Non-Fiction November

DawntoDec

I was very engaged in this year’s Jane Austen July, with a TBR that attempted to cover all the prompts (even if loosely) and not very much with Victober (although I did read one Victorian novel, Trollope’s Phineas Finn, for which I will post a review later this month). That’s completely opposite to what I did last year, when I ignored Jane Austen July, but read a lot of Victober books. Now it’s November and, like last year, I’m reading a non-fiction tome. I’m not following any of the prompts provided by abookolive (who’s the booktuber who created Non-Fiction November – I love her channel). Last year I also didn’t follow the prompts and just read Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which was great. I wanted to find something of similar length (to last me the whole month) and interest and I hit on Jacques Barzun’s cultural history, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present.

The book came out in 2000, when Jacques Barzun was 93. Barzun, who died in 2012 at 104, was a historian of ideas and culture at Columbia University. He had a very wide range of interests and studied and wrote on many topics, including popular culture. After his retirement, he started work on From Dawn to Decadence at 84 and took almost a decade to finish it. It was hailed as a masterpiece. I’ve had it on my radar for a long time and now’s the time to finally read it.

Here’s what Barzun says he sets out to show in the book:

By tracing in broad outline the evolution of art, science, religion, philosophy, and social thought during the last 500 years, I hope to show that during this span the peoples of the West offered the world a set of ideas and institutions not found earlier or elsewhere.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, Harper Perennial, New York, 2001, p. xix.

Barzun shows several themes (around 10 or 12) that come up again and again, such as emancipation (gaining individual rights) and primitivism (a desire to return to simpler times and values) and others that are introduced during the course of the book (I’ve only read about 140 pages, so haven’t come across all the themes yet). He divides the book into four parts:

  1. From Luther’s Ninety-five Theses to Boyle’s “Invisible College”
    I’ve never heard of Boyle and have no idea what the “invisible college” is meant to be as I haven’t finished the first part yet.
  2. From the Bog and Sand of Versailles to the Tennis Court
  3. From Faust, Part 1, to “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2”
  4. From “The Great Illusion” to “Western Civ Has Got to Go”

At the moment I’ve read a just little more than half of the first part and I’m loving it. A lot of the historical events are familiar to me, from school and university and books, but the cultural perspectives and the way Barzun shows various overarching themes is new and fascinating. Sometimes he points out connections that seem obvious once pointed out, sometimes he makes judgements that I don’t entirely agree with. But it’s all fascinating and written in a very fluent and readable style without academic jargon.

The book is from the “dawn” of the modern Western era at around 1500, which is the traditional starting point with the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance. The “decadence” of the title points out Barzun’s theory that “… in the West the culture of the last 500 years is ending” (p. xiii). I don’t know yet if I agree with the premise. Decadence is, however, not viewed as particularly negative:

But why should the story come to an end? It doesn’t, of course, in the literal sense of stoppage or total ruin. All that is meant by Decadence is “falling off.” It implies in those who live in such a time no loss of energy or talent or moral sense. On the contrary, it is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance. […] The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. […] Boredom and fatigue are great historical forces.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, Harper Perennial, New York, 2001, p. xx.

I’m not sure that I will agree with Barzun about the ending of Western culture once I have read the book. So far, his reasons for seeing a time of decadence in our times don’t seem completely persuasive. I don’t know if it is even possible to judge such a thing accurately while living during the times. It’ll be interesting to see if Barzun touches on topics like digitalization and climate change which are of such concern today, but as far as I remember weren’t as prevalent in 2000, when the book was published. I can see some of his themes still working today (primitivism, for instance, the urge to return to a simpler way of life).

The book full of interesting tidbits. Quotes from famous or less well-known historical figures on almost every page, short biographies of influential persons, a zooming in on certain places and societies at certain times to illustrate the effects of developments. This makes for a varied reading experience that keeps the reader interested throughout this hefty tome. Barzun points out books to read if the reader wants more details on certain subjects. He also mentions where topics will be revisited in later parts of the book – you could keep jumping back and forth in the book but for this my first read I’m going to stick with reading it straight through from beginning to end.

Are you enjoying Non-Fiction November as well?

Keep safe, world

Jutta’s Big Day and The Silver Crown

This summer I unearthed a few boxes underneath some shelves in my bedroom in Bavaria. Those boxes had been in that corner for so long that I didn’t remember what was in them. It turned out that they contained a lot of old books, some of them old childhood books. I got rid of a lot of them but kept some that I recalled having liked. One of them was Juttas großer Tag (German for Jutta’s Big Day) by Helga Marten, another The Silver Crown by Robert O’Brien.

SilverCrown

Jutta’s Big Day (this is my translation, I doubt that the book was ever translated) is about kids messing with boats, one of my favourite topics to read about. If I lived on a river, a lake, or the sea I’d definitively have a small boat to mess about with. I “inherited” the book from one of my older cousins. Her name is still written on the inside of the cover.

