Station Eleven ~ Emily St John Mandel

 

This was a book I took to Brighton in the summer. Borrowed from the library after a recommendation from Sarah (read her enchanting blog here).

I’m so glad I chose this to read as it was an engrossing journey from start to finish, though it raised many questions. The story-line follows the events as the world’s population is ravaged by an infectious disease leaving only small groups of survivors to weather the subsequent collapse of civilisation.

The focus is less on the cause and details of this apocalypse than the after-effects and new meanings it brings to relationships between people and to their things. Objects we might give little significance to in our current world, a paperweight perhaps, or a couple of science fiction comics (from which comes the title) take on a whole new value in this irrevocably changed world.

I loved the way the author played with time throughout the novel. It was masterfully done, and I can’t imagine the kind of planning that went into crafting the constant to and fro between the past, present, and future. And also the way a minor character comes to the fore to play a key role at one point in the novel then recedes or disappears again at another point. The most consistently main character is Kirsten. She is a child at the beginning of the novel, acting a small role in a play of Shakespeare’s King Lear. After the apocalypse she joins a travelling group who perform Shakespearean plays and musical entertainment for the small settlements that have evolved out of the dying civilisation.

The author Emily St John Mandel was extremely courageous to attempt such an ambitious tale. It is not a long novel, but it is intricate and daring. At no point did this novel feel like a work of fantasy. This scenario is a real, if very unlikely possibility. Can you imagine a world without electricity or electronic devices; no cars or planes or the vast populations and the complex infrastructures they uphold including the food system, but still knowing what we know? It is horrifying to read about and to imagine, yet there were elements of it that were appealing. Life might not be better, but it is simpler when surviving is all you have to think about.

Inscribed on the front of the caravan in which the travelling group tour from settlement to settlement are the words ‘survival is not sufficient’, a quote from a long forgotten Star Trek episode. What is sufficient? What does make life worth living. What would be worth saving? Despite my sometimes love often hate relationship with technology, computers, the Internet, and mobile phones, like the characters in Station Eleven I know I would miss them. And I know I too would turn to books (I’d be lugging around a suitcase full of ’em), art, poetry, music, dancing and friendship for in these I find meaning in what often feels like a meaningless world.

It was a thought-provoking read and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Best-Loved Poems, A Treasury of Verse by Ana Sampson

“Poetry is personal.The poet tells us about love, grief, faith, doubt, fear or courage as they have felt it, and a receptive reader – sometimes centuries later – discovers that the verses strike a chord, and that scraps of the poem catch in their memory for ever.”

I was lucky to receive an advance copy of this poetry anthology, because of a blog post I wrote on another of Ana Sampson books (the wonders of the Internet!). What a pleasure it was to open the package and see the beautiful and striking cover. A cover which reminds me of those aged books I consider treasure when I find them in a second-hand bookshop. It perfectly reflects the timeless quality of the poems inside.

The poems are divided by theme. Chapters include Love, Relationships, Songs of War, Birds and Beasts, Poems Remembered from Childhood, ‘The Dying of the Light: Elegies and Epitaphs’ and many more.

I enjoyed revisiting old favourites like Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat’, Wendell Berry’s ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ and especially those which made me smile like ‘Daddy Fell Into the Pond’ by Alfred Noyes, and ‘Yes, I’ll Marry You My Dear’ by Pam Ayres.  

I also discovered some new ones too, like this tender romantic sonnet by Carol Ann Duffy: 

 

Hour

Love’s time’s beggar, but even a single hour,

bright as a dropped coin, makes love rich.

We find an hour together, spend it not on flowers

or wine, but the whole of the summer sky and a grass ditch.

 

For thousands of seconds we kiss; your hair

like treasure on the ground; the Midas light

turning your limbs to gold. Time slows, for here

we are millionaires, backhanding the night

 

so nothing dark will end our shining hour,

no jewel hold a candle to the cuckoo spit

hung from the blade of grass at your ear,

no chandelier or spotlight see you better lit

 

than here. Now. Time hates love, wants love poor,

but love spins gold, gold, gold from straw.

