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Archive for July, 2012

Elizabeth Bowen’s luminous novel, To the North, is a classic, and seems, at first glance, surprisingly contemporary, especially in its descriptions of work. Although this novel is not about work, Bowen details the quotidian pleasures and problems of an unorthodox travel agency which specializes in off-the-beaten-track vacations.  Bowen’s upper-class heroines can work or not, just as they choose, and needn’t fight to get out of the house, as in many novels of this era. (It was published in 1932 and set in the ’20s).

But of course the novel is more about love than work.

Under ordinary circumstances, the two young heroines, with very different attitudes towards love and work, might not be friends, but they are related by marriage.  Emmeline, a quiet, creative young businesswoman and part-owner of a travel agency, thrives on work. Cecilia, the widow of Emmeline’s brother, takes taxis and goes to parties.  She doesn’t work.

Work isn’t the problem in To the North.  The problem is love.

Cecilia and Emmeline share a house Emmeline found (because she is a travel agent, of course), in a street no one has ever heard of, in a slightly inconvenient neighborhood.  Cecilia, an attractive, witty woman in her late twenties, still misses her late husband and stares often at his photograph.  At parties she attracts many men, with whom she can’t seem to fall in love, and is especially annoyed by Julian, a kind, sophisticated, serious suitor.  Emmeline co-owns a very odd travel agency:  she and her partner are committed to sending clients to places they’ve never heard of, where being uncomfortable is part of the bargain, and almost chic.

The two young women love each other, but don’t understand each other.  When Cecilia is overdrawn at the bank, she stops taking taxis, but she doesn’t like to stay home alone:  she asks Emmeline if she won’t spend more money entertaining at home than going out.

Emmeline, on the other hand, doesn’t enjoy parties, doesn’t think about love, and spends most of her time thinking up new travel itineraries.  She also reads in bed, and I must quote this next sentence because I know most of you will love it.  “Nothing could be as dear as the circle of reading-light around her pillow.”

When Cecilia returns from a trip to Italy, Bowen unnervingly describes both her deep loneliness and her reveling in leisure.

Cecilia resumed life at high pressure:  before she was into her bath two people had rung up to know whether she had arrived.  Then–as she could not bear to miss anyone–she was called twice from her bath to the telephone, and stood steaming and talking, while patches of damp from her skin came through her wrapper.  It would have been sad to return unnoticed.  All the same, as she lay turning on with her toe more and more hot water, melancholy invaded her.  She thought how at sunset the little hills lapped like waves round Urbino, and having brought her whole pile of letters into her bath with her read them, all blotchy with steam, with tears in her eyes, dropping sodden envelopes on to the bath-room floor.”

It is Cecilia’s meeting on a train with Markie, an aggressive, power-hungry barrister, that disrupts their menage.  It is not Cecilia who falls in love with him:  she drops him soon, summing him up as an upstart and cad.  Emmeline, who has never been in love with anyone, falls for him:  she finds him very funny, enjoys his attention,  and doesn’t understand his determination not to commit.  She doesn’t tell Cecilia she is seeing him.

Emmeline’s relationship with him of course hurts her commitment to work. Markie is cruel to her:  she almost blacks out his cruelties.  Her looks fade.  When he tells her he will never marry her, when he mocks the special arrangements she has made for a dinner, she is breathless but manages to ignore it.    No amount of hurt will tell her he’s not for her.

As in all of Bowen’s novels, her elegant, poetic, vivid style  almost obscures the plot.  If you don’t like style, Bowen is not for you.  In fact, Bowen seems to laugh at her own inimitable, gorgeous sentences in the passage below, Emmeline’s response to a long speech by Cecilia about Julian.

She had sat staring so fixedly at Cecilia that Cecilia had disappeared; instead, she had seen spinning sentences, little cogs interlocked, each clicking each other round.”

One of the best novels of the summer, one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and yes, it makes my If I Were Oprah Book Club.

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A few weeks ago I lauded Clyde Edgerton’s The Night Train, a beautifully-written, humorous novel about two boys, one black, one white, who perform rock and roll in a small Southern town in 1962.  Jazz piano may be African-American Larry Lime’s ticket out of town, as he studies with a brilliant hemophiliac musician knows as the Bleeder; meanwhile, the privileged Dwayne, son of the owner of the furniture refinishing shop where the two boys work, learns the power of  rock and roll through talented Larry Lime’s patient explication of James Brown’s “The Night Train.”