Jutta is the eldest of four children. She is hoping to become a teacher, but she also dreams of restoring an old river boat that her father bought second-hand before his death. Her father used to be a truck driver, was in an accident and eventually died of his injuries, before he could fix up the boat. He wanted to turn it into a floating grocery shop for the freight shipping crews on the nearby canal. But he died before he could finish the job and ever since the boat had been quietly rotting at its berth at the back of the family’s garden (which is on a small river that flows into the main canal). At the beginning of the novel, it’s rumoured that a new lock is being built on the canal which would enable more shipping to pass through. Suddenly it seems feasible to fix up the boat after all. The problem is the poverty of the family after the father’s death. Jutta’s mother would rather sell the old boat. Jutta convinces her mother to renovate the boat instead and with the help of her brothers manages against all odds to fix it up, despite opposition from doubters and sabotage attempts from rivals. I found it quite thrilling as a child and the last scene in the book when Jutta and her mother take the boat out onto the canal still gives me goosebumps.

I don’t know when the book was written (it doesn’t say), but from the feel of it and internal evidence it must have been sometime in the 1960s. It’s maybe slightly dated and perhaps not very subtle about promoting the right kind of morals (“thou shalt not steal” is one subplot) and the rivals are rather stereotypical bad guys but overall I enjoyed rereading it. All the tinkering with the engine of the old boat and the work involved in fixing it up reminded me a lot about my dad. He was always tinkering with cars or renovating our house (which we also bought in a run-down condition). Our whole family worked on our house during my teenage years. I guess that made me relate to the story in addition to the river romance.

I’d recommend it for children and adults who like children’s lit, but I’m afraid it isn’t translated and out-of-print in German. I couldn’t find out anything about the author, so I don’t know if she wrote any other books.

Robert O’Brian, who wrote The Silver Crown, did write other books: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (a very good read about some super intelligent rats) and Z for Zachariah (a post-apocalyptic novel that I found thought-provoking, depressing, and scary when I read it in school as a young teenager). I ought to reread both of these, too.

The Silver Crown is a fantasy novel set in 20th century America. It’s quite a slim volume, less than 200 pages in my edition, but I remember being very struck by it when I first read it, which must have been when I was around 11. It’s about a ten-year-old, Ellen, who is given a silver crown on her birthday and loses her family on the same day. Strange and awful things happen in her town and she decides to hitchhike to her aunt, who’s the only family she has left and the only one she trusts. On the way, she is pursued by strangers but also finds new friends to help her. The novel is at once very realistic in the description of her travels but fantastic in the workings of the silver crown, which seems to enhance Ellen’s mental powers. Otherwise, Ellen would be rather unbelievably resourceful for a ten-year-old. It’s very atmospheric, but kind of muted, with quiet passages on her travels when nothing much happens and she might as well be on a normal hike, and intense passages when she and her friend are being pursued by or hiding from sinister figures. In the end, Ellen finds out the secret of the silver crown and makes a portentous decision.

The book works very well as a fairly short novel. Some things are only hinted at and left to the reader’s imagination. It’s very evocative and compelling and I’m sure, were it published today, it would be spread out as a trilogy, which would destroy part of its weird charm. This book, as well as the other books by O’Brien I mentioned are still available. I recommend all of them, but Z is rather grim.

Keep safe, world.

September and October Reading

I read more in August than in September and October combined. I was busy with other stuff on most of the September weekends and as weekends are my main reading time, I naturally couldn’t read as much as I usually do. I’m lumping September in with October, which was a better reading month, but also not optimal. I was on vacation and did things with my family and only read a bit every now and then. Still, October was passable, as my vacation only took up the first half of the month. Here’s the list of books read:

 

Ongoing project:
Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I read a few pages, but not very many. I need to prioritize it in November and December to get through it this year.

Poetry:

  • Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Poets.
    I’m about three-quarters done. Some of the poems in this anthology are very good. It’s a mixed bag, but no worse that poems by the more well-known male 18th century poets. I’m enjoying it.
  • Heinrich Detering (ed.), Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte.
    I continued reading this poetry collection in September (too unwieldy to take on vacation). I’m not yet done but should be done soon. I quite like my foray into German poetry.

Non-Fiction:

  • Robert Alter, The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age.
    A short book that explains the elements of style that distinguish literature from other texts. I enjoyed it a lot.
  • Adrienne Rich, Essential Essays: Culture, Politics, and the Art of Poetry.
    This was a kind of companion to Rich’s Selected Poems that I read in April. Some of the essays were very good, others I  didn’t find particularly memorable.
  • Mitchell Zuckoff, Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11.
    Inspired by the 20th anniversary of 9/11. A detailed look at what happened during the terrorist attacks, with a focus on people’s experiences. Terrible and moving.
  • Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography.
    An amazing tome that I spent about three weeks reading.

