Archives for posts with tag: reading

I literally just finished The Shifting Tide moments ago. I’ve written here before about how much I love Anne Perry’s books, the William Monk series in particular. This one is my favorite of them all. So far anyway.

Former policeman Monk is a man with little past. He started out after a terrible carriage accident with no memory at all, but slowly bits of the life he no longer remembers fully return to him. In large part he is an enigma to himself.

His wife Hester is a fiercely independent woman, a nurse who served in the Crimea with Florence Nightingale. Together they have built a life of fierce love and joy, and hardwon happiness. Monk scrapes together a living as a private detective, while Hester sacrifices her own safety to help those less fortunate. They are a match like no other, and in The Shifting Tide they very nearly lose everything dear to them. The most dear being each other.

Especially with my head still so filled with imagery and action and dialogue and story from this novel, it’s tempting to go deeply onto the details that made me love it so much, but I want to leave all that a mystery for readers to discover for themselves, as is fitting for such
a wonderful mystery novel.

The thing is that Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries go far beyond the genre used to describe them. They are fascinatingly historical, filled with action and adventure, often laced liberally with travel, and always deeply romantic. They defy pigeonholing in such a way that fans of myriad genres could easily fall in love with them. Especially the Monk series, as they venture well into the realm of medical drama as well.

I think what has made me so enthralled with The Shifting Tide is the way this one novel encompasses all of the genres I just listed, and in such a way that reading it made me feel as if I was actually there on the great Thames with Monk and in the cesspool that the splendour of London hid behind its genteel facade with Hester. Exhilarating, terrifying, beautiful, and awful…it’s all there. For me all of Anne Perry’s Victorian gems are like that, but The Shifting Tide stands out as something special that demands special attention.

I also must say that Anne Perry’s writing always makes me read it with a writer’s eye, even as I become so deeply involved in the story. She is one of those authors I both admire and envy. Which means that while I feel it unlikely that I will ever reach the heights of the beauty of her prose, I find myself striving toward the shining example of the excellence of it. Simply put, reading her writing makes me a better writer. My dreamy writerly hope right now is to someday make a reader feel as I did while reading The Shifting Tide.

Anything related to Virginia Woolf catches my eye and I am drawn into a closer look. This piece from Brain Pickings quotes from Mrs. Dalloway, my favorite of her books so far, which gives me a little thrill.

That’s something I love about Wolf’s writing. All throughout a passage, a chapter, a novel, I get little thrills from reading the exquisite beauty of her prose. I have never in any other writer found such consistent beauty. She can take such simple things, like buying flowers or watching a lighthouse as it stands sentinel across the water, and turn them into imagined art. I see what she sees in her mind with my own. My imagery may not exactly match hers, but I see it so vividly it’s as if I am there with her, two minds on literary vacation in an inner landscape. Other authors evoke the sensation, but no other to the same extent as Virginia Woolf.

There’s a deeper element as well. I come to know her characters differently than those of other writers. As if I stand on the porch with Mrs. Ramsay, watching the lighthouse, watching her friends, caring for her family… my lighthouse and friends and family too, while I read about them and care for them.

I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, with more waiting to be read.  This article reminded me of how much I love those books. How much I admire Woolf’s tremendous mind, delicate and fearfully complex at once. Her musings take on an enviable depth and height, with the same quality of other and same that is so striking in her fiction.

I read it with admiration and regret, wondering what more she might have written if she could have lived.

Occasionally the question comes up about any books I would like to see adapted for the screen. My immediate response needs no contemplation at all. Caleb Carr’s The Alienist is one of my favorite novels ever. The characters, Doctor Laszlo Kreizler in particular, leapt off the page to occupy a place in my mind that they simply will not leave. Not that I want them to. The cases, yes. I’m quite happy to have any of those deathly details slip away to never be recalled again. The Alienist and the other Kreizler novel, The Angel of Darkness, delve deeply into the psychology of Victorian serial killers…darkly, gruesomely, and almost too realistically. A writer of Carr’s caliber is capable of drumming real fear and loathing into a reader. His talent is what makes the characters thrum with life and the readers shiver with dread. If only he were as prolific as Anne Perry. Since he isn’t, I’m just glad to have read the two and hope for a third someday.

