Saturday, December 1, 2018

Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan++++

This is the book for our next book club meeting. It's very good, about a young slave named George Washington Black, and the three male owners of the plantation in Barbados where he is born. One of the three brothers, Erasmus Wilde, lives on and runs the plantation, and he is brutally cruel to the slaves, especially to Kit, a woman who takes care of Wash. Erasmus' two brothers, Christopher (Tisch) and Philip, come to the plantation, and Wash is told he must belong to Christopher. He is afraid of what life with Tisch might be like.

The story is full of good things as well as tragedies. I enjoyed reading it.

Jed came over for Thanksgiving, and Susan had invited us to have Thanksgiving dinner with her, Jesse and Andy. As always, she served a fabulously delicious meal.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Life and Adventures of Nat Love****

The book I'm reading now is The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, the autobiography of a former slave. After the War, Nat's father rented land from the "old Master" and the family started farming and raising tobacco. But after a year or so, Nat's father and older sister died, leaving him a young boy as head of the rest of the family. At age 15 he took off up the old Chisholm Trail to become a cowboy, Indian fighter, rodeo champion, and towards the end a Pullman conductor.

But Nat Love tells of life as a slave before he started all those later adventures. One way the slave children had fun was staging rock fights, in which two groups threw rocks at each other until one side ran away. Reading about that reminded me of something I think of now and then: Doug and I engaged in at least one rock fight that I remember.

Some of the Walker children hid behind a big sheet of roofing tin, up on the bank between their house and our storm pit, and piled up their rocks to throw. Doug and I hid behind a big metal wheelbarrow beside the well, across the clay road from the Walkers' bank, and gathered up some rocks to throw. I don't think anybody got hit. I was just practicing trying to throw hard enough to hit their tin barrier, but I dimly remember accidentally hitting someone who was out in the clear. Or maybe I dreamed it.

Jim and Doug and I used to catch tiny little fish in a creek and cook them over an open fire creekside. What fun we had!(?)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Circe, by Madeline Miller****

This is a novel based on mythology, set in the period of the Greek & Trojan wars.. Circe, a goddess and a sorceress or witch, is the least favorite daughter of Helios (the sun). Some of these characters were Titans, or children of Cronos (those whom he didn't eat), and the others were Olympians, descendants of Zeus. Circe and her family were Titans, who were not very friendly with Zeus and his descendants.

Because she tried to help Prometheus when Helios had him flayed and bound to a rocky crag, Helios burned her to a crisp, but being immortal, eventually she healed and was restored to her former self. The next time she displeased Helios, he exiled her to a deserted island, where she lived for many thousand years and had lots of lovers and adventures.

She cultivated many plants for her potions, and some of the plants, fungi, etc., are known today for their healing properties. Circe healed a lot of people as well as turning others into pigs and monsters. Her healing spells and medicines are called pharma in the book, which reminded me of something the evangelist Jack Van Impe said once. He said that in the Bible, where it says that in the last days a lot of people were doomed because they wouldn't give up their sorceries, that the original Greek word was pharma. Van Impe said that this indicated that modern people wouldn't stop taking drugs, which sounds reasonable. Jack Van Impe is still living, a very smart man in his eighties. He had memorized some thousands of Bible verses, though Wikipedia says that various illnesses and old age have made him forget some and have to struggle to remember some others.

In an addendum the author gives a list of the characters and tells who they are and their places in the Trojan wars. A lot of these gods and goddesses have counterparts in Roman mythology. I believe Chronos, Circe's grandfather, was the equivalent of Saturn in Roman myths. Hermes, the messenger, was Mercury, and the Greek Herakles was Hercules in Rome.

Very interesting book.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Humans, by Matt Haig****

This is the selection for our next book club meeting. I read it over the weekend. It's sort of a tear-jerker, which is to say I gave up and started shedding tears on page 100. The extraterrestrial messed  up a marriage and shirked his mission, and the old Riemann theory got put on the back of the stove without a solution, again. The E.T.'s teen-aged "son" is an appealing character and worth saving from falling off the roof. All in all, the book is very good reading. The other Matt Haig book we've read was How to Stop Time, also a good book.

Tonight is supposed to be dark and stormy.

Jed spent the weekend in New York, visiting friends.

Tomorrow is mid-term election day. It's almost scary, thinking what if the current administration wins again.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus,by Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley****

I had never read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It's very good, more like science fiction than horror. Shelley wrote this book when she was nineteen years old, and the grammar, syntax and story development are near perfect.

