The Tale of Genji

By Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Royall Tyler.

Genji

This was last year’s reading project I did with a friend. It was both memorable and strange.

The version we read was the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, a very lovely and sturdy, but also pleasantly floppy paperback edition. The translation is by Royall Tyles who also wrote the introduction. It isn’t very long as Penguin Classics’ introductions go, but it is extremely useful. As someone who doesn’t know anything about 11th century Japanese court society, I’d have been very lost if I hadn’t read the introduction first.

The Tale is a series of chronological episodes that follow the life of Genji, a favourite son of the Emperor of Japan. The Emperor would like to make Genji the heir to the throne, but can’t do it for political reasons. Instead, to make Genji’s life easier (less restricted by being part of the imperial family), he gives him the name “Minamoto” (which is another form of “Genji”). Thus, Genji becomes a so-called commoner, which allows him to serve the Emperor in various, progressively more important and high-status government positions.

Genji grows into a dashing young man who spends his time on one love affair after another. During his wild youth, he competes with other young men for lovers, in music, poetry, and other courtly activities. His love affairs land him in trouble, time and again. He even falls in love with the Empress, his stepmother. The two of them have a short affair and the Empress bears his son who is taken for the Emperor’s (Genji’s father’s) son.

Genji is married off very young to another young lady, the sister of one of his best friends. However, the two of them don’t get along, as Genji is too immature. Genji’s ideal lady is the Empress. When he meets the Empress’ young niece Murasaki, who resembles her, he kidnaps the girl (she’s only about ten!) and brings her up to become his favourite consort. Genji has many lovers but is kind to all of them and is usually considered a good catch, as he is talented, rich, and influential.

However, he also has powerful political enemies and when he is caught in the bed of the wrong young lady, he has to disappear for a time from court into the provinces. There he grieves because he had to leave Murasaki behind, but soon meets another lady with whom he has a daughter. Mother and daughter are left in the provinces when Genji’s court exile ends (but they return to him when is daughter is grown up).

Genji has three children, a son, Yugiri, by his mostly estranged wife (who dies giving birth), another son, Reizei, (who later becomes Emperor) from his liaison with the Empress, and a daughter with the lady he met during his exile. This daughter later becomes another Empress (after Reizei’s reign) and Genji thus turns into the grandfather of yet another Emperor. So, despite having been officially excluded from the imperial family, he certainly leaves his mark on them.

He never has a child with his favourite, Murasaki, though, and is heart-broken when she dies and doesn’t survive her by many years.

The last 13 chapters of the Tale take place eight years after Genji’s death. They concern the amorous adventures of his grandson Niou (the Emperor-to-be) and his friend Kaoru. Kaoru is the son of one of Genji’s consorts by another lover. Kaoru is held to be Genji’s son but isn’t – mirroring Genji’s affair with his stepmother, the Empress (except that Genji, unlike his father, knows about the affair and isn’t pleased, the hypocrite).

The novel hasn’t got much of a plot, it just tells of Genji’s life and later the adventures of Niou and Kaoru. This later part may have been written by an author other than Shikibu. The ending is rather abrupt. The novel just stops, without even rounding up the last story arc.

Genji’s numerous affairs sometimes lead to horrific (but also kind of funny) complications. One of them is the sudden death one of his first lovers (he was 17 when at the time) who was apparently struck down by an illness induced by an angry ghost:

There was no one to tell him what to do. He should have recalled that at such times one particularly needs a monk, but despite his wish to be strong he was too young, and seeing her lost completely undid him. “Oh, my love,” he cried, throwing his arm around her, “come back to life! Don’t do this terrible thing to me!” But she was quite cold by now and unpleasant to touch.

Murasaki Shikibu, Royall Tyler (translator), The Tale of Genji, Penguin Deluxe Edition, 2003, p. 68

Weirdly, illness in this tale is always due to the influence of angry ghosts or spirits who can sometimes be placated by Buddhist rites. There are many pilgrimages to holy sites and many holy feast days described in the Tale.

The book has hundreds of different characters and the characters, including Genji, are mainly referred to by their titles and/or nicknames. Since these titles change as the characters rise through the ranks, a character is often referred to by different titles in consecutive chapters. As a side note, even the authors name is made up of the name of the Genji’s favourite consort, “Murasaki,” and “Shikibu” means “Bureau of Ceremonials” (which was an office held by the author’s father). The author’s name is therefore also hidden behind a pseudonym. If you’ve read War and Peace and found the many characters confusing and the names hard to keep in mind – it’s nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the Tale!

