Summer update: Butterflies, Books & Donuts

These are most, if not quite all, of the books I’ve read since mid-spring.  April and early May were definitely a walk on the lighter side, as I concentrated on C.J. Parker’s fantasies (highly recommended for the cynical at heart) and Mick Heron’s Slough House series (super! and there’s also an excellent mini-series you can watch afterwards).  By the end of May, I felt ready to tackle more challenging fare; I particular enjoyed Zola’s The Fortunes of the Rougons and Peter the Great’s African, a short collection of some of Pushkin’s more experimental prose.  For the rest of the summer, I’ve been flitting among a hodgepodge of whatever struck my fancy . . . .

Without intending to, it appears that I’ve taken quite an extended break from most things bookish.  It’s common for me to have breaks between my posts (sometimes quite lengthy ones), usually because I’m reluctant to stop reading long enough to write about whatever new book is currently holding my interest.  This break, however, differs from previous ones; the posting stopped last spring and so did many other bookish things that I ordinarily enjoy a great deal.  My favorite book blogs remained unread, as did book reviews and literary journals; even  — gasp! —  the exponential growth in the TBR pile slowed to a crawl.  In short, for a variety of reasons I spent some time last spring wandering in that bookless desert so unwillingly visited by many bloggers from time to time.

My drought began in April, when a long-anticipated surgery date finally arrived.  I was quite proud of my sang froid in the months leading up to the big event; there was nothing rare about the procedure; the odds were overwhelming that it would be both quick and relatively minor, just another day at the office so to speak, but . . . . when it’s your body and the time to start hacking away at it is actually staring you in the face . . . it’s a different situation, isn’t it?  Since my hacker of choice was in metropolitan Washington, D.C. while I now live in Florida, I also had a fairly lengthy stay away from home.  My little ordeal proved to be a best case scenario, which meant a quick in and out with the medical folks, followed by a very nice post-op recovery in one of my favorite cities, full of museums, bookstores and wonderful ethnic restaurants but . . . well, it wasn’t quite a vacation.  After that, it was home again, home again, and slowly having life flow back into its accustomed channels when — guess who had a breakthrough case of covid?  (I suspect I caught it at the gym; despite intense propaganda otherwise, don’t we all just instinctively know that exercise is inherently unhealthy?)  My case was mild by medical standards but it was unpleasant, as was the physical fatigue and emotional lassitude that followed.

By June, thankfully, I felt some energy beginning to stir and, even more welcome, my bookish mojo slowly, slowly returning but — summer was then in full swing . . . and there were . . . various non-bookish things I needed to do, both for practical reasons and as part of my personal “healing.”  (I know this sounds a bit New Agey, but fear not, dear readers!  There’ll be no discussion in this post of spiritual auras or wellness crystals.)  Because it’s been some time since I posted, however, I’m afraid I am going to ramble a bit, so please bear with me.  To ease your pain if you decide to do so, I’ve divided my lengthy post into sections, so that you may easily click into and out of whatever you find of interest. 

I.  SUMMER DOINGS

Doesn’t everyone love summer?  Even in my new home, where it’s always summer, more or less, there’s still a different feel to things this time of year.  Because there are fewer tourists, the traffic is lighter and favorite restaurants more accessible; because it’s hotter, there’s even more of an excuse to spend the afternoon on the lanai (Florida talk for a porch or patio) reading something interesting (under a good fan and with a tall glass of something nice & frosty, needless to say).  Aside from restaurants and books (surely two of the greatest of life’s many pleasures, n’est-ce pas?), my summer has included . . . .

Putting tropical things in pots & containers and placing them about the house;

Elephant Ear plants (genus Colocasia) were a fixture of my childhood in the southern U.S.  I must admit that as a child I thought them the most boring things going — what’s the point of a plant that doesn’t have flowers?  What a change in attitude a — ahem! few years — can bring about!  They’re now among my favorite plants (I’ve several pots of these things), as I love the illusion they create of a tropical rain forest.
Meet “Freddie,” the fern that threatens to swallow the house, the cats and Mr. J!   A native Florida species, Freddie is tough enough to survive  sun, floods & drought, not to mention my sporadic attention.  When my energy level is up to it, Freddie will be released back into the wild, i.e., planted permanently in a nice, shady spot next to his current location, as the two of us simply can’t go through another re-potting . . . .

