Reading Mind, Roaming Mind and a Little &tc.

I’ve got way too many books on my currently-reading list. Not that that’s a bad thing. Well, it’s just that once I reach around six or so books that I’m trying to read at once, I start to feel sort of shifty. Just as “multi-tasking,” all the rage in HR circles, isn’t really possible, so do I sometimes wonder that I’m not even taking turns with all the books on my list at any given time. In reality, I probably just am currently refusing to remove at least one or two neglected titles because that might mean they won’t get back on for another year or more, and we can’t have that.

I suppose, though, one saving grace is that at least three of them are long-term reads and won’t be off this list for a long while – on purpose. Plus I’m nearly finished with one.

What I call “currently on my night table,” even though the entire pile often travels with me on round trips throughout my house – click the image for further book details or current reads as they update

That means six remain, though, which still leaves me hovering around my uneasy number, which in turn translates to all day tomorrow reading. Now, this isn’t solely because I want to crank out the finish-line moments, but rather a result of the past week in which I really have had slim chances to stick my nose into a book, and have fallen asleep or turned away most nights when trying. Some weeks are just like that, you know? Not only the time factor – this is an issue for most readers. But that icky state of being in which you pick up a book or even drag it all over the house as you keep doing other things in prep for your moment when you can curl up in a corner.

Fortunately for me, this week it hasn’t been so related to what I have complained of in the past, i.e. basically lacking the will to read: I pick up a book or even prep an area to sit down, and end up letting my plan fall by the wayside because I really just don’t want to engage. Instead, I get interrupted at lunch, and actually allow it in many instances, because even though I’ve been an introvert most of my life, this doesn’t mean I want to be alone 24/7. Indeed, I have never wanted that. However, this CV-19 insanity has torn apart the fabric of social connections, leaving many of us with reduced contact. Therefore I often find myself wanting to read but also craving social interaction and getting it when I can.

But this thing about spending tomorrow reading – who knows if that will happen? It would be nice but the reality is I have difficulty sitting still for long periods. It wasn’t until recent years that I could actually watch a movie at the cinema without falling asleep, because typically I would have been walking around doing things at home while a movie played. So reading a book? My secret is that I sometimes walk around as I do it, although that kind of gets in the way of running my finger across the words—another little thing I discovered long ago that helps me read faster; I think it has something to do with the brain seeing the key portions of words and sentences without one actually having to read them in their entirety. I think I may have just made that up, but I’m not really sure.

I’ve learned these pages are called “deckle edges”

I do read more deliberately at times, though, and aloud, particularly with dense reading, or else I get caught up looking at the page edges and thinking of something a professor told us about them from the olden days, which goes something like this: The pages of brand spanking-new books (made by hand) used to be folded together, so the weighty work of having lots of books on display was compounded by the need to actually read them – company  could tell if you’d done that or not by whether the foredges, head and tail were sliced apart, leaving them with a wavy, uneven look. So posh people used to direct their servants to go through the books and slice each page open, and no one was the wiser…maybe. I suspect there was an unspoken awareness that many people did this, but today the look apparently has some fans because not a few books’ pages mimic this style. I personally like it quite a lot, so if a book has it I might sometimes stare at it for longish periods.

And then there’s the sniffing. Some people have joked about my predilection toward glue, but that’s just a vicious lie. I also love the smell of peaches and bananas. And vanilla candles. And if it’s one of those fabulous new sort of magazines that started out helping people to live a more hygge life or catering to paper lovers but now sadly have become cash cows, well, they often have those lovely glossy pages that smell of lavender. Or very thick and heavy leaves with a grainy feel and that make an equally lovely, stiff-sounding noise when you flip through.

OK, but it’s not always distraction that pulls me away. For instance, I’m currently researching for two different projects (actually three, but one is on the shelf at the moment and it’s got some of the same research material as one of the remaining two, so I’m not falling as behind as I could be), so some of my reading is online or in books I look through only for particular information. I also sometimes get a little overwhelmed because I have a few different angles to examine and occasionally go back and forth, especially if I’ve found exciting information that works for more than one angle. In these cases I have found I just put everything back and leave it all alone for at least one or two days. I’m not sure it’s some super wise technique, but even if it is, I didn’t set out to do it in some informed fashion; really it was more a coping mechanism that just happened.

