Friday, March 28, 2014

The Demise of Mystery

The Demise of Mystery

I recently finished reading The Goldfinch, the multi-layered novel by author Donna Tartt, pictured above.  It is not a book to be read casually, as it was not written casually.  As is her wont, Ms. Tartt took ten years to write The Goldfinch, just as she did with her previous two novels.  The research is obvious here; one learns many things, from the intricate artistry of antique restoration to the dark and wasteful idiosyncrasies of the drug culture.  Everything, from the harsh light that crashes down on Las Vegas to the horizontal sleet that lashes Amsterdam windows at Christmastime, is vivid.  The book is Dickensian in scope, the characters diverse and clearly drawn, and it provided me with several rather theatrical dreams on the nights I read far too late.  I enjoyed it immensely.

Closing The Goldfinch after reading the final sentence I thought some about Donna Tartt and realized I knew very little about her.  Her author photograph remains virtually unchanged throughout her three books - same stark haircut, same direct stare.  I had no idea where she lived, whether or not she was married.  Did she have children?  Was she gay?  Did she have pets?  Looking around online unearthed scant information beyond the photographic evidence that she does indeed appear to share her life with a pug.  The only interviews I could find were those in which she spoke solely about her work.  How refreshing this was.  How unusual.  As I thought about how vital, at least for me, this mystery is to the work of an artist, I stopped looking for any more information on the inscrutable Donna Tartt.

There are days when I mourn the demise of mystery.  That illusive bit of uncertainty about someone; those little questions with the answers just out of reach, just past one’s fingertips, seem to add something irresistible and unique to a person.  I admit that it’s often difficult to lose myself in a book or film when I know too much about the personal life of an author or actor.  To preserve mysteries and surprises, I rarely read the flyleaf of a book till I’m done with it, am wary of movie previews, and rather wish great actors would stay off talk shows.  But in a world where, shall we politely say, over-sharing, can land you on the cover of American Vogue, I suppose, once again, I find myself in the minority.

Just yesterday I was a little befuddled to see a “personal message” from actress, Gwyneth Paltrow, in my inbox.  Upon opening it I squirmed as I read an email telling me about the breakup of her marriage, or in what I can only assume was an unintentionally humorous euphemism, their “conscious uncoupling”. It must be something beyond hubris that compels this sort of communication to the general public, but I couldn’t label it if I tried.  I do fear I’ll now find it difficult to watch Ms. Paltrow in any film without this inappropriate email swimming to the front of my head like a dreaded omen on an eight-ball. 

Believe me, I see the irony of extolling the beauties of mystery on the public forum of a blog.  But in the writing I do here, I only crack open the window of my life, just a bit, to allow the escape of those feelings and experiences that best show the promise for bursting through the personal to join the universal.  I try not to slather my writing with too much that is mine alone, as I’m sure the reader should greatly appreciate.  

I confess, I’d love to know your thoughts on this.
  Are you beguiled by a little mystery, as am I?  
Or do you prefer to know as much as you can about someone?  

If you want to read The Goldfinch for yourself,
you can find it HERE

Friday, March 21, 2014


The First Day of Spring!

“It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is.
 And when you've got it, you want—oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want,
 but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” 
Mark Twain

“Yeah, boy!”

Painting of Edward by Amber Alexander 
and found tucked inside HERE

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Such a Hypocrite

Such a Hypocrite

For those who have spent any time at all perusing my book, it is readily apparent that I am an inveterate hypocrite.  If you open the book to the Summer section for instance, you’ll find me waxing rhapsodic over gardenias and white linen, chinese lanterns and beachside storms.  But flip over to Autumn and I’m positively giddy at the prospect of jack-o-lanterns and falling leaves.  If Winter was all you chanced to read, you would swear on a stack of Bibles that this was the season I loved best as you found me curled up with Edward by the fire, lost in dreams of Christmas while the cold pressed its nose against my window.

In the face of such printed evidence, it is difficult if not impossible for me to defend my penchant for inconsistency.  You have me.  It’s true. I adore every season.  Every single season. When the old one begins to whither and fray round the edges, I look for a change in the wind, a slight alteration in the afternoon light, with barely contained joy.  