(Attempting) to attract butterflies;

Although there’s not much blooming right now, most of these plants (including the tree) were chosen because they attract butterflies (the plants in the earthenware pots are a mix of native vegetation that provides nectar for adults and leaves for their caterpillars).  The keen-eyed among you may notice lots of weeds poking up through the bushes . . . .  Mr. J needs to get busy here!
After all our effort, we managed to attract ONE Monarch butterfly (although we did get a fair number of butterflies from other species).  Ironically, the Monarch preferred Mr. J’s shirt to the plants selected specifically to lure it!  Among the most beautiful of the North American butterflies, Monarchs have declined over 80% in the last decade or so; without drastic intervention, such as inclusion in the Endangered Species Act, they may well be headed for extinction.  I can’t bear to think of a world without Monarch butterflies . . . so I’d best hurry up and put out another pot of milkweed, a necessary element for a Monarch’s life cycle. 

Visiting the local farmers’ markets;

Summers are actually NOT the best season for farmers’ markets in my area of Florida; it’s just too hot.  Still, even the scaled down versions are fun, as there’s always something interesting to sample!

and, best of all, making serendipitous discoveries!

One of my great discoveries of the summer:  Farmhouse Donuts!  Unaware of the treasures contained within, I’d been passing by this old brick building for almost a year before checking it out.  What a wonderful surprise awaited me . . . .
This is only a small portion of the goodies offered by Farmhouse.  I usually opt for “the plain Jane,” i.e., an utterly delicious confection austerely enhanced by a simple sugar glaze.  I am, however, nerving myself to try my first “buttercup” (peanut butter, powdered sugar & a chocolate drizzle) and/or the “haystack” (toasted coconut, chocolate & caramel).  Or perhaps even designing my own treat, a nice option Farmhouse offers to its customers.
After selecting your gooey delight, there’s nothing like a nice rustic setting in which to devour it . . . .

So that’s the outline of my summer, more or less.  What about yours?  Am I alone in my passion for large green plants and gooey treats? 

II.   BOOKS

And, of course, my summer has included books. Always, there are books. Even though I checked out of the blogosphere last spring and pretty much stopped writing, I never stopped reading. As I noted in my caption to the first photo, during surgery & covid months I focused almost entirely on sheer entertainment and quick-paced stories. Any C.J. Parker or Mick Herron fans out there? Although the two write in wildly different genres — Parker does fantasy, albeit hard edged (more G.R.R. Martin than Tolkien, with nary an elf in sight) while Herron gives a unique twist to the espionage novel (think le Carré meets The Office, with moments of real heartbreak and some very pointed political satire, U.K. variety) — they are both very, very funny and know how to move their stories along. All in all, their novels were most satisfying reads during a difficult time.

By mid-May, however, I felt up to focusing on more serious fare, so it was on to my very first novel by Zola, an author who’s been haunting my reading selections for a few years now.  For several years running, my January resolution has been that “this year” will be the year that I finally read something by Zola!  But then, he wrote so very many novels, didn’t he?  Where does one begin?  And aren’t most of them extremely long?  Readers — this year I did it!  I took the plunge and I’m so very glad I did!  Zola rocks!

Somewhat at a loss as to where to start with Zola’s famed Rougon-Macquart cycle, I decided, logically, to begin at the beginning, i.e. with The Fortune of the Rougons, which chronicles the family’s origins and the Rougon branch’s rise to prominence.  Although the novel’s structure is a bit awkward (several chapters go by before crucial characters enter the tale and the various story arcs begin to intersect) and the mid-century French politics can be a trifle dull at times, these are minor flaws.  Zola’s writing is wonderfully evocative and his ability to create memorable characters is unequaled.  It will be a very long time before I forget Félicité Rougon, family matriarch and one of the great female characters of 19th century fiction.  Although I’d have to be reincarnated a few times to make it through all twenty novels in Zola’s cycle, I do plan on reading at least a few more from my stash during my present incarnation!