And this novel is truly a classic:  if you reread it, you’ll find out how beautifully the surprising, occasionally digressive parts weave a harmony into the main narrative, inspired by James Brown’s version of “The Night Train.”

I wanted to read more by Edgerton.  Today I finished Lunch at the Piccadilly, a feather-light, humorous, moving novel about residents in a nursing home.  Edgerton’s spare style is deceptively simple, and there is much more to this fast-paced novel than meets the eye.

At the heart of the novel is Carl, the stolid, dutiful, unexciting, unmarried nephew of Aunt Lil, who frequently visits her and sometimes drives her and her cronies to the Piccadilly for lunch.  Access to a car is freedom for the residents, who are otherwise stuck gossiping on the porch.

Physical and mental problems in old age sometimes commence with a fall.  Carl remembers how Aunt Lil

“fell in her tub, twice in the same night.  She managed, after the second fall, to get out of the tub and call Carl on the phone, and that night was the beginning of her downward drift, her gradual failing of mind and body, a decline less abrupt than his mother’s or Aunt Sarah’s.”

Carl keeps her apartment for her, though he believes she will have to stay at Rosehaven.  Yet  when they visit the apartment one day after lunch, Lil’s mind  snaps into focus.  She goes through files, competently removes war bonds to help pay for her care, and then, with Carl’s help, looks for her sensible shoes.  Suddenly she wants to vacuum.  She won’t use her walker, so Carl holds her by the waistband of her pants while she does a little vacuuming on the balcony.

And this scene struck a chord, because I went through the same thing with my mother.  The last happy memory I have of her was the last day we took her to her house to pick up a few things.  She looked immensely satisfied, as she ordered me to vacuum the living room–I did a very good job, because I wanted her praise– put a few clothes in bags, and then tottered outside without her cane to pull weeds. I quickly ran out with a chair for her, and distracted her by asking what size clothing she needed now that she had lost 15 pounds (and was dangerously anorexic)…  She kept looking at those weeds, though.

Edgerton, who has been around the block a time or two with aging relatives, has an intuitive understanding of their emotional situation.  In one hilarious scene, Carl takes Aunt Lil and Mrs. Cochran shoe-shopping at the mall.   It’s a bit like junior high:  Mrs. Cochran insists on high heels, and Carl, like a heavy father, has to steer her away from dangerous heels towards slip-ons.  Ironically, Carl always wishes that Anna, the social worker who wears sensible shoes, would wear high heels.  Too bad Mrs. Cochran doesn’t have Anna’a common sense.

Carl’s Aunt Sarah told him before she died that giving up driving was the worst thing.  Because of this, Carl has trouble telling Aunt Lil she can’t drive anymore, even after she takes off on a hair-raising adventure in a stolen car.

There are other vivid characters in the novel.  There’s L. Ray Flowers, a preacher, who wants to start a movement to turn nursing homes into churches–nurches–so the residents won’t be lonely anymore. He is also a songwriter and teaches Carl to play bass.  Carl starts writing lyrics:  the songs are in the back of the novel.

There are Carrie and Latricia, two aides who eat lunch together and talk about the patients.

And there’s Anna, the social worker whom Carl has a crush on.  She agrees to go out on a date with him, but will the relationship go anywhere?  Carl is nervous on their first date.

It’s a funny, sad, touching novel, about old age, caretakers, kindness, nursing homes, exploitation, and occasional injustice.  I laughed out loud at some scenes, cried over others.

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We have three winners!

Rhonda – The Blush

Ellen – Hester Lilly

Sherry – The Devastating Boys

Happy reading!   Just send your address by e-mail to frisbeebookjournal@gmail.com  and  I’ll mail the books Monday.

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Over the years, I have enjoyed Elizabeth Taylor’s well-crafted, if uneven, novels about the problems of middle- and upper-class women in love and family relationships.

So although I am not a big fan of short stories, I decided to read Taylor’s Complete Short Stories, and ,amazingly, have found them richer and more graceful than her novels.