On Saturday, 10/27, Jed, Pat and I went to the Alabama State Poetry Society meeting in Birmingham. I hadn't entered any of the contests, but Pat did. She won a third place prize, and glory be! She won the big contest, the ASPS first prize for her poem "Rain Crow!" Made us all proud!

Carrie the nurse came yesterday and discharged me from rehab. Pat phoned and reminded me that our poetry group is hosting the Birmingham Arts Journal staff at the Leeds Arts Center. So I got ready quickly and went to the meeting. An email from Joan had told me to bring a poem to read, so I read "Lost Roads" at the end of the meeting.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

I'm Thinking of Ending Things, by Iain Reid***

By the end of the book, I had vaguely figured out what was going on. It's a painful book, good writing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green****

A very good book. Funny, philosophical, and tragic. I finished reading it tonight.

Jed drove me to the Whitaker Clinic to my appointment with Dr. Gruman. We discussed my changing to Dr. Russell at UAB Leeds, and Dr. G. agreed it was a good idea. We exchanged "I'll miss you"s.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

More of the Same, With a Little Twist

Spent two nights in the urgent care clinic. By the time I got there, the breathing problem had cleared  up, but Dr. Gruman wanted them to run all my breathing, heart, etc. tests over again, which they did.  They also signed me up for rehab and home health care and I don't know what all. Then they put me back on all the former meds, including an inhaler which consists of a little plastic case of powder to be inhaled, which didn't help before, but maybe it will this time. I know it sounds ungrateful, but that's probably because in a way I am. I'm sort of glad I went, though. This time I was a perfect patient. I didn't say one cross, sarcastic or profane word to anybody. Man, I was sweet!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


Woke up with shortness of breath, so I guess I'll go to the ER when the doctor calls me back.

Still have back and rib pain from the fall.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Random Harvest (1941), by James Hilton*****

James Hilton
I finished reading it again today. This is another of my "best novels ever written," and this might really be the one. The story is set in England in the 1930's, and the atmosphere when Hitler is rising to power is so much like our situation in the U.S. today. "These are the last days," he said to me once. '"We are like people in a
trance--even those of us who can see the danger ahead can do nothing to avert it--like the dream in which you drive a car towards a precipice and your foot is over the brake but you have no  physical power to press down."'

In the course of the book, Charles Rainier loves two women, and I am never quite sure that the one who wins is the right one for him.

The character Rainier seems very similar to the hero of an earlier Hilton novel, Lost Horizon. They both recover from amnesia. They both want what neither can have: a quiet life, more spiritual than physical. However, the end of Lost Horizon may not have been the end for Conway; he might have made it back to Shangri-La--which, itself, existed under a shadowy threat for the future.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

How much more?

Tuesday night I fell and bumped my back. Prayed the Jesus Prayer till daylight, then spent all day yesterday being driven by my sisters from one clinic to another, as I couldn't get in touch with my doctor to ask him what I should do. In severe pain most of the time. The final opinion was that I may or may not have a small fracture of a rib or something, and I should take Tylenol. Don't know if I should continue all those other medications on top of the Tylenol, but I'm doing so. For the time being, I'm tired of trying to ask medical opinions.

Thanks to the Tylenol I did sleep several hours this morning.

Marlowe's Mephistopheles may have been wrong, but it sure feels like Purgatory.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Vachel Lindsay, Poet

Apropos of the the Congo River, I like Vachel Lindsay's poem "The Congo: a Study of the Negro Race." Lindsay died in 1931; he didn't know such words were politically incorrect. I love "the cake-walk princes lean" and the "hats that were covered with diamond-dust," and "coal-black maidens with pearls in their hair."


"Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM!
A roaring, epic, rag-time tune
From the mouth of the Congo
To the Mountains of the Moon.
Death is the Elephant,
Torch-eyed and horrible . . .

"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you."

Sometimes I get so impatient with the spacing, I just give up.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World, by Maya Jasanoff****

"Tumbling down the rapids from Kinshasa to the Atlantic, the Congo River bursts out of Africa with such force that you can see its sediment churning into the sea for hundred of miles offshore, tinting the blue ocean brown. That was the first violence Konrad would have witnessed as he approached the Congo Free State on the Ville de Maceto in June 1890." - TDW p. 186

Joseph Conrad was born in 1857 and died in 1924. He was born Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, in Poland which was part of the Russian empire. Early in his adulthood he went to live in England, became a naturalized British citizen, and considered himself an English writer. He worked as a sailor, holding various posts, for twenty years, then quit to write full-time. He married a Miss Jessie George; the book says she was homely, but her photograph is lovely.