After Zola I felt another round of fatigue setting in, so it was time for a return to the light side.  Some time ago I read and (enormously) enjoyed Margery Sharp’s Rhododendron Pie.  Since I had a few other of her novels in the stash of Middlebrow books awaiting my attention, I selected one, almost at random, as a palette cleanser before moving on to something “more substantial” (I know this sounds terribly pompous.  Forgive please; this was before I realized that, in her own sphere, Margery Sharp is unequaled)  Several days, and three novels later, I was still marveling at how very good Sharp is, within the parameters she set for herself.  Her dialogue is crisp and believable, and her eye for her society and its foibles keen but compassionate.  I think she’s particularly good at dealing with class differences (admittedly, a reader from the U.K. would be a better judge of this than I); she’s very light handed on this topic but also quite realistic.  In The Nutmeg Tree, the favorite of my three summer reads, I was hooked from the opening paragraph, with its description of “Julia, by marriage Mrs. Packett, by courtesy Mrs. Macdermott,” sequestered in her bath and surrounded by her most prized possessions, holding her creditors at bay as they banged on the bathroom door.  Julia, a good-time girl fallen on hard times (Mr. Macdermott has decamped for parts unknown when the novel opens), has various more-or-less believable adventures, all recounted in a very amusing manner.  Running through the comedy, however, is a real vein of emotion as Julia attempts to forge a relationship with the daughter she abandoned as a child.  Harlequin House and The Foolish Gentlewoman, if not quite up to Nutmeg Tree IMO, fit my then current mood perfectly, being equally fun and well-written.  I think of all three novels as very much in a P.G. Wodehouse vein, but with a streak of social realism that the latter (IMO at least) doesn’t possess.  (As a side note for those interested in such things, Nutmeg Tree is published by Open Road, while Harlequin House and Foolish Gentlewoman are part of Dean Street Press’ Furrowed Middlebrow series.)

Although Percy can’t quite decide which of these Margery Sharp novels is his favorite, his paw indicates that (like me) he’s inclined to favor The Nutmeg Tree.

After my delightful little detour with Margery S., I felt the need for a big door stopper of a novel, something on the serious side and lengthy enough to keep me occupied for several days.  What better choice than David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet?  Although my enthusiasm has waned a bit in recent years (I have some reservations about his recent science fiction), I’ve been a huge Mitchell fan since his wonderful Cloud Atlas.  So puzzling then, that I’ve had this copy of Thousand Autumns since its 2010 publication, without once even reading the first chapter.  My delay in reading this novel is even more inexplicable given that I’m quite interested in the time and place about which Mitchell writes (the Dutch mercantile empire and its trading activities in the Far East during the early 19th century).  Past time, then, to open that cover and read the first chapter!

Although it took a little effort for me to get into this tale of an upright young clerk, employed by the Dutch East India Company in Tokugawa-era Japan, Autumns turned out to be a marvelous read.  More structurally straightforward than some of Mitchell’s previous novels, it still displays his characteristic ability to create compelling characters (aside from Jacob himself, the Japanese midwife Orito is reason enough to read the book), his humor and his ear for dialogue.  Autumns is a major commitment of time, but worth it if you’re in the mood for beautifully written historical fiction. 

Isn’t it wonderful, dear readers, when fate places an unexpectedly wonderful book in your hands?  This delightful event occurred to me, when I received April’s selection from the NYRB’s Classics Club.

Unfamiliar with Pushkin’s work, I was initially reluctant to make his acquaintance by reading pieces dubbed  “experiments in prose” . . . .

Since I had never read anything by Pushkin, this ordinarily would have gone to the bottom of the TBR stack; prose “experiments” not sounding very promising to this Russian literature novice.  Because I was still in a bit of a dead zone (i.e., I wanted to read and didn’t much care what) I decided, however, to give it a go, based largely on that very intriguing title.  The collection includes four of Pushkin’s short pieces, along with an essay by one of the translators (Robert Chandler), “suggestions for further reading” and excellent notes.  What a wonderful discovery this book turned out to be!  Although I loved all four selections, I particularly enjoyed the eponymous first piece (part of an unfinished novel), which portrayed a changing Russian society through the eyes of Peter the Great’s African godson (and former slave), a character closely modeled on Abram Gannibal, Pushkin’s own maternal great-grandfather.  The remaining pieces in the collection, almost as satisfying, included a clever parody of historical writing (“The Village of Goriukhino”), an adventure story (“Dubrovsky”) and the strange and beautiful “Egyptian Nights,” in which Pushkin used a mixture of prose and poetry to question the place of art (and artists) in an increasingly commercialized society.  Contrary to my fear my that the collection would be too esoteric for someone such as me, I found it an ideal introduction to Pushkin’s work.  If any of you wanderers of the web have read the NYRB collection, or any of the individual works it contains, I’d be very interested to hear your views on the subject.  (As a side note, a recent New York Review contains a very interesting piece by Jennifer Wilson regarding Pushkin’s views about his African heritage.  I’m not sure of the Review’s free click policy, but if you’re interested in the subject it’s definitely worth a try.  https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2022/08/18/the-first-russian-peter-the-greats-african-pushkin/ )

Although it’s impossible at this point to discuss all the books I enjoyed this summer (I do hope in the following months to review at the very least the ones included in my Back to the Classics and European Reading Challenges), I’d like to list a few that stood out for various reasons.

