Bits from John O’Donohue’s Four Elements: Reflections on Nature

From “Breathe as Prayer”

Breathing has its own rhythm. Breath comes in ebb and flow. Through breathing you come into the rhythm with your self.

From “Space as Welcome and Possibility”

The generosity of air allows each object to merge and to be. Air gives space. Without space individuality would be impossible. Form is the secret of individuality. And form is a line cut into space.

~*~

Sometimes we are so used to looking at objects that we hardly ever look at space.

~*~

But in the air there is an unbroken emptiness which extends everywhere and admits any and every shape.

~*~

All our words reach out into the air. It may be the case that all the words that we have ever used are still somehow in the air. Maybe the wind ferries them in different direction and weaves them with words from foreign places and times. Who knows what tapestries of sound the silent air hides. Maybe in years to come they will be able to retrieve these words that we once sent out from us.

From “The Ocean as Immense Divinity”

If rhythm is a form cut into time, then individuality is a form cut into space.

The March Family Letters

A quick post to alert you to the fabulous The March Family Letters! It’s being distributed by Pemberley Digital (of the The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved fame) though the creative team and the production house is Cherrydale Productions. I have to say that much as I love Jane Austen’s books I never took to their modernized avatar by Pemberley Digital as readily as most of the world did.

BUT, Oh, BUT! The March Family Letters. . .  It’s different. I can see that I am going to gush about it!

The music score which starts each episode hits the right tone—it’s whimsical, upbeat and promises of good times to come.

Of the characters we have been introduced to so far, we have:

  • Jo March who is ebullient to the point of being almost obnoxious but is not really! Also, she reminds me of Katie Sackhoff whom I just loved in Battlestar Galacatica! (a series that I adore!)
  • Augustus Snodgrass aka us aka the unnamed viewers who are now a duke aka Jo March—you better bring Augustus Snodgrass back again!
  • And Amy March who was introduced in the episode aired today and whose self-centeredness (?) comes across as delightful. So far.

So far only three episodes have been aired so, whatcha waiting for?! Go on!

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin — DNF (for now)

Sigh! I tried. This tor.com review perhaps captures best the ambiguity that I feel regarding this book. It has also made me decide to give Winter’s Tale, if not another go, then to at least to pick up from where I left after a couple of years:

Here is how the Beverly/Penn romance actually progresses:

Peter breaks into their house and watches Beverly take a bath.
Peter gets a quick approval from the Penn patriarch.
Beverly and Peter go to a dance.
Beverly dies offscreen.
You put the book down and go do something constructive.

There’s still 3/4ths of Winter’s Tale to go after this and author Mark Helprin isn’t done throwing page-long descriptions of snow drifts at you, so he starts over and suddenly we are following a single mother, an industrial heir, and a couple other people who I kept forgetting the purpose of, about a century later as the year 2000 approaches.

. . .

To honor the 500th straight description of winter, Winter’s Tale begins assembling the idea that every thread that has been precipitously dropped so far will come back into play, kicking off a chain reaction that will result in this near-magical NYC being transmuted into a literal heaven on Earth.

Helprin is a charismatic enough writer to pull this kind of metaphysical twist off. I joke that there are about 500 descriptions of winter in this book, and there are, but those descriptions are rich, varied, evocative descriptions nonetheless. Helprin’s visuals glimmer boundlessly and he’s possibly one of the few writers living whom you could trust to describe Heaven arriving on Earth.

(In case you’re wondering I finished about 2/3rd of the book. The problem is this—I can read this book only in spurts. And when I am in the middle of taking a break, I’m not that eager to return to it.)

Click for my earlier reactions.

Nooks & Crannies: The Fall Version

Autumn ReadsIt’s been a while since I finished Guy Gavirel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne but for some reason I haven’t particularly felt like writing about it. And then I started feeling that till I reviewed that book I couldn’t read or write anything else—which is just stupid.

I have been reading of course.

Let me start with Patricia Wrede’s Cecilia and Sorcery book 3—a fun and fluffy read that while I enjoyed was also slightly contrived in its plotting in my opinion. I will probably read Miss Wrede’s other books when I’m in the mood for some light historical fantasy.

