Category Archives: Celebrating Seventy

The Case of the Famished Parson

George Bellairs: a bank manager, a talented crime author, part time journalist and Francophile. His detective stories, written in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s, combine wicked crimes and classic police procedurals, set in small British communities.  Best known for his Detective Littlejohn stories, he is celebrated as one of Britain’s crime classic greats.

I always like to start a new mystery series at the beginning and read the books in order, but this time I decided to start with the book George Bellairs published in my birth year, 1949. The Case of the Famished Parson is somewhere in the middle of the Inspector Littlejohn series. I immediately liked this detective — Inspector Littlejohn is an older but very talented detective. His methods are more traditional than his newer counterparts, but he is very dedicated to his work, even when he is on bedrest recuperating from a gunshot would to the leg!

…from the publisher:

Dr. James Macintosh, the Bishop of Greyle, is a mysterious man; for a long time, nobody even seems to know his last name. But things suddenly take a turn for the worse when his body is found completely emaciated and battered having being pushed face-first off the edge of a cliff…

Inspector Littlejohn faces an incredibly peculiar case and must figure out how to explain the savage murder of a gentle Bishop? Perhaps he know too much about the secretive citizens of Cape Marvin, the seaside resort and the place of his murder.  Or did it have something to do with the strange family he had left behind in Medhope?

Above all, why was the Bishop’s body so undernourished that death by violence won out by only a few days over death by starvation?

I liked George Bellairs’ writing style and can easily see why he is considered “as one of Britain’s crime classic greats.”  I enjoyed meeting this new-to-me detective and was involved with the search for answers all the way through the book. It’s a series I would like to continue, but will go back and start with the first book.

I read this book for both my R.I.P-XIV challenge and my year long celebration of turning Seventy!

 

Garden Snapshot: Clematis

My beautiful new Clematis “Prince Charles” is in full bloom. I planted it this spring as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 ….  just because … Prince Charles just turned 70, too! I know that sounds very silly, but silly is good sometimes!

It’s a beautiful Clematis and seems to love where I planted it. I am so enjoying its beauty, and I’m having a lot of fun with my year of embracing and celebrating turning seventy!

The Little Sister

“I used to like this town,” I said, just to be saying something and not to be thinking too hard. “A long time ago. There were trees along Wilshire Boulevard. Beverly Hills was a country town. Westwood was bare hills and lots offering at eleven hundred dollars and no takers. Hollywood was a bunch of frame houses on the interurban line. Los Angeles was just a big dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but goodhearted and peaceful.

~ The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler

Author Raymond Chandler…  and author Dashiell Hammett ten years earlier…  and Hollywood films of their books starring Humphrey Bogart playing their main characters, Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade… All this equals Los Angeles noir at it’s finest.

One of the books I chose to read for R.I.P-XIV was The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler. It had been a long time since I read any of Chandler’s books so I was fascinated by the hard, cynical, burned-out private detective character of Philip Marlowe. And I was equally fascinated by Raymond Chandler’s writing style and creative way of telling this story. It’s no wonder that Hollywood loved and still loves these types of stories. When reading them, they’re hard to put down. And Raymond Chandler was one of the best and someone who inspired many writers to follow in his footsteps.

from the publisher:

In noir master Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister, a movie starlet with a gangster boyfriend and a pair of siblings with a shared secret lure private eye Philip Marlowe into the less than glamorous and more than a little dangerous world of Hollywood fame. Chandler’s first foray into the industry that dominates the company town that is Los Angeles.

 

A fun read, The Little Sister is the fifth book in Chandler’s Philip Marlowe series. It was published in 1949, so I am also including it on my list of books read for my year-long celebration of turning Seventy years old!

It’s fun to think that The Little Sister and I are the same age!

I read this book for both my R.I.P-XIV challenge and my year long celebration of turning Seventy!