This slender novel, published by New Directions Press, was easily my most challenging read of the summer.  Thuân takes you into the mind of her narrator, a Vietnamese woman living in Paris; known to her French contemporaries as Madame Âu, the narrator herself never shares her identity with you.  In 160 pages, written without chapter or paragraph breaks, you enter the narrator’s memories of her youth in communist Hanoi & her university days in the former Soviet Union; in a tale-within-a-tale you read the narrator’s draft of a short story she’s currently writing and, eventually, you enter her fantasies of reuniting with the husband who abandoned her and their new-born son twelve years before.  Beautifully translated (by Nguyen An Ly), it’s claustrophobic, hallucinatory, fascinating and maddening, all at the same time.  It’s also not to be missed if you’re up for challenge
A few years ago I read Irmgard Keun’s Child of All Nations and enjoyed it a great deal; so much so I supplied myself with several additional Keun novels.  I finally got around to reading After Midnight, one of her best known, and was not disappointed.  Keun was a first hand witness to the Nazi regime and her choice to use Sanna, a sharply observant but naive young girl, as the narrator of her novel, ratchets up the horror.
I love books about books and, when I venture out of straight fiction, tend to read them.  Because Castillo discusses “reading” in a broad sense (she includes signage, movies & TV, as well as books themselves), in many respects this is more of a collection of essays on, generally, how we “read” our cultural surroundings.  Fierce, opinionated and passionate, with no use for the traditional literary canon, Castillo isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.  While not always agreeing, I found many of her views to be a valuable correction to my own very traditional education.  If you’re interested in Joan Didion, Castillo’s devastating analysis of the latter’s fiction is alone worth the price of admission.
Longlisted for the Booker, Trust appears to be generating a bit of a buzz.  Set in a New York that Edith Wharton might have recognized (but only if she could have envisioned Lily Bart or the Countess Olenska being interested in the stock market), the novel’s clever structure continually forces a reader to question the very basic assumptions of the story.  Ultimately (IMO at least) Trust asks us to question who is remembered by history and who is written out of the historical record. 
Does anyone still doubt that Elizabeth Taylor is one of the 20th century greats?  If so, they should read Mrs. Palfrey.  It’s one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read, and so heart-breaking I put off finishing it for weeks . . . .
Although I’ve read little poetry for a great many years now, this summer I found that I needed it again in my life.  I’ve focused mainly on Emily Dickinson, a poet who’s taken me a life time to appreciate.  Slowly, slowly, slowly, with lots of help from Helen Vendler, I’ve been working my way through Dickinson’s odd rhythms, elliptical thoughts and breathtaking images . . . .

III.  BOOKISH ODDS & ENDS

Over the past few months I’ve been keeping a list of interesting bookish topics that I might, or might not, get around to investigating.  It’s all very haphazard, and not terribly current; if you’re interested in such things, you’ve probably already found most of these items for yourself.  On the off chance it might be helpful, however . . . here goes!

Are you a fan of Jean Rhys?  If so, you may want to check out The New Yorker’s “The Many Confrontations of Jean Rhys,” a wonderful overview of Rhys’ life and literary output (be warned!  After reading it, I felt a reading project coming on . . . .) https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/07/11/the-many-confrontations-of-jean-rhys-miranda-seymour-i-used-to-live-here-once

Looking for an interesting book column, one that includes the old and the new; the highbrow and the low and everything in-between?  Check out Molly Young’s “Read Like The Wind” pieces.  It’s a New York Times’ subscription only service, but you should be able to get a freebie or two.  Here’s a representative sample, which includes a biography of a legendary art dealer and an Elizabether von Arnim novel that I hadn’t previously heard of.

Curious about the great Australian writer Gerald Murnane?  It’s back to The New Yorker and, hopefully, another free click if you’re a non-subscriber.  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/08/01/the-reclusive-giant-of-australian-letters

Did you know that it’s the 100th birthday of the Canadian short story writer Mavis Gallant?  There a nice episode offered by the CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel.  Check it out!  https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-77-writers-and-company/clip/15929224-mavis-gallant-celebrating-centenary-masterful-canadian-short-story

Are you an arm chair traveler?  If so, check out the New York Times series in which various writers recommend the books they believe help you to get to know their favorite cites.  So far I’ve only read Leïla Slimani’s “Read Your Way Through Paris” (it was great BTW) but the others (which to date include Cairo, Berlin, Stockholm, Newfoundland, Reykjavik & Lisbon) look equally enticing.

