Friday, August 10, 2018

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

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The dictionary defines your philosophy of life as your overall vision of or attitude toward life and the purpose of life. 

You know, your grand goal in living. Of the things in life you might pursue, which is the thing you believe to be most valuable?

One would think that as a Woman of a Certain Age I would have developed a Philosophy of Life by now. Perhaps I have only I didn't call it that.

I will say, though, that I have long aligned my thinking with the ancient Stoic philosophy of spending one's life trying to attain and maintain tranquility. Nowadays, who doesn't want tranquility?

To that end, when I spotted A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine, I thought I might add to my knowledge of Stoic wisdom. I have occasionally dipped into Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and the writings of Seneca and Epictetus, two other famous Roman Stoics. 

In this book, the author presents a brief history of the founding of the Stoics under a 'stoa' in Athens and on to how Roman philosophers and thinkers made their own adaptations. He then launches into the Stoic spiritual practices used when confronted with unpleasant social relations, anger, grief, the desire for fame and fortune, old age, and death.

Basically, acknowledge what you can change (your own attitudes and beliefs) and what you cannot change (other people and outside forces).

Easier said than done.

I admit this book might not be for everyone. And, it is not like my usual light mystery to be read at bedtime. This is one I am reading a little of each day. I do like an intellectual challenge now and again. And with this book, one never knows what nuggets of wisdom might add to tranquility and joy.

Do you have a grand goal in living? Or a book or philosophy that has informed what you value in life above all else? I would love to hear about it.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend

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And you think you have problems?

Pity poor Adrian Mole. At the tender age of 13¾ he is struggling with his feuding parents, the school bully, the ungrateful family dog, insensitive teachers, a broken heart, and spots.

All of this and more is painstakingly, and hilariously, recorded in his daily diary entries. If you are a fan of a book in diary form, and I am, this one is for you. 

I am having a ball reading it and find myself laughing out loud or snorting softly at his take on his predicaments. Oh, the angst.

Adrian is often baffled by the ways of the world. (Aren't we all?) His sincerity in reporting his daily dilemmas is quite touching. All he wants is to make sense of life's perplexities.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13¾ by the English writer Sue Townsend has been on my TBR list for years. This first one was published in 1982 and there are seven in the series concluding with Adrian Mole, the Prostrate Years. It seems as if every British writer picks these diaries as their favorite funny book. Now, I can see why.

Here is a sampling of entries:

Saturday: I shall go mad through lack of sleep! My father has banned the dog from the house so it barked outside my window all night. Just my luck! My father shouted a swear-word at it. If he's not careful he will get done by the police for obscene language. 

I think the spot is a boil. Just my luck to have it where everybody can see it. I pointed out to my mother that I hadn't had any vitamin C today. She said, 'Go and buy and orange, then'. This is typical.

Sunday: Now I know I am an intellectual. I saw Malcolm Muggeridge on the television last night, and I understood nearly every word. It all adds up. A bad home, poor diet, not liking punk. I think I will join the library and see what happens.

It is a pity there aren't any more intellectuals living round here.

Wednesday: ROYAL WEDDING DAY!!!!! (Charles and Diana)
How proud I am to be English! Foreigners must be as sick as pigs! We truly lead the world when it comes to pageantry. I must admit to having tears in my eyes when I saw all the cockneys who had stood since dawn, cheering heartily all the rich, well-dressed, famous people going by in carriages and Rolls-Royces.

Sunday: My mother has gone to a woman's workshop on assertiveness training. Men aren't allowed. I asked my father what 'assertiveness training' is. He said, 'God knows, but whatever it is, it's bad news for me'.

Well, this book is definitely not bad news for me. It is a delight and makes for perfect bedtime reading. What better way to end the day than with a laugh. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Off the Bookshelf

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While waiting for Tana French's second Dublin Murder Squad book to become available at the library, I read Death on Demand by Carolyn Hart. 

Annie Laurance is the owner of Death on Demand, the mystery bookshop located on the fictional Broward's Rock Island off the coast of South Carolina. Annie runs the bookshop left to her by her Uncle Melrose and she hosts a group of the island's mystery writers that meets on Sunday nights at the shop. One of the writers has been making pronouncements about how he is going to be divulging secrets about each of the other members of the group. Before the big reveal, though, he ends up dead. The rest of the book finds Annie and her friend/old flame Max trying to prove that it wasn't Annie who killed the guy with a poisoned dart. Nice shot, though, whoever did it.

The best part of the book is that it is one long reading list for mysteries both classic and contemporary. That is really the fun part of the tale. I highlighted all sorts of new titles and authors to add to my own list of ones to explore.

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Even though during my recovery from knee surgery I wasn't reading, that didn't stop me from buying two books while I lounged about. Well, why would it?


