Friday, August 28, 2015

The Early Bird Gets the EBook

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It seems as if I am not only a collector of real books, but I now have quite a stockpile of ebooks. Granted, they don't take up any shelf space, but hoarding is hoarding!

Earlier this year I signed up for Early Bird Books, a site that sends me a list of ebooks every weekday that are on offer at discounted prices. There is also one Free Book to be had and I have taken advantage of many of those. 

I decided to explore the free titles I have downloaded from that site on my Kindle and was surprised (OK, not really) at the number of books I had shelved but not read. 

Here is just a sampling:

Sea and Sardinia by D. H. Lawrence - A recounting of a trip he took in 1921 to the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy.

The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton - A series of detective stories. Does anyone remember the movie with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day?

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - An epistolary novel, somewhat autobiographical.

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope - The adventures of an Englishman who takes the place of a kidnapped king to save the fictional country of Ruritania. Has been adapted into many movies.

Brewster's Millions by George Barr McCutcheon - The story of a young man who has to spend a million dollar inheritance in order to receive a seven million dollar inheritance. How fun would that be?

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce - I also have a paperback edition of this one.

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit - I have heard so much about this popular British author that I wanted to read this book. Apparently the It is a somewhat grouchy fairy.

Adam Bede by George Eliot - I have only read Eliot's Middlemarch. Here is another classic for my entertainment.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather - Of course! I love the opening paragraphs of this book.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse - I read this when I was in college and remember nothing about it except that it was quite the rage then. 

Candide by Voltaire - Oh, well, why not?

I see, now that I have made this list, that it represents quite a variety of genres.  These are all in the public domain and are probably available from many sites online, but it is nice to have titles just show up randomly. I am glad to know I have a wealth of books for the upcoming fall and winter. I feel like a little book-squirrel.

Any suggestions as to where I should begin? 

Friday, August 21, 2015

In Which I Explore Arts and Letters

Hunter Museum of American Art

I spent three days last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The city has the distinctive Hunter Museum of American Art which sits overlooking the Tennessee River. The featured exhibit was "Monet and American Impressionism." It was quite well done and I enjoyed seeing the 70-some paintings and prints. I had my sketchbook with me so I was able to make a visual record of my visit there.

Sewanee: The University of the South
Sewanee, Tennessee

On Saturday, I drove about 60 miles west of the city to Sewanee: The University of the South. I have had it in mind to visit the college for sometime as it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful campuses in America. I was not disappointed.

I felt as if I were in Oxford or Cambridge. Soaring Gothic towers, thick stone walls, stained glass windows, and shaded sidewalks greeted me on this quiet afternoon. 

I gleaned the following historical information from various sources.

The private, liberal arts college was founded a few years before the start of the Civil War. The goal was to create a Southern university free of Northern influences. The six-ton cornerstone laid in 1860 was blown up by Union soldiers in 1863. This slowed things down for the college that was formed by the ten southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church. It wasn't until 1868 that the first students graduated. 

The school publishes the Sewanee Review, founded in 1892, and is thought to be the longest running literary magazine in the country. It also hosts the annual Sewanee Writers' Conference which is funded in part by an endowment from the estate of American playwright Tennessee Williams. 

Authors Jill McCorkle, Tim O'Brien, and Alice McDermott are on the faculty of the conference which focuses on fiction, playwriting, and poetry. I missed the conference hubbub by two weeks. It ended August 2.

This is the student dining hall. Isn't it fabulous!

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All Saints' Chapel

The main things I wanted to see were the stained glass windows in the All Saints' Chapel which I read somewhere included images of writers, artists, and musicians. And sure enough, I found huge windows honoring J.S. Bach, Michelangelo, Sir Isaac Newton, and Carolus Linnaeus alongside Shakespeare and Cervantes. There was even one depicting a fellow dressed in what looked to be a brown sports jacket. He turned out to be Gifford Pinchot the first Chief of the United States Forestry Service who served from 1905-1910.

Below are photos I took of the literary honorees.

The Venerable Bede
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Don Quixote
I love the addition of the windmill and knight.

Blaise Pascal

William Shakespeare
Can you find the image of the Globe Theatre's stage?

