Looking Back

Today is the last day of the year and all I have to say is good riddance. It has been a pretty awful year and because it has been awful I have struggled to read and to write blog posts. Well, I have struggled to read books that I want to write blog posts about. I have read plenty but I have read a lot of junk and reread a lot of old favorites. I have many books on my shelves that I am sure I will love and that I am sure I will want to write about but it just sounds like so much effort. I want to have read them but I don't want to read them right now. If I read them now I have to concentrate and mark passages. I have to analyze what I want to say and how I feel. And then, what if I waste a good book on a bad day? What if I read something amazing and don't properly appreciate it because I am too stressed and anxious? The other day I decided I wanted to change this. I wanted to read a big, fat novel; the kind of novel that would take days to read. I pulled a few off my shelves and asked on Twitter which I should choose. The general consensus was that Middlemarch was the best choice. I have reread three books since then but I still haven't started Middlemarch. I will. One of these days. It is still sitting on my coffee table. I look at it longingly and I pick up something else. I just can't. I want to but I can't.

For a long time, I have thought of this as a book blog but over the last year I haven't written very many book reviews. Is it still a book blog? Does it matter? I don't know. I am pretty sure I have lost some readers because I meander my way through blog posts like this one, talking about books but never analyzing books and rarely reviewing books. But at the same time, I used to also write a lot of posts about life, kids, things we did. I don't do that as much lately either because of things going on right now. So much of my life and my thoughts involve the personal business of other family members. I can't write about that.

Where is this going and what is the point of this post? I don't know. I think the spark has been missing from my blog lately and that makes me sad. I am not sure I can do much about that for now. We have to ride out a few things and hope for better times. Maybe then enthusiasm and energy will return.

Not everything about this year has been terrible. My daughter and I went to Scotland and had a wonderful time. My husband and I went to New Hampshire and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I have read some good books. Some of the stresses are starting to improve. My daughter is enjoying her technical high school and just had to choose which shop she is specializing in. The cat had a growth removed from his mouth and does not have cancer. I have discovered that I really like poetry thanks to my "Poem for a Thursday" posts. My husband and I have been able to spend more time together. There are bright spots.

So, what do I want for next year? I want peace and a low-stress life. I want better health for various family members. I want to read really good books. I want to write more. I want to pick up my camera more often. I want to have fun. I want to go places and do things and not merely exist.

I want to look ahead and smile.

A Poem for a Thursday #62

Photo by Frances Gunn on Unsplash

Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White, is a wonderful children's book. Who can ever forget Wilbur, Charlotte, and Templeton? White was also an essayist who wrote for The New Yorker for fifty years. He wrote this poem for his wife, Katherine, and sent it to her in a letter.

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread  of her devising:
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space,
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,
She builds a ladder to the place
From which she started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider's web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning.

Natural History
E. B. White

Here is a poem from Brona.

Defining Moments

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Last week I read Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes. I was reading it at the same time that I was reading Word By Word:  The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper which I reviewed here. Because I was reading about dictionaries and words I especially noticed the words I did not know the meaning to in Death at the President's Lodging. There were a surprising number of them. I have a reasonably good vocabulary and I amassed a longer list than I expected.

Words are interesting and I always like to learn new ones. In case you feel the same way, here are the words that were new to me. Maybe they will be new to you as well.

"He had apparently delivered himself merely of a sort of exordium or proem and intended something like a speech."

    exordium:  a beginning or introduction especially to a discourse or composition

    proem:  a preliminary comment

"...that in any company of men minute perscrutation of act and motive may have the most miserable consequences."

     perscrutation:  a thorough examination : careful investigation

"the manciple had to bring him a list every day"

     manciple:  a steward or purveyor especially for a college or monastery

"The ceaseless driving of natural physiological energy into narrow channels of mentation and intellection"

     mentation:  mental activity

"the first mists of senescence begin to gather about their minds"

     senescence:  the state of being old : the process of becoming old

" the inspissated gloom in which they were enveloped"

     inspissated:  broadly:  made or having become thick, heavy, or intense

Aren't those all lovely words? This book used a hugely varied vocabulary. Most of the words were familiar even if I don't use them often but a few, like these, I don't think I had encountered before even if the meaning was clear from the context.

I enjoyed the mystery but I think I paid much more attention to the language. There was one quote I enjoyed and completely agreed with.

A living-room is always revealing, and particularly so when clothed with books.

I will have to look for more books by Michael Innes purely in the hope that he regularly uses such lovely words.

A Poem for a Thursday #61

Photo by Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez on Unsplash

Nikki Giovanni is a well-known African-American poet. She has won many awards and has been nominated for a Grammy for her poetry album. She was commissioned by the radio program All Things Considered to write a poem for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.  Her poetry is described as being "politically, spiritually, and socially aware."

I wrote a good omelet...and ate
a hot poem...after loving you
Buttoned my car...and drove my
coat home...in the rain...
after loving you
I goed on red...and stopped on 
green...floating somewhere in between...
being here and being there...
after loving you
I rolled my bed...turned down
my hair...slightly
confused but...I don't care...
Laid out my teeth...and gargled my
gown...then I stood
...and laid me down...
To sleep...
after loving you

I Wrote a Good Omelet
Nikki Giovanni

Brona has featured a poem today too.