My apologies for my New Yorker fixation, but it’s offering some really good stuff these days.  High on my list for this afternoon’s reading is its account of Ivan Turgenev and his composition of Fathers and Sons, a book that his Russian contemporaries loved to hate.  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/09/05/liberals-radicals-and-the-making-of-a-literary-masterpiece-ivan-turgenevs-fathers-and-children-slater-translation

IV. IN CLOSING (AND AREN”T YOU GLAD?) 

At this point in my blathering, I traditionally close with a cute cat photo (I have several I’m dying to inflict on the internet).  Because Mr. J has been experimenting with his super-duper, deluxe new camera, however, I thought I’d share a couple of his recent photos.  These were taken at one of the many little ponds that dot my neighborhood, where we recently spotted . . .

this Osprey.  I love Ospreys, although I probably wouldn’t if I were a fish (Ospreys are commonly known as “fish hawks” for obvious reasons).  This one looks ready to go mano a mano with Mr. J, who’s fortunately at a safe distance.

Warning: this next photo isn’t for the faint of heart . . . .

Well, we all have our favorite food item, don’t we?  I love sushi, myself.  I can’t imagine that this big old fish came from the tiny little pond near my house; since Ospreys have a reversible claw that allows them to carry their dinner over fairly long distances, it’s probably from a nearby river.

Well, that’s it for now, for anyone who happened to hang with me this long. Next week I’m off for my first big trip since the pandemic, a jaunt involving hiking shoes, binoculars and, hopefully, some birds. I won’t be posting again for a bit, but I’m dying to start reading the blogs again (I’ve peeked a little already & see that y’all have been reading some great stuff while I’ve been eating donuts) and will begin doing so, just as soon as I finish reading that article on Turgenev!

32 thoughts on “Summer update: Butterflies, Books & Donuts

  1. You have certainly had an action packed summer. And I’m interested to read that you have suspended your blogging in order to read more. Sometimes I think I could read a great deal more if I didn’t write about it. Also interesting to read about Margery Sharpe’s I haven’t read yet.

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    1. Hi Gerts — Lovely to hear from you! Since I’m such a slow writer, I definitely have more time to read when I’m not blogging but — I miss the exchanges with my fellow book lovers. Like everything else, it’s a tradeoff, I suppose.
      I did indeed have an “action” summer, if you consider picking out my favorite flavor of donut and the most comfortable patio chair as action!!! Even the reading was down. But, hey, we all go through these little slumps.
      I find Margery Sharp to be an interesting “light” writer, mostly, as I tried to articulate, because of that thread of realism running through what I’ve read of her work. Have you read Foolish Gentlewoman? It has a character who’s one of the great comic monsters of light fiction. You detest her while, at the same time, you see how pitiful she is; you understand the forces that warped her so badly (and realize they might have had the same effect on you, personally). Sharp’s ability to do this is no mean feat, for a writer of “light” fiction (fear not that you’ll be depressed by the novel — it’s very funny).
      I see that y’all have read/reviewed Trust by Hernan Diaz. I finished reading it a couple of days ago, so I’m off to see what you thought of it!

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    1. Hi Michelle: so nice to hear from you again. I totally agree about Mrs Palfrey; it’s really in a class of its own. Do you like other E Taylor novels as well? Taylor is one of those writers whose appeal has grown on me over the years. I first read her work when I was pretty young; I liked it but . . . essentially went for more action packed things. Coming back to her novels many years later, I had a much greater appreciation for her work. I find that observing eye of hers to be almost frightening at times!
      I put off reading Palfrey for a very long time, mostly because I feared it would strike too close to home (I spent quite a bit of time at one point, hanging around “assisted living” facilities and nursing homes). It did, actually (strike close to the heart) but it also showed just how funny life can be, even in the midst of a journey that’s only going to end in one way. It really is a masterpiece.
      Provided you like what I consider “period fiction” Sharp really is perfect for certain moods. She certainly came through for me, during my little slump!

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  2. I don’t think I’ve read any other Elizabeth Taylor novels. I’m fond of period fiction so I look forward to a foray with Sharp. Thanks again.

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  3. Welcome back, Janakay! I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had a somewhat challenging time over the past few months, certainly in terms of your health, but lovely to hear you’re getting your mojo back on multiple fronts. And it’s great to see an Irmgard Keun in your reading stack – I think she’s amazing! Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey is another winner, a wonderful balance of insight, humour and poignancy. It’s one of my all-time favourite novels, so it’s lovely to see it popping up here.