These changes of the characters’ titles actually made the novel a bit sub-optimal for a year’s reading project. My friend and I both thought it would have been easier to read it in one go instead of in monthly installments. Each time we started up, we again had to puzzle out who was who. The edition fortunately has a list of main characters with their titles at the beginning of each chapter, as well as a list of the main developments in chronological order (including the chapters in which the developments occur) at the end of the book. The edition also has a glossary, extensive and very useful footnotes, a list for further reading, and lovely black-and-white illustrations. These features are extremely helpful for a smoother reading experience.

One of the main (and for modern Western readers very odd) characteristics of court society is that people hardly ever speak directly to each other. Genji very often communicates with his lovers through their ladies-in-waiting, or he can only talk to them from behind screens and curtains. Poetry and writing play a very important role in this communication. Genji and his lovers communicate by writing poetry in beautiful calligraphy. The poetry must be at once fresh and original but also cite classics that are known to everyone (otherwise their poems are mocked). The notes exchanged between the characters are absolutely indirect and couched in metaphors and images. Without the footnotes, the modern reader wouldn’t be able to grasp any of the nuances of the characters’ poetry (well, and maybe not even the main meaning). Music is also very important. Genji often engages in competitions with his peers as to who makes music most beautifully.

Some of the actions described in the Tale are hard to take for us today. A refusal by a lady to meet and have an affair with Genji or other high-ranking gentlemen is never taken seriously. Often a lady’s companions conspire with the spurned lover and smuggle him into her chambers. Even her parents sometimes collude with the lover if they see a glorious future for their daughter. In Genji’s case, since he truly cares for his consorts, it always seems to turn out well for the ladies, but at the end of the book, in the chapters about Niou and Kaoru, a trio of sisters is really persecuted by them and even a flight to a nunnery isn’t very effective at keeping the two men away.

The incident where Genji abducts the half-orphaned young Murasaki to bring her up to be his perfect consort leaves a modern reader aghast. Interestingly, this act of his was judged as strange, unusual, and improper by other characters in the novel, as well as by himself (that didn’t stop him, though). The Tale was written by a high-ranking lady for other high-ranking ladies, so the reader does get opinions which sometimes aren’t flattering for Genji or other characters (both men and women). The authorial narrator sometimes also inserts positive or negative comments.

The characters are fully fleshed out and their feelings, thoughts, and developments as they live their lives are shown in great detail. Many of them have bouts of depression. Often, they retreat to religious observances to regain their equilibrium – retirement to a Buddhist monastery or nunnery in old age is also common. The rich interior life of the characters is one of the best thing about the novel.

My friend and I found ourselves puzzled and disturbed by some of the episodes in the book while still finding it hugely fascinating. The English translation by Royall Tyles is very readable (and all the extra information helped immensely). I found the Tale a truly mesmerizing window into a historical society that was exceedingly strange for me. I’m very glad that I read it. It was one of the best books I read last year and definitively material for rereading.

The author, Murasaki Shikibu, has also written a short diary, which is available in translation in Penguin Classics. I think I will pick this up soon.

Royall Tyler has translated other Japanese classics, among them The Tale of the Heike. As I enjoyed The Tale of Genji very much, I’m sure that I will look this one up eventually, too.

Keep safe, world.

So Long 2021

More than half of my Christmas/New Year vacation is already done, and I never posted once, although I had planned to post a lot. Somehow, I couldn’t motivate myself to sit down at the computer and start typing. I kept composing posts in my head during my walks with Curious Dog without actually writing them down afterwards. Well, I was quite busy with other stuff.

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Today I should have travelled back to my place in Baden-Württemberg to celebrate the turning of the year with Partner and Mum, after having spent Christmas just with Mum while Partner, as usual, was off at his place. But Partner had his Corona booster vaccination yesterday and didn’t feel well enough to drive today, so we postponed our trips until tomorrow. A pity that we won’t be together tonight but getting one’s booster is important so we will deal. I had my booster planned for the beginning of February at work (which would have been six months after my second vaccination) but in the meantime the government has decided that one can get the booster shot after three months. So, I went and got mine at a test centre in Bavaria without an appointment, just by turning up on December 27. There wasn’t much of a queue, and it only took about half an hour. It was Moderna. I never had any side effects with my two BioNTech/Pfizer shots but on the day after my booster shot, I felt quite ill with a headache, a feeling of chilliness and a slight fever. I had to lie down in the afternoon. At the end of the day, I felt better again and was fine by the second day. An interesting experience.