There was a day last week when the ice grey and brown of winter began to dissolve, melting almost imperceptibly to reveal a hint, just a hint, of lime green, weak perhaps, pastel and watered down, but there nonetheless.  The clouds rolled back just enough for sunbeams to catch a traveling breeze and drift down to our little patch of earth.  I threw open the windows and doors and filled my lungs with the sweet expectation of Spring. 

And it came back to me with such intensity - the delicious feel of bare feet on soft grass, giant fluffy ferns swaying on the front porch, sun hats and garden tours, Easter bunnies and pink.  It was as though I’d been given a present, this amazing combination of memory and anticipation which is a divine mixture that makes life worth living. 
I had no choice but to fill the house with the strains of Mozart.

And even though the next day was cold enough to warrant a roaring fire in the fireplace once again, I still now knew it was out there, warm and green and waiting its turn.
Are you looking forward to it?
Seems this girl is:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014



My Mother always looked for bluebirds.   On winter walks when I was a child she taught me to spot the red of the cardinal, the purple of the finch.  From her I learned to recognize  the blue jay, brown thrasher and dove.  Before I was three I could mimic the song of the towhee and I knew that the robin brought spring. I was schooled in the lyrical lilt of the mockingbird, taught to crack the secret code the woodpecker rapped on the oak.   She would call me down from the back of the house whenever a flock of redwing blackbirds gathered in a rolling dark sea beneath our pines.  Though unimpressed by what seemed to be just another boring murder of crows, I would do as I was told and wait until an inaudible signal was heard by the flock and, as one, they would lift into the summer air, black wings flashing blood red before my eyes.  The stuff of fairy tales. 

But the one bird that eluded her always was the one that she most longed to see.  The Bluebird.  This tricksy fellow took on the quality of myth in my house.  I knew the bluebirds from Disney movies, of course.  They sang duets with Snow White and helped dress Cinderella for the ball.  But around my Mother’s window, they remained as rare as a rose in December.  We thought we saw one once.  On a frosty morning, a flash of cerulean in the ice-covered trees; a bit of the ocean at home in the sky.  We stopped still, unblinking, finally deciding it was just a forest mirage.  My Father was commissioned to hang bluebird houses on our trees in the hopes of enticing them to our garden, but none ever moved in, something my Mother seemed to take as a personal affront to her hospitality.

When Mother died I brought home her capacious, extravagant bird feeder.  For years it sat like an avian castle outside her screened porch, easily seen from her kitchen window.  The Songwriter now keeps it filled with the tastiest seed, just as my Father used to do.  And goodness, do we have birds!  A feathered congregation forever in concert high up in our trees like a chorus of childhood friends.  But I’d long given up on the bluebird. 

So I doubted my eyes the first time I saw one.  I blinked and I stared in full disbelief.  But this year in our garden, as unimaginable as it is true, a veritable sea of blue has risen up, a July sky has drifted down, and we have scores and scores of bluebirds in residence round our house.  They splash in the birdbaths and foliate the bare branches of the poplar trees with brightest blue.  They sit on my dining room window sill and watch me drink my tea making me feel not that far removed from Snow White herself.  They are a wonder.

At first this unexpected abundance of the very riches my Mother longed for, but was denied, made me sad.  Why couldn’t she have had this in her own garden before she died?  I have turned this over and over in my head for weeks.  Then it slowly dawned on me that perhaps this could be a heavenly message sent down just for me.  A message from my Mother to me and me alone; knowing I would remember, hoping I could know.  Perhaps she wants to tell me she’s happier than she’s ever been; that her days are now full of everything she’s ever wanted.  For what could be a more joyful message?  And who could be a better messenger for me than this seldom seen fellow clad all in blue?  
I have chosen to believe this is true.
  For such are the mysteries of life.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Winter Rooms, Winter Books

Winter Rooms, Winter Books
  Last week’s dalliance with spring  has ended abruptly and it’s in the twenties again this week.  The fire’s crackling, the teapot singing.  Edward is snuggled in his favourite chair.  There’s no better time to open a captivating new book.  So, for these last weeks of winter here’s some tempting choices for your bedside table, along with some scenarios to hopefully create the perfect mood. Just click on the book’s photo to find out more.