This is the centenary of Elizabeth Taylor’s birth, and the English press has beaten the drums for her. Every reviewer of The Complete Short Stories avows that “she is not as widely read as she deserves” (The Guardian), is “claimed to be the most underrated writer of the 20th century” (The Telegraph–but I think “claimed” says it all), and “her work …did not secure what most writers truly covet: fair public acknowledgment” (The Irish Times).

I’m not sure she is neglected, as I found pre-Virago editions of her books in the ’80s in an American public library, and talked at a party to a man (ok, he was a book reviewer) who said she was his favorite writer.

Nonetheless, The Complete Short Stories is a find, revealing a much wider range than the novels.

Elizabeth Taylor

In the opening novella, “Hester Lilly,” Taylor tips her hat to Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.  Both Taylor and Wharton describe triangular relationships involving a married couple and a cousin who comes to live with them.

Taylor describes the strain on a marriage when Robert, a headmaster, and Muriel, his neurotic wife, feel obligated to invite a young homeless cousin to live with them.  Muriel dreads the arrival of Hester, who has lost her father and written countless obsessive letters to Robert. Muriel, who has not been allowed to read them, has observed what she considers Robert’s “guilty love” in response.

And she is not far wrong.

When Hester arrives, unthreatening and awkward, Muriel briefly deceives herself about her emotions.

I will take her under my wing, Muriel promised herself. The idea of an unformed personality to be moulded and high-lighted invigorated her, and the desire to tamper with–as in those fashion magazines in which ugly duckling is so disastrously changed to swan before our wistful eyes–made her impulsive and welcoming.  She came quickly across the hall and laid her cheek against the girl’s, murmuring affectionately.  Deception enveloped them.”

Robert knows otherwise.  He knows his wife.  And she tortures Hester subtly.

Hester is naive, terrified, and confused.  She didn’t pay attention at secretarial school, her shorthand is execrable, and now she must work as a secretary to Robert. She doesn’t know how to talk to men.  But she does flirt with Robert, and no wife could like it.  When Muriel confronts Hester, saying she knows about her love and it is to be expected at her age and will soon be gotten over, Hester falls apart.

There is even a broken china scene, reminiscent of the scene in Ethan Frome in which Mattie breaks Zeena’s favorite china.    But “Hester Lilly” is a less obvious story than Ethan Frome, and Taylor pulls invisible strings to manipulate characters who have more options than Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie.  They are not stuck in New England, thank God!  (But Hester’s fate seem a bit…no, I won’t say it.)

Taylor writes comedies, too.  In “Summer Schools,” two unmarried schoolteacher sisters who live together fall out over a summer trip.  Ursula has been invited by an old friend, Pamela, to visit her in London, and the jealous sister, Melanie, who also knows Pamela, can’t understand why she hasn’t been invited, too.  Melanie decides she won’t stay home with the cat, and will attend a conference on 19th-century literature (there was a talk on Trollope that I’d like to attend).

The vacations don’t turn out quite as the sisters think they will.  The people they meet aren’t who they thought they’d meet.  But each sister deals with it in a unique way.

One of the lighter stories is “The Thames Spread Out.”  Periodically the river floods, and Rose, a former secretary who lives alone, enjoys looking out over the flooded field from her solitary house.  Although the downstairs of the house is flooded, she is serene.  She is relieved that Gilbert, her former boss, who now supports her, will not be there for the weekend.  The rest of the week she is alone.

With the world quiet around her, she makes tea on her primus stove, and everything is a joy to her.  She loves seeing her neighbors rowing a boat over the flooded fields from the train.  She doesn’t know her neighbors and has kept  to herself  over the years,because she doesn’t want anyone to know she is Gilbert’s mistress.  But an encounter during the flood with two neighbors changes her perspective.

I’m halfway through the short stories, and somehow I’m reminded of the brilliant William Trevor.

If you’re looking for middlebrow cozies, these stories won’t fit the bill.  (Though some of her novels do fit into this category, I think.  But feel free to disagree.)

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It is the centenary of Elizabeth Taylor’s birth, and I couldn’t resist replacing my copies of her short stories with the new Collected Short Stories.  Thus I am giving away three beautiful Virago collections of Taylor’s short stories:   Hester Lilly, The Blush, and The Devastating Boys.