In other instances I go back to that teaching concept of “the right book at the right time,” an idea that I know many can relate to. You want to read but nothing is doing it for you and you act all shiftless and people get tired of seeing you mope around the house, or stare into space for long periods. Believe it or not, what often helps me snap out of this funk is a young adult book. YA has rescued me so many times that now, when I feel that wishy-washy “I don’t know what to read,” the first thing I go for is a teen book to see if we just can’t get past this moment of drag. Ygraine the Brave (Cornelia Funke); Company of Fools (Deborah Ellis); Emil and the Detectives (Erik Kästner) and The Midwife’s Tale (Sam Thomas) are some that have told me a great story while relaxing my mind, putting it at ease and giving it a little rest.

Like the protagonist in Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel, my first friend ever was called Lata

Of course there is the exact opposite problem in that when I’m reading an amazingly fantastic, wonderful, gripping book (e.g. A Suitable Boy), I don’t want to hear from anyone. I vaguely recall Vikram Seth telling an interviewer once that when he’s on a reading binge, he “scowls at people who talk to [him],” waiting impatiently for them to finish so he can put his eyes back on the page. This is so totally me in these moments I almost can’t believe I’m the same person as the one described in the paragraphs above. These, ahhh, these are the books I have in mind when I talk about what makes a great book and ones that certainly retain a place on my bookshelves so I can see them as I go by. I dust them lovingly and take in the covers (if they are wonderful) and tell anyone who will listen they have to read this book. Some of these titles I buy repeatedly because they have a new or different cover (I love foreign covers), or just so I can give them away. Of course, I don’t have the money to be doing this quite as much as I would like to, but some books circulate a lot so I see them in thrift stores and find myself following a pattern: buy, distribute, buy distribute. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Currently I find myself somewhere in the middle of this reading geography, which is a very good thing because, even though I still need to do a few hours’ worth of hard labor to wear me down enough to sit still for an hour or so, it’s at least a break from one pole or the other. I also have been doing a ton of cleaning, so I’m somewhat well-positioned for reading and/or note taking as I’ve managed to eliminate the chaos that defined my living room for a week or so, and which ordinarily distracts the heck out of me.

A tale featuring friends of many kinds, including the bond between story and reader

I think what I will try to do, is just work on the books on my currently-reading list, the ones pictured at the top of the page, and just pretend no other books exist. This can be a whopper of a task because no matter where I go in my house I’m surrounded by books, and something always catches my eye, setting off the internal oooooooooh. But I’ve set myself to these books, and at least two of them are “right book, right time” reads. Plus, I chatted with someone today who mentioned a work that appears to be one that would fit in quite well with my research. It’s a bit pricey, so it’s just going to have to wait, but I’ve requested it from Inter Library Loan. So, as if I were reminding myself of some small exercise in order to move forward, I made the request, told myself it’s done and that there’s nothing more for it now but to wait. So that book checked on my list – I’m a total list maker – and my mind is yet a bit calmer.

When I can go from Not that that’s a bad thing to And that’s a good thing, well, this just may end the day as a very successful one.


I found a rather intriguing brief article and video about the pages I 
speak of above, which I have learned are referred to as “deckle edged.”

Stepping Back into Saxon England: Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?

I am so pleased to have been asked to host a stop within the Stepping Back into Saxon England tour from authors Annie Whitehead and Helen Hollick. Anglo-Saxon England is a fascinating place to explore, and there is never a shortage of amazing figures, events – even understandings –  to discover and wonder about.

Today Annie Whitehead focuses on Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, a mysterious individual who seemingly comes from nowhere to occupy a powerful position and secure his place in history.

Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?
by Annie Whitehead

My first novel, To Be A Queen, tells the story of Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, whose life was extraordinary. Only one other woman in Anglo-Saxon times ruled a kingdom, and she was ousted after a year at best. So to have led a country in times of war for nearly twenty years, Æthelflæd must have been an incredible woman.

