camp. In Auschwitz-Birkenau the three sisters are reunited and, remembering their father, they make a new promise, this time to each other: That they will survive.

This is a fictional account of a remarkable true story by the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which I haven’t read. I found I wanted to pick this up and follow the sisters on their heartbreaking and horrific journey. The account of their time in Auschwitz-Birkenau is a harrowing portrayal of the evil inflicted during this dark period in history.

I therefore feel unjust in the criticism that is to follow but for me it was about 100+ pages too long and I think it would have been better to stop writing at a certain point, omit the final part, and tell the remainder of the story as a biographical summary. I also felt that at times it slipped through the gap between fiction and biography. Having said that, it is well worth reading.

This will suit several prompts but I’m going to choose number 10: A book based on a real person.

Reading Next

This will probably be another Japanese novel, At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano.

My thought-provoking quotation this week comes from Three Sisters:

Is that it? she thinks. They went through all that horror, and now they’re just being sent home, on a bus, as if nothing had happened? Rage spikes her body. Who is going to say sorry? Who is going to atone for their suffering, the senseless deaths?

My reading week: 5/52

Currently Reading

I’m reading The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa for the Japanese Literature book club.

I’ve recommenced listening to No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I ended up restarting this from the beginning.

Recently Completed

I finally finished The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard.

Caro, gallant and adventurous, is one of two Australian sisters who have come to post-war England to seek their fortunes. Courted long and hopelessly by young scientist, Ted Tice, she is to find that love brings passion, sorrow, betrayal and finally hope. The milder Grace seeks fulfilment in an apparently happy marriage. But as the decades pass and the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives, love, death and two slow-burning secrets wait in ambush for them.

I have mixed feelings about this novel: at times I was gripped by what I was reading; at others, I wondered what the purpose was. It was also a very slow read, although I can’t determine why but possibly because it is written in a very literary style.

I’m going to use it for prompt 36 of the 52 Book Club Reading Challenge: Recommended by a favourite author. Anne Tyler says it is: ‘A wonderfully mysterious book…Both plot and characters are many layered. Unforgettably rich.’ I think this is a fair assessment of the novel.

I also finished listening to The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman.

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

This novel appears to be incredibly popular so I had very high hopes. Unfortunately, as often happens in these cases, my expectations were unrealistically elevated and I found it a disappointment. I was less interested in the murder and far more interested in the individual characters. There were, however, moments of delightful humour and I particularly enjoyed the sections narrated by Joyce in the form of her diary.

This is an obvious choice for prompt 13 of the reading challenge: Includes a club.

Reading Next

I’ll definitely have to read Three Sisters by Heather Morris as it’s the February pick for my book club and time is running out.

My quotation this week comes from The Transit of Venus:

If you live essentially within society there are times when you’d prefer to depend on the social formula – and you discover you’ve somewhat spoiled that possibility. You’ve disqualified yourself from judging others by those rules.

Shirley Hazzard

My one word: January check-in

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

My word of the year for 2022 is:

nourish

You can find out more about how and why I chose it here.

It seems appropriate to split my focus into seven areas that I want to nourish, which I might add to later if necessary. These are body, mind, soul, environment, relationships, time, and creativity.

For body, the focus will be on sleep/rest, healthy food, hydration, exercise, and style.

For mind: challenges, learning/development, letting go of negative thoughts, meditation, and decluttering.

For soul: activities that feed and inspire, such as art, literature and nature.

For environment: home, garden, and mental environment.

For relationships: family, friends, and myself.

For time: slowing down, planning and scheduling, setting seasonal intentions, thinking before committing, and using it wisely.

For creativity: writing, creative journalling, art, dancing, knitting, sewing, and crafts.

These aren’t discrete areas though; there is copious overlap. Take dancing, which I have placed under creativity but which really embraces all categories: it is exercise, learning figures challenges my mind, the experience feeds my soul, I am working within a specific environment that I need to be mindful of, it is a social activity that depends on working with others, it is a way of nourishing my time, and it requires creativity. So although I thought I might focus on a specific area each month, I soon realised it wasn’t as straightforward as that.

In what ways did I nourish my life in January.

I’ve had many days when I have eliminated sugar from my diet and I’ve also cut down on alcohol. For 18 months, I cut out sugar completely and felt much more ‘balanced’ so I know this is a worthwhile goal to pursue, which gets easier with time. I haven’t managed to exclude this completely this month but I have made some inroads. Last year from 1st January I went for 133 days without alcohol. Again, after a while, I didn’t miss it. I’m not going for a total ban but instead want to be more mindful about when I drink. I’ve also reverted to my habit of starting the day with a herbal tea instead of a coffee and have been generally increasing the amount of water I drink. I have a well-established near daily yoga practice, which has become an essential part of my life and now that places are opening up again, I have returned to modern jive, ballroom and Latin dancing. I’m also doing zumba but have dropped the line dancing as I wasn’t enjoying the music (too much country and not enough pop for me) – making this decision was guided by nourishing my time. In the past, I would have been tempted to continue despite not being entirely satisfied; now, I know there are other more fulfilling ways of spending this time.

I’ve also worked on freeing up my mind of its mental clutter by listing all those niggling admin tasks that I’ve been putting off for a long, long time and working through them. I’ve cancelled some subscriptions I no longer wanted, submitted my tax return, organised cheaper broadband, and am noting in my planner tasks I need to do, calls to make, and items I need to follow up on. I want to keep on top of things and free up my mind by not leaving them until the last minute. So far this has made a huge impact and is a burden relieved. It is also a way of nourishing my time because when these chores are under control, I am free to focus on more pleasurable activities without that constant nagging at the back of mind that something else requires attention.

As another way of nourishing my time, I am slowing down and delving deeper into my reading, looking at analyses and watching videos of writers talking about their novels. I’m not racing to finish one book and start the next, and where I have something to read by a certain date, I’m allowing plenty of time to complete it without the pressure of having to rush.

It’s been a lovely start to the year with the birth of my first grandchild on 10th January. My daughter has recently moved 30 miles away and so I’m setting aside time to visit them every couple of weeks and enjoy this special time. I read somewhere that having a grandchild is like having your own child over again but without the birth process – and somewhat unbelievably I’ve found that it’s true! I feel the same bond with him as I felt when I had my own children!

I feel happy with the way I have been nourishing my life in January. It hasn’t been perfect: I’ve had a few chocolate binges and sleep-disturbed nights; I haven’t done much art journalling or any creative writing. But when I feel myself getting cranky and veering off-track, I stop, take stock and ask myself what I need to do to nourish myself and my life.

And this has given me a far better start to the year than I would usually have.

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