If you would like one, two, or all three of these, leave a comment and let me know which you want.  I’ll pick a name or names from a hat tomorrow evening.

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One of the finalists.

The Man Booker Prize longlist has been announced.  The books are:

Nicola Barker, “The Yips” (Fourth Estate); Ned Beauman, “The Teleportation Accident” (Sceptre); André Brink, “Philida” (Harvill Secker); Tan Twan Eng, “The Garden of Evening Mists” (Myrmidon Books); Michael Frayn, “Skios” (Faber & Faber); Rachel Joyce, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” (Doubleday); Deborah Levy, “Swimming Home” (And Other Stories); Hilary Mantel, “Bring Up the Bodies” (Fourth Estate); Alison Moore, “The Lighthouse” (Salt); Will Self, “Umbrella” (Bloomsbury); Jeet Thayil, “Narcopolis” (Faber & Faber); and Sam Thompson, “Communion Town” (Fourth Estate).

The judges were not up at dawn, announcing the list.  I checked.

Five of the books are available in the U.S.:  Mantel’s, Frayn’s, Joyce’s, Thayil’s, and Thompson’s.  I have Mantel’s.

The novel I’m most interested in is Will Self’s Umbrella.  I’m one of his fans, and once drove 100 miles to see him give a reading:  he canceled.   Oh, well.

I very much liked his satire on smoking, The Butt.  His new book won’t be published in the U.S. till 2013, but here’s a quote from the description at Amazon UK:

Recently having abandoned his RD Laing-influenced experiment in running a therapeutic community – the so-called Concept House in Willesden – maverick psychiatrist Zack Busner arrives at Friern Hospital, a vast Victorian mental asylum in North London, under a professional and a marital cloud. …then he encounters Audrey Dearth, a working-class girl from Fulham born in 1890 who has been immured in Friern for decades.,,, [and fell] victim to the encephalitis lethargica sleeping sickness epidemic at the end of the First World War…”

This year we’re a little less interested in the longlist than usual.   My husband wants to read Andre Brink’s new novel (not published anywhere yet), and I am interested in Nicola Barker’s The Yips (I loved Darkmans and Clear).

But we’re not going on a shopping spree.  We’ll get them from the library.  Why?

1.  Last year we were dismayed by the judges’ choices.  My husband said Half Blood Blues was THE WORST BOOK HE EVER READ.  I was quite disappointed in a couple of them, too, but I loved Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child and Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side.

2.  I’m not even British.  We declared independence in 1776, and thus are not eligible for the Prize.

3.  Oh, dear–I bought so many good books in July that I have a backlog.

4.  After last year’s choices, I prefer not reading OTHER people’s choices.

That said, the Booker announcement is still the event of the summer.:)

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Bloggers love blogs.  We may not be powerful, but we revel in our dashed-off journal entries about books.

And sometimes we have influence.  Sometimes publishers reissue books we recommend.

In 2009, an editor at Bloomsbury left a comment on my blog to say that Bloomsbury was reissuing D. E. Stevenson’s Mrs. Tim Christie (under the British title Mrs. Tim of the Regiment) “entirely due to your blog.” I was happy to think I’d had an influence, and other bloggers, too, were thrilled to be contacted about books they’d recommended.   I remember Stuck in a Book’s joy over the reissuing of Frank Baker’s Mrs. Hargreaves, a novel he loved and praised often (and still writes about).

I am a fan of lost classics and perfectly good, if not perfect, forgotten books.  Hence I was delighted to discover E. M. Delafield’s Provincial Lady books through Academy Chicago Publishers, L. P. Davies’s A Meaningful Life through NYRB, and countless titles published by Virago.

Now Amazon has launched an interesting series of out-of-print books, “Nancy Pearl A Book Lust Rediscovery.”  The books to be reissued are selected by Nancy Pearl, the librarian and author of Book Lust.  The first two are Merle Miller’s A Gay and Melancholy Sound and Rhian Ellis’s After Life.  I look forward to reading them.

But others have great recommendations, too.  Now if bloggers and rebel readers could band together as a network, we could form our own publishing company and reissue out-of-print books as (perhaps free) e-books.