Anyway, since I’m not spending hours driving today, I thought I’d pull myself together and write a short update on the blog and wish everybody a Happy New Year.

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Before Christmas I was busy baking Christmas Cookies, going grocery shopping to get all the ingredients, and preparing the house for the holidays (which meant vacuuming all over, because Curious Dog is in a very strange shedding phase). CD seems to be losing his warm winter fur already or else it’s being renewed. In any case, everything is covered in dog hair all the time. It’s odd, because winter hasn’t really started yet – maybe his body has decided that this winter won’t bring any real cold. The weather has been mostly well above freezing and wet. CD and I got absolutely soaked three times (once on the morning of the day I was sick because of the Corona shot) and damp uncountable times. We did have three days when it was sunny and freezing and pleasant for walks, but that was before Christmas. Today it’s still wet from all the rain, but at least sunny – it’s like a last friendly farewell from an otherwise rather unfriendly 2021.

In between grocery shopping or baking or having my vaccination, I spent a lot of time reading. I finished The Tale of Genji, the Arabian Nights, the second two books in the Howl’s Castle series, the last two Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes books (I finished the series, yay!). I read a Murderbot short story that I’d been saving up and even a German crime novel by Leonie Swann, Glennkill, about a herd of sheep who try to solve the murder of their shepherd (it was a very hyped novel more than 10 years ago and I gave it to my Mum for Christmas at the time, but never felt a real urge to read it, as I don’t read many German books). It has a bit of a slow start, but I enjoyed it. After those books, I didn’t continue with my reading goals for the year. I got side-tracked by a middle-grade children’s fantasy series which I found on A Book Owls Corner – the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series by Kathryn Lasky. I’ve finished Book 11 with about 5 more to go. It’s a fantasy series about owls and it is just fabulous, amazingly creative and original. The owls have a culture, history, mythology, even special words for owlish concepts. They deal with magic and science and ethics. Easy reading since it’s middle grade and each book is only around 200 pages long so that I’m sure I’ll have finished the series in a few days (I’ve got it on Kindle). It quite derailed my reading plans, but I don’t care. I’ll blame my non-posting during the last half of December on this reading binge – yep, definitively, blame it on the owls.

That said, I need to take CD on his last afternoon walk of the year (while the sun is still shining). Then I want to get back to the next Ga’Hooleian book. So, it’s time to finish the post.

A Happy New Year for everyone for whom tomorrow is the start of a new year. Let’s hope it’ll be better that 2021 (shouldn’t be hard to beat, right?).

Keep safe, world.

November Reading

A very short list of books read in November. I took part in Non-Fiction November (as last year) and that made me read less, because I have a slower reading speed with non-fiction.

Ongoing project:
Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I read a lot of this and now only have about 200 pages to go which I hope to finish this weekend. It’s fascinating but also very strange. When I’m done, I’ll write a review.

Non-Fiction:
Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence.
My project for Non-Fiction November. It was super interesting, see my review here.

Howl

Poetry:
Robert Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Poets.
Finished this anthology that I started in July. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s amazing how many women poets were around in the 18th century. Their poetry is no worse than that of a lot of male poets who are listed in all the major literary histories, while no-one has ever heard of most of the women. Unfair!

Children’s Literature:
Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle.
A modern classic of children’s lit. Part of a trilogy and I’m certainly planning on reading the other parts too (they are already on my Kindle). I love the Chrestomanci Series and wanted to read some of Jones’ other works because they are just so quirky and imaginative. Somehow, I never came across her books as a child or a teenager, which is a pity, as I’m sure I’d have loved her books as much as I loved Joan Aiken’s works.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

As you may have noticed, I’ve totally given up posting every day in November. Life got in the way – well, Curious Dog’s prepuce infection. He has to wear a body to stop him from licking his infection and he doesn’t really like it. I spent the weekend, when I wasn’t out grocery shopping, sitting reading in the living room with him instead of up in my bedroom at my computer, typing up posts. I made quite a bit of headway through my November non-fiction read From Dawn to Decadence and on my project reading The Tale of Genji. I’m halfway through the former and about two thirds through the later. They are both very interesting in quite different ways. Dawn is a cultural history of “the West” and Genji is a tale about court life in ancient Japan. Dawn covers a topic that I’m somewhat familiar with but with lots of details and interpretations new to me. Genji shows quite an alien world which I often find extremely puzzling, but it’s fascinating.

