“To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations—such is a pleasure beyond compare.” ~ Kenko Yoshida

“Fourth Avenue Bookstore,” by Andreas Feininger (ca 1940s)

  

“I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage.” ~ Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, Pensées Diverses
"Comic Book Readers, New York City," by Ruth Orkin (1947)

I really do miss the days of reading at least one book every weekend, but as with everything else in my life, I go through phases. Luckily for me, I’ve been in the mood to read lately. So just this week, I read two books that were as different from each other as is possible. Last week I read a collection of short stories.

I thought that I might do brief reviews of these three books, spread the wealth, as it were.

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. It is wholesome and bracing for the mind to have its faculties kept on the stretch.” ~ August Hare

I was fortunate to win this first book in a Goodreads giveaway, and doub ly fortunate because it was one of the books for which I submitted my name that I really wanted to read. James Rollins writes what is called thriller/adventure novels. I am a junkie for these kinds of books as they are easy to read and can be read in one sitting. That and the fact that these books appeal to me in the same way that action movies appeal to me. I am fully aware that they are fluff, but fluff can be a great distraction.

I have read two or three other Rollins’ novels, can’t remember exactly, but this one, The Doomsday Key, is probably my favorite. One thing that I like about Rollins is that he always tries to base the plots of his books in some kind of historical fact. He also employs twists and devices that seem a bit far-fetched, only to reveal in the notes at the end that these things actually exist, take for example, WASP daggers.

The Doomsday Key is based on The Domesday Book, which was commissioned by William the Conqueror in 11th century England. King William sent royal commissioners to all parts of his kingdom to conduct a survey of the lands and properties, supposedly to measure the taxes owed to the crown. The completed book became an incredible source of information about Medieval life.

Rollins again uses his Sigma Force and recurring characters in an adventure that includes avalanches, polar bears, and honey bees. The book does not pretend to be anything but what it is—a romp through Rollins’s world of heroes and villains, and those who straddle the middle.

(526 pages, HarperCollins)

“When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me.” ~ William Somerset Maugham
"Kisling's Atelier," André Kertész (1933)

On the other end of the spectrum is Proust’s Overcoat, a true story about one man’s obsession with all things Proust.

Written by Lorenza Foschini, this small biography (literally at 144 pages) is a captivating tale about Jacques Guérin, a Parisian heir to a perfume company. Guérin’s passion lay not in perfume but in collecting rare books, manuscripts, and papers. After spending the day in the factory, he would stroll through Paris in the evenings, frequenting small bookstores, looking for treasures. That is how he came to find a proprietor who happened to have corrected proofs of Marcel Proust.

Ultimately, the book tells Guérin’s tale, as well as that of Proust, his brother Robert, Robert’s wife Marthe who bore no love for her brother-in-law, and the family shame over Proust’s homosexuality. It was this shame that led Marthe to destroy many of Marcel’s papers after his death, only later to realize that these papers and notebooks were valuable.

Foschini’s retelling of Guérin’s search for and amassing of Proust’s papers, furniture, and his famous overcoat reads lyrically: “Proust’s homosexuality surrounded him like an invisible and insurmountable wall. His family’s unwillingness to understand led to a history of silences that mutated into rancor. This in turn was transformed into acts of vandalism—papers destroyed, furniture abandoned” (71).

Proust’s Overcoat is a lovely afternoon read, one that can be appreciated by bibliophiles and historians alike.

(144 pages, black and white photographs, Imprint of HarperCollins)

“It is not enough merely to love literature, if one wishes to spend one’s life as a writer. It is a dangerous undertaking on the most primitive level. For, it seems to me, the act of writing with serious intent involves enormous personal risk. It entails the ongoing courage for self-discovery. It means one will walk forever on the tightrope, with each new step presenting the possibility of learning a truth about oneself that is too terrible to bear.” ~ Harlan Ellison
"New York City," André Kertész (1950)

And finally, there is The Dark End of the Street, a collection of short stories featuring the work of Lee Child, Joyce Carol Oates, Amy Hempel, Michael Connelly, and many others.