Conrad's major novels were written after his retirement to England. They included Almayer's Folly, Nostromo, Lord Jim, and Heart of Darkness. His only "best-seller" during his lifetime was Lord Jim, which was immensely popular soon after its publication.

One Saturday morning in August 1924, Conrad went to see a house that he was thinking about moving to. He had a bout of chest pain during the trip. He went to bed with the doctor's diagnosis of indigestion. His breathing became difficult, and he was placed on oxygen. Next day he felt well enough to get up and sit in his chair; Jessie was laid up in the next room with injured knees from an earlier accident, and she and Conrad called to each other from their rooms. Then "everyone in the house heard a thump. Conrad had fallen dead from his chair...." He was buried in "the kind Kentish earth." TDW

A quotation by the author regarding Heart of Darkness: "Anyone could be savage. Everywhere could go dark."

Joseph Conrad's works that I have read:
The Secret Agent
Lord Jim
An Outcast of the Islands
The Nigger of the Narcissus
Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer

Conrad and his cousin
                                                                                         Jessie George Conrad
                                                                                             From a Getty image

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green****

To me, this seems the most complex and interesting of all the John Green books I have read. The four teenagers, Aya, Daisy, Davis, and Noah react in different ways to the disappearance of Mr. Pickett, the boys' billionaire father. Aya's father died several years earlier, and she knows something of what the boys are going through. She sympathizes especially with Noah, Pickett's younger son, who grieves for his father, whereas Davis the older son knows his father's darker side and has moments of being glad the man is gone. Aya and Davis love each other, at least as good friends, and their relationship is affected by Aya's lifelong mental problems. Daisy is more practical minded than her friend, and she tells Aya to forget about the search for Mr. Pickett, but Aya refuses and eventually finds a solution to the mystery.

This is a wonderful book. It's strange that the most recent two books I've read were both about a disappearing person and an obsessive searcher who solves the mystery.

Jed came over yesterday. He brought me the John Green book, and I read it last night and today. Yesterday we drove to Moody and explored a large, very nice retirement community. I've been thinking about whether I should give up my house full of junk and stairs in favor of an orderly and patterned residence for my late years. So far, the answer is "no," but who knows what I'll think tomorrow.

Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult****

"Ghoulies and ghosties and ill-tempered beasties, and things that go bump in the night." Jenna is a teen-aged girl whose mother disappeared ten years earlier, and Jenna keeps searching for her. She is aided in her search by two people she meets, Serenity who has been a real working psychic but thinks she has lost her abilities, and Virgil who worked with the police when Jenna's mother disappeared. Jenna's mother, Alice, was a professional scientist and writer, working with African and Asian elephants, and some of the pachyderms are real characters in the story.

This is our book for the August book club meeting. I think this it's a very good choice. I've read two other books by Picoult, Nineteen Minutes and My Sister's Keeper. I think it's impossible to say which is the best of the three.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Outside the Magic Circle****

The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr

"Life has a strange irony. You fight for something--like the right to vote in the South. Give the Negroes and the poor folks the right to vote. And you win. And then they elect George Wallace."

Mrs. Durr's exasperation and many other attitudes abound in this excellent [my opinion] account of politics in Alabama, roughly from the 1930's through the '60's.  I say excellent, because it is readable, un-put-downable.  The last section of the book really spoke to me, because I lived through some of it, and it mentions several of the characters I knew, sympathetic and otherwise.

Southerners love nicknames. A choice one in this book is Dinkydonk, a daughter (Constantia) of Jessica Mitford. Jessica herself was called Decca.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Three Books

I spent yesterday reading the book club selection, Missing Isaac, by Valerie Fraser Luesse. I would give it three stars for a debut novel. This was a good read, except for the vast number of characters. I kept up with the four main characters, but only toward the end did I get a hold on who was who among the others. Isaac and his mother were the only ones I was sure were black.

When I finished that one, I took up The Hobbit where I had left off. All day I had not turned on the television or the computer. In the late afternoon I tried to get online and couldn't. The I found that the TV and the phones were out. Looking out the front door through the rain, I saw a big limb from the ivy-covered tree lying on the ground, and the cable line lying under it. So I went up to Ramey's house and called Charter, and they came this morning and fixed it.