I was recently trawling Goodwill shelves and stumbled across a cool looking cover. Then I noticed the author’s name and grabbed it. It was The Italian Secretary, a new Sherlock Holmes novel by Caleb Carr. Of course I bought it, thinking it would have to be cool to read Carr’s take on another Victorian detective, the most famous of them all no less, and see how he handled Holmes’ Victorian London and Scotland compared to Doctor Kreizler’s New York. And it was.

The Italian Secretary centers on mysterious deaths at Holyroodhouse, the scene of the violent murder of David Rizzio, a close associate of Mary, Queen of Scots. Holmes and Watson are brought in on the case by Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, and much adventure, deduction, and danger ensue. Historical information about Holyroodhouse, Queens Mary (of Scots, not the current Majesty’s grandmother) and Victoria is woven into the fictional tale deftly and fascinatingly.

There is a heavy element of the supernatural here, with much pondering of the nature of such things. I am not at all fond of that topic normally, but I like Carr’s writing so much that I forged ahead anyway. It was spooky at times, without being crawl under the couch scary. As much a study in why and why not as how. The only real complaint I have is that Carr referred to Holmes’ brother as Mycroft Holmes too often for my taste, after having long established his name and their relationship and often also referring to him as simply Mycroft. I can see that it can be tricky, with two heavily used characters being brothers and one often referred to as simply Holmes, in pop culture as well as this book. So it’s a minor thing that might not even bother other readers.

I really enjoyed The Italian Secretary. Probably mostly because I like Carr so much, since I’ve never read much Conan Doyle. I did enjoy the PBS series, starring Jeremy Brett, and I’ve just started watching Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch…love that. Regardless of whether a person is an avid reader of Conan Doyle, the path Sherlock Holmes cuts through the eras since he was first created is wide and unavoidable. Even if that were not the case, Carr does an excellent job of bringing these characters to life for himself and anyone interested in a fascinating look at history, detective work, Victoriana, and storytelling.

The Afterword was a little thrill for fans of The Alienist. Its author, Jon Lellenberg, does a very cool piece of speculation. What if Sherlock Holmes and Laszlo Kreizler met? Would they be able to work together? How would Watson fit in? Or Kreizler’s reporter counterpart John Schuyler Moore? I haven’t a clue, but I would love to find out. Hopefully, someday the possibilities will tempt Caleb Carr to take us on a unique and thrilling literary ride, with Holmes and Kreizler working a case together. The result might not be elementary, but that would be half the fun of watching the potential unravel.

Came across this quote online, and really love it. So many quotes out there about writing are out there because they’re considered inspiring. This one is awe inspiring. We see and do things everyday that we take for granted. Like breathing and being the amazing machine that is the human body. I’d never thought of writing or reading or books in this way before, but, now that I’ve read this quote, I always will.

“A book is an arrangement of twenty-six phonetic symbols, ten numerals, and about eight punctuation marks, and people can cast their eyes over these and envision the eruption of Mount Vesuvius or the Battle of Waterloo.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve loved Shakespeare since I first encountered his work in a high school textbook. I think I may be the only kid in my school to ever say that, but it’s true. Oddly, I didn’t learn to love poetry until much later. Since even Shakespeare’s plays are giant poems, it looks like I would have hated it at first sight. Then again, there’s little rhyme or reason to the whys and wherefores of first loves of any kind. I eventually discovered his sonnets and fell in love there too, but it was Romeo and Juliet that first captured my swoonprone young heart. Then Hamlet was my favorite for a time. Later it was Macbeth, and now it’s The Tempest. My taste can be fickle and fast moving at times, but stays true in its general direction. I’ve had the best intentions to read all of the plays eventually and randomly, and still do. It’s just taking a very long time. Poor Titus Andronicus has been waiting for me to rejoin his pages much longer than I’d intended to abandon him. Alas.

I’ve watched and enjoyed a number of film adaptions. First the old Romeo and Juliet starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey right in a high school English class, and later the modernized Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes version. The filmed Macbeth stageplay starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. Patrick Stewart as Prospero, in The Tempest. My favorite adaptation of them all is Julie Taymore’s extravagant Titus, with Anthony Hopkins’ riveting portrayal of the title character as its centerpiece. His “Crossroads” speech, as he lies prone speaking into the hard, unyielding stones is one of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever seen.

When Anonymous first started gaining buzz a couple of years ago, I was torn. I knew I would eventually watch it, since Vanessa Redgrave plays Elizabeth I, but what of the controversy? Shakespeare lovers were immediately up in arms over this movie that dared to question the Bard’s authorship of that huge, renowned body of work. What if it tainted my near lifelong enjoyment of his work?