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    1. Jacquiwine — thanks for the welcome back! So very nice to hear from you; I’ve really missed your blog (in fact, I just started catching up this morning). Isn’t Keun wonderful — such an interesting writer and so good with first person narration. I found a certain similarity between Sanna in Midnight & the child narrator in All Nations; both are keenly observant but naive; essentially little cameras recording, without understanding, the terrible world around them; their naivete increases the horror.
      Your description of Mrs. Palfrey nails it — Taylor perfectly balances insight, humor & poignancy. It really is a masterpiece. Isn’t it interesting, how few writers have included the old among their subjects? (maybe they have, but I just can’t think of them). There’s Pym’s Quarter in Autumn, Spark’s Memento Mori and something by Sackville-West (All Passion Spent???). It would be interesting, but exhausting, to compare them . . .

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  4. Ah, I loved The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I wish Mitchell would write more straightforward historical fiction like this, I thought it really worked for him.

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    1. Hi Laura — so nice you stopped by. Autumns really was a great book, although I must confess that it failed to dislodge Cloud Atlas from its spot as my favorite David Mitchell novel (I still can’t believe Cloud Atlas failed to win the Booker). As I stated in my post, it did take a little time for me to get into the story (I was still in a sluggish mood and had to push myself to read anything at all) but once I did — well, it raced along. I really do love Mitchell! His talent is so immense, it’s almost like there’s nothing he can’t do.

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      1. I’ve actually no idea which my favourite Mitchell is. Jacob de Zoet, Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks would all be up there! I’ve just checked out the 2004 Booker shortlist and agree with you that Cloud Atlas was robbed.

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      2. Laura: your comment made me check out another “robbery” (IMO at least) by the Booker judges: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It was short listed but that’s as far as it went. I don’t understand it myself; perhaps the judges were adverse to the slightest whiff of sci-fi! If so, Margaret Atwood may have changed things in this regard . . .

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  5. Good to see you back and lots of interesting news! I’m tempted now to read Zola (on my next Classics Challenge list) and glad that you enjoyed Pushkin, I’ve just read Eugene Onegin and thought it was fabulous!

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    1. Thanks, Jane! I missed the blogs (reading others’ posts, mostly) but this summer I just didn’t have the energy for them. I think you’d enjoy Zola, although where to start always seems to be a problem. I think some people regard The Fortune of the Rougons as less interesting than some of the latter novels in the cycle but I tend to be a little compulsive about beginning at the beginning (this trait has caused some domestic tension, when we’ve run late for a movie, for example!)
      So glad to hear that you enjoyed Eugene Onegin. Pushkin is really a fascinating figure, isn’t he? The unfinished novel that I referred to in my post, based on his great grandfather’s almost unbelievable life (born on the shores of Lake Chad, enslaved as a child, adopted by Peter the Great, educated in France) was a gripping read. I’m definitely going to try other works by Pushkin & Eugene Onegin is high on the list.

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  6. Well goodness, what a time you’ve had and I’m glad you’re safely through the surgery and COVID! And some marvellous reading – I am like you with the Zola, I really do want to get started with him – one day I will. And some wonderful Keun and the Pushkin too – lovely! Poetry is always such a joy, particularly when you can pace yourself with it!

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    1. Hi Kaggsy — so nice you stopped by! I would say my summer consisted of torpor following extreme over-reaction on my part (my health crisis was really no big deal); it did, however, include some marvelous books. As you’ve no doubt noticed, I’m beginning to catch up with my blog reading but haven’t seen yet whether you’ve reviewed the NYRB Pushkin collection (keeping my fingers crossed that you did). I was surprised to find his work so accessible to someone, like me, isn’t very well read in Russian lit. Any suggestions for a followup?