But it would be an enormous hassle–sitting around in our pajamas talking on the phone to writers or whoever about copyright… and we’d have to raise money to pay royalties–from whom?  But wouldn’t it be fun to find the out-of-print books recommended by bloggers and commenters without paying $50 or something for a rare book?

So here are a few of my choices for “If We Had a Publishing Company…”

Nancy Hale

1.  Nancy Hale’s Dear BeastI wrote last spring:  “In Dear Beast, the heroine, Abby Daniel, the wife of a well-educated, caustic Virginia bookseller, writes a best-selling anonymous novel about life in a small town very like Starkeyville. The difference is that he Starkeyvillians admire it, wondering who wrote it….

“This clever, witty novel is almost experimental in parts, a patchwork of lively Southern dialogue, New York party dialogue, and excerpts from letters, Abby’s diary, and The Rose That Died.  … Parts are funny, but the parts about Abby’s marriage to Boogher are painful to read.  Hale explores Abby’s observant musings about the South and Boogher’s long-winded Southern oral narratives.  They mesh at several points.”

2.  Clifford D. Simak’s They Walked Like Men is one of my science fiction favorites.  In 2009 I wrote:  “Aliens are taking over the world – but not by hackneyed means – they’re buying all the real estate on Earth. They look like bowling balls – and somehow combine with dolls to simulate human beings. The narrator, Parker Graves (love the last name!), is a newspaper science writer who investigates the aliens after he foils a trap they’ve set outside his apartment. He also discovers that all the real estate has been bought up by a mystery man – and that even wealthy people are homeless because once they sell their homes, there’s nowhere to go.”

John Thorndike Anna Delaney's Child3.  John Thorndike’s Anna Delaney’s Child.  I wrote in 2009:  his lyrical first novel charts the mourning and gradual healing of a group of  characters in Fell River, Ohio, who have suffered a range of losses. Anna Delaney, a farmer, has lost her eight-year-old son, Kevin, in a car accident; her father’s beloved wife, Anna’s mother, has died of cancer; Susan, now a paraplegic after a recent climbing accident, longs for the sports that kept her centered; and Anna’s ex-husband, Paul, has moved to Fell River with his unresolved drug problems.”

An excellent novel.

Best Out-of-Print Novel Due for a Revival

4.  Gladys Taber’s Mrs. Daffodil.   I wrote last winter about this humorous novel:  “It is obviously autobiographical, or at least parallels the Stillmeadow journals (which may be slightly fictionalized; I can’t find much information about Taber).  Like Taber, the heroine, Mrs. Daffodil, writes a syndicated column called “Butternut Wisdom.”  She also writes short stories about young love, because she has discovered people are less interested in stories about ordinary older people like herself.   And through this writing, she supports herself, her married daughter and graduate student husband, and presumably her housemate, Kay, a widowed college friend who agreed to share the country house after her husband died.  Mrs. Daffodil is not good with money:  sometimes she absent-mindedly sends two checks to the electric company.”

So those are four of mine.  Please let me know your favorites.  I’m always looking for good books to read (not publish, right?).

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Martha Gellhorn

The writer Martha Gellhorn has long fascinated me.

She was the third wife of Ernest Hemingway.  Their turbulent relationship inspired a recent HBO film, Hemingway and Gellhorn, with Clive Owen as Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Gellhorn.  Both were war correspondents as well as novelists.   Gellhorn could out-macho Hemingway, which, as you can imagine, didn’t please him.  They were married for only five years.

I mention Hemingway to get your attention, but I assure you Gellhorn is remarkable writer in her own right.

She dropped out of Bryn Mawr in 1927 to become a journalist, moved to Europe, and became involved in the Pacifist movement.  She wrote about the Depression, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War.

She also wrote political fiction.

I prefer novels to novellas, but you won’t be surprised to learn that I started with whatever I could find.  At Jackson Street Booksellers in Omaha, I picked up a copy of The Novellas of Martha Gellhorn, which includes four collections, The Trouble I’ve Seen, For Better For Worse, Pretty Tales for Tired People, and The Weather in Africa.

Her detailed, realistic novellas are shaped and filtered through the eye of a perspicacious reporter who doesn’t have to resort to the sentimentality and histrionics that sometimes debase journalism.  Her fiction is based on her reportage and travels, but her style is fluid, literary, and subtle.  She is able to capture vividly the psychological strengths and strategies by which people survived the Depression and wars:  they focus on one detail at a time.