Statue of Æthelflæd, erected in 1913 to commemorate her fortification of Tamworth. She is shown with her nephew, Æthelstan.

Her husband, though, was equally interesting. And the fascinating thing is that although he was a crucial ally for Alfred the Great, no one knows for sure where he came from or how he came to be in a position of such great power. Between them this couple fired my imagination.

So who was Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians? Certainly he was someone very different from the man portrayed in The Last Kingdom. For a start, he wasn’t a king. So where did he come from, and how did he get to be ruler of a kingdom?

Tracking down pre-Conquest people isn’t easy, and we rely heavily on the charter witness lists. If an authentic record exists of a certain land grant, then we can look at the witness lists to see who was there at that particular meeting. And since the names go in strict pecking order, it’s possible to see folks – men, usually – rising up through the ranks over the years until they reach the top slot. So it should be easy enough to check Æthelred of Mercia’s progress up to the point where he became Lord of all Mercia, right? Actually, no. He simply cannot be identified on any charters.

It’s thought that he might have been associated with the Hwicce, a people whose territory sat mainly in modern-day Gloucestershire. We first hear about them from an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in the record for 628, when the king of Mercia fought the West Saxons and it’s assumed that at this point the area around Cirencester, that of the Hwicce, came under Mercian control. Whether it had hitherto been independent, or whether it just swapped one overlord for another, is hard to tell. But the Hwicce had their own kings and we know that the royal line continued into the 780s. 

It’s not certain where the name itself came from, although there might be links to the landscape around the valley between the Cotswold and Malvern Hills, and a ninth-century charter refers to woodland in the west of the region called Wychwood Forest (Huiccedwudu). They were described by one chronicler as ‘the people who live beyond the River Severn towards the west.’

So we know where they were, but can we ascertain who they were? Bede tells us that they had their own bishopric, so even if they were subordinate to, or dependent on the support of, the Mercians, they clearly had their own territory, their own diocese and their own royal house.  

We know the names of several of their kings and one, Osric, ruled in the 670s but, while in a charter relating to him he is called rex, he is acting with the consent of the king of Mercia, so already there is a sign of subjugation. Osric is associated with the founding of Gloucester Cathedral, although in those days the foundation would have been an abbey. In the eighth century, a leader of the Hwicce attested a charter of King Æthelbald of Mercia only as a subregulus. Although Æthelbald referred to the ‘not ignoble royal stock of the Hwiccian people’ it is clear that by his reign (716–757) the rulers of the Hwicce were no longer kings, but subkings of Mercia. 

Their status further diminished to that of nobleman, and in the very beginning of the ninth century we hear of an ealdorman of the Hwicce, Æthelmund, who was killed attacking the people of Wiltshire at Kempsford in 802. Æthelmund was described by King Ecgfrith of Mercia merely as a faithful princeps.

The name did not die out though. 

A charter of King Edgar’s dated 969 demonstrates an awareness of the distinction between Mercia proper and the territory of the Hwicce, and between 994 and 998 King Æthelred the ‘Unready’ had only five ealdormen witnessing his charters, and one was Leofwine of the Hwicce, although it’s likely that given the small number of ealdormen at this time, Leofwine was responsible for the whole of Mercia.

Let us go back, though, to the incident in 802 when Æthelmund ‘rode from the province of the Hwiccians across the border at Kempsford.’ He was met by an ealdorman of Wiltshire and a ‘great battle’ ensued. Why were two ealdormen fighting? Well, it coincided with the death of the king of Wessex, and may offer a glimpse of the kind of turmoil which could occur around a succession, with loyal armed men ready to defend the status quo, or perhaps even to take advantage of the uncertainty.

In Wessex, ealdormen were appointed by the king, and not necessarily given titles over their local area. In Mercia, which grew up out of a federation of various tribes such as the Hwicce, the political set up was different and it seems that the ealdormen were the chiefs, or members of the erstwhile royal families of these smaller subkingdoms. Looking over the Mercian regnal lists, we can see that sons hardly ever succeeded fathers, and if they did, they often didn’t survive for very long.