I thought these were wonderful, colorful representations of these writers and I was glad I made the trip to see them. 

On a more somber note, the same day I was visiting Sewanee, Vice President Biden and the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of Defense were in Chattanooga attending a memorial service for the four Marines and one Navy sailor who were killed just the previous month. I didn't attend, but I did watch some of the speeches on YouTube later that evening. Quite moving.

Chattanooga Strong! 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion by David Brinkley

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Those of you of a certain age will surely remember the nightly news anchors Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. The Huntley-Brinkley Report ran for over two decades on NBC. The two signed off with their signature "Good night, David" "Good night, Chet" for the last time on July 31, 1970. 

Chet Huntley reported from New York City while David Brinkley held down the desk in Washington, D.C. After the news program ended with the retirement of Mr. Huntley, Mr. Brinkley continued his career in broadcasting and also wrote four books - two memoirs; a look at Washington, D.C. after World War II; and the one I am reading. 

Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion is a collection of short, one page commentaries he delivered on the Sunday political affairs program This Week With David Brinkley.

I came across this book last summer on one of my travels and am just now getting around to reading it. I am sorry I waited so long. Reading his wry observations written and delivered between 1981 and 1996 on the foibles of politicians and people in general is a reminder that things don't really seem to change. 

For example, on January 31, 1982 Mr. Brinkley bemoans the demise of two daily newspapers: The Philadelphia Bulletin and The Washington Star. I can't begin to count the number of newspapers that have ceased to be since then.

On December 12, 1982 he offers simple advice to those who complain they can't get any work done because they are forever being interrupted by phone calls:  If you are busy, don't answer. Of course today we have to contend with much more than ringing phones. (Remember when phones rang instead of singing to us or chirping like a bird?) There are email notifications, text message beeps, and other forms of "Alert! Alert! I am trying to get in touch with you!" interruptions.

He reports on February 5, 1984 that the American national debt was $200 billion and Congress couldn't figure out a way to lower it. Apparently it never has because today our debt is $18 trillion and rising.

He takes on the presidential election year and writes that the Republicans will spend, beginning on March 14, 1983, $100 million on television commercials. All this a year and a half ahead of the November 1984 election. It is estimated that the total television ad spending for the 2016 election will be $4.4 billion. 

It's all here from voter fraud to the first mention of the greenhouse effect to the U.S. Navy spending $466 for a pocket wrench that costs $1.49 at the local hardware store to Social Security funding woes and automobile safety recalls.

See what I mean? Same old, same old. Only the dollar amounts are higher.

Well, sometimes it is better to get the news thirty years on. Unfortunately, there is not much nostalgia for "the good old days" to be gleaned from these musings. He writes, though, so very cleverly about these absurdities and that makes for quite entertaining reading. And, I can still hear his distinctive voice in my mind as I read.

These commentaries are not all about The State of The Nation. One funny story is about a teenager who ran away from home and took up residence in an apartment building at the bottom of an elevator shaft. He fixed up a bed and brought in books, magazines, and a hot plate. He might have lived there forever but the tenants kept wondering why the elevator smelled like hot dogs cooking. The boy's nest was discovered and the jig was up.

Good night, David.

Friday, July 31, 2015

On Meditation and Mindfulness

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I suppose that over the years I have taken up meditation a multitude of times. My efforts have lasted days to weeks to...well, maybe a month. I really don't have trouble sitting still, the trouble has always been setting aside a specific time to sit still. Eventually something knocks me off schedule and the practice loses out to other interests.

But for the past ten months or so, based on an off-the-cuff comment by my yoga instructor, I have tagged a 20-minute meditation session onto my 20-minute yoga-ish session in the mornings. 

This has worked. One practice just flows into the other and I find I have been very consistent in doing this. I started taking what I call Old Lady Yoga about five years ago and soon worked up my own morning routine. But it was only recently that I thought to add the meditation bit along with it.

This is not religious or Woo-Woo stuff for me. I don't sit in an uncomfortable position on the floor. I don't light candles or incense. I simply sit in a straight-backed chair in my kitchen. I set a timer for 20 minutes, throw a light shawl around my shoulders, and close my eyes. I try to concentrate on my breath - in, out, in, out - but my mind is much like a free-range chicken. It pecks at this thought then that one, then quickly darts over to another corner and starts pecking there. 