I don’t read novellas the way I read novels.  When I don’t have the luxury of settling down with a novel-length story, I have to take breaks to get perspective. I am reading this more slowly than I would read a novel.

The Trouble I’ve Seen, the first collection in this volume, consists of four novellas about the Depression published in 1936, based on Gellhorn’s reporting for the White House as an investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.

The first novella, Mrs. Maddison Makes Both Ends Meet, is the best in The Trouble I’ve Seen.  The heroine, Mrs. Maddison, a dauntless woman in her sixties who lives in a shack by the Mississippi, prefers to work, but she is on Relief.  She scrapes, begs, and forages for whatever she can get, because her feckless daughter, Tennessee,  whose husband is unemployed, and sickly granddaughter, Tiny, need food.  Her son, Alec, and his slatternly wife are also doing poorly.   Mrs. Cahill, the social worker, scolds her for not buying new shoes for herself.  But this is the Depression, and Mrs. Maddison does what she believes is best.

When Mrs. Maddison goes to the Relief Office to see what the giveaways are–it turns out to be women’s nightgowns–she is dressed like any matron going out to play bridge.

…Everything was very clean, very stiff, her shoes had been whitened and she had borrowed paint from one of the fishermen to rim the soles and worn heels.  She got her hat on finally, deciding that straight across her forehead it looked most dignified.  Peering and rising on one foot, she put her rouge on somehow; two carnation-red circles over the soft wrinkly skin.  She almost never made this effort; she almost never looked so trim and certain, so easy with herself and the world.  She was going up-town to beg.”

Although Mrs. Maddison does what she can, and arranges a good if hard life on a government farm for her indolent son, his wife, and herself, neither of the young people has her persistence.  It will he her children who bring her down, if she goes down.

In Joe and Pete, a union is destroyed during the Depression by a factory owner who hires scabs during a strike.  Joe, the union organizer, is loved and respected, but the men gradually come to hate him because they can’t find work.  Pete, a slow,  believes absolutely in him, but at 37 finds he is already considered obsolete in a competitive workplace.  He can’t find work.

The other two are good, too, but sorry, I’m not really reviewing this so I’ll leave them for you to read.

I’m looking forward to reading her journalism.

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When I buy a used book, I take it back if there is underlining.

“They usually get tired of it after the first few pages,” a used bookstore owner once said to me.

Sometimes that’s true; other times not.  I recently reread Sophocles’s Antigone, and had the disconcerting experience of having to navigate three generations of underlinings:  those of my husband, myself, and the original owner.

The original owner, Dennis S.,  went a little crazy on p. 173.  “Pride,” he wrote, and then underlined a third of the page.  My husband took good notes in the margins and scrawled “1st priority state.”  I only underlined when I was writing papers, but added a couple of sensible things like “bios” next to Creon’s description of Polyneices and Etocles, and then very vigorously  Georgics! next to some lines of the chorus about man’s learning to hunt and work the land (which perhaps made its way into a paper about influences on Virgil’s Georgics, though mostly I wrote about Hesiod).

Page 198 has come adrift from the book, so maybe it’s time to buy a new translation.

There are good underlinings, and bad underlinings.

I recently reread Doris Lessing’s The Memoirs of a Survivor, a post-apocalyptic novel told from the point of view of  a middle-aged woman suddenly appointed the guardian of a strange adolescent girl.   I was both touched and faintly amused to encounter my teenage self in an underlining of a passage on the bitterness of romantic love. In fact, I am not unlike the middle-aged narrator of Memoirs of a Survivor, who recognizes her past self in the teenage character of Emily.

Like the jaded woman of our dead civilization, she knew love like a fever, to be suffered, to be lived through:  “falling in love” was an illness to be endured, a trap which might lead her to betray her own nature, her good sense, and her real purposes.  It was not a door to anything but itself:  not a key to living.  It was a state, a condition, sufficient unto itself, almost independent of its object…”being in love.”

The difference in middle age is that we have been through it so many times that we might as well live in a post-apocalptic society.  And this is why we trust Doris Lessing: she doesn’t lie to us about love, our personal lives, or the future.