 

This book comes out today, a week before National Poetry Day on the 28th September. I can’t think of a nicer way to celebrate it than putting my feet up and reading some poetry along with a cup of tea to restore my sanity. I’d love to know – what would be your favourite poem to include in a treasury of verse?

The Secrets of Pistoulet

An enchanting fable of food, magic and love…

“Far away in the remote, untraveled southwestern French countryside, en route from the enchanting old city with an ancient cathedral to the mystical Pyrenees which appear like a mirage at the most unanticipated moments, there is a small village which contains two homes, an eleventh-century church, and a very special farm known as Pistoulet.

Hidden from most everything, Pistoulet is an unknown paradise with magical powers. There are unusual creatures inside and out. Everyone who passes through Pistoulet has a story which unfolds during their visit to the farm. All who spend time at Pistoulet leave with their hearts transformed.”

… and so begins a magical tale of transformation.

Not a children’s book, but rather an exploration into a children’s way of seeing the world. It is delightfully full of hope and healing through fiction and food, beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, letters, mysterious maps and diary entries.

The recipes are on little pull-out cards with titles like ‘Potage of Spirit’, and  ‘Potage of Strength’.

Because we all need a little extra courage sometimes, and Borage flowers are plentiful at least in this area of the world right now, here is a recipe for you:

TEA OF COURAGE

For those shy souls who are afraid of their own potential

When the summer sun rises high in the sky and the star-shaped borage flowers turn from pink to blue remove the flowers and the youngest leaves. Acquire water from the clearest spring which has traveled many miles from the tallest mountains. Bring the mountain water to a boil and place the borage flowers and leaves in the bubbling water. Cover and let steep until the magical power of the flower has infused with the spirit and strength of the water.

CAUTION: Serve only to those who are truly in need. This infusion has been known to turn the meekest souls into BRAVE HEARTS. Be prepared for a complete transformation of personality.

This a stop off in France on my journey ‘Around the world in 80 Books’. Published way back in 1996, this book must have been a real joy to create for Jana Kolpen and Mary Tiegreen. It is a feast for the imagination, and I defy anyone not to feel at least a little bit better about the world after reading it.

Dubliners ~ James Joyce

My ‘Around the world in 80 books’ is taking its leisurely course. This stop is in the city of Dublin, Ireland. A place I’ve long wanted to visit, and the setting for one of my course texts, James Joyce’s Dubliners.

The fifteen short stories close in on the ordinary lives of Irish people in varying stages of their lives in an early twentieth-century city that is being both pulled back by its past and forward by the future. The people are all stuck in some way, held back by their individual and collective histories, their environments and their own personal limitations.

This is my first encounter with Joyce, and having heard that much of his other works are not easy reads, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these short stories. Even though there is a pervasive sense of melancholy throughout the collection, there is also this sense that things could change at any moment.

Favourite stories include – Eveline, Araby and A Little Cloud. The latter about a man ‘Little Chandler’ who dreams of becoming a poet:

‘The glow of a late autumn sunset covered the grass plots and walks. It cast a shower of kindly golden dust on the untidy nurses and decrepit old men who drowsed on the benches; it flickered upon all the moving figures — on the children who ran screaming along the gravel paths and on everyone who passed through the gardens. He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad. A gentle melancholy took possession of him. He felt how useless it was to struggle against fortune, this being the burden of wisdom which the ages had bequeathed to him.

He remembered the books of poetry upon his shelves at home. He had bought them in his bachelor days and many an evening, as he sat in the little room off the hall, he had been tempted to take one down from the bookshelf and read out something to his wife. But shyness had always held him back; and so the books had remained on their shelves. At times he repeated lines to himself and this consoled him.’