Novels:

  • Laurie R. King, The Murder of Mary Russell.
    The 14th in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. Not bad, but not one of my favourites.
  • Louise Erdrich, The Bingo Palace.
    The next novel in the Love Medicine series. It was great.
  • Halldor Laxness, Fish Can Sing.
    The first book I’ve read by this author from Iceland, who won the Nobel Prize. I once had a Nordic phase, where I read all the Icelandic Sagas (very good) and I’ve always wanted to try a novel by Laxness. I enjoyed it a lot and am up for reading others by him.
  • Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn.
    The second of Trollope’s Parliamentary series. I read the first one, Can You Forgive Her, last year but never got around to writing a review. I still remember it because it was great. This one had a slow start but improved in the second half. My only Victober read for this year.

Children’s Literature:

Jutta

  • Helga Marten, Juttas großer Tag (German for Jutta’s Big Day).
    I found this one, which used to be a great favourite during my childhood, while I was sorting boxes of old books to get rid of. I reread it, still mostly liked it, and kept it for nostalgic reasons.
  • Robert O’Brien, The Silver Crown.
    Also one of the books I discovered, reread and kept. A classic fantasy story
  • Michelle Magorian, Goodnight Mister Tom and Back Home.
    Two books set in or just after WWII in the UK. The first is about a young boy sent to the country for safety, the second about a young girl just returned from America, where she had been sent during the war and the difficulties she faced on her return. An awful depiction of boarding school life – quite the anti-Blyton version. Both books were good reads.

I plan to write more detailed reviews for most of these books, so I didn’t go into much detail in this list. I’m rather behind with my reviews. As I only did one post in October, I haven’t managed to review the books I read in August. This will give me lots of topics to write about this month when I’m planning a post per day, to get back into the groove and catch up on things. I managed it last year and hope to manage it this year too – as I said before, it’s my NaNoWriMo project.

Keep safe, world.

October Update

I haven’t posted for so long… since mid of September. At first, I had a lot on my plate, then I was on vacation and after my vacation I had completely lost the habit of writing. I kept composing posts in my head, but never actually sat down, opened Word and started to write. So, here’s what I’ve been up to (short version):

On the third weekend of September, Mum and I travelled to Düsseldorf to visit my Dad’s only sister to pick up some tableware that belonged to my grandmother and that my aunt wanted to get rid of. That took the entire day, 7 hours on the Autobahn (there-and-back in one day). I had dreaded it, but it was fine. A lovely sunny day after a foggy start and no traffic jams to speak of. Seeing my aunt was lovely.

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Then I spent the rest of September prepping my workload so that my colleagues wouldn’t have to pick up too much while I was away and that I wouldn’t have a huge backlog after my vacation. That worked out well but left me too tired to post anything.
Then I had to pack everything we needed for our vacation and for our regular week in Bavaria. We took our place in Bavaria as the starting point for our vacation, as it was in the South Tyrol, which is much nearer to Bavaria than to my place in Baden-Württemberg. This meant more luggage than usual. The car was loaded with extra dog paraphernalia and other stuff we needed for the vacation.

In Bavaria, Mum and I were busy cleaning up the house for guests, since Cousin 1 and her boyfriend stayed a night before we left for Italy, and Partner was staying too. And I still had a couple of days to work and stuff to organize, so I was quite busy then as well.

Our trip to Italy was great. We stayed in a cute small holiday house, in a small town called Karersee (Carezza al Lago in Italian). It was very cosy, very well equipped (the best vacation home I’ve ever stayed in), had a lovely view of the Rosengarten and the Latemar mountain ridges in the Dolomites. We had two days of bad weather, but the rest of the week was sunny (a bit cold but perfect for hiking). We went for long scenic walks and Partner and the others once took a funicular up the mountains and walked a mountain track. Not suitable for dogs, so I didn’t go (but I didn’t mind as I don’t care much for heights). We had a good time. Curious Dog pulled on the leash like a champion, but we managed anyway. I had thought it would have been worse.

On our return, Partner stayed a few days in Bavaria, and we did a few things near my place. I took him on a steep track just a few kilometres from my house. I’ve been wanting to walk that track for years, but had never done so, because it isn’t suitable for dogs. It was much scarier than any hike we did in the Dolomites. Very steep, lots of climbing around the Jurassic cliffs that exist near my place. A real adventure. I was happy to have managed it, but I’m not doing it again. I hadn’t known it would involve such a lot of scrambling up the sides of cliffs, holding on to roots and rocks. Once we’d gone up one steep part, it was too daunting to turn back, so we had to keep on. It took about 2.5 to 3 hours, up and down all the way. The next few days were painful, as I’d pulled a muscle or something in my leg and could hardly move.