The first was The Art of Expressive Collage by Crystal Neubauer. I like that the artist uses found materials in her collages - vintage papers, junk mail, packaging materials, sewing patterns, sheet music, and fabric. She has a simple style using neutral colors. Her examples and explanations of techniques and processes are clearly explained. These are not the collages of slick magazine images but contain a multitude of layers, textures, and abstract shapes. Very inspiring. And calming.

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My other purchase was A Book That Takes Its Time by the editors of Flow magazine. I have written about the delights of Flow magazine before (here) and this book is filled with journals, postcards, stickers, decorative papers, and lists (we love lists!) to play with. There are articles on taking time to reflect, create, slow down, and even a poem and a recipe or two. 

It is a creative workshop between hardcovers. Slowly. Slowly.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

In the Woods by Tana French

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I finally broke my surgery and recovery induced reading fast with a doozy of a book. I am probably a little late to reading Tana French crime novels, but that just means I have six more to look forward to.

In the Woods (2007) introduces the Dublin Murder Squad. The main characters are detective partners Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox. They are tasked with investigating the murder of a child on the housing estate where Rob grew up. Rob has a secret childhood trauma of his own that might or might not be germane to this current crime and his involvement in the investigation may even put the whole case in jeopardy.

Even though the crime here is certainly distasteful, the writing and plotting are terrific. I rolled through the book's 600 pages which gave me plenty of time to get to know the main characters. (Not sure I was crazy about Rob the narrator.)

Once I finished, I immediately went online to my library's ebook collection to check out the second in the series. Imagine my chagrin when I saw the message that my account was blocked! 

What? 

My first thought was that my card had expired. No, that wasn't it. I called and someone at the library told me that I had an unpaid overdue fine of 20 cents and my access to ebooks was now blocked. Busted. 

Apparently, this is an automatic process so I didn't take it personally or feel as if I had been singled out. I mean, I know libraries are in dire financial straits, but really?

So a trip to the library to pay my huge fine and all is well except that there is a wait list to check out Likeness, the second in the Murder Squad series. 

In the meantime, I started reading Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I have had it on my Kindle for a long time and while I have many times watched and enjoyed the television series that is based on three of Ms. Gaskell's novels about the fictional village, I have yet to read this first book.

After the not-so-nice goings on of In the Woods, the ladies of Cranford offer a welcome and gentler version of life with a sufficient amount of tea and cakes.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

Yes, I am still here, although nothing going as far as having read any books since my surgery. This is probably the longest stretch in my reading life that I haven't had a book or books in hand.  

Otherwise, my recovery is going well and I appreciate all your well wishes. 

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Although I am not reading anything, I do have my eye on a couple of books. One — and I laugh as I write this — is The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl. I most likely could have written a book with this title myself. Anyway, a friend who knows I am taking life slower than usual right now, heard about it on NPR and alerted me to it. My library only has two copies and I am number six on the reserve list for the hardcover book and next up for the ebook. It is noted as 'a spirited inquiry into the lost value of leisure and daydream.' 

Sounds right up my alley.


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The second book is The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners by Margaret Visser. I could kick myself — albeit with my good leg — for missing the deeply discounted sale of the ebook. My parents were both sticklers for table manners and I thought this might prove to be a fun read. It was originally published in 1991 and reissued last year. As my library doesn't have a single copy, I will keep my eye out for it to show up again on the cheap.

Has anyone read either of these books? Should I be looking further afield in search for a book to break my reading fast?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

In Which I Begin to Slowly Recover

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The Convalescent
1904
Willard Leroy Metcalf



Dear Readers,
Wow! I had no idea it would take me four weeks after surgery to get to the point of being able to think well enough to get back to my computer.

A heartfelt thank you to all for your kind comments and thoughts. 

The surgery went well. It is the aftermath that has been a struggle. Reaction to anesthesia and pain medication knocked me down! My days have been a constant ding-ding of alarms reminding me to take a pill, eat, use ice, hydrate, nap, do exercises, take another pill, and prepare for the physical therapist's visits. 

There is no rest in the rest home!

Unfortunately, I have not been up to even the gentle challenge of reading. Yeah. Things have been that bad. But, I do feel the brain fuzz beginning to clear and wanted to let you know that I was recovering, albeit, slowly.

I was trying to think of a book that would parallel my situation and recalled Adventures in Solitude by David Grayson in which he muses on many subjects while recovering from an illness. I wrote about it and two of his other books on April 23, 2013. Who would have thought that five years later I would be in need of the comfort and companionship of a fellow convalescent.

In the meantime, until I can get my reading legs under me, you can read about that book here: Adventures in Solitude

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

In Which Belle Goes to Hospital

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Uh-oh. Looks like my Wabi-Sabi age has caught up with me. I am scheduled to have knee surgery on Wednesday, April 4. I will be taking short break from Belle, Book, and Candle until I recover enough to be able to think and type!

See you soon.

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