Actually, I have come to enjoy this playtime for my mind. I think my brain needs a break each day to just wander where it will. So even though I may not get an A in Meditation Practice, that is how I do it.

I know there are hundreds of books on mindfulness and meditation and I have read many of them. My favorites, though, are as follows:

Meditation by Eknath Easwaran. I first read this book, upon the recommendation of a friend, in the early '90s. It is the first book I have ever read that once I came to the last sentence on the last page, and without missing a beat, I immediately started over again with the first word on the first page. The book was subtitled A simple eight-point program for translating spiritual ideals into daily life. The first point is meditation. It is so clearly written and personal. The author, who died in 1999, is the founder of Blue Mountain Retreat Center and Nilgiri Press in northern California. The book has been reissued with the title Passage Meditation. I don't know what changes have been made to the original text, but I see that the second edition, the one I read, is still available. Highly recommended.

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. At one time I owned this book then loaned it to a friend who returned it with the addition of multiple coffee stains and wrinkled pages. (I tried to meditate a bit so as not to get a resentment, but I don't think it worked. I finally gave the book away.) However, I recently re-read it - a library copy with no stains - and found it to be entertaining and helpful. Its short chapters/essays include practical ways to practice mindfulness and meditation within the busyness of our everyday lives.

Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana. Actually, I am just beginning this book written by a Buddhist monk whose name I cannot pronounce. The cover tells me this is The Classic Bestseller and I have no cause to doubt that. From the preface: In my experience, I have found that the most effective way to express something new in a way people can understand is to use the simplest language possible. I am all for that.  Chapters deal with: meditation - why bother; what meditation is and isn't; how and when to sit; what to do about distractions; mindfulness; and loving friendliness.

If you meditate or have ever tried to, I am sure you have your own book to recommend and I would be happy to hear from you.


Friday, July 24, 2015

The Body in the Convent

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Catherine Aird's works recently appeared mysteriously on the ebook library shelves. As this was soon after I finished attending the library's History of Mystery class, I am wondering if perhaps this is a happy coincidence.

Ms. Aird (whose real name is Kinn Hamilton McIntosh) is a British crime fiction writer. She was born in 1930, in the midst of the Golden Age of mysteries, and has so far published more than twenty crime novels and a few collections of short stories. 

I am reading her first effort, The Religious Body, which was published in 1966. Here she introduces the detective duo of Chief Inspector C.D. Sloan and his young assistant Constable Crosby. The book opens with Sister Mary St. Gertrude making her morning rounds and knocking on bedroom doors to waken the sisters in the Convent of St. Anselm. One nun, Sister Anne, is not in her room and is later discovered dead at the bottom of the cellar steps. Although at first it seems she died from an accidental fall, it turns out that the real cause of death was a blow from the ubiquitous 'blunt instrument'.

How the police and the nuns are going to get on together in the solution to this murder promises to be an interesting read. DCI Sloan has a sly sense of humor that his more naive constable does not often understand. The detectives also are getting assistance from Father MacAuley who seems anxious to help. Or hinder, as the case may be.

So far, I have enjoyed Ms. Aird's  lively writing. It is always a bonus when both the prose and the puzzle are entertaining.

I was thinking about other books I have read that take place in a convent. Here are a few titles I came up with:

Good Behavior by Donald Westlake - In which professional burglar John Dortmunder, in an effort to escape the police, falls through the roof of a convent and agrees to help the nuns rescue one of their own who has been kidnapped by her disapproving father. Very funny.

A Nun in the Closet by Dorothy Gilman - This story, by the author of the Mrs. Pollifax series, doesn't really take place in a convent, but it does involve nuns, a bunch of money, gangsters, and murder. I wrote about it here.

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden - The story of a middle-aged professional woman who joins a contemplative order of Benedictine nuns. No crime here, but if I remember correctly it does contain a mystery. And there is plenty of insider information concerning what goes on behind the convent walls.

I find it fascinating to read about what life is like in these closed communities, murder or no. Do you have any Nun Stories that you have enjoyed and would like to recommend? 