Well, I’ve watched it now, and my admiration for “my” Shakespeare remains intact, in spite of the fact that I enjoyed the movie. It is a very densely packed film, with many characters and enough plot threads to keep even the most eager viewer mentally on their toes. Since part of my brain stayed wary, it was a challenging two plus hours.

It was also very beautiful. Visually, historically, and emotionally. Framed within the brackets of a modernday stage play, Anonymous takes us back to Shakespeare’s own time, and draws us in to a web of what if that unspools like a romantic historical espionage thriller, with a dash of soap opera high almost over the top drama…bejeweled by the performances of Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson, as old  and young Elizabeth I.

Set aside all belief in the age old Virgin Queen thing, because Anonymous’ Elizabeth is anything but chaste. She is passionate, willful, demanding, regal, and beautiful, right through every breath until her last. Her court’s history changing aspirations and accompanying machinations take advantage of her fatal weakness…the Earl of Essex, to great and tragic effect. I was already familiar with that aspect from the marvelous old black and white more chaste version starring Bette Davis as Elizabeth I, but this version seemed to use the tragedy that was Elizabeth and Essex to stab straight to the heart.

So there is a lot more to this movie than the question of whether William Shakespeare really was our beloved bard. As for that question itself, I thought the way the prospect was framed in the modernday stageplay made it clear that the entire premise was an elaborate exercise in what if. A few “facts” (or were they?) lead to the age old sentence behind all of fiction…here’s what MIGHT have happened. Sort of like what happens when science fiction writers start with…I think there are other intelligent lifeforms out there…here’s what might happen if they come here.

My take on Anonymous is that it didn’t set out to prove that all those plays and sonnets were written by someone else. It just showed how that scenario might have looked all those misty centuries ago. Yes, it made a man named William Shakespeare look very unsavory. A character created by a 21st century imagination. I didn’t like that character, but the movie in no way made me lose literary faith in “my” Shakespeare. As someone who has strolled the gorgeous English garden of Anne Hathaway’s cottage near the famed river Avon, it’s going to take a lot more than a work of clever, charming…beguiling even…fiction to dislodge my still swoonprone heart from my romantic, idealized love of William Shakespeare and the words and words, and words that bear his name.

Anonymous Official Trailer 2

This article about scrapbooks kept by Ernest Hemingway’s mother makes me think it could be time to go through a list of his books and choose one to read. I’ve spent most of my life thinking I didn’t like his writing. Now, I’m not so sure.

My only close encounter with a Hemingway book was For Whom the Bell Tolls. I tried. I really did. I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t even want to enough to try hard.

I’m not sure I was even twelve.

There was a beautiful polished wood and glass bookcase in our living room, when I was growing up. The shelves had never tempted me, until suddenly one day they did.

I distinctly remember reading a little novel about visiting a cool little alien on his home planet at school when I was in the fifth grade. That was the first time I read because I wanted to, and not because of a teacher making read stuff I had no interest in. I’d never realized until that little alien introduced me to it that reading for pleasure was a magical vehicle that would take me not only anywhere on earth I might desire, but also far beyond the bounds of everything except my imagination.

I realize a lot of book lovers started their obsession younger than that. I had been put off learning by a series of scary inept teachers, so I was lucky I ever learned to spell, much less read. But once I started reading for pleasure, I never stopped.

So, I noticed suddenly that there were books in our house. I sat on the floor in front of the bookcase, opened its doors, mentally stepped through, and in some ways never came back out. Several of those books changed my life.

The first one I read was Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Ah. The discovery of mental travel. Out to sea, into the past, never again to be landlocked both in body and mind.

I don’t really remember what all was on those shelves, but another novel I distinctly, and fondly, remember was a hardcover romance by Emilie Loring. I believe it was titled Stars in Your Eyes. It was set in Mexico, and I learned about the arid climate, haciendas, and bullfighting. I was enraptured and started reading every one of her novels I could find, which was not all that easy, since she was prolific long before I was born.

She wrote beautifully beyond anything else called romance novels I ever read. Her stories read like old black and white movies, with vivid characters that could have walked off the silver screen right onto her pages. And she wrote compellingly, her elegant prose taking me wherever she wrote of next. Old-fashioned? Of course. The kind of old-fashioned that never goes out of style.