Work started again on October 13 and since then I’ve been thinking about posting but not actually doing it. I think I’ll try to do a blog post per day in November (which I think I did last year as well). My version of doing NaNoWriMo. I’ll expand a bit on my vacation adventures and on the books I’ve been reading. I’m very behind on my book reviews.

Keep safe, world.

Tracks

This novel by Louise Erdrich is the third in the Love Medicine series, after Love Medicine and The Beet Queen. I very much enjoyed this third novel of the series. I’m loving how with each novel one gets more and more pieces of the puzzle that shows the lives of all these diverse people, whether Native American, white, or of both cultures. My review contains spoilers (although the novel is very full of all sorts of themes and I can’t possibly touch on all of them).

Tracks

The novel is set on Native American land around the town Argus (which is familiar from the other novels in the series). We also meet characters that we met before. It’s about the years 1912 to 1924 and, as usual for this series, the novel contains episodes in the lives of many characters (like a colourful patchwork). In this case is the main story is about the early years of Fleur Pillager (from 17 to 27). At 17, Fleur is the last survivor of her family, whose members all died of an infectious disease along with many other Native Americans on the reservation. I’m not sure what disease it was, maybe pneumonia? It seems to have been a disease of the lungs. Fleur is unofficially adopted by Nanapush, an older man of around 50+ years, also the only survivor of his family. Nanapush is the grandfather (by adoption) of Fleur’s daughter Lulu (who played a role in Love Medicine) and he is one of the two narrators of the story. He tells Lulu Fleur’s story to stop her from marrying into a disreputable family (so he’s telling the story of the years 1912 to 1924 at some unspecified later time when Lulu, who was born in 1914, is grown up) and to get her to reconcile with her mother. Nanapush tells Fleur’s story as someone who loves her, but we also get the story from the second narrator, Paulina Puyat, who has a love-hate relationship with Fleur. The two narrators tell the story in alternating chapters. In a way, Paulina is Fleur’s counterpart, and also a main character. We learn how she turns into the severe, almost hellish nun Leopolda (who also turns up in various novels). She is a hateful character but also pitiable.

Paulina loses her family, too, but it’s not clear if they died or abandoned her. She left them to move in with an aunt in Argus, because she wanted to learn the ways of white people, and especially to learn lace-making from the town’s nuns. It didn’t work out and when she returned to the reservation, her family was gone. She was only 15 or thereabouts.

From the beginning of the novel, we learn that Fleur isspecial. She is feared for her malignant powers (which at least partly seems like malicious gossip and superstition). There is something mythic about her. Her entire family was apparently dangerous to cross even when dead.

When Paulina and Fleur were in Argus, they worked at the Kozkas’ butcher shop (which played a large role in The Beet Queen). Fleur won quite a bit of money at poker from three men who also worked at the butcher’s. These men felt aggrieved at Fleur and one night, when the Kotzkas were away, they decided to punish her by raping her. Paulina witnessed the rape and was seen by Fleur but felt unable to help. This soured their relationship. Later on, though, during a tornado, Pauline caused the death of two of the men by locking them into a cold storage room in which they had sought to escape the storm. They froze to death, which preyed on Paulina’s mind.

Both Fleur and Paulina return to the reservation, where Fleur, who is pregnant, gets into a relationship with Eli Kashpaw, who may or may not be Lulu’s father. Fleur and Eli live in a fairly traditional way and form a loving family but struggle to pay the taxes on their land allotment. Paulina moves in with the Morrissey family, has an rather brutal affair with Napoleon Morrissey, and bears an unloved child, Marie Lazarre (whom we know from Love Medicine). She turns to the Christian religion and tries to gain some kind of recognition by turning herself into a saint by mortification of the flesh, that is, by trying follow in Christ’s footsteps through suffering. She is exceedingly self-righteous but also lonely and adrift. She can’t seem to stay away from Fleur and her family, and often tries to harm them with plots and machinations, some of which are at least somewhat successful. At length, she renounces her Native America past, murders Napoleon, and turns herself into the nun Leopolda (a fearsome and unloving person). Her religiosity seems born of hate and jealousy, not love.

2021_09_15

Fleur in the meantime can’t keep up her relationship with Eli and can’t keep her land. Both she and Nanapush are swindled by the machinations of Eli’s mother and the land agent. Also, the laws are against them. These are people needing government support to survive famines and are still required to pay taxes in order to keep their land. Other families from their reservation and white farmers buy up the lost land and chop down the woods in which Fleur lived. She has to give up Lulu to keep her safe (she sent her to government boarding school or at least didn’t prevent her being taken away). In the end, Fleur takes to the road as a travelling trader in homemade remedies and other things (in The Beet Queen she’s the one who saved Karl Adaire when he fell off the train).