A Weekend at Aunt Veronica’s
Growing up, Aunt Veronica scared every cousin you had.   One was afraid of her long red nails, another of the streak of white in her ebony hair.  Another was afraid of her laugh, and it’s true it was a sound one didn’t hear every day; a hybrid of whoot and whish that spilled out of her unexpectedly, never quietly, and never at the things generally regarded as funny.  The sight of a school bus, for instance, was always guaranteed to set her off.   Was it that particular shade of yellow, or the little faces so perfectly silhouetted in the windows?  You never knew.  She would howl with laughter if she saw her reflection in a rain puddle, giggle uncontrollably whenever she misplaced her keys.  While the rest of the kids in the family made themselves scarce whenever she came to visit, you found Aunt Ronnie enchanting and followed her round like a shadow.   You were the only one who begged to visit her in the summer holidays and you looked forward to those two weeks in her rambling house by the sea with all the anticipation of Christmas.  There, once a year, you ate strawberries and chocolate for breakfast, went barefoot on forest trails, guided only by her Irish Wolfhound, Finn, and listened as Aunt Veronica read to you by candlelight.  Always candlelight. Her voice, though low and resonant, was far from frightening to you, rather it was the perfect voice for reading aloud, something you implored her to do each night before bed.    No Little Women or Anne of Green Gables for Aunt Veronica,  though.  No, she was the one who read you Wuthering Heights and The Moonstone.  She introduced you to Miss Havisham and Mr. Hyde, Grace Poole and Ethan Frome.  Her choice of books always had a touch of mystery about them.  They sparked your imagination, even as they sometimes sent a shiver down your spine.
 As you pack on this blustery night for a weekend visit to your favourite Aunt, you find it hard to contain your happiness at what’s to come.  There will be strawberries and chocolate for breakfast, of course. And though Finn has long gone, you are looking forward to taking a long walk with Joyce, another grey Wolfhound.  There will be a stack of new, mysterious books by the candlesticks on your bedside table.  Let’s see... which one of these will you read to your Aunt?

The Winter People
by Jennifer McMahon
I’ve heard good things about this one.
A wee bit spooky, which is what you want on a cold, stormy night.

Boy, Snow, Bird
by Helen Oyeyemi
I’ve never read anything by this author, so I don’t know what to expect.
But from the cover to the reviews... I can’t resist reading this.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things
by Alice Hoffman

Ethan Frome
by Edith Wharton
The ultimate wintertime book.
The plot cuts like a rapier through the blowing snow.

A Winter Week at Michael’s
No one expected Michael to accept the invitation.  A college reunion, all the way across the country?  No one would have ever dreamed it to be his cup of tea.  Rather, this sort of conventional gathering would usually provide the perfect opportunity for his most exquisitely barbed witticisms and generate enough fodder for at least a month’s worth of wildly entertaining dinner parties.  So you were all brought up short by his surprise announcement over Sunday lunch at Margaret’s that he intended to attend.  In fact, not only was he going - his plane ticket already purchased -  but, though at obvious pains to conceal it - he was clearly excited at the prospect.  (An old girlfriend named Melanie was shyly mentioned.)   There was a pause round the table - forks suspended in mid-air - but happily only a slight one, before everyone jumped in with good-natured efforts to make his journey trouble free.  Freddy and Vivian said they’d watch over the garden, promising to handle all the winter pruning that had been scheduled for the upcoming week.  Lily said she’d take care of the mail.  And you volunteered to move in to care for Wesley, Michael’s imperious and much adored terrier. This was no sacrifice, you had to admit, for Michael’s cottage, sitting as it did in the middle of one of the loveliest gardens in the county with an interior as utterly comfortable as it was sublimely beautiful, is simply one of the most inviting places you know.  So here you are, with a bag full of wide-ranging books, a tartan bathrobe, and the full intention of spending the week ensconced in Michael’s cozy, colourful sitting room, a fire popping in the grate and Wesley curled in his favourite chair. The pantry is stocked with custard tarts, Darjeeling and Port and there are red roses in a vase by your bed.  You wish Michael a wonderful time, but seriously doubt it will be as delightful as yours, Melanie or no Melanie. 
 Now, which book to read first....

A Star Called Henry
by Roddy Doyle
No one does dialog better, or dives deeper inside a character,
 than the brilliantly observant, and completely Irish, Roddy Doyle. 
If you’ve never read The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, well...
 stop what you’re doing and read it now. 
A Star Called Henry holds hands with the history of Ireland.  
You’ll love it. 

