Starting to Plan

I looked at the calendar this morning and realized April is coming quickly! And early in April, April 6th to be exact, is Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon! Time to start planning!

Last year, I bought myself this little notebook just for the Readathons. This will be the third set of lists put together for this fun activity. I start with lists of ideas and wish lists, then I move on to actual plans for the day. It’s fun to look back at my lists from the last two readathons and see what I was thinking and doing at those times…and what I actually accomplished, too.

I’m so looking forward to April 6th!

A Muscle We Don’t Use Enough

Dorothy Gilman, author of the Mrs. Pollifax series

“I love to laugh personally, and I love to hear people laugh. I don’t think we laugh enough. I consider it a muscle we don’t use enough because we’re all under pressures, tremendous pressures, and we forget how to laugh. It’s a habit that one should watch and take care of just like another muscle.”
~ Rosalind Russell

I love this quote from Rosalind Russell, who starred in the 1971 movie version of the book, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman. The Mrs. Pollifax series is certainly one that exercises that laughter muscle! I’ve listened to the first two books in the series on audiobook, narrated by the wonderful Barbara Rosenblat, and they were delightfully fun. This is a series I read and enjoyed many years ago, but now that I found the audiobooks on Audible, I’m starting over! This is a time that we particularly need to exercise that laughter muscle!

from the publisher:

Mrs. Virgil (Emily) Pollifax of New Brunswick, New Jersey, was a widow with grown, married children. She was tired of attending her Garden Club meetings. She wanted to do something good for her country. So, naturally, she became a CIA agent.

She takes on a “job” in Mexico City. The assignment doesn’t sound dangerous at first, but then, as often happens, something goes wrong. Now our dear Mrs. Pollifax finds herself embroiled in quite a hot Cold War—and her country’s enemies find themselves entangled with one unbelievably feisty lady.

So, stories about a “little old widow lady” who becomes a spy is a fun premise for a mystery series. Mrs. Pollifax gets herself involved in many different predicaments, but always manages to succeed with her mission with help from the friends she makes along the way. The friendships are wonderful, and her attitude about life is refreshing. It’s also refreshing to read a series that entertains in such a positive way.

Ugetsu

 

Last night, my husband and I watched the old Japanese film, Ugetsu, a film based on two stories from the book, Tales of Moonlight and Rain, by Ueda Akinari, which I read many years ago. The film was directed by the great filmmaker, Kenji Mizoguchi, and released in 1953. It is a classic of Japanese film and a beautifully filmed, ethereal and haunting story.

from The Criterion Collection:

By the time he made Ugetsu, Kenji Mizoguchi was already an elder statesman of Japanese cinema, fiercely revered by Akira Kurosawa and other directors of a younger generation. And with this exquisite ghost story, a fatalistic wartime tragedy derived from stories by Akinari Ueda and Guy de Maupassant, he created a touchstone of his art, his long takes and sweeping camera guiding the viewer through a delirious narrative about two villagers whose pursuit of fame and fortune leads them far astray from their loyal wives. Moving between the terrestrial and the otherworldly, Ugetsu reveals essential truths about the ravages of war, the plight of women, and the pride of men.

summary of the story from Roger Ebert:

Two brothers, one consumed by greed, the other by envy. In a time when the land is savaged by marauding armies, they risk their families and their lives to pursue their obsessions. Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu” (1953) tells their stories in one of the greatest of all films — one which, along with Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” helped introduce Japanese cinema to Western audiences. The heroes are rough-hewn and consumed by ambition, but the film style is elegant and mysterious, and somehow we know before we are told that this is a ghost story.

We were captivated by the story and enveloped by the visual beauty of this film. It is a film experience I highly recommend.  It is available for purchase or rental from Amazon Prime, but we streamed it free-of-charge from Kanopy, the movies available for streaming through our local library system.

 

 

I watched this film as part of the Japanese Literature 12 Challenge hosted by Meredith at Dolce Bellezza.

Remember the Ladies

During this Women’s History Month, I want to share some memories of my mother and parts of an email she sent me a few years ago in response to a book about Abigail Adams that I had given her as a gift. She was thinking about what it means to be a feminist, and of course, delighted in reading and learning more about the important women in our history.