This book, after the more light-hearted Beet Queen, is bleaker. All the tracks seem to lead nowhere or into an uncertain future. Fleur’s way, the Native American way of life, seems incompatible with the times, so that she can’t keep her land or her family. Other Native American families fall prey to alcoholism or buy up the land (if it isn’t taken over by white people). There is envy for successful families. Many families are in more or less serious feuds with other families on the reservation. There doesn’t seem to be a concerted community effort to fight against the loss of tradition and land. Even within families people follow different tracks or ways of life. Regina’s way is to follows all the negative parts of Christianity with none of the good. Fleur turns into a travelling trader and we don’t learn what exactly becomes of her. Nanapush manages to come to an arrangement with his circumstances. At one point he goes into politics so that he can save Lulu from having to live at the government boarding school. Lulu remains estranged from Fleur. Nanapush’s storytelling is aimed at getting her to reconcile with Fleur but it remains open if he is successful.

I hope some of the character’s stories will be taken up in the following novels of the series which I am looking forward to reading.

Keep safe world.

Tuesday Tidbits

Things have been terribly busy at work and I have been too tired at the end of the day to write anything. Last week was especially awful, with escalation meetings on Monday (at least we managed to solve the problem in question – at least for now though hopefully forever) on top of the usual Monday meetings. Then two colleagues called in sick and one was on vacation, so that only myself and another colleague remained to do the work usually done by the five of us. One of the sick colleagues was supposed to be the substitute for the one on vacation. There were a lot of tasks that had to be done, and after they had called in sick for the second day, I had a look at the list and found that things were quite off track. Stuff that should already have been done had been forgotten and of course the tasks for last week also hadn’t yet been done. I spent the rest of week working on those things (and I wasn’t impressed by the substitute – it’s bad luck to be sick, but if you are supposed to be doing a lot of stuff which you can’t do because you’re ill maybe a short mail pointing out that stuff needs doing might be in order). Also, I kind of expected some heartfelt thanks when they returned, but that didn’t materialize either. As I wasn’t as familiar with those tasks as with my usual ones, it took longer and was more tiring. My other two colleagues and I had more of a clue than official substitute, very odd. I’d always suspected that the colleague on vacation did most of the job, now I’m sure. At least this week the sick colleagues are back at work and next week the person on vacation will be back – phew, I’ll be relieved.

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I’ll be on vacation from end of September until the middle of October, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m feeling stressed and fed up with work. A few days away will be lovely. I’m spending the next couple of weeks finishing up my work as far as possible, so that my colleagues don’t have to do too many things on top of their usual work. Some can’t be avoided, because the tasks can only be done on certain dates during my vacation, but I’ll try to keep everything else down.

Last Friday, Partner and I went shopping for bed sheets and duvet covers at a large furniture store. Partner had a voucher and at the store we won another one, so in sum we had vouchers for € 100. We got three fitted sheets (two for us, one for Mum) and a double set of duvet and pillow covers. While we were there, we looked at the store’s entire selection of couches. Those couches were quite expensive, sometimes ugly, and most of them much too large for our modest-sized living room. We happened to find a set of couches, one for three people and one for two, in red leather (bright, but not too bright). Reduced to half-price because they were sample pieces. Well, while we were at the store, we couldn’t decide if we should buy them or not, but when we returned, we measured where they could go in our living-room and decided that it was an excellent match. Currently we have a three-seat couch and two armchairs. The set is 25 years old. The last seven years have been especially hard on them (otherwise they would still be in good shape), because of Curious Dog. In the end, we decided to buy the red set (our current one is a bright dark green – we like some color in our living-room). I returned to the shop and when I spoke to the salesperson, they gave us an additional discount (which I didn’t even ask for – I mean, the couches were already at half-price). In addition, the delivery is free of charge and our old couch and armchairs will also be removed at no expense. A very nice piece of good luck. The leather should be easier to clean than the weird material of the old couch set. I would have preferred couches not made of leather, but this was a case of a gift horse, so no quibbles. The delivery will be after my vacation in October. Can’t wait.

On the weekend, we watched the last episode of The Underground Railroad. It was a very striking series, really showing the horrors of slavery and how runaway slaves were not safe anywhere. It had an open end, but one could hope that things would improve for the main character. The acting was excellent. I’m very much inclined to read the novel one of these days. The only thing about the series that I disliked was that a lot of the action took place in darkness where you hardly saw anything. It’s just not that much fun watching shadowy shapes poking around in the dark. Maybe it was symbolic or verisimilitude, but still a dark TV screen is just not that great.

Poor Curious Dog has an eye irritation in both eyes. It started on Sunday and became quite pronounced yesterday. The eyes themselves are clear, but the lower lids are slightly swollen with a discharge. Last night, I bathed his eyes with weak black tea (I didn’t have any chamomile) and surprisingly today they are much improved. If they hadn’t improved, a trip to the vet’s would have been necessary. I think he’s been brushing through too much high grass and got seeds into his eyes or perhaps he got some dust into his eyes when I pruned our huge Buddleia bush on the weekend. A very dusty business which Partner can’t do because it causes his hay fever to flare. The Buddleia still needs a lot more pruning. Anyway, I’m glad that CD’s eyes are better and that he’s so good at letting me bathe them.