Dancing Fish and Amonites
by Penelope Lively
I have loved Penelope Lively for years and years.  Her books seem so normal,
 mere tales of ordinary life.  But don’t be deceived.  
There are undercurrents and secrets here, flowing beneath a calm and glassy surface, 
ready to reach up and pull the reader under without warning. 
Heat Wave comes to mind.
  Moon Tiger was the first Penelope Lively I read, and it led me happily on to her others.  Now in her eighties, Ms. Lively is tackling the subject of aging 
in her latest work, Dancing Fish and Amonites. 
I cannot wait to read what she’s thinking about.

From the House of Edward
by Pamela Terry
Well, why not? 
 There are even stories here for Wesley the terrier.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky
by Nancy Horan
I’ve loved Robert Louis Stevenson since The Land of Counterpane
 and I think this historical novel of his life with his Indiana born wife, Fanny,
 will be intriguing.  Have you read it?

The End of a Month at Anna and Will’s
The cast comes off next week.  You can hardly wait.  And though it was incredibly hospitable for Anna and Will to offer their house for your recuperation, you have to admit you are getting weary of the view out the window.  Winter, unrelenting winter, has greeted you for weeks; grey sea crashing on the steely rocks under a monochrome sky.   The wind has howled, snow has fallen, and even though this season has its pleasures, trapped inside as you’ve been these past three weeks, you are itching for the sunshine of spring.  Hobbling through the library all morning, you’ve found a stack of books to take you away to warm summer days and open-windowed nights.  Chinese lanterns and ice cream.  Pink dresses and flowers.  Armloads of flowers.  These are the books you've found to banish the cold and bring forth the spring.  If only in your mind.
The Love Letter 
by Catherine Schine
One of my favourite summertime books.  
Such delicious seaside atmosphere.
There’s even a old bookstore with sandy wooden floors.
Well, of course there is.

The New English Garden
by Tim Richardson
Planning, planning, planning.

William and Dorothy Wordsworth, All In Each Other
by Lucy Newlyn
Because I can think of no better place to spend the springtime months than
deep inside the beauty of the Lake District, and because no two people are more entwined with this part of the world than they, I’m looking forward to reading this one.

My Family and Other Animals
by Gerald Durrell
I know, I know, I’ve recommended this before.  
But really, there is no better way to escape to warmer climes 
than tagging along with this family to Corfu. 
The strawberry pink villa.
The rose beetle man.
The phosphorescence on the sea in the moonlight.  
When you're longing for spring, this is just the best, warmest book ever. 

Three Days at Home, All By Yourself
You are so happy you decided to stay.  A ski weekend sounds like a brilliant idea, but the more you thought about it, the more a weekend all to yourself sounded so much better.  You found all their sweaters, dug out the warmest gloves.  You helped them pack.
  “Don’t forget the sunscreen!” 
 “Don’t lose your ticket!” 
 “Yes, you must wear a helmet!”
You trust your husband with their welfare completely and refuse to worry
 as you wave goodbye from the front porch.
“Yes, I’ll be fine here by myself!” 
 “Yes, I’ll miss you all!”  
“Yes, I’ll find plenty to do!”
Now, as you close and lock the door, the silence sounds like music.  As you pad into the kitchen to pour yourself another cup of hot coffee, you look down at your big sheepdog, Molly.  She’s smiling, you swear, she is smiling.  Both of you head back upstairs to your bedroom.  You pull the heavy curtains back just a bit, put a match to the freshly stacked logs in the grate, and crawl back into bed.  Molly watches you closely, then turns three or four times before curling up in front of the now crackling fire.  In a tower by your bed are the books you’ve been wanting to read for awhile.  So with three full days all to yourself, as the snow falls steadily outside the window, you decide which one to open first. 

A Star for Mrs. Blake
by April Smith

by George Eliot
Because I so want to read the next book, 
I’m re-reading this one first.

My Life in Middlemarch
by Rebecca Mead

The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss
Someone told me recently that this was their favourite book of all time.
I missed it when it was released, and her enthusiasm was infectious.  
So it’s in my current stack.
Have you read it?
Now, I’m curious. 
Do any of these scenes sound tempting to you?
If so, which one?
And why?
Do share!