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But to return to Curious Dog. I was sitting in the living room with him so that he didn’t have to wear the body – I just stopped him when he started to lick. On Friday I chased him around the living room for about an hour with a syringe to irrigate his prepuce with an anti-bacterial liquid and I actually managed it without holding on to him at all. He just kept still by himself (he probably got fed up with being chased all the time). That was very surprising. Partner and I didn’t manage it at all on Thursday, we couldn’t hold him. He kept squirming away and the nifty way of holding him that the vet showed me did didn’t work with us. I guess we are not as practiced as the vet. But Friday was the only time I managed it, the rest of the weekend he never held still. Nevertheless, he got all his antibiotic tablets, and it looks like the infection has cleared up. One more night of wearing the body and that’s it. That’s a relief. Curious Dog was still very keen on his walks, but he was a bit off his food on a couple of days. He left kibble in his bowl, which he never does (normally it’s all gone in a few minutes). He did, however, eat it when we fed him by hand. Very odd. Maybe the tablets didn’t agree with him. Or maybe he was milking the situation because he enjoyed the extra attention (dogs do that). I don’t know, but today he ate all his food again at his usual speed and I think he’s back to normal.

The weather was very dreary on the weekend. A very soft rain on Friday – CD and I got quite wet on our afternoon walk. No rain the rest of the weekend but the sun hardly got through the fog and the clouds. It grew a bit warmer, so walks were quite pleasant, but it was still very muddy. Since it was so dreary, we streamed a few episodes of München Mord (meaning “Munich Murder”, which is in German a play on München Nord which is an exist on the Autobahn: Mord = Murder, Nord = North). It’s three oddball police detectives investigating murder cases in weird ways, hindered by their superior who panders to higher-ups. It’s very quirky and has funny elements. The chief detective of the trio has a weird way of reenacting how he thinks the murder took place which makes him look crazy to most of the police department (although his method is very successful). The other two are always looking for love in the wrong places and have other character quirks. The relationship between the detectives is one of the many highlights of the series which we just really enjoy. Perfect for dingy autumn days.

We did a lot of cooking and baking. Partner made some very tasty pastries filled with shredded apple and spiced with cinnamon and I cooked a lovely vegetable soup on Saturday. On Sunday I made a mushroom, carrot and kidney bean stew in a dark beer sauce with dumplings and a purple cabbage side-dish (Partner helped). It was delicious and I made enough to last us for today as well, so Partner didn’t have to cook today for once.

Today is still dingy weather-wise, but it’s back to work, no time for films. I had a virtual training about developing a “growth mindset”. Basically, a lot of truisms about keeping an open mind and seeing possibilities instead of problems. The concept makes sense, that’s why it’s a cliché, but those type of trainings always put me into a contrary mood, where I try to come up with examples for when positivity and openness don’t help much. Which is quite hard, because most bad experiences are probably not helped by being in a negative frame of mind. Mostly I feel cynical about these trainings, because it’s the company trying to motivate us into becoming better employees: flexible, hard-working, and innovative to influence the bottom line positively and make investors happy. They always use a lot of examples from sports. How being in a “growth mindset” leads you to being more successful in your chosen sport. I don’t enjoy competitive sports, so those examples make me grumpy (I guess I’m difficult). I’ve heard these types of things so often that I’m surprised at myself for still waiting for new insights from these kinds of trainings. This time there was a refreshing point from a colleague about keeping a sense of proportion and humour to deal with difficult situations. That took me out of my cynical mood and got me to acknowledge to myself that the training was at least a change from normal work. Which, you know, nothing to be sneered at. But I don’t believe I learned anything new at all, so it wasn’t a very effective training. I’ve had very good trainings at work, I guess a dud now and then isn’t unexpected. Newer colleagues, who haven’t had such motivational trainings before, may have found it more interesting.