Next Saturday I have to see an aunt of mine in Düsseldorf, which is about (at least) 3.5 hours away (one way). She’s my last relative on my Dad’s side (his elder sister) and wants me to pick up some tableware from my grandmother. She asked me a few years ago if I wanted to inherit it and I said yes, but now she wants to get rid of it immediately. I’m not really looking forward to the drive, there and back on one day, sevenhours in the car, but it will be nice to see her. We’ve never been very close, because Dad’s relationship with her was rather contentious, but we’ve been keeping in touch by phone for years. Maybe Mum will come along (although she’s not too keen on such a long drive either).

I’ve been reading, but not too much, because of work and other things to do on the weekends. Maybe September will turn out to be a not-so-great reading months, but we shall see.

We’ve been having quite pleasant weather early fall weather. Sometimes already a bit cold, but no rain, and we haven’t had to turn on the furnace yet. The storks we used to watch on our morning walks with CD seem to have left.

Keep safe, world.

Strange Dreams

I planned to start my day as early as on a normal workday on this my free Friday, but the alarm woke me out of deep sleep and disrupted an interesting dream. Like most people (I guess) I only remember my dreams if wake up during the dream or straight afterwards. This dream was a sci-fi apocalypse. A weird explosion on a planet far away was mirrored in the sky of my own planet (could have been Earth, maybe Iceland – why Iceland? Beats me). The image in the sky was the signal for the end of the world. Society fell apart. In the dream I was a teenager, hiding from a mob of looters with a gang of children. We made it away from the looters into a prosperous neighbourhood where nobody had yet an inkling a horde of looters was about to engulf them. In the back of my dreaming mind was the thought that the explosion on the far-away planet could be undone, as there was a time manipulation element to the situation. Then, alas, the alarm woke me, and I don’t know how the dream would have played out. Maybe one of these nights it will resume.

Anyhow, I was still so sleepy that I reset the alarm to give me another 30 minutes, which grew to 45 minutes because I didn’t hear the second alarm. But it didn’t really matter because: Friday. No office on Friday.

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The morning walk with Curious Dog was very pleasant. It was cold, but sunny and promising real warmth later. We’re having beautiful early fall weather. But it was cold enough that I had my first experience of “frozen ears”. For some weird reason my ears are quite sensitive to cold. I’m going to try wearing a light woolen hat tomorrow morning (that will probably be overkill). Today it was only ca. 7°C. It’s cold in the mornings because the nights are clear, there’s no cloud cover.

I meant to get up early to have time to bring some old books and crockery to the Caritas Secondhand shop in the nearest bigger town and go grocery shopping and take the garden rubbish to the local collection point. But I changed my mind about the Secondhand shop. The old books are not in good enough shape, I think, and they are mostly nothing special. It’s probably better to throw most of them into the paper recycling bin. They are from my grandma and are quite musty and mildewy. Only a few are worth keeping or selling. And getting rid of the crockery isn’t urgent. Mum wants to have my cousin look at it when she visits in October. Maybe she’ll be happy to have some of it.

I spent a relaxed afternoon rereading Louise Erdrich’s Tracks. I finished the first read on Thursday, but it’s so good and so dense, I felt it needed another read before I can write a review. It’s only slightly longer than 200 pages but there’s a lot of plot and character development in those pages. Many passages with important info easy to miss on a first reading. Although I often reread books, I don’t usually reread straight after finishing one. This novel is still engrossing on the second read.

I made the mistake of looking at my work emails and found that an issue that was supposed to have been running smoothly has suddenly exploded into a gruesome mess requiring a horrid escalation meeting next Monday. Involving inter-departmental politics. Sigh. That particular issue was already escalated a month ago and should have been solved but has somehow popped up again. Not exactly a great start for next week. But at least there’s still the weekend between now and Monday.

Keep safe, world.

Last Workday

For a change, it was a pleasant sunshiny day. In the morning a light fog, harbinger of worse fogs to come in November. Cool enough to wear an old (very old) fleece jacket on my morning walk with Curious Dog. The path up into the woods was still muddy, the leaves dripping from the fog condensing on their leaves. Spiderwebs outlined with tiny droplets of water. A lovely morning for a walk and the best part of the day (except for the evening walk).