Friday, July 17, 2015

In Which I Make My Report on Art Journals and Little Free Libraries

Last Saturday I attended two events at local stores featuring local folks. Here, as promised, is my report.

Art Journal demo with April Martin
This was a 90-minute, free demonstration on keeping an art journal. April's journal is more a layering of bits and bobs on the page than it is keeping a diary with drawings. She has hacked a Moleskin notebook and filled its pages with color and quotes and cutouts. Very creative and fun to look at. 

She said she almost always starts with a quote or a printed image and then lets her feelings guide her as she adds color with inks and paint and chalk. She uses stencils and crumpled papers and stick-on letters to add texture. She lets her muse - and her feelings - be her guide.

There was no drawing or sketching involved as I thought there would be. It was all glue and gesso and quite messy but messy in a good way. April showed us how to add pages of different papers to the basic notebook. How to distress the pages for a vintage look. How to add texture and layers and just to have fun with it. 

Her message: You can't do it wrong. And if you make what you think is a mistake, there is always a way to change a mistake into a happy accident. 

She was a lively presenter. This was her first demo and it was quite well attended - there were maybe 25 of us. 

Below are some shots of the process:

Here April is adding pages to her basic Moleskin journal.

She began with the image of the couple and went from there.

This is closer to the finish. You can see that she has done some stenciling and distressing on the pages. She also added a quote which she stretched across the gutter.

Below are random photos from her art journal. She kindly gave me permission to use them.

Although there was no book connected with this event, here are a couple of titles I found that seem to fit the type of visual journal that April demonstrated:

The Art Journal Workshop by Traci Bunkers
Stash and Smash: Art Journal Ideas by Design Originals

Little Free Libraries
This small event was held at the local, independent bookstore. Three people presented. The first to speak was a woman who was instrumental in getting 30 or so little free libraries installed in a poorer neighborhood in Louisville. She reported that they were kept well-stocked with donations and well-used both by children and adults.

Another woman had gotten one of these little structures for her birthday and it was installed in front of her house. She is a publisher's representative and so has quite an inventory to draw on to keep her free library filled.

The fellow who rounded out the panel was a carpenter/woodworker who had made one of the libraries for a client using recycled and leftover materials. He said that once the library had been installed, the client had an ice cream social and invited his neighbors to introduce them to the new 'kid' on the block. I thought this was a grand idea.

Copies of The Little Free Library Book by Margret Aldrich were on hand. It contains a history of these structures, offers a list of construction materials and plans, and offers up lots and lots of photos.

What I learned from this presentation, though, was that while I really like the idea of the Little Free Library I don't want one in my yard. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

On Art Journals and Little Free Libraries

I feel like such a slacker. I am not reading anything new. I don't read book reviews. My To Be Read list is languishing. My shelves of Books to be Read stand forlorn and untouched. 

Instead of reading, I find myself working crossword puzzles. At least that activity has to do with words.

But, there are two events on tap this weekend that I plan to attend that will perhaps get me out of this slump. One has to do with art and the other with little libraries.

First up is an Art Journaling demo. I am excited about this one because an art journal combines words and images. It is a diary with drawings. I am sure I will get new ideas. I have read quite a few books on this way of recording one's life, but seeing someone actually work on a art journal is a better way to learn.

This is a free event sponsored by a local, independent art supply store. The store regularly holds these free demonstrations and I recently took one on using watercolor pencils. The store also hosts all sorts of art classes and I have taken quite a few over the past couple of years. I do have a weakness for art supplies (which probably doesn't surprise anyone).

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The second event is being held the same day at our local, independent bookstore and concerns Little Free Libraries. In case you are not familiar with these, they are little neighborhood libraries on the street.  Some are quite elaborate (like the one above) and some are just a box filled with books to be shared with neighbors and passersby. There will be a woodworker in attendance who has built a couple of these Little Libraries and a report from a woman who received a Little Free Library as a birthday present.

"Take a book, return a book" is the motto. I see on the website that there are already two of these libraries in my neighborhood. Here is the website: Little Free Library

I will take copious notes and be back next time to regale you with stories about keeping an art journal and setting up a Little Free Library. Many of my neighbors are quite bookish and I am sure we would all be glad to have a library of our own to use as a book exchange.