Saturday, August 27, 2016
I started this blog one year ago this week. I feel like this post should be headed by a photo of a big number one shaped balloon, possibly a bit of confetti, and maybe a cake. Instead you get a photo of a thistle. Take from that what you will.
So here I am, one year into blogging, This is what has and hasn't happened.
I haven't acquired hundreds and thousands of followers. It is much harder than I thought to get people to read my ramblings. I knew I wouldn't instantly have a huge number of followers but I did think by now I would have more than I do. I must admit, I get a little envious when I see other blogs the same age as mine that have many, many more followers. That can make me doubt what I am doing. I am being honest about that feeling because it is easy to feel like you are the only one whose blog is growing at a snail's pace.
I haven't discovered my niche. Everything on the internet says you need one. I am not good at sticking to one subject. Mainly I talk about books because I love books. They are my comfort, my escape, my education, and my safe place. However, I also talk about vacations, kids, and random thoughts spinning around in my head. Maybe I would be more successful if I stuck to one subject but I seem incapable of doing that. And I will probably continue to write the occasional post about being a parent even though those are the least read things I ever write. I am not sure why, but any parenting post seems to fall dead in the water.
I haven't gotten to grips with Twitter. I keep trying but I know I am not using it to the full. I still find it scary. It feels a bit like speaking into a void or maybe, even worse, sitting down at the lunch table with the popular kids. You don't know what reaction you are going to get, maybe everyone will be friendly but maybe you will be ignored. No, I wasn't one of the popular kids. Too shy and quiet.
I haven't told anyone in my real life about this blog. Well, my husband and kids know but that is it. Should I? Shouldn't I? I can't decide so I do nothing.
I haven't been offered any free books to read and review. There must be a way you can help that to happen but I don't know it. But free books? That would be living the dream.
I haven't convinced myself to write that many book reviews. I like books, I like to talk about books, I don't necessarily like to write formal reviews of books. I do it occasionally when I have something I particularly want to say or when I am doing a review for the Classics Club but I am just not motivated to review every book I read. I don't think I can really call myself a book blogger which brings me straight back to having not found my niche. Oh well.
But what has happened because I started blogging?
The biggest, and it sounds like a cliche, is that I have created something I am proud of. It took a lot of work and effort for me to figure out how blogging worked. I did it. I fixed my mistakes and I learned new skills in the process. There is still room for improvement but since I was a bit of a Luddite when it came to computers this is a huge step forward for me.
I found somewhere to use my desire to write. I have always wanted to write but after several abortive attempts at writing fiction I thought that maybe it just wasn't for me. Then I found blogging. It seems this is for me. I enjoy it and I love the sense of satisfaction I receive when I publish a post.
I have a place for all the random thoughts in my head to go. Not all of them get published but they have a home now and that gives me a clearer head and hopefully a less stressful life.
I discovered an interest in photography. I am still not very good at it but I am taking small steps forward and that would not have happened if I hadn't needed photos for my blog.
I have found so many new books to read. I have read book blogs for a long time but having my own has helped me to come across even more and that has introduced me to even more books. My old method of finding books was to wander around the library but since I live in a small Connecticut town with a rubbish library system that didn't work too well. Now I have an unending list of books I want to read.
Many kind and like-minded people have read my posts and commented on them. I truly, truly appreciate that. I still get a thrill every time I get a notification about a new comment. It just amazes me that people read what I write and then feel motivated to say something about it.
I wanted to write a witty and clever post to commemorate a year of this blog but somehow it didn't come. Instead I had a head full of random thoughts. But really, that is what my blog is all about, the random, frequently book based thoughts that swirl through my head.
Thank you for reading.
And now, here are a few of my favorite posts from the last year.
My Love Affair With England
How To Turn Your Child Into A Reader
What I Want For My Daughter
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Tips for a Happy Marriage
Monday, August 22, 2016
Sometimes all you need is a place in the country. An old farmhouse is ideal, with well-worn couches and creaky floorboards. It should have a front porch to drink tea on in the mornings and a well-filled woodshed for campfires at night. It should be set in the middle of nowhere so you can pretend that you are the only people in the world.