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  7. Good to see you back! Sorry you had such a rocky start to your summer but I’m glad it sounds as if you’ve recovered well! Exercise is definitely dangerous – chocolate-eating is definitely a better way to stay healthy… 😉

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  8. You’ve had a very busy summer. I had a rollercoaster of a summer too – I lost my mother and got Covid among other things and was on a hiatus from blogging. I did read a lot just like you but never got to writing about the books. I hope to be more active now. Thank you for rekindling my interest in Zola. I only read Germinal during college days and would love to revisit it and read more by him. Also, I love your plants and butterfly garden. I enjoy gardening too and I have a bed with plants exclusively to attract butterflies and bees. You are a kindred spirit. 😊

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    1. So glad you’ve stopped by, LT; I’m very much enjoying reconnecting with my internet friends & fellow bloggers. I was very sorry to hear about your loss of your mother. Losing a parent is so hard; I only hope you’re finding some solace to get you through a difficult time. I also hope your health issues have cleared up and you’re not suffering any lingering effects from Covid. Reading and observing nature have always helped me weather bad times; it seems that you, too, use these things as a refuge.
      We’ll have to keep each other inspired to continue with Zola! He’s so very good but — there is so very much of him to read. I do hope I can at least get through the books I already have (I put them in my photo). I’m tempted to skip to the more famous ones, like Germinal, but I’m going to try to read them in order (I think “His Excellency, Eugene Rougon” is next).
      Isn’t a butterfly garden fun? I’d love it if you’d do a piece on yours! I don’t have a real one, unfortunately; it was planted before I became too interested and I didn’t choose quite the right things. When life settles down in a few months, I’m hoping to add a few more things in what’s left of the space (not much. People in Florida tend to have small yards). I’d love to have a bird feeder as well, but, alas, my neighbors tend to let their cats roam freely (I love cats, but I learned the hard way that bird feeders tend to become cat feeders). I’m lucky enough, however, to live close to a nature preserve, so I can get my bird “fix” when I walk there.

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      1. Thank you for your kind words! No lingering effects from Covid thankfully. The whole family caught it but we bounced back soon, it was a nuisance more than anything else.
        Yes, I think Germinal is considered as one of Zola’s best book and it might make sense tackling it first or maybe just save the best for last. 😊
        I put up bird feeders in my backyard last winter and oh the number of birds that visit; it is such a treat. I could watch them all day long. I live in New Hampshire and have a big yard. Only once did I see a blue jay hanging by the jaws of a neighbor’s cat and that made me so sad.
        And I will post soon about my butterfly patch. I intend to start being more active on the blog.

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  9. Yay, what a treat. I have waited for this post since I read your last!
    Kudos on following your own rhythm or the tidal I guess nature of life with highs and lows.

    I appreciate your voice, it’s full of humor and your writing is very organic.

    You show up, I did, and I disappeared again, LOL: Middle School new teaching position this year happened LOL, and I have been happily busy.

    Anyway, I am going to ask if you could email me your birthday day? Please, I have the month, 🙂

    In no particular order:
    Mr J’s pictures, breathtaking. It’s like looking at Natural Geographic

    I love all the new authors and new to you books you mention. I have Fathers and Sons but never read it. I must continue with my plan which includes more Elizabeth Taylor, however, I admit I have no reading stamina and I feel it’s difficult to concentrate.

    I am going to try to connect back.

    Your pictures delighted me, love the first plant and I am glad your butterfly garden is going strong.

    I too need several lives for all I would love to read and do.

    I don’t forget about a museum post, July seems so far away! It was magical.

    Big hug and keep taking care of yourself and the cat and human family at your care, 🙂

    I will click on some of those links. Thanks for writing a long post, it was very interesting to read.

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    1. Silvia! Delighted you’ve stopped by, as I’ve wondered how your new job was progressing. I haven’t been altogether surprised that blogging has taken a bit of a backseat in your life these days; new jobs are so terribly demanding. Combined with a family responsibilities — well, I’m amazed you have any energy at all for other things.
      We should read Fathers & Sons together, when you’re up for it. It’s one that I, too, have been putting off. I need to commit to that Classics thing that’s so popular with bloggers, where you read (or try to!) 50 classics in 5 years. It would be a lot of fun to make the list and, who knows, I might actually read some of them.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, as it was fun to do. I tried doing a “straight” review (I’ve read some wonderful books this summer) but I just couldn’t concentrate enough for it; I must have started and abandoned different reviews at least three times. I finally decided to just do what seemed easiest, which for me always includes the visuals. Mr J’s osprey photos helped! I’m glad you liked them. I don’t think National Geographic has any need to worry about its competition, but I do think he’s getting pretty good (that camera helps). The little pond I mentioned in my post is quite unattractive; it’s ill-kept & covered with algae but it attracts an incredible variety of bird life — over the 15 or so months I’ve here I’ve counted almost 30 different species (not all at the same time; it’s a small pond). And — TWICE I saw a small group of river otters fishing there. Incredible! It’s become part of the daily ritual to check the pond out and I’ve bullied Mr J into making a type of photographic record of what we’ve seen.
      You may be interested to know that I recently treated myself to a copy of Galdós’ Fortunata and Jacinta. I read it many, many years ago, largely because a colleague who was addicted to 19th century literature pressed it on me! I’ve been thinking a re-read at a leisurely pace, with a more “mature” appreciation, would be in order.
      Well, Silvia, wonderful as always to hear from you. No pressure but I’d LOVE to see that museum post!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow this:

        over the 15 or so months I’ve here I’ve counted almost 30 different species (not all at the same time; it’s a small pond