There is only one of her novels available on Kindle. I found it recently as a free download and so far have only skimmed a bit to reacquaint myself with my first beloved author. I was intrigued to see that some of my own writing echoes in pale strokes her turns of phrase. I love that all those novels of hers that I read long before I ever even suspected I would someday write fiction linger on a subconscious level to inspire me still.

Odd that an obscure novelist would have such an influence on me early on, while the revered Ernest Hemingway sent me slamming closed his pages and running outside to play. In hindsight, I think I was just too young. I can’t be sure, though.

There was also my mother’s high school French book that I used to teach myself intriguing foreign words. I was already familiar with bits of the language, because my mom taught me phrases when I was a very little girl. And she sang songs to me that she’d been taught in French class and taught them to me as soon as I could memorize and sing. I knew Clair de Lune and Frere Jacques as well as I knew Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I don’t speak French, but fragments of it are practically embedded in my DNA.

Maybe it was just that Hemingway’s wartorn work was waiting for me to grow into it. I fell in love with the movie based on his WWI experiences, In Love and War, so there is hope. I know that what I’ve read of his life is impressive. The man traveled hard, fought hard, and loved hard. He lived an adventurous life beyond most of the powers of comprehension possessed by the rest of us. And if what his mother saw in him as a little child was borne of unvarnished truth beyond the rose colored glasses of maternal pride, he was born for the larger than life life of the infamously famous author he became.

Whether I end up an eventual Hemingway fan or not, I remain impressed by the eclectic little collection of books that bookcase housed in its corner of our living room. I’ve been told that many homes in this world have no books at all. It’s hard to imagine, in the same way I don’t understand when people tell me they don’t like to read. To each his own. And for me…all the books I can read in a lifetime.

Obviously I didn’t really photograph Wuthering Heights, the lonesome place where Heathcliff brooded in Emily Bronte’s classic novel. I did manage the next best thing.

Almost.

I’ve heard that there is a ruin far across the Yorkshire moors near the Bronte Parsonage that was Emily Bronte’s real life inspiration. Not being the tramp across wet, misty desolate areas type, I’m afraid I can’t say if it’s true. Instead, I’ll imagine it so, along with a shadowy figure roaming its confines…a darkly romantic Heathcliff…shimmering in the place where words and imagination meet.

What I did find was the Bronte Parsonage, where Emily lived with her parents, sisters, and brother.

image

As in much of Europe, a person can stand before the well aged two story brick building, and easily imagine the long ago literary legends going about their daily lives. Such places seem caught in a bubble of history and time. Seeing them is like observing the past, with an eerie feeling that a single step forward could take you there.

I lingered, memorizing both the way the house looked and how it felt to know they had played as children exactly where I stood. I turned away, and searched the view in all directions as far as I could see. I was not sure what I was looking for. I just knew I did not want the experience to be over.

There was a footpath made of roughly square stepping stones not far from the parsonage. I started along it, thinking I might at least see a bit of the area that would have been familiar to the Brontes.

image

It led me toward a cluster of quaint, if nondescript houses. Charming, but not what I was hoping for. A little further. Nothing memorable or exciting. A few more steps, still searching with a kind of interior desperation borne of too much imagination and not quite enough to adequately feed it. Just as I was about to give up…turn away…leave the Brontes behind…I saw this….

image

The close confines of the small city that was Bronte central–Haworth–opened up suddenly. Miraculously, instead of plain houses and pretty vegetation, there lay what to my minds eye was the very moor that Heathcliff galloped across on his way to the dark reaches where Wuthering Heights waited for him.

My imagination galloped wildly with him. I stared and stared, captivated by the mentally superimposed image of a silhouetted figure, hair and coattails flying, his horse’s hooves churning the rough ground, as he raced away from heartache toward his refuge. Wild and free, just like the moor.

I had to walk away for real eventually. If not for the threat of wild weather that matched the temperament of the moors, I might have stood there until dark came. In a way I wanted desperately to strike out across that green grass and up the hill. I needed to know whether going far enough would take me to that ruin that lived in maybe. Even more I needed to not know, though. I needed the ruin to stay where it was. Firmly in my imagination where the disappointment of discovering it did not exist couldn’t touch it.

So now when I see the picture I took, as the wind and a few raindrops blew in from the unknown realm of Wuthering Heights, my mind’s eye shows me still that far beyond the hill, deep into the mysterious depths of Emily Bronte’s imagination lies a solitary remnant of Wuthering Heights, waiting for the master she gave it to come in from the rain.