Today I finished reading The Hobbit, which I love a lot. And now I'm free to read my new book that arrived last week, The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World, by Maya Jasanoff. John Le Carre called it superb, and Louis Menand described it as "history, biography, and adventure story."

I can't get rid of the spaces below.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Late Arrival

I had given up on a book I ordered through Amazon. They emailed me that it had shipped on May 7. I didn't worry too much, as it didn't cost anything except a bunch of earned "points." It finally did arrive today, a hard-cover book that looks new, The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World.

I can already tell that it's wonderful, with illustrations of Conrad's family and travels every few pages. I flipped through and read a couple of pages telling about his marriage. But I didn't really start reading from the beginning. I need to finish The Hobbit before I begin another book.

This is the first book I've been excited about in months. It includes parts about Stanley and Livingstone, and about King Leopold's atrocities mentioned in Vachel Lindsay's poem. Conrad lived from 1857 to 1924.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

This evening I counted 104 lightning-bug flashes in the back yard. There is a quiet joy in standing on the deck in the summer twilight, counting fireflies and contemplating sink holes.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Happy Mother's Day

India and Ramey went with Jed and me to lunch at Carrabba's. They serve such good food! I had tarragon grilled chicken, and a most fabulous minestrone.

Jed gave me these gorgeous flowers for mother's day, and a beautiful card, which I haven't photographed yet.

When we got home this afternoon, Jed and I watched "Thunderheart," and another movie, "Anna," which was odd.

I'm having another spell of the same old nausea and pain. I hope it's going away now, though. I haven't eaten anything I'm not supposed to, unless it was that delicious soup; it was full of different kinds of beans, peas and other vegetables.

One of the Most Beautiful Poems

La Figlia Che Piange

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair--
Lean on a garden urn--
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair--
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise--
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon's repose.

--T.S. Eliot

Friday, May 11, 2018

How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig****

We had book club meeting today (Thursday) at Ramey's; everyone was there except Nell who had an ophthalmology appointment. The book was How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig. I think everybody liked it as much as I did. I would call it science fiction, but that may be too simple an explanation.

About as soon as I got home after the meeting, I lay down and slept until 7:00 p.m. I woke up with nausea and abdominal pain, and from there it got worse. This event lasted until almost 11:00 p.m. I know it was because of the way I've been eating lately, raw fruit and vegetables, cornbread, stuff with lots of fiber, which I'm not supposed to eat. It had nothing to do with Ramey's delicious treats today--mainly pound cake and ice cream. I finally made myself a cup of tea, and that has restored me to some sort of humanity..

Jed is coming over tomorrow, and he wants us and Susan and Ramey to have lunch somewhere, either Saturday, or Sunday afternoon. I'm going to figure out what to eat beforehand; no more hamburgers and whole-kernel corn. It will be harder to surrender French fries.
10:08 a.m. - I'm hungry, and I don't know what to eat. I'm still having stomach pains.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night****

I read A Wrinkle in Time again. I don't understand why, in lists of "Wrinkle"- related books, The Arm of the Starfish is seldom listed. I don't remember much of the story, but at least one of the  "Starfish" characters, Polly O'Keefe, is plainly either a daughter or grand-daughter of Meg  and Calvin. I'm going to read that again, as soon as I find a copy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Remember the Alamo

Three years ago this spring, I really thought my ticket had been punched and that it was only a matter of a few days. That's because I had my heart attack (the second one, they told me). During one of the procedures, I was drug-crazy and thought my surgical team were wearing funny hats. This is what I wrote about the experience later:

'Last Friday night I went to the hospital with the chest and back pain, and it turned out I had a real heart attack.  So on Sunday, I had a procedure where they placed a stent in my damaged heart artery. Man, this was weird. A team of about six or eight stout men and women, or similar creatures, all wore various hats, and the sound effects were deafening.

'Ker-Blam! Ka-Pow! It sounded like they were flinging hundred-pound sacks of grain around the room. Maybe slaughtering cattle. Loud laughter. Muffled screams. I never felt a thing, except freedom from pain. But at last someone came in and told them to put down their weapons, and they all looked sheepish and sort of dried up. As I was wheeled from the room, I called back, "I like y'alls' hats!"

 'The team applauded!'