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.

July Reading

In an unprecedented display of efficiency, I’m actually posting my July reads at the end of July instead of sometime in the next month. The reason is that as my cousins are visiting from Friday to Sunday, I won’t get much more reading done, so I might as well do my wrap-up today.

SilverBrumby

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji
I read a few pages this month but not that many. I’ll have to pick up again next month.

Poetry:

Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Poets
I started this anthology for Jane Austen July and am enjoying it very much. I’m about half way though and will continue with it till I’m done. It’s a shame that these poets aren’t more widely known, as they are just as good as male poets.

Short Stories

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments
I didn’t make much progress with this either, but I’ll keep at it.
Also short stories by Laurie R. King listed with the novels.

Non-Fiction

  • Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own
    This was also a round-about Jane Austen July book. It was very good, see my review if you are interested.
  • Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson: A Biography
    This one I reviewed yesterday. Not bad but only if you are interested in the details of Samuel Johnson’s life. But in that case, you should start with Boswell’s Life, which is great.

Novels

  • Jane Austen, Persuasion
    Read for Jane Austen July – very good.
  • P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley
    Also part of Jane Austen July. I reviewed it and Persuasion here.
  • Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister
    Another excellent (except maybe a bit long) novel for Jane Austen July, reviewed here.
  • Laurie R. King:
    • Mary Russell’s War and Other Stories of Suspense
    • The Language of Bees
    • The God of the Hive
      My ongoing project to read all of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, reviewed here.
  • Elyne Mitchell, The Silver Brumby
    Revisiting my childhood with this lovely book about the adventures of a special wild stallions in the mountains of Australia. I wrote a bit about it in this post and then felt the need to read it once again. It’s very good and available on Kindle. My edition is an old library book which I got second-hand, which has lovely drawings of brumbies and other Australian wildlife (see the photo above).

July was a good reading month – I read a lot and managed to write all the reviews this months, too. I’m not sure if I ever managed this before. I hope you also had a good time reading in July!

Keep safe, world.

June Reading

June was an average reading month; as anticipated, I didn’t read as much as in May. Here’s the list of books I read:

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Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
After having caught up in May, I didn’t get round to continuing this novel in June (neither did my reading buddy). I’ve started up again and will catch up in this month of July. It’s a good read, I don’t know why I keep letting it lie.

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 read most of the first volume up to and past Goethe and Schiller in the chronology. At the moment, in July, I’m giving it a rest, because I’m focusing on women poets of the 18th century for Jane Austen July. But I will return to the German anthology again in August.

Short Stories:

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
I haven’t been reading much in the Arabian Nights, but I have made some progress. I’m at about two thirds.

Non-Fiction:

No non-fiction in June.

Novels:

  • Martha Wells:
    • Fugitive Telemetry.
    • All Systems Red.
      The first was the new novella in the Murderbot Diaries which I liked so much that I was motivated to red the first installment, All Systems Red, again. I mentioned it briefly here.
  • Laurie R. King, Locked Rooms.
    Number 8 in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. I haven’t posted about it, as I’m waiting until I’ve read another one, so that I can do a combined post. It was a good read, I love the series.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun.
    My favourite read this year so far. Here’s my review.
  • Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate and Other Novels.
    A very enjoyable collection of three novels for which I wrote a review.
  • Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police.
    The novel we read in my book club. It was very interesting and I’m still planning to write a review.
  • Caroline Alexander, The Iliad.
    This was a great reading experience, as I discussed here.

So, I didn’t read as much in June as I did in May. Not sure why I didn’t, maybe I just had too many other things on my plate. I’m still happy, I didn’t have a reading slump or anything. It’s a bit strange that I didn’t manage a non-fiction book. Maybe I’ll get around to one in July, although I haven’t got one planned at the moment.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

Yesterday I tried to go on Curious Dog’s afternoon walk twice and each time we had to turn back because of rain. The second time it even started thundering. We are in Bavaria, and the weather has been very changeable. I hoped it would clear up later in the afternoon, as I was planning to take Curious Dog to his dog school for the first time since October. But it didn’t. We got quite wet, as dog school is outdoors. But it was still fun. Otherwise, we’ve had some very pleasant walks in the woods, where all the beech trees are covered in bright shining new green leaves.