Underlining is more difficult in e-books.  I scrawl notes on paper, because even though I can “highlight” lines (not my kind of thing), I have no way of finding them later.

Violet Hunt

Last year I read David Lodge’s fascinating novel about H. G. Wells, A Man of Parts, and learned about the feminist writer Violet Hunt, with whom he had an affair.  Some of Hunt’s novels are free on the internet, and I am reading The Workaday Woman.  The  narrator, Carrie, a paid companion to a difficult wealthy relative, is a detached good listener in whom friends confide.  She knows many women who work (as journalists, artists, governesses, secretaries), while the men rest on their laurels (or money).

I highlighted this passage on my Nook–and even managed to find it–about the type of man her fiance is, and the paradoxical philosophy she shares with her journalist friend, Jehane, of sex roles.

You see, I already know the kind of man he is, although I love him.  He is the kind of man that the busy-bee sort of woman I am always stumbles on.  Jehane’s philosophy!  Well, well, women must work and men must–play, I suppose.  It’s the rule all the world over, and what are women, that we should complain of it?

Yes, I know, this looks awkward out of context–but the book is really  good in its way.

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An iceberg twice the size of Manhattan broke off the Petermann glacier today.

The meteorologists are bidding lowball predictions.  It will be 100 today, the cheery weatherman says.

The temperature was actually 102.

I have never drunk so much iced tea in my life.  Lemon Lift, Earl Grey, even Lapsang Souchang, which isn’t recommended for iced tea.  I make a big pot of tea and then pour it on ice.  I love the click and sizzling melt of the ice cubes.

I add lemon.

Sometimes sugar.

Sometimes comfort can be as simple as ice cubes.

I love my refrigerator.  I love my freezer.  I need more ice cube trays.  I don’t have enough of them.

I took a container of iced tea sans ice to my relative in the nursing home today.  I went to the nursing station.

“Excuse me, could we please have a cup of ice?  I brought iced tea.”

The aides always fetch ice for us.  But today a new employee, or maybe a sub, sat behind the desk.  She said no.

“Go back to the room and push the call button.”

Sometimes we get Cherry Ames, sometimes not.

The lounge is right around the corner from the nursing station, but they won’t let me get the ice myself.  Push the call button and it might take 20 minutes.  I can’t leave until they bring the ice.   She will just sit there with her warm drink and not drink and not ask for what she wants.

Ice, please.  Just a small refrigerator in her room.  But there’s no room.

She and I have each, in our own way, given up.  They bring her a sippy cup with ice every morning.  Then it melts all day.  And it doesn’t occur to her that she is supposed to scoop it into her glass. For one thing, there’s no spoon.

After a lifetime of picky instructions to waitresses, she is finally passive.  After a lifetime of pushing to get my way–I got Ken Kesey’s autograph some years ago by ducking under a rope at a Merry Pranksters event–I am finally passive.

The system depends on who is working.  And you want to push a little, but not too much, because you don’t know if they’ll take it out on her later.

It’s like the time in fourth grade when she complained to my teacher when I got a B instead of an A in geography.  For the rest of the year, the teacher humiliated me by asking,  “Are your grades good enough for your mother?”

So I rush in with cold drinks–if they’re still cold after my bike ride–and try to get her to drink them immediately.

But of course that doesn’t usually happen, because she drinks when she wants to drink.

So I finally find someone to get the ice.

I was a little nervous when I got home to learn on the news that an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan broke off the Petermann glacier in Greenland.   Another big iceberg broke off from the same glacier in 2010.

According to an NPR story,  Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., said, “If it continues, and more of the Petermann is lost, the melting would push up sea levels. The ice lost so far was already floating, so the breaks don’t add to global sea levels.”

I don’t think “it” will happen in my lifetime.  I hope they can reverse “it” by using alternative fuels.  But if they turn to nuclear power, I’m going to protest and ask that they keep using coal.   Watch The China Syndrome if you don’t remember Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and other smaller accidents.  (The China Syndrome was actually released before Three Mile Island.)

I think I’ll reread Anna Kavan’s Ice, a surreal science fiction novel about a post-apocalyptic Ice Age.  The narrator is obsessed with a beautiful girl, who flees from him all over the planet.

There’s a lot of ice, but I’m not threatened by it.  At least it’s fiction.

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