Currently Reading: At Seventy

May Sarton’s books have been part of almost all of my adult life. I discovered and read Journal of a Solitude when I was a young mother. And then, over the years, read most of her journals, some of her fiction, and much of her poetry. This year, I turned seventy and am celebrating it with a year-long reading festival of books related to Seventy, so I happily added her journal, At Seventy, to the top of my reading list. I’m reading it slowly, savoring some of the wonderful passages like the one below, and simply enjoying  being with May Sarton again at age seventy!

What is it like to be seventy? If someone else had lived so long and could remember things sixty years ago with great clarity, she would seem very old to me. But I do not feel old at all, not as much a survivor as a person still on her way. I suppose real old age begins when one looks backward rather than forward, but I look forward with joy to the years ahead and especially to the surprises that any day may bring.

 

I am reading this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old.

 

A Small Place


A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid, is only 81 pages long, but it hits with a powerful impact. The “small place” is Antigua, the country in which she grew up and describes as being nine miles wide and twelve miles long. With sardonic humor and a laser-precision of words, she reveals the devastating effects of colonialism, slavery, and tourism on this tiny country.

The Antigua that I knew, the Antigua in which I grew up, is not the Antigua you, a tourist, would see now. That Antigua no longer exists. That Antigua no longer exists partly for the usual reason, the passing of time, and partly because the bad-minded people who used to rule over it, the English, no longer do so.

With incising wit, she reveals the personal toll of the subjugation of the people of Antigua, and the racism and corruption they were and are still faced with on a daily basis, even though now “self-governed.” The “masters” from colonial times, she calls “human rubbish,” and the slaves, she calls “noble and exalted.” And it becomes clear that this beautiful but troubled country continues to struggle with its tortured past and it’s difficult path to self-government.

Here is how she describes Antigua and the people of Antigua today:

Eventually, the masters left, in a kind of way; eventually, the slaves were freed, in a kind of way. The people in Antigua now, the people who really think of themselves as Antiguans (and the people who would immediately come to your mind when you think about what Antiguans might be like; I mean, supposing you were to think about it), are the descendants of those noble and exalted people, the slaves. Of course, the whole thing is, once you cease to be a master, once you throw off your master’s yoke, you are no longer human rubbish, you are just a human being, and all the things that adds up to. So, too, with the slaves. Once they are no longer slaves, once they are free, they are no longer noble and exalted; they are just human beings.

As I said at the beginning of this review, this was a very powerful read. I was fascinated by Jamaica Kincaid’s style of writing in this book. Sardonic, bitter, hard-hitting and very effective in helping the reader really understand the long-term devastating impacts on the country of Antigua of colonialism, slavery, post-independence corruption, and racism. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like the little book before, and I admire the power of this writer’s words.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book about Antigua.

 

I also read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old. Jamaica Kincaid was born in the same year as me, 1949!  Happy 70th Birthday year to you, too, Ms. Kincaid!

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!

A Poem by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman at seventy

Queries to My Seventieth Year
~ by Walt Whitman

Approaching, nearing, curious,
Thou dim, uncertain spectre–bringest thou life or death?
Or placid skies and sun? Wilt stir the waters yet?
Or haply cut me short for good? Or leave me here as now,
Dull, parrot-like and old, with crack’d voice harping, screeching?

Sharing this poem is part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old.

Bartholomew and the Oobleck

Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss, was published in 1949, so I grew up listening to this book and his other Bartholomew book, The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. Both books were, and still are, so much fun!  When I was researching books written in my birth year, I was happy to find the Oobleck book on the list!  As a kid, as a Mom, and now as a Grandma, I have always adored Dr. Seuss!  And even though this book is seventy years old, it still provides timeless fun and humor.

Bartholomew is just a regular kid in the Kingdom of Didd, where King Derwin is not the smartest king on record. It was wintertime, and King Derwin was very tired and bored with the weather.

And that winter when the snow came down, he started shouting! “This snow! This fog! This sunshine! This rain! Bahh! These four things that come down from my sky!”