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We drove down last week on Thursday, which was a public holiday, Christ’s Ascension. Nice, because there wasn’t a lot of traffic and I didn’t have to work on Friday to make up for Thursday. That made for a weekend long and lovely. The drive was a bit of a pain, though. I’d know from last time that our normal exit off the Autobahn was closed for roadworks, and that the diversion was also going to be closed (with yet another diversion). I thought I’d leave the Autobahn at an entirely different exit and approach my usual route by other roads from a different direction. That was the plan, but there were roadworks on that route as well. I was diverted to the diversion from last time, which diverted to very small and winding country roads. Very scenic, but slow. Luckily, almost no traffic, but it probably would have been dire on a normal workday, because you had to slow down to 30 km/h in all the small villages, and they all had temporary pedestrian crossings with traffic lights installed in their main through roads. We’ll be driving back next Sunday, so that should also be fine, but I’ll have to think of a better route for June’s drive.

Our neighbours with Corona came through it and are now recuperating. The husband got pneumonia to go with it and had to go to hospital for 10 days. They have to take it easy but are doing well. Mum and I are very relieved and thankful.

Our garden is very green and very overgrown. The lawn is terrible – lots of tall grasses on the sides, lots of dandelion stalks and other stuff that I’ll have to cut by hand, because the lawnmower will only bend all the stalks and not cut them. I should have started doing this on the weekend when we had quite a few sunny hours in among the showers. As usual, I was too lazy. I’m hoping to get started during my lunch breaks this week, if it isn’t raining (but so far, no go). If I do a bit every day, it won’t be such a pain. All the bushes we planted last year, the Juneberry and the small red hedge bushes, have survived and grown lots of new leaves. And the small apple tree actually has blossoms. It’ll be interesting to see if it will already grow apples. If it does, I’ll have to prop up the skinny branches, as they don’t look strong enough to bear the weight. The small Korean fir tree is still looking rather sickly and loosing needles, although some (but not many) new buds are also sprouting. Not sure if it will survive. It was too dry in the last few summers. Our huge rosemary bush definitively didn’t survive the freezing winter. We’re planning a trip to a garden centre this week, as they are open (Corona counts are improving again). Maybe we’ll get some new plants. Hardy ones, that survive not being regularly watered in Summer.

E_Queen

I took a few of the books I’m currently reading with me, Arabian Nights, The Tale of Genji, The Beet Queen… all literary ones that I want get ahead with, but when we arrived after lunch on Thursday, I was too tired from the drive and needed something easier on my brain. I found an old Ellery Queen Penguin Crime novel that belonged to my brother. I spent the rest of the day reading it: The Glass Village. One of the few standalone crime novels by the authors. “Ellery Queen” is both the pseudonym of the authors, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, and the name of one of their main characters. This used to confuse me as a teenager, when I remember reading some of the Ellery Queen books. However, this one doesn’t feature Ellery Queen as a character. The main protagonist is one Johnny Shinn, a cynical and bored ex-soldier who worked for Military Intelligence in the Korean War and doesn’t know what to do with himself after the war. He’s visiting his uncle, a judge, in their ancestral New England village. The village in the 1950s is very run-down and only a handful of families remain. Most of them are quite nasty and definitively not welcoming to strangers, although Johnny is accepted, because of his uncle and his family’s roots in the village. During their stay, the nicest character in the village, Aunt Fanny Adams, a well-to-do famous painter, is brutally murdered and the only suspect (in the eyes of the villagers) is a tramp, a poor Polish immigrant. The villagers first hunt him down, mistreat him, and then refuse to give him up to the law. They think they won’t get justice if they don’t try the “foreigner” themselves. To prevent bloodshed and gain time, the judge sets up a fake court, complete with jury, prosecution, and defense. Johnny has to join the jury, as otherwise there aren’t enough jurors. During the fake court case, the alibis of all the villagers are scrutinized and eventually, the truth is found out.

The novel really gripped me. I thought it would be mildly amusing, but it’s very well made and thought-provoking. The great majority of the villagers were a closed-minded, bigoted, violent lot, very reminiscent of the extremists we see in our modern political landscape. Not inclined to adhere to any laws except those they bent to their purposes, not interested in listening to other points of view, definitively not inclined to be merciful. Only at the end, when it became indisputable that the tramp wasn’t the murderer, did they show any remorse (at least they did show remorse – that’s something that’s uncommon with modern bigots). I think the novel is called The Glass Village, because all the hidden lives of the villagers come to light during the fake court case. Or maybe it’s also about not throwing stones when one is living in a glass house – meaning it wasn’t the tramp, but rather one of their own who was the murderer.