My mother passed away just three weeks shy of her 99th birthday last July. Even at that advanced age, she was still very much “with it” right until the end.  I loved that she was able to text me using her iPhone, and that we talk every day on the phone, most often about books. She was an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction, with a life-long love of history. She was very politically informed, reading daily articles from The New York Times, the Washington Post, and her local newspaper (both paper copy and online!).  If you have followed my blog for awhile then you already know that she was my reading mentor/buddy, but she was also my feminist guide! She lead by example in our family, and with all who knew her. She was very much involved in women’s issues, and would be so happy with the new level of women’s involvement in the new Congress in Washington, D.C.  “Remember the Ladies” and “It’s Up to the Women” are quotes from two of her favorite historical figures, Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt, and she often talked with great respect about both women.

In the letter she sent me, she included a link to a History Channel page that quoted from a letter that Abigail Adams sent to her husband John Adams.

In a letter dated March 31, 1776, Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John Adams, urging him and the other members of the Continental Congress not to forget about the nation’s women when fighting for America’s independence from Great Britain.

The future First Lady wrote in part, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Mom then shared with me some of her thoughts on the changing roles of women in our culture today, ruminating about her own experience with the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

…It did made me think and try to identify where I fit in at that time. I began my own search of books I’d read that emphasized changing roles in women’s lives. I began first to recall women in history. Much that influenced me seemed far removed from the active, dramatic time of the bra-burning, when it was no thank you to men opening doors, or in any way making us feel weaker and dependent on them.

Eleanor Roosevelt, whom I admire so much, came immediatey to mind for she was truly a powerful role model. She made a mark in world history. Doris Kearns Goodwin said of her, “She as America’s most influential First Lady blazed paths for women and led the battle for social justice everywhere. She set women’s rights and involvement to a higher level.”

Reading Natalie S. Bober’s book Abigail Adams, I was charmed and loved Abigail. She was a quiet, dignified lady, and was a feminist ahead of her time. “Remember the Ladies,” she said to her husband John, then serving as delegate to the Continental Congress, who played a leading role in persuading Congress to adopt the United State Declaration of Independence. He laughed at her and said he’d be laughed out of the congress if he suggested such a thing.

There were other women during the early days of our country’s history that I consider feminists. At her peril, Dolly Madison’s courage saved us our most treasured painting of George Washington. Rosa Parks was a true feminist whose courage changed history. These women were our early feminists, ahead of their time…

I realize I was incredibly fortunate to have a mother who shared these thoughts and ideas with me, a mother who was a strong positive role model who encouraged me (and my brothers) to be strong and understanding, have integrity and courage to speak out, and to make a commitment to improve the lives of all women.

I miss her very much, but her ideas live on and her gentle guidance continues to influence me and our family.

A few of the books that she enjoyed reading and which shaped her thoughts on women’s rights:

The Lost Garden

The Lost Garden, by Helen Humphreys, has been sitting on my book shelf for years. I love the cover, have looked at it many times just sitting there waiting for me, but it certainly took me a long time to get to the book. I don’t know why because I’ve liked every book I’ve read by this author! And this one did not disappoint me.

It is a wartime story, a story of sadness, loss, renewal, and the healing power of gardening. It was beautifully written, very poetic, as is every book Helen Humphreys writes.

from the publisher:

This word-perfect, heartbreaking novel is set in early 1941 in Britain when the war seems endless and, perhaps, hopeless. London is on fire from the Blitz, and a young woman gardener named Gwen Davis flees from the burning city for the Devon countryside. She has volunteered for the Land Army, and is to be in charge of a group of young girls who will be trained to plant food crops on an old country estate where the gardens have fallen into ruin. Also on the estate, waiting to be posted, is a regiment of Canadian soldiers. For three months, the young women and men will form attachments, living in a temporary rural escape. No one will be more changed by the stay than Gwen. She will inspire the girls to restore the estate gardens, fall in love with a soldier, find her first deep friendship, and bring a lost garden, created for a great love, back to life. While doing so, she will finally come to know herself and a life worth living.

Shortly after arriving on the estate, Gwen found a secret, long-neglected garden. It became her refuge, a place of solitude, a place where she could process the losses in her life and her hopes and dreams. As she slowly began to restore the garden to its original state, it became clear that it was a garden of love, designed for someone deeply loved.

What I’ve always found interesting in gardens is looking at what people choose to plant there. What they put in. What they leave out. One small choice and then another, and soon there is a mood, an atmosphere, a series of limitations, a world. I would not have chosen the same plants as the anonymous gardener if I were planting a garden of love, but there are some flowers we have in common. Peonies for loss. I too would choose the breaking wave of peonies for loss.

Although this is primarily a story about the healing power of gardens and coming to terms with loss, it is also filled with ruminations on writing, which I found fascinating.