Book Review//Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper

I missed my calling in life. After reading Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries I have realized that I am meant to be sitting in a quiet office in Springfield, MA reading about, researching, and occasionally discussing words. It sounds absolutely wonderful.

I loved this book. It is everything I like in nonfiction. It discussed a subject I knew little about in an approachable, informative, and entertaining manner. And it was about words. I like words.

Kory Stamper is a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. The making of a dictionary may not sound like the most fascinating subject but, believe me, it is. Stamper discusses how definitions are written, how word use has changed over the years, and how our perceptions of the English language affects our response to dictionaries. Yes, people do have, according to Stamper, very strong feelings about dictionaries. Stamper says:

Many people-and many people who think they'd be good at this lexicography gig-believe that the dictionary is some great guardian of the English language, that its job is to set boundaries of decorum around this profligate language like a great linguistic housemother setting curfew. Words that have made it into the dictionary are Official with a Capital O, sanctioned, part of Real and Proper English. The corollary is that if certain words are bad, uncouth, unlovely, or distasteful, then folks think that the dictionary will make sure they are never entered into its hallowed pages, and thus are such words banished from Real, Official, Proper English. The language is thus protected, kept right, pure, good.  This is commonly called "prescriptivism," and it is unfortunately not how dictionaries work at all. We don't just enter the good stuff; we enter the bad and the ugly stuff, too. We are just observers, and the goal is to describe, as accurately as possible, as much of the language as we can. 

Stamper has such a way with words which I realize is not at all surprising considering she works with them all day every day. (Oh, the dream! Why can't I?)  I like this passage about the English language.

We think of English as a fortress to be defended, but a better analogy is to think of English as a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don't want it to go:  it heads right for the goddammed electrical sockets. We dress it in fancy clothes and tell it to behave, and it comes home with its underwear on its head and wearing someone else's socks. As English grows, it lives its own life, and this is right and healthy. Sometimes English does exactly what we think it should; sometimes it goes places we don't like and thrives there in spite of our worrying. We can tell it to clean itself up and act more like Latin; we can throw tantrums and start learning French instead. But we will never really be the boss of it. And that's why it flourishes. 

People get very upset about changes to the English language. I have read whole threads on Twitter written by people upset that a word is being used incorrectly. This seems to become more and more common as the world, and the English language becomes more homogenous. I understand how they feel. I have words and grammar issues that push my buttons. However,  language changes, usage changes, words change. Sometimes we have to change too, hard as that is.

Etymological fallacy is the worst sort of pedantry: a meaningless personal opinion trying to dress itself up as conern for preserving historical principles. It misses that language change itself is a historical principle: a language that doesn't change is a dead language, and as much as etymological fallacists seem to love the purity of Latin, you'll notice that none of them have abandoned that whore English for it.

If you have ever wondered how a dictionary is written, or even if you haven't, read Word By Word. It will give you a whole new appreciation for the English language and for the people who record its usage in the dictionaries we all occasionally pull off our shelves.

I will be here, dreaming of that office in Springfield, where I could spend my days researching words, talking of words, using words, and writing about words.

A Poem for a Thursday #60

Photo by Skyler Gerald on Unsplash
Linda Pastan served as the Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991 until 1995. She attended Radcliffe College and in her senior year, she won the Mademoiselle poetry prize. Sylvia Plath was the runner-up. Pastan produces "quiet lyrics that focus on themes like marriage, parenting, and grief. She is interested in the anxieties that exist under the surface of everyday life."

You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead - that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors. 

But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first - 
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?

You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind 
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every 
living surface.

Imaginary Conversation
Linda Pastan

London Plans

If there is one thing that should be clear to anyone who reads this blog it is that my husband and I love to travel to the U.K. We have been to London a number of times. The last time was a couple of years ago. Happily, we are going again in February. Our original plans were to go to Yorkshire for our next trip. However, this trip was planned after my husband was in a motorcycle accident last year and needed something to look forward to in order to get through a long and painful recovery. He couldn't handle the thought of anything unfamiliar because the concussion made it seem too overwhelming. We have been to London enough that we know how to get around, we know where we like to stay, where we like to eat, and, most importantly, which bookshops I like to visit.

Unfortunately, my husband is still dealing with health issues from that accident and is currently once again out of work on medical leave. We thought he would be completely recovered by now and that is just not the case. We are still going on the trip because it is bought and paid for but it will be even more low-key than I originally thought.

I am anticipating a week of coffee shops, museums, bookshops, and National Trust properties. So, really, not that different from our usual trips. Maybe just a bit slower with a few more naps. If any of you lovely readers from the London area have any suggestions for any of the above please let me know. Especially any suggestions for less well-known places. Do you have a favorite non-chain coffee shop? Is there some quirky little museum you love to visit? Bookshops, always bookshops. I know to go to Persephone and Daunt and Charing Cross Road but I really enjoy the little hole-in-the-corner secondhand shops. Do you know any of those? And finally, what about an easy, calm day trip out of London? We have done quite a few but we do like taking the train and seeing a bit of the world outside of London. Is there a town that you recommend visiting? It doesn't have to be a huge destination. It just needs to be scenic and fun to wander around.

It has been a rough year. My husband and son have both been ill. Life is a little uncertain right now. Hopefully, a visit to one of our favorite places will restore a bit of happiness and ease to our lives.