I spent a lot of time reading on the weekend, including some of the Tale of Genji, but mostly other crime novels. That’s a post for another day.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

May is already one third gone and I’ve only managed one post so far. Work is still very stressful and chaotic. New tasks keep popping up, there’s millions of synch meetings, and preparations for meetings, and rollouts and whatnot. All on top of the usual stuff that has been accelerated so that my team and I have to do one third more of it than last year. This tires me out on weekdays, so that I don’t have enough energy to write a blog post. At the beginning of the weekend (and my weekends are long ones, as I don’t work on Fridays) I always plan to do a post per day and what happens? I do the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, the doing things with my partner, the dog walking, a lot of reading, but I can’t bring myself to turn on my notebook. At the end of the weekend, I regret not having written a thing. So, today I’ve decided that come what may, I’m writing a post. I’m worried that if I don’t get back into a groove of regular writing, I’ll stop writing entirely which I really don’t want to happen, because I do enjoy it and I like the idea of having a record of my doings and readings. And maybe some readers will get some enjoyment, too.

What have I been doing? Only the usual. We returned from Bavaria on April 25 and this Thursday, which is a public holiday in Germany (Christ’s Ascension), we will be driving back again. April and May have been mostly still quite cold and wet. I’m still wearing a woolen hat on my morning walks with Curious Dog, even today, although we had 26°C yesterday afternoon (and it felt warmer). I’m quite enjoying the cool spring, but maybe it was sometimes too cold for the birds with their newborn chicks. It looks like the next week is going to have temperatures somewhere between 15 and 20° in the afternoons and between 7 and 9°C in the nights. At last, no more frost.

In Bavaria, last time we were there, it turned out that our next-door neighbours had caught Corona, just a few days before their vaccination appointment. They are in their 60s and I fervently hope they will have come though it without any complications. We will find out on Thursday. We also learnt that another neighbour, an older lady originally from Portugal, with whom we used to share our local newspaper, had passed away in Portugal. Not, I believe, from Corona. But it was shocking news and Mum and I were sad to hear it. Though marked by bad news, our last stay in Bavaria was in other respects quite as usual. We had some good weather; Curious Dog and I had a lot of pleasant walks in the woods and he picked up a few ticks. They don’t seem to mind the inclement conditions – it was in the second half of April, and we still had frost.

Zami

In the first week back from Bavaria, I had a spontaneous day off work and used it to set up a bookshelf that had been stored in pieces behind my wardrobe since my move (almost three years ago) because I didn’t have anywhere to put it. Because I was missing this entire bookshelf, some of my books were stacked against the short attic wall of my bedroom (as my bedroom is basically a large attic room with the sloping roof all along one side). I had originally wanted to get rid of those books, and I did get rid of some, but couldn’t bring myself to do it for all of them. Also, a lot of the new books I got last year were stacked on the floor around my meditation mat (not sure why I didn’t put them somewhere out of the way). Anyway, I came up with the idea to set up my old bookshelf with the short side screwed to the wall next to the door of my room and the long side (85 cm) jutting out into the room. This is quite useful, because it means that I can stack my books on two sides of the shelf (it is just wooden shelves with endpieces, no back). I put all my crime books on one side (with space left over) and all my old sci-fi paperbacks that I had stacked against the wall on the other side. And then I had an empty shelf where the crime novels used to be. So, on the following weekend, I removed all my books from my largest set of shelves, dusted them off, and rearranged them. It was fun. I’ve now got my poetry collection all on one shelf (it’s a small collection) and the books I’m currently reading and planning to read on other shelves, and even some empty shelves which I’m going to use to store my office supplies, which are currently thrown haphazardly into a cardboard box that lives in the corner next to my desk. Amazingly, I only took about three hours to dust and rearrange my bookshelves. I felt very accomplished afterwards (those shelves really needed dusting – I hadn’t noticed quite how dusty they’d gotten).