When a writer writes, it’s as if she holds the sides of her chest apart, exposes her beating heart. And even though everything wants to heal, to close over and protect the heart, the writer must keep it bare, exposed. And in doing this, all of life is kept back, all the petty demands of the day-to-day. The heart is a river. The act of writing is the moving water that holds the banks apart, keeps the muscle of words flexing so that the reader can be carried along by this movement. To be given space and the chance to leave one’s earthly world. Is there any greater freedom than this?

This is a very interesting multilayered book which contains so much emotion and growth. I will certainly read it again.

 

I’m so glad I finally read this book for my 2019 TBR List challenge.

Other Things…

A late welcome to the month of March! I’ve been awfully busy this week with other things, (grandson with the flu; daughter moving into her new home up north; doctor and dentist check-ups; exercise class three mornings a week; a return to morning power walks in preparation for a 5k race on the 17th).  It’s made it a little difficult to get back to my blog as scheduled. It keeps calling to me, though, no matter how busy I get!  And I have continued with my reading. Thank goodness I can listen while driving so I can continue enjoying my books despite the many errands.

Books Finished Since March 1st:  

Currently Reading:

  • Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.  A birthday gift from my brother and sister-in-law. Really well-written and quite a story!
  • Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse.  The first book in a new post-apocalyptic fantasy series that caught my attention.

Podcasts I’ve Been Enjoying:

Hopefully, Life will soon settle down a bit and I can get back to my usual routines. Maybe the temperatures will even warm up, although I know it will be awhile before I can get back to  reading on the porch!

Artwork by Walt Kuhn, Vera Kuhn Reading on the Porch

February Reflections 2019

The month of February turned out to be our real winter this year. January was mild and spring-like. February brought arctic air, snow and ice, many snow days, and dark gray days. Just the thing for staying inside and reading! So I did, and I read a lot this month.

I spent time with a couple of new-to-me mystery series, thanks to recommendations from friends. I’ve been captured by the Ruth Galloway series, by Elly Griffiths, and by the D.I. Nikki Galena series by Joy Ellis. I also revisited an older series that I read many years ago: the Mrs. Pollifax series by Dorothy Gilman. I listened to the first of that series on audiobook, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, and loved it all over again. There’s nothing better than having a good mystery series to enjoy!

For my own celebration of Black History Month, I finished reading Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, and read Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon. Both were beautifully written, powerful and moving stories.

My favorite audiobook of the month was Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle. My favorite children’s book read this month was Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen, by Deborah Hopkinson.

Quite a varied month for me. The only problem is…I’ve fallen way behind on my review posts! But I will just keep plugging away, one review at a time, and eventually I will catch up, right? Or not!  So many books, so little time!

WOMEN, by Annie Leibovitz

The photography of Annie Leibovitz is always fascinating to me. She is a brilliant artist and her photographs are amazing and profound. Her book, WOMEN, a collaborative work with Susan Sontag, who wrote a powerful essay on women for the book, is an incredibly thought-provoking study of the diversity of women.

 

from the publisher:

The photographs by Annie Leibovitz in Women, taken especially for the book, encompass a broad spectrum of subjects: a rap artist, an astronaut, two Supreme Court justices, farmers, coal miners, movie stars, showgirls, rodeo riders, socialites, reporters, dancers, a maid, a general, a surgeon, the First Lady of the United States, the secretary of state, a senator, rock stars, prostitutes, teachers, singers, athletes, poets, writers, painters, musicians, theater directors, political activists, performance artists, and businesswomen. “Each of these pictures must stand on its own,” Susan Sontag writes in the essay that accompanies the portraits. “But the ensemble says, So this what women are now — as different, as varied, as heroic, as forlorn, as conventional, as unconventional as this.”

Susan Sontag’s essay on women and photography was just as powerful as the photographs in the book.

“Women are judged by their appearance as men are not, and women are punished more than men are by the changes brought about by aging.”

“One of the tasks of photography is to disclose, and shape our sense of, the variety of the world. It is not to present ideals. There is no agenda except diversity and interestingness. There are no judgments, which of course is itself a judgment.”

I have used the words “powerful” and “profound” to describe this book, and the collaboration of these two women certainly achieved that! It is not a light-weight book. It is not one to just skim through. Their exploration of the lives of women is illuminating, disturbing, uplifting, fascinating. Take your time with this book.

This book was published in 1999 and Ms. Leibovitz considered that “the project was never done.” She continued to work on it,  and in collaboration with her friend, Gloria Steinem, created a 2016 international traveling exhibit called WOMEN: New Portraits

Self-portrait with daughters…

I read this book and celebrate this artist as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old. Annie Leibovitz was born in the same year as me, 1949!