And ideally, it should have a reading nook and bookshelves jammed with books by Josephine Tey and Wilkie Collins and Dorothy Dunnett.
You should be able to walk out the door onto dirt roads that seldom see a car. You will want to happily meander down them scuffing up dust as you go and stopping frequently to admire the views. There will be cries of excitement as you spot the many deer roaming throughout the fields. Eyes will be kept wide hoping, and fearing, that you will sight a bear. Fossils will be found in the stream and wildflowers picked from the meadows.
A swimming pond is essential with a dock off which to jump. You should definitely spend long hours sitting by the pond listening to the silence. You will realize that it is not really silent. Your ears will adjust to the sound of the breeze through the grasses, the birds in the meadow, and the endless murmur of bees and crickets. There will also be the constant chatter of a child observing pond life but that is soothing in its own way.
The days will stretch on endlessly with no clear beginning or end. Life will slow down and only be punctuated by the meals you eat and the books you finish. Stresses will fade away and be lost into the reality you will eventually have to return to. But not yet. Definitely not yet. Because for now there is still nature to appreciate, walks to take, books to read, and sunsets to admire.
For now, all you need is a place in the country.
Monday, August 15, 2016
I buy books when I am stressed.
I also buy books when I am bored.
And when I am happy.
And when I am...well you get the idea. I buy books. I buy books a lot. I have been trying to cut back but I gave that up as a lost cause as you will see when I list all the books I have gotten lately. In my defense, I am feeling less stressed, bored, and unhappy after all these purchases. Why mess with what works, right?
I saw a review of Love by Elizabeth von Arnim on Heavenali's blog. I have read a number of Elizabeth von Arnim's books but I have never heard of this. Obviously, that meant I had to buy it immediately. I also ordered a copy of The Caravaners, which I have heard of but haven't read, and a copy of The Enchanted April, which I love. I have it on my Kindle but if I love a book I want to own a physical copy. I have written about The Enchanted April before in this post.
I bought two biographies. Both were recommended to me after I read Claire Tomalin's biography of Jane Austen. Unfortunately, I can't remember who recommended them. I need to keep better track of these things. The first is Samuel Pepys-The Unequalled Self which is also by Claire Tomalin. I once tried to read Pepys diaries when I was a teenager and gave up on them. I didn't have the patience to wade through the old-fashioned language and boring bits (or what I found to be boring bits as a teenager) in order to read the passages I liked. Maybe this will just give me all the good bits. Whoever suggested it to me described it as fascinating so I have high hopes. I also picked up The Sisters-The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell. I got it at the library for fifty cents. I always have this compulsion to mention just what a bargain some books are, I don't know why. Anyway, I think someone on Instagram recommended this. I keep meaning to read more of the Mitfords. Now I have the opportunity.
I bought three more books about Britain during WWII. My fascination with the time period seems in no danger of flagging. The first is The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclar McKay. I visited Bletchley Park when we were in England in April and I found it very interesting. I read a book about the actual code breaking but I wanted to know more about what life was like for the people who lived there. I am hoping this book will tell me more about their day-to-day life. I also bought Living Through the Blitz by Tom Harrisson. Harrisson was a co-founder of the Mass-Observation organization. Many of the diary compilations I read are put together from information gathered by Mass-Observation. I am looking forward to reading a book by the man who helped start gathering social history of the time period. The third book is Backs to the Wall--The Heroic Story of the People of London During World War II by Leonard Mosley. This is basically self-explanatory. It is the story of British people during the war, I am going to read it.
Lastly, I bought King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett. I finished the Lymond Chronicles and that left me with a Dunnett shaped hole in my reading life. I wasn't sure I was ready to commit to her other series so I bought this. It is a stand-alone novel and apparently Dunnett viewed it as some of her finest writing. If it is anything like the Lymond Chronicles I will spend the first third of the book slightly baffled, the middle third resisting the urge to start over so I can pick up the pieces I missed, and the final third galloping toward the conclusion missing sleep in the process.