Edited by Jonathan Santlofer and S. J. Rozan, this book includes nineteen stories that take a new look at the old themes of sex and crime, violence and darkness. The stories feature serial killers, characters who fancy themselves killers, wives who have been wronged, cruel sadists, and characters who are just plain pitiable.  A few stories read a bit like detective true crime stories from the old magazines, but for the most part, the stories are evocative and intriguing, a memorable collection crafted by an enviable group of writers.

Plot twists abound. For example, Lee Child’s “Me & Mr. Rafferty” features a serial killer and a cop and their fixation on each other. Then there is the revenge with a twist in Laura Lippman’s “Tricks.” The idea of sadism is the focus in Lynn Freed’s “Sunshine,” as well as S. J. Rozan’s “Daybreak.” But my favorite story out of the collection is Jonathan Letham’s story, “The Salon.” I love the premise of a hair salon being a serial killer’s milieu. Letham’s narrator is deftly drawn, just dripping with sarcasm and a sardonic wit.

(291 pages, black and white illustrations, Bloomsbury)

“A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.” ~ Franz Kafka

I have three more books lined up for this weekend. Good times for me. Now go read a book.

More later. Peace.

Music by Chris Isaak, “Blue Moon”

Advertisements

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” ~ Allen Ginsberg

“Open Door on a Garden,” Konstantin Somov (oil on canvas) 

  

“My trouble is insomnia. If I had always slept properly, I’d never have written a line.” ~ Louis-Ferdinand Céline
"Door Open onto the Garden," Pierre Bonnard (oil on canvas)

 I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Cal lately—chills, aches, and lethargy—so I have not written a word in a week. A very long time for me, especially when the Internet is actually on. 

Everytime that I start to think that maybe I could actually go back to work, my body gives me a wake-up call, as in, “Have you lost your mind?” This past week, temperatures around here reached record highs. Meanwhile, I was walking around with goose bumps on my arms. A couple of nights ago, I woke myself when my body was shaking, which made the bed jerk. It’s all quite disconcerting. 

And then, of course, there is the insomnia, which makes just getting through the day a chore. One night it was nigh on 6 a.m. before sleep came. Last night, I was so grateful to be sleepy by 3 a.m. What a strange life I lead. 

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” ~ Cecil Beaton
"30 Regent Terrace," Francis Campbell Cadell (1934)

Corey had to work today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but it doesn’t really matter as we had no plans for mother’s day. Eamonn came by with flowers and a card. He can be such a sweetie when he wants to be. Alexis is supposed to come by later, so just a quiet day at home. 

Corey and I were married on mother’s day nine years ago. We didn’t really want to get married on a Sunday, but it was the only day that we could get the Women’s Club in Norfolk, which is an old Victorian home in the Ghent section of Norfolk. We were contemplating the Botanical Garden, but decided on the house so that we wouldn’t have to worry about the weather. I walked down the winding staircase in five-inch heels, and miraculously, I didn’t trip. 

But I digress . . . 

For the most part though, I have only had one request over the years when it concerns mother’s day: Please do not give me any appliances, as in a toaster or something of that sort. Just feels too domestic and traditional for my tastes. 

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place . . . I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” ~ Elliott Erwitt
"Rooms by the Sea," Edward Hopper (1950)

This past week was a busy one for Brett. He is taking is IB exams in all of his classes. The better he does on these exams, the better the chance he has of getting college credits for the courses, which will be wonderful. He submitted his art portfolio to the IB board, but that takes a couple of months for review before he hears anything. It was a combination of sketches and photographs. I was duly impressed with the quality of his work. He has two more exams this week, and then he is pretty much finished except for a few odds and ends, so he will have a nice break before graduation. 

For his final project in art, Brett is going to paint something on one of the doors in the art room. He hasn’t told me what he plans to paint, but I can’t wait to see it. 

Tomorrow, Corey and I need to go back to the financial aid departments at ODU and TCC to complete the paper work for both boys to get tuition adjustments, which (we hope) will increase their Pell Grants. At least there is one good thing about being poor. 

“Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” ~ René Magritte
"The Balcony Room," Adolph von Menzel (1845)

We watched a movie a few nights ago called “Haunting in Connecticut,” which is supposedly based on a true story. I hadn’t heard anything about the movie, but we were in the mood for something scary. Turns out, it’s pretty dark—dead bodies with words carved into them, some kind of ectoplasm and séances, lots of hallucinations. Of course, watching something like that before trying to go to sleep is probably not the best idea. 

Then last night, I was watching this program about women who kill. I think that I’ve seen it before. Anyway, three of the stories really got to me. Two of them involved young girls who got pregnant, hid their pregnancies from their families, then threw their babies in the trash. 

Anytime I read about something like this happening, it really upsets me in so many ways: That these girls felt that they could not go to their parents with the truth says a lot about the kind of pressure families put on their daughters. Like the article I just read that stated that most parents do not believe that their children are having sex; they believe that other people’s children are having sex, but not theirs. How utterly naive.  The kind of naiveté that causes people to be against birth control in favor of abstinence. 

Facts: Forty-six percent of all teens in the U.S. between 15 and 19 have had sex. A sexually active teen who does not use contraceptives has a 90 percent chance of becoming pregnant within a year. Eighty-two percent of teen pregnancies are unplanned; they account for about one-fifth of all unintended pregnancies annually. This is reality, folks. 

Sure abstinence is the goal. It’s just not the reality.  So these girls get pregnant but do not tell their families out of fear, out of shame, because they want to see the disappointment in their parents’ eyes, whatever the reason. The tragic part is that they choose to throw their babies away like trash in part because they have spent the last nine months convincing themselves that it isn’t real. 

“There is no explanation for evil. It must be looked upon as a necessary part of the order of the universe. To ignore it is childish, to bewail it senseless.” ~ William Somerset Maugham
"The Four Rooms," Vilhelm Hammershoi (1914, oil on canvas)

However, the story that still gets to me, that still rips my heart right from my chest is that of Susan Smith, the woman who drowned her two young sons, Michael and Alex. When the car was found, the two boys were still strapped into their car seats in the back seat of the car. Imagine for a moment what it must have felt like for those boys when the water began to come into the car, as they yelled for their mother, the woman who had to hear their screams. Imagine the fear and helplessness that had to overtake them as the minutes passed and the water kept rising. 

There is evil in this world. Of that, I have no doubts at all. Susan Smith killed her sons because she wanted to be free of them so that she could date the man who broke off their relationship, the man who said that he was not ready for children. So this mother, this monster decided that the best thing to do would be to kill her children and to blame it on an imaginary black man. 

In 1995, Smith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. During her trial, she tried to use as a defense that her step-father had molested her and that she suffered from a lifetime of depression. Someone else’s fault. Of course. 

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” ~ Oscar Wilde
 Found on Wikimedia Commons (lost the title, sorry) 

Perhaps this was not the best issue to discuss on mother’s day. Or perhaps we need to be reminded that not all mothers are good and kind and loving. That some mothers care more about themselves than they do their children. That some mothers should never have had children. That some mothers, completely contrary to societal expectations, are filled with hate and resentment for the very children they bore. 

Fortunately, most mothers do not fall into the former category. Most mothers love their children with a fierce, protective love that no one can touch. 

I do not believe in perfection, but I do believe that some things and some people come very close to this ideal.  Motherhood, in its truest sense, is that continual strive to achieve perfection—saying the right words said at the right time, listening instead of lecturing, comforting with an embrace that bespeaks more than any words, accepting even when faced with a reality that is contrary to expectations. Motherhood is complex, tasking, and never easy. It is not for the weak hearted or the selfish. It is the only job in the world that expects you to know everything on day one. It is the only career that breeds anxiety and insecurity in continuous doses. 

When the door closes, and the child is on the other side, off to unknown places, it is the mother who remains behind and whispers to no one in particular, “It will be all right.” 

More later. Peace

Music by Jon McLaughlin, “We All Need Saving”