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Luckily, it’s the last day of my work week – I’m quite fed up. I spent half the morning hunting down an error using Excel comparisons which wouldn’t work because the downloaded data contained invisible tab spaces at the end of the strings. A new bug in the download. I think I’m specially fed up with work because I haven’t had a longer break for some time. When was my last vacation? Can’t remember. Good thing I’ve got one coming up in October, but it’s still four weeks until then. But then I still have to organize a lot of things: winter tires for the car, as we are going to the South Tyrolean Alps, road charges to be paid in advance for Austria, keeping an eye on Corona-related travel paperwork (online or otherwise), organizing a set of snow chains (to be on the safe side)… and what not. I can’t help feeling that it would have been simpler to travel to the North Sea or the Baltic as we usually do instead of into the Alps. I also wonder what the Corona situation will be like by October, what with rising numbers all around. Maybe we won’t even be able to go (hope this doesn’t happen).

If already checked that Curious Dog EU pet passport is up to date with all his vaccinations and that he will tolerate a muzzle. He’s very good about wearing one for a short time, but also very good at squirming out of it when he’s had enough. I’m hoping we won’t really need it, but it’s good to be prepared.

One of the cousins can’t join us, because she is working as a primary school teacher while also writing her thesis. So, we’ve invited the boyfriend of the other cousin to come along. Wow, our little cousins now have jobs and boyfriends and aren’t so little anymore. The first time we took the two of them to the seaside, the younger one spent all the trip barfing – it’s a joke now, but it wasn’t at the time. I was really worried about dehydration and such, as she was only 9. Probably it was the excitement of her first vacation with us. One the way back she only threw up once. Well, cousin number two will be travelling in her boyfriend’s car this time, which is quite useful, as otherwise we would have been three people plus one dog plus a lot of luggage in one car. The cousins are incapable of travelling light and we need some provisions, games, book and dog stuff as well. If both cousins had been able to join us, we would have used my car and Partner’s. We’ll meet up at our place in Bavaria first, as it’s a much shorter drive from Bavaria than from Baden-Württemberg or Hessia (which is the German state my cousins are from and, incidentally, where I was born).

This morning I chopped off some of my hair. I haven’t been to a hairdresser since last March, at the beginning of the first lockdown. It’s grown quite long now, but a bit scraggly. I’ve been thinking of making an appointment for getting the ends cut, but I never seem to get around to it. On the spur of the moment, I did it myself. Let’s just say, I wasn’t cut out to be a hairdresser. Fortunately, my hair is still long enough to pin up so that my dreadful cut isn’t noticeable. I’m planning on letting my hair grow until I can put it up in a proper bun and if I still like that style (which I last wore in my early twenties) I will keep it long. Otherwise, I’ll return to my pre-Corona short hair style.

Keep safe, world.

August Reading

Despite my busy weekends in the latter half of August, I did read quite a lot.

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I’m half-way through this amazing book. It is very strange in places (I will write a review when I’m done which will probably not be before the end of the year).

Poetry:

  • Heinrich Detering (ed.), Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte.
    A big two-volume anthology of German poetry from the Middle ages to modern times. I’ve the finished the first volume and might be able to finish the second volume in September. It’s good.
  • Robert Pinsky, Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters.
    I’ve had this poetry collection since October 2014 and have started reading it when I didn’t want to drag the bulky German anthology around on my trips. It’s also very enjoyable.

Short Stories:

Alas, no short stories read.

Non-Fiction:

  • Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water Trilogy.
    A very interesting memoir about an eccentric English aristocrat’s life with otters. Sometimes idyllic, sometimes very depressing. Quite amazing. I still plan to write a review.
  • Douglas Botting, Gavin Maxwell: A Life.
    As I found Maxwell’s memoir so interesting, I fancied an outside look at his life. I’m only half-way through but am enjoying it so far – I couldn’t finish it, because I forgot my tablet at home and don’t want to read it on my small smartphone screen.
  • Mason Currey, Daily Rituals: Women at Work.
    Lots of vignettes about how creative women organize their work, quite interesting. I reviewed it.
  • Jose Arce, Liebe Deinen Hund.
    A German book about how to maximize the enjoyment both dog and human get on their daily walks. Gave me some tips on how to get my dog to stop pulling on his leash (well, basically it said “be patient and calm under all circumstances”). Easier said than done but I quite liked it. Not sure if it will help, because Curious Dog is just a really excited when he’s outside and then he pulls (especially in strange places). But I try my best and sometimes it works better than other times. But we do enjoy our walks (on the normal ones he usually stops pulling after a while).

Herondale

Novels:

  • Laurie R. King, Pirate King and Garment of Shadows and Dreaming Spies.
    Installments 11-13 of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. As usual, I liked them a lot and will write a review soon.
  • Christopher Morley, Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop.
    Two short novellas about secondhand book shops (the first one about a traveling horse-drawn one – very cosy, with a love-story). The second one I didn’t like as much, but it was also not bad. A bit old-fashioned (which I don’t mind). A crime/spy novel, also with a love-story and a nasty German villain. Somewhat clichéd.
  • Joan Aiken, Eliza’s Daughter, Castle Barebane, The Silence of Herondale and Foul Matter.
    I love most things written by Joan Aiken and will definitively write a post about these.
  • Andy Weir, Project Hail Mary.
    A great read, reviewed here.
  • Shari Lapena, The Couple Next Door.
    About which I ranted here.
  • Louise Erdrich, Tracks.
    The next book in my Erdrich series – very good, but I’ve only read half so far.