        And why am I not surprised at you having read Fortunata and Jacinta! It’s so tempting to me, maybe a December read. I love the humor and tenderness and how easily Galdos creates a Madrid that’s very much the essence of my birthplace. I don’t know how he’s so talented with dialogue and creating that credible reality and relationships.

        I really love my job, I get to do some algebra and read some interesting texts with the kiddos, but it’s true that it sucks a lot of my time.

        Maybe I should share the fun things that occupy my time in a post. Life with middle schoolers and teens is full of adventures.

        It’s a good moment in life we’re enjoying, after we went through a rough patch.

        Lately the sky is my obsession, I love taking pictures of it.

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      2. Sorry I am spamming.
        Truth is that seeing paintings in real life is a unique experience that screen or paper can’t even start to compare.

        El Prado is pure magic. I could live and camp in those rooms.

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  10. Gosh – where to start? Firstly: great to have you back. Secondly: sending wishes for better health in the future. Thirdly: Your garden looks wonderful, ditto your patio plants. Fourthly: the books – I tried Gerald Murnane and didn’t enjoy ; I’m a David Mitchell fan, but Jacob de Zoet not one of my favourites. Like you, I enjoy books about books, and the Castillo looks interesting. I never enjoyed le Carre’s novels, but did enjoy a couple of Mick Herrons’ books.
    As for Zola: no thanks; I’m not in the mood for European classical literature, especially after my dismal excursion into Olga T.
    Your cats are so beautiful – I think I enjoyed their pics the most in this piece.

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    1. Hi Alison: lovely to exchange comments with you again. As you’ve probably noticed, I popped over to your blog yesterday to catch up with your summer reading! Many thanks for the good wishes. Although my health “events” turned out to be minor, I’ve never had to worry about such things in the past, so psychologically it threw me for a loop, as we say back home.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the plant pictures. The garden looks much better in its photos than in real life (it’s very untidy; luckily the weeds didn’t show up much in the px) and I only showed you the good part! Here in Florida it’s really easy to grow things — basically, put a stick in the ground and it sprouts but (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) the insects/lizards and other things are all over whatever you plant. I moved flower pots the other day and discovered, to my alarm, that various bits of insect/reptile/amphibian life were making themselves quite at home in them (fine with the cats. They have a new hobby — chasing lizards).
      As for the books, I enjoyed Jacob de Zoet, but it did take me awhile to get into it. Like you, it’s not my favorite David Mitchell, but he’s such a great writer than anything he does is worth checking out. I’ve yet to try Murnane, although I’ve a book of his short stories catching dust on the shelf. Despite not liking le Carré you may want to check out Herron’s Slough House. It is very, very funny and offers a most unusual take on the spy genre. It also has a great central character in Jackson Lamb; he’s gross (don’t read if you’re eating), profane (avoid if this is an issue for you) and fascinating. I found Castillo’s book, which I stumbled on by chance, extremely stimulating. As I said in my post, she regards “reading” as, essentially, our way of relating to our culture, so many of the essays center on things other than books (there’s a chapter on Chinese cinema, for example, which was wasted on me). But the books are there, and are passionately discussed by an highly opinionated and fiercely intelligent Filipinx writer/critic who has absolutely no respect for the traditional literary canon. I didn’t always agree with her (although I actually did, a surprising amount of the time) but her views really made me reexamine my own.
      As for Zola, I was surprised that I liked Rougons as much as I did. With the European classics, I go with the flow; sometimes I’m up to them and sometimes I’m not. The novels I’ve read have mostly been British, so I think I found a French classic a nice change of pace.

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  11. I have read a few Mick Heron novels and enjoyed the Slough House characters enormously; as you say, Jackson Lamb …. thank all the gods he is fictional!
    Cats love, love chasing lizards. It’s good exercise for them, and the lizards always win, and even when they don’t, they only lose their tails, which grow back . Not sure about American lizards, but common African lizards simply grow another tail.

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