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday, but no Project Runway

I was feeling so much better today, I did go to book club with Pat. Our book was What Lies Beyond the Stars, which I read a couple of weeks ago. It was a good book, but very sad. Everyone attended, and there was a lot of conversation, but not very much about the book. The meeting was at Susan's house, and she spread such a festive board, it would make your mouth water--two kinds of cake, three kinds of drinks, a bunch of chips and dips, fruit and nuts and cheeses.

Speaking of books, I liked The Book of Strange New Things (February 7th blog) so much, I ordered a copy from Amazon.

Last Thursday the finale for this Project Runway season was shown. I was so pleased that the winner was young Anthony Williams. He had never made a design collection before, and all of the other contestants were much more experienced. But everything he made this season, with one exception, looked absolutely perfect. It seemed that the judges ignored him most of the time, and I was amazed when they chose him as one of the three finalists, and even more so when he won.

Susan gave me a copy of Caitlin's latest novel, which she left for me when they were at Susan's a few weeks ago. It looks interesting.

Yesterday I had an email from one of the officers of the Alabama State Poetry Society, saying there's "at least one very good reason" for me to attend the ASPS meeting this month at Gulf Shores, Alabama. That's really too far away for me. Jed said he didn't mind driving down there, but I think I'll just let them mail me anything pertinent.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Good Movie

I watched this movie Monday night. There were exciting moments, the computer TARS was a comedian, and one of my favorite actors blew himself up. Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, John Lithgow, Anne Hathaway, Ellen Burstyn; good cast.

My cold or whatever is better. I didn't go to the poetry group meeting Monday night; didn't want to expose people to my germs.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Time and Again, by Jack Finney****

I thought I had read this book before, because some of the character names looked familiar. It has been many years since the period when I read dozens, maybe hundreds, of science fiction books and stories. I 've forgot many of the authors' names, and remember others, among them Jack Finney. Anyway, Time and Again may be science fiction, or it may qualify as fantasy, since there aren't any flying saucers or little green men. It's about time travel, made so easy that it almost seems that you, I, or anyone else could do it. I enjoyed it enormously.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

What Lies Beyond the Stars, by Michael Goorjian***

This is our book for the April book club meeting. I enjoyed the second half of the book very much. The first part was slow getting started. I think the book is a modern study in imagination versus hard fact, and maybe good versus evil, and of course we could have guessed which would emerge triumphant.

The thing about this book that most dampened my enthusiasm was the "modern" off-color language. To me, it's distracting to read a story where I want to skip two or three words in almost every paragraph. Such writing, while trying to look current and smart, seems to me to be trying to degrade everything that went before it.

Anyway, it will be interesting to find what the other club members think about this book.

Monday, February 26, 2018

My Favorite Tiny Rock

That's a quarter and its shadow beside the rock. The rock is the correct size. I don't know what happened to the quarter.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler***

This is the selection for our next book club meeting. The protagonist and narrator is a light-colored black woman named Dana. Both she and her husband, an older white male, are writers. Dana is involuntarily drawn back in time to the early nineteenth century southern United States, where she learns hard lessons about slavery. This is a good book. The only things I noticed that I would quarrel with are three instances of using the pronoun "I" as the object of a verb.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Yesterday's Dream

I dreamed I was looking out the kitchen window, and there was Mama, pushing a great load of deep pink flowers up onto the deck. She was standing between the stairs and the wall, a distance of about 14 feet below the deck railing, but she succeeded in pushing the bunch of flowers over the railing. That suggests how big the bouquet was.

Then she walked away. She was wearing white ankle pants and a pink shirt, and her hair was short and curly.

Today I woke up in great pain and stiffness. My right hand was swollen and hurting like everything. I held it over the mug when I made coffee, and the heat helped. This happens often, so I've been trying to lift things and write with my left hand. My right leg also hurts a lot when I wake up. But I don't know how to practice walking left-legged.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber****

This is a very good book, which edges over into science fiction. Still, it feels very real. I don't want to say much more about it, in case some members of the book club--or any others--haven't read it yet. It's a very big book, exactly 500 big pages, but worth reading every word.

I haven't done anything very interesting lately. I dreamed someone left two half-grown kittens at my house. One was a thin and dirty tabby cat, not very healthy looking. The other looked okay, except it was a skinny tabby cat, too. Matter of fact, since I've been petless, Mo is the only good-looking cat I remember dreaming of.

Sometimes I miss Mo so much, I talk to him, even though he's not here.