A good reading month was August.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

I’ve been too lazy to post anything for the last two weeks. It’s amazingly easy to get into the habit of not writing and therefore not posting. Today I decided to post something, even if it is only a few sentences, just to get the creative juices flowing again at the end of August, so that my procrastination doesn’t carry over into September.

I stopped posting with my rant about the book I had to read for my book club, Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, so I feel I should let you know what the other book club members thought about it. We had to do an online meeting again, because our host in whose garden we would have met sadly had a terrible family emergency and had to cancel. Our gathering was rather small, only four people, as the other four (or so) couldn’t make it because of one thing or another (mostly, being on holiday). The four of us felt that the book was rather awful, even the person who suggested it (they had thought it would be like an Elizabeth George novel). As I predicted, we had fun slagging all the characters in the book. It wasn’t my turn, but since all the members whose turn it would have been were away, I got to choose the next book, which is Halldór Laxness Fish Can Sing, an Icelandic classic. I’ve been wanting to read something of Laxness’ for a while and I hope this will be a better read than the last few selections. The next club meeting is not until after my vacation in October, so I’m not planning to read it in September.

The weekend of August 21/22, Mum and I visited my aunt and uncle who live in the town where I was born. The aunt is my Mum’s youngest sister and my uncle turned 80 and had a smallish birthday party. So, we drove there on the Saturday and returned on Sunday. Partner stayed home with Curious Dog (it would have been too stressful with CD, although we considered it and Partner was quite happy to stay home, as he detests family parties – not sure why). Before going to our relatives’ house, we made a small detour to my grandmother’s grave (on my father’s side), which I haven’t seen in two years. It was in a rather bad shape – almost overgrown. I need to bribe my cousins to fix it up more often. We tidied it up a bit and later in autumn I’ll ask one of the cousins to check on it again and maybe plant a new plant.

The birthday party was nice. We saw our relatives in person after two years. There were lots of lovely cakes and a nice hot meal at night outside in their large garden in the middle of town. They own a huge timber-frame townhouse from the 18th century, which has an old timber-frame carpenter’s workshop in the backyard that my cousin has fixed up for hobbies or partying in. It could also be turned into another residence, but they don’t need it because the main house is so large. They’ve got a lovely garden with a huge tree and lots of space – amazing, for a town house. Anyway, my uncle was a founding member of one of the town’s marching bands, so the band turned up and played in his honour. It’s kind of cool having a private little concert like that (pretty loud – Curious Dog wouldn’t have liked it). The weather, luckily, was also good – no rain for once.

2021_08_31

After the weekend, Partner had an appointment at his place and left on Monday, so Mum and I decided to also leave early for Bavaria, also on Monday instead of Thursday, as would have been our normal schedule. I took Monday off and we’ve been in Bavaria again since then. We’ve had a couple of nice days, but it’s been raining on and off for at least the last 5 days. Fortunately, I never got caught in a shower on my walks with Curious Dog and tomorrow the weather is supposed to improve for a few days. It’s been rather cold – most of the time while I’m sitting doing home office, I’m wearing a thick woolen jacket. Very unusual for August.

Last Sunday (being now fully vaccinated) I met up with my two best friends in Bavaria. We hadn’t seen each other since late in 2019, so it was great to see each other again. We had spoken on the phone a few times, but that can’t compare with an in-person visit. We met at the house of one friend and had a good gossipy catch-up. We had the first pumpkin cream soup of the season, home-made and delicious (especially, as it was dark, wet and cold outside). My friend had acquired two Canary birds, a blue one (male) and a yellow one (female). They were very cute and flew free in her house. Mostly they perched on bird-sized swings in the window – apparently, they enjoy swinging a lot.

One of my friends is already retired and the other one will retire at the end of the year (they’ll be doing a bit of part-time work still, but mostly retired). Both are older than me. I still have a lot of time till I can retire (unless I win in the lottery). Work has been somewhat quiet as lots of people are on vacation, but also a bit of a pain as I keep having to do this or that for the colleagues on vacation. This year there’s a lot going on, so it’s not possible to just wait until the colleagues return. Still, my colleagues will reciprocate when it’s time for my vacation in early October.

I didn’t have that much time for reading, due to all that driving around and visiting people on the weekends, but I did manage to finish a couple Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novels. I’m also reading the next Louise Erdrich novel (Tracks) and continuing with The Tale of Genji. I managed to leave my tablet and thus my Kindle reader at home, so I’m unable to continue with my ebooks (but it doesn’t matter, because I need to catch up on my Genji project).

That’s what the second half of August was like for me.

Keep safe, world.