The familiar stereotype of the Irish, who love to drink and to laugh, is here too, but this is portrayed as an escape valve from the claustrophobia of their everyday lives. Chandler goes to a public house to meet an old friend who has long since moved away from Dublin. As he walks to meet his old friend Chandler is filled with the hope and possibility of escape:

‘Every step brought him nearer to London, farther from his own inartistic life. A light began to tremble on the horizon of his mind. He was not so old – thirty-two. His temperament might be said to be just at the point of maturity. There were so many different moods and impressions that he wished to express in verse. He felt them within him. He tried to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet’s soul. Melancholy was the dominant note of his temperament, he thought, but it was a melancholy tempered by recurrences of faith and resignation and simple joy.’

Sadly, the stories do not end on a positive note. Joyce himself found his creative freedom, not in his beloved university city of Dublin, but instead once he had moved away from Ireland. Yet it seems Dublin held a special place in his heart as all his work is set in and around this city. He says:

‘For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal’.

For me, this goes not only for the city itself, but for the people in it, whose lives I became particularly attached to the more I read Joyce’s beautiful prose.

2015 TBR Challenge

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(I am transferring this post from my old blog to my new – apologies if you have read it before)

Did I mention that I’m a bookaholic? I usually read at least two books a week, mostly non-fiction. The problem is that my eyes are bigger than my brain and I beg, borrow and buy more books than I can possibly read.

Hence my ‘To Be Read’ pile runneth over. Out of the bookshelves and over the floor of my bedroom and living room.

So, I have decided to enter the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. A year-long challenge to read at least 12 books that have gathered dust on a bookshelf for over a year. Once read you write a post/review about each one and link back to your original post.

My 2015 TBR Pile Challenge List:

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  3. Phenomenology of Perception by Maurice Merleau-Ponty
  4. Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake by Carol Loeb Shloss
  5. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. The Outsider by Colin Wilson
  8. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
  9. Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales
  10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
  11. In Search of Lost Time  – Volume 1 Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  12. The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco

My two alternatives in case I can’t make it through any of the above are –

  1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  2. Decline and Fall  by Evelyn Waugh

There are monthly check-ins and mini-challenges along the way. So do pop over to roofbeamreader.com if you’re interested in joining in 🙂

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A New Year, A New Blog, A Fresh Start

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Hello world and welcome dear reader to the very first post of my new blog. Allow me to introduce myself and tell a little of the reasons why I come here to write.

I’m Kim, a bookish sort, odd and insatiably curious. I live in the south-west of England with my two youngest children – Jay (15), who is ‘unschooled‘, Emily (12), and our black cat Baudelaire. Learning about unschooling has changed our lives immeasurably for the better and I am writing a book about my experiences with school and home education (when I’m not procrastinating by blogging, reading and surfing the internet amongst other things).

I like to create a cosy home; I bake sometimes; I hate clutter but am loath to get rid of a single book. And when I get irritable with piles of dishes to wash and messy floors, or the mould that needs removing from the bathroom ceiling (again), I try very hard to remind myself that it is not forever, nothing is forever, and I try to be grateful for even those things.

I want to slow down and learn to do one thing at a time. I want to take the time to smell roses and watch the ripples on the lake, to lie in the grass in the middle of summer just watching the clouds drift overhead.

Writing is a way for me to let go of a painful and difficult past by focusing on the here and now as much as I can. I want to value this one life, not waste it. Sometimes I get so afraid of wasting it that I am paralysed by fear – utterly stuck – like an ageing tractor rolling its big old tires in the mire and digging a trench beneath itself, sinking deeper and deeper into the squelchy mud. Well, this is my way of pulling myself out, cleaning myself off and moving on.

I suppose I just want to live a well-lived life though I am not at all sure just what that is. And so I write. I write to explore, to discover what I think about things and to be inspired by the lives and words of those who know a heck of a lot more than me.

Writing helps me uncover the truth, or at least my truth. When I write about the small ordinary things – the ‘little wonders’ of an everyday life, I’ve taken time to truly see. I appreciate them and remember them and that feels like a good thing.

So here I’ll write about the books I read, art and crafty projects, growing things in the garden, treasures found in dusty lanes and wild fields, inspiration and ideas to live better, deeper, richer.

I’d love for you to join me for a cup of tea, and we’ll put the world to rights or at least have a darn good try. Thanks for reading.

x