There you have the nine books I bought recently. Oh my, nine. Let's just concentrate on the fact that I am not bored and that the sight of these books is immensely cheering.
Why couldn't I be the type of person who cleaned her house when she was stressed? Or exercised?
But then I wouldn't have a stack of beautiful books to look forward to.
So yes, comfort me with books.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
One of the interesting things about reading is the words that strike a chord, the phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that make you stop. Sometimes you stop because they make you think, sometimes because the words say it so perfectly, sometimes just because you like the way they sound. Here are a few things that have struck a chord with me recently.
I just finished Assignment in Brittany by Helen MacInnes. I read all her books years ago but I don't really remember them. They are great spy and intrigue novels, fun and enthralling. In this one MacInnes writes an introduction in which she discusses how accurate her novels are in regard to history and location. She has this to say about an author's responsibilities to an audience.
If we demand an honest statement of the ingredients of every package of food we buy, it seems odd that we should treat our minds more carelessly than we do our stomachs. False pretenses in the world of ideas (and literature conveys ideas, or opens a new door to the view of the world outside our own lives, or discloses a different light on what we have either accepted as fact or dismissed as exaggeration) can be as deadly in their effect as the adulteration of food. The writer who alters the facts of history, or twists events into a false pattern, to suit his own ideas, is providing his readers with his own package of particular poisoning. The mind is more vulnerable than the stomach, because it can be poisoned without feeling immediate pain.
If you have read this blog for any length of time then you have realized that I am fascinated by the British home front during WWII. Last week I read Keep Smiling Through by Susan Briggs. It was a more basic overview of life during the war but I did still find it interesting. It was filled with many more photos than some of the other books I have read. I found this extract from a booklet given to every American soldier entering Britain to be interesting.
Britain may look a little shop-worn and grimy to you. There's been a war on since 1939. The houses haven't been painted, because factories are not making paint-they're making planes. British trains are cold because power is used for industry, not for heating. The British people are anxious for you to know that in normal times Britain looks much prettier, cleaner, neater. Don't be misled by the British tendency to be soft-spoken and polite. They can be plenty tough, too. The English language didn't spread across the oceans, mountains, jungles and swamps of the world because these people were "panty-waists". Remember that crossing the ocean doesn't automatically make you a hero. There are housewives in aprons and youngsters in knee pants who have lived through more high explosives than many soldiers saw in the last war. If your British host exhorts you to "eat up- there's plenty on the table", go easy- it might be the family's ration for a week, spread out to show their hospitality.
I frequently borrow books from my dad. They are almost always books I wouldn't pick up on my own, he is interested in government and history and politics. My father is a retired newspaper man so many of his books are about writing and the newspaper field. This time I borrowed Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. I have heard of this little book, it seems to be a Bible for writers with basic information about grammar and style written in an engaging fashion. I like this about an approach to style.
The use of language begins with imitation. The infant imitates the sounds made by its parents; the child imitates first the spoken language, then the stuff of books. The imitative life continues long after the writer is on his own in the language, for it is almost impossible to avoid imitating what one admires. Never imitate consciously, but do not worry about being an imitator; take pains instead to admire what is good. Then when you write in a way that comes naturally, you will echo the halloos that bear repeating.
I also borrowed The Writer Who Stayed, a collection of essays by the journalist William Zinsser. This is what he said in reply to a question about his favorite word.
I don't have a favorite word like williwaw that I keep in a display case to moon over....Those words please me when I see (and hear) them, but unless they fill a precise need-oscillate, lapidary, filigree-I abstain, fearful of being sucked into the bog of academic prose where monsters like adumbrate and ineluctable lurk. My favorites are the hundreds of vivid replacements for words that are just too dull-too humdrum-to make writing come alive. Brazen, used instead of bold, not only catches the reader off guard with the fanciful z; its sound exactly conveys its meaning. A brazen scheme is more than merely bold; listen and you'll hear a mountebank.
I love words and phrases and paragraphs. I love the sentences that make me stop and think, stare into the distance, and then reread. I love the way words can be put together to touch your mind and heart and imagination. What words have made you stop and take a second look?