Then there is Jess Walter’s The Financial Live of the Poets that is quite simply howlarious. I’m about 40% of my way through and have been reading it on the Oyster app that has a lovely interface but that I haven’t found myself using a lot. The app has an instant gratification component to it in that I can start reading any book that I want the very moment I want but I would much prefer a Kindle to Oyster for that. At least the Kindle will let me highlight the text. Plus, Kindle has a bigger screen and feels easier on the eyes. So what exactly is Oyster’s place in it all? What niche, if any, does it cater to amongst the public libraries, Kindles and Overdrives of the world? Perhaps it’s of particular use while commuting? But a Kindle or an e-book reader would do as well as Oyster for that. Not something I am particularly keen to think through right now but I definitely don’t see a defining need for Oyster. I also seem to have discovered a new love for paper books with the New York Public Library. (Perhaps, Oyster would be good for markets that do not have comprehensive library systems? Oyster should certainly look at international markets for that!)

I also finally found my way to Ursula K. Le Guin, starting with A Wizard of Earthsea. Oh what a lovely person she is! I loved that Ged’s quest is more about finding himself (something that I suspected early on) than about a fight between good vs. evil. I would love to recommend this book to my youngster friends and have already put a hold on book 2!

The past month has also seen me letting go of books while half-way through. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek had to be returned to the library since someone else had it on hold. I found it a difficult book to start with but once I got in the flow I found it to be a strangely liberating read—there is something compelling and freeing about a life lived only in contemplation of nature. I could read only a few pages at a time—my preferred reading time was right before I fell asleep—and yet it was an immensely relaxing and peaceful experience.

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is another book that I found myself enjoying and yet one more book that I could not hurry through. It’s a text that demands a slowing down and falling in rhythm with its cadence to get its full flavor. And then I left it at a friend’s place while visiting and by the time I receive it, it has to be returned. Gilead has so many lovely bits:

Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it.

and

There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is power in that I have felt it pass through me, so to speak. The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time. . . . Not that you have to be a minister to confer the blessing. You are simply much more likely to find yourself in that position. It’s a thing people expect of you.

Parnassus on Wheels is one more book that I’m reading on Oyster—I love the Professor and find myself grinning through his impassioned speeches about ‘the Good’ that books can do! To use a cliché: It’s a delightful romp!

October is such a beautiful month for reading. I’m loving the mantle of chilly weather that’s slowly settling over the northern hemisphere and find myself in a contemplative mood. I was reading about Miss K. Le Guin and also Margaret Atwood (whose Oryx trilogy is now on my TBR pile after seeing her live in a discussion with Carl Hiassen—she is so graceful and wise and erudite) and one thing that struck me about both Miss Atwood and Miss K. Le Guin is their reflective nature.

It’s as if in the allowing of your thoughts and your encounters and your musings to sort of seep through and settle in your experiences become a fertile ground for your writing. I find this fascinating because I’ve always felt that the only stories I would ever write are the ones I dream about (yep, I’ve dreamt stories and while dreaming also thought that hey, this would make a jolly good tale).

On another note, I’ve been contemplating issues of identity. There was an article in NY Times a while back about the “opt-out” generation, a generation of highly successful women in high-powered jobs who left it all to take care of their kids and who for various reasons found themselves returning to the workforce and subsequently found that they had to start at levels that were sadly nowhere near where they had left. There’s a lot to unpack there but the thing that struck me the most was how much each woman’s identity stemmed from what she had done i.e. her work persona. I think this is true for either of the sexes and I have this at the back of my mind as I embark upon Rosalind Miles’s The Women’s History of the World. I’m looking forward to seeing the identities that women have forged for themselves over the course of the last few centuries.

photo credit: dbtelford via photopin cc

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South 

Dashing off a quick note because I just HAVE to express how much I loved this novel. Emotionally satisfying, intellectually stimulating and a heroine whom I couldn’t help liking. What more could I have asked for? Even more, a novel that is as topical today as when Gaskell published it originally. North and South was written in the early 1850s, a few decades into industrialism if I am not mistaken and yet its discourse on the tensions between “masters and men” is as relevant today as it was back in Gaskell’s days!