“But King Derwin,” Bartholomew tried to calm him. “You’ve always had these same four things come down.”

“That’s just the trouble!” bellowed the King. “Every year the same four things! I’m mighty tired of those old things! I want something NEW to come down!”

Call the royal magicians!

If you’ve already heard the story of The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, you know that the royal magicians are a bit bumbling. They can start magic, but can’t seem to finish it very well. They don’t have a lot of control over what happens with their spells! So, when they put together a spell to add something new to the weather, OOBLECK is what they got. And we all know that oobleck is very green and sticky stuff.

Thank goodness for level-headed, clear-thinking Bartholomew!

If you or your children or grandchildren want to make some Oobleck, here’s a link to the recipe for the green goop! Enjoy!

 

I read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old.

 

 

Seventy Years

Today is my seventieth birthday. In all the old classic books I’ve read, the female characters that are 70 years old are really old ladies. Actually, they are portrayed as really old ladies at age 60! But I don’t feel that old and am probably in better physical condition that I was ten years ago, before I retired, thanks to being able to spend time at the gym and keep a challenging walking schedule on top of that. I’ve had a number of friends who are already well into their seventies and eighties and are very active, involved women so I am inspired to follow in their footsteps.

I embrace this birthday and this new decade! I’d like to read a lot, love a lot, and do what I can for the people around me, and try and make a little bit of difference in this crazy world.

Self-Portrait
by Mary Oliver

I wish I was twenty and in love with life
and still full of beans.

Onward, old legs!
There are the long, pale dunes; on the other side
the roses are blooming and finding their labor
no adversity to the spirit.

Upward, old legs! There are the roses, and there is the sea
shining like a song, like a body
I want to touch

though I’m not twenty
and won’t be again but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life. And still
full of beans.

 

The Red Pony

The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck, is a novella in four stories about a young boy growing up on a ranch near Salinas, California. The boy, ten-year-old Jody Tiflin, lives with his father, a strict and harsh disciplinarian, and his mother, who is strong and understanding, and one ranch hand, Billy Buck.  All of them work hard to make a living from the ranch.  It is good, honest work, and they are good people, but life is harsh.

Although just a young adolescent, Jody has to grow up quickly. He has to carry his own weight in terms of chores and help on the ranch, and he is constantly learning. In the first story, he is given a beautiful red pony and it is his responsibility to care for her and keep her well and safe. He relies on Billy Buck to guide him and teach him everything he needs to know about his pony. One day, when Jody has to be in school all day, Billy Buck tells him that he can let the horse stay out in the field for the day. Jody questions him about the weather because the pony shouldn’t be outside in the rain. Billy reassures him that it won’t rain. Unfortunately, it does rain and after spending most of the day outside in the elements, the horse gets sick.

Jody must face life’s challenges head on, but he is resilient, imaginative, and still very much a young boy (collecting frogs on his way home from school and putting them in his lunchbox, to the dismay of his mother). When his grandfather comes to visit, his imagination is captured by the stories he tells Jody of leading a wagon train westward.

Jody lay in his bed and thought of the impossible world of Indians and buffaloes, a world that had ceased to be forever. He wished he could have been living in the heroic time, but he knew he was not of heroic timber. No one living now, save possibly Billy Buck, was worthy to do the things that had been done. A race of giants had lived then, fearless men, men of a staunchness unknown in this day. Jody thought of the wide plains and of the wagons moving across like centipedes. He thought of Grandfather on a huge white horse, marshaling the people. Across his mind marched the great phantoms, and they marched off the earth and they were gone.

Although I read this book a long time ago, this re-read was like reading it for the first time. I remembered that it was sad, and that it wasn’t a children’s story. But I hadn’t remembered how beautifully written it was, and that John Steinbeck was an extraordinary storyteller. I must revisit more of his books!

 

I read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old. The movie version of this book was released in 1949, my birth year.

 

 

I also read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.