And by the height of the Viking raids, when Wessex badly needed allies, Mercia had pretty much run out of kings. Alfred’s sister was married to a Mercian king, but he had fled when the Vikings overran part of Mercia and his rival and successor had a short reign. So, seemingly out of nowhere, a man named Æthelred, with no previous record of government and no royal links, is suddenly the man to go to for an alliance and, oh, he’s deemed worthy of marrying Alfred’s firstborn daughter, too. 

Historian Barbara Yorke has suggested that he was, in fact, descended from that ealdorman who rode out at Kempsford in 802. If so, it’s likely that he was therefore one of those ‘tribal’ leaders who formed part of the witan as ealdormen. It doesn’t explain his absence from the records up to this point though, nor how he came to be leader of a kingdom. But he must have been a man of exceptional qualities to have been elected. He’s mentioned by name in the records as part of the campaign against the Vikings, fighting alongside Alfred and Alfred’s son Edward. 

Æthelred is a figure not soon forgotten.

For these reasons, I suspect that he was a lot older than his wife. He had proven himself militarily and must have had a track record for the Mercians to have elected him as leader. Some think he was Alfred’s puppet, but I think not.

In my novel, I gave him boundless energy, with a mantra of ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’, but also moments of self-doubt. He was a clever strategist, giving (if we believe the Irish annals) his wife clear and detailed instructions about how to oust the Vikings from Chester, and happy to work in concert with her at a time when women, though they perhaps had more freedoms than their later medieval counterparts, still were not considered strong enough to rule. 

Deerhurst is a tiny place in the heart of the Hwicce homelands, and there is a church, St Mary’s, which retains much of its Anglo-Saxon architecture. It’s still in use, so has seen well over a thousand years of continuous worship. I set a couple of scenes there, knowing that it would have been a spiritual centre for Æthelred and when I visited, I got a real sense of the past, sitting quietly on my own knowing that there was every likelihood that my characters had actually been in the same building. If Æthelred really was associated with the Hwicce then he’d have rightly been fond of this lovely church. Whoever he was, wherever he came from, I think he was a canny military leader, and a good husband. A perfect partner for the Lady of the Mercians.

About Annie Whitehead

Annie has written three novels set in Anglo-Saxon England. To Be A Queen tells the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. Alvar the Kingmaker is set in the turbulent tenth century where deaths of kings and civil war dictated politics, while Cometh the Hour tells the story of Penda, the pagan king of Mercia. All have received IndieBRAG Gold Medallions and Chill with a Book awards. To Be A Queen was longlisted for HNS Indie Book of the Year and was an IAN Finalist. Alvar the Kingmaker was Chill Books Book of the Month while Cometh the Hour was a Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month

As well as being involved in 1066 Turned Upside Down, Annie has also had two nonfiction books published. Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom (Amberley Books) will be published in paperback edition on October 15th, 2020, while her most recent release, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England (Pen & Sword Books) is available in hardback and e-book.

Annie was the inaugural winner of the Dorothy Dunnett/HWA Short Story Competition 2017.

Connect with Annie at ~
Casting Light Upon the Shadow
Annie Whitehead 

Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom

“Many people know about Wessex, the ‘Last Kingdom’ of the Anglo-Saxons to fall to the Northmen, but another kingdom, Mercia, once enjoyed supremacy over not only Wessex, but all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. At its zenith Mercia controlled what is now Birmingham and London ‒ and the political, commercial paramountcy of the two today finds echoes in the past. Those interested in the period will surely have heard of Penda, Offa, and Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians ‒ but remarkably there is no single book that tells their story in its entirety, the story of the great kingdom of the midlands…”  …but there is now!
Available in paperback from 15th October or pre-order now!

Follow the tour:
joint venture with 
Annie Whitehead
Helen Hollick

1st October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Helen Hollick
Lady Godiva – Who Was She, and Did She Really?
Let Us Talk Of Many Things

2nd October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Nicola Cornick
Why Do We Do It?
Word Wenches

3rd October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