I am looking forward to reading the essays on the novel that my Norton Critical Edition has. I also have to admit that this book has fanned the tinder that was sparked when I wrote the piece on Victorian authoresses for Bloom. There is something endlessly fascinating about the Victorian era–so far in the past and yet so astonishingly apropos to today’s times as well. I am strongly tempted to look up Gaskell’s other works, especially the posthumously published Wives and Daughters. Too, I want to try out Anthony Trollope, Emily Eden’s letters as well as George Elliot’s Middlemarch. The last moved from my should-I-should-I-not to uh-hunh-I-should TBR pile after I read this about Dorothea Brooke: “There aren’t a lot of happy outcomes for intense, principled women in fiction. I’m so grateful for this one.”

NYPL’s Children’s Literature Exhibition – The ABC of it: Why Children’s Books Matter 

The New York Public Library is home to a wonderful exhibition these days: The ABC of it: Why Children’s Books Matter.

The first thing that struck me as soon as I entered the Gottesman Exhibition Hall was the sheer colours on display: you feel submerged in utter gorgeousness as soon as you enter—from beautifully illustrated picture books to silvery handmade embossments on indigo-violet coloured hardbacks (the name of which I now forget) to William Blake’s elfin-like watercolours in Songs of Innocence to the lush greenliess of the mock “Secret Garden” from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden—the exhibition is a feast for the eyes. (Unfortunately I was so entranced that I forgot to take pictures except one or two. I plan on rectifying that when I go again for the free guided tour. Yes, free. Isn’t NYPL simply awesome?)

I have experienced only a very tiny slice of the authors and the books featured in the exhibition and I had absolutely no idea that there exist such exquisite picture books for kids. I don’t know if my unfamiliarity was primarily due to a preponderance of books-famous-in-America or simply a result of my doleful exposure to children’s literature. Perhaps most likely, as is the case with all things in life, it’s a case of both-and: a glut of books popular in US and my general ignorance of kids’ books. The one glaring exception to my ignoramusness though was Amar Chitra Katha! Yes!! They had Amar Chitra Katha comics too as a part of the exhibition and that of course brought back all the happy memories of summers spent swaying back and forth on the tiny swing at my grandma’s place while breezing past through the stories of Ramayan and Mahabharta and Shakuntala in a comic form.

NYPL's Children's Literature Exhibition Amar Chitra Katha

Amar Chitra Katha @ NYPL’s Children’s Literature Exhibition
Photo Credits: Juhi @ Noooks & Crannies

NYPL's Children's Literature Exhibition Amar Chitra Katha

Amar Chitra Katha @ NYPL’s Children’s Literature Exhibition
Photo Credits: Juhi @ Nooks & Crannies

There is also interspersed through the exhibition quotes on libraries: from Ray Bradbury’s “Libraries raised me” to ““But why’s she got to go to the library?” “Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.””

The theme of the exhibition is of course Why Children’s Books Matter. The question makes me sort of gurgle with speechlessness. I mean, isn’t it sort of obvious why books and especially children’s books matter? But then again maybe it’s a good thing we’re actually having conversations about such important issues. So apart from the obvious that instilling a love for reading during childhood (something that children’s books play a huge role in) ensures a life long love affair with the written word, here’s what the exhibition had to say on the matter: there are two opposing camps on why children’s books matter.

One train of thought follows the puritanical view that reading should not only have a Purpose (yes, purpose with a capital P) it should also instill in the child good old moral values. Case in point: the biblical version of the ABC primer, one of the very first such books to be published in US that was in exhibition (by the way it was really really tiny)

A is for Adam: In Adam’s Fall/We Sinned all.

B is for Bible: “Thy Life to Mend/This Book attend.”

To counter is the singularly beautiful and illustrated collections of poems from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. Mr. Blake of course is a firm believer in espousing and encouraging a child’s innocence and nothing else.

The funny thing is that this argument which is essentially a battle between an activity having no purpose other than the doer’s sheer enjoyment of it and there being no purpose to an activity unless it has a well defined objective can be extended from books to their more glamourous cousins, the iPads and all such new-fangled technological inventions that today’s kids find themselves in the midst of. The viewpoints that the exhibition is putting forward about children’s books can be extended to almost all forms of technological inventions that have been on offer for kids since technology happened to humankind.

I am not sure what and even more if there is a right answer to such a question. Certainly, assigning a purpose to each and every new “device”/technology that a child experiences sounds extremely militant while having fun for fun’s sake sounds much more appealing. Then again intending to learn while having fun does not sound all that nefarious. So I am not sure. Perhaps, it’s one of those things for which the answer lies somewhere in the middle?