After all this work, I’ve now got a nice reading nook between the newly put-up shelf and the other ones. The only drawback is that I can’t have Curious Dog up here in my bedroom, because the wall-to-wall carpet would get dirty and he’s scared of the stairs. So, I do most of my reading in the living room, where Curious Dog likes to interrupt (when he’s not sleeping at my feet). But occasionally I do lounge in my reading corner on the bean bag in the attic bedroom. And it’s nice to look at while I’m sitting at my desk all day on workdays.

I still have some other “clean-up and organize” projects to get started on. One of them concerns a couple of moving boxes with odds and ends that I’ve stacked in a corner and hidden underneath a colourful quilt. They need to get unpacked. I think one of them is from my next-to-last move which was 13 year ago. It contains a lot of old hand-knitted socks that my grandma used to make for me. I don’t wear them anymore, but I can’t get rid of them. But this weekend, I lazed around reading and didn’t do anything except for the most necessary housework. I read some of The Tale of Genji and ought to be almost caught up with my reading buddy. I also read the next Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes novel and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography by Audre Lorde (very good, needs its own post). Also started a new poetry collection of WWI poetry (prompted by the Russell & Holmes books, because they (at least the early ones) mention WWI a lot. I also got ahead with the Arabian Nights’. A very productive reading weekend. The coming weekend will be a long one, since Thursday is a public holiday. We’ll be driving to Bavaria, but once we have arrived, I’ll probably have lots of time for reading. Looking forward to that!

I’m still not vaccinated, but hope Partner and I will get there in June.

Keep safe, world!

April Reading

A lot earlier than last month, my monthly reading report.

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I didn’t manage to read any of this in April either, but I’ve pulled myself together and got started again now, in May. So, I should have a better progress soon. I do enjoy it, so I’m not sure why I didn’t get round to this book in the last couple of months.

Poetry:

Adrienne Rich, Selected Poems 1952 – 2012.
I started and finished this book in April. I enjoyed it, but I’m sure I haven’t understood everything. If I pondered each poem I read (especially the modern ones) until I understand it completely, I’d never get ahead. I’m sure I’ll be rereading this one sometime in future and then I may get more and other things out of it that I did with this first reading.

Short Stories:

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
Not really short stories, more like folk or fairy tales, but they are good. I’m making progress, night by night.

Non-Fiction:

  • Samuel Johnson and David Womersley (ed), Selected Writings.
    Essays and letters and other miscellaneous stuff. Very interesting. I finished the last half, and especially liked Rasselas (a kind of fable about finding the right way to life – it’s apparently impossible, there’s always something to complain about) and A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland – now I want to read James Boswell’s report of the same journey. It would be interesting to see how the two accounts differ. I also read some of Johnson’s short biographies from Lives of the Poets. These didn’t do much for me, because I haven’t read many of the works he discusses (Johnson gives an overview of the poets’ works), and those that I have read I’ve mostly forgotten. Except for Milton. I might reread those biographies if I ever give those poets a go. I still kind of liked the biographies because I like Johnson’s style.
  • Patrick King, The Science of Getting Started: How to Beat Procrastination, Summon Productivity, and Stop Self-Sabotage.
    This was a cheap Kindle edition that I found by chance and bought to see if it had any bright ideas on how to organize my work load more effectively. I didn’t have high hopes, but I was positively surprised. It was a quick read and had some good ideas (not all of them new to me, but also a good reminder of the things I already knew). If you want some pointers about dealing with a high workload and working productively, I recommend this book. I like that it is science-based, not just somebody’s pet ideas without any scientific backing. I always get my task at work done (if sometimes last minute), but this year there’s a lot of chaos at work and I needed some ideas to get things back under control and stop feeling overwhelmed. It’s still chaos, but I’m dealing with it and the book helped.

Novels:

  • Robert Dugoni, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.
    A book club read that I didn’t care much about. I wrote about it here.
  • David Weber, In Fury Born.
    This one I read one weekend in April because I needed some light space opera escapism. I wrote about it here.

April wasn’t a great reading month. Work was rather hellish and as a result, I was sometimes too tired to read. Quite annoying really. Things aren’t really looking up. I think the work situation is going to continue being a pain at least until fall. Therefore, I need to pull myself together and find a modus vivendi in which the work situation doesn’t carry over so much into my private life. I think I’m getting there, but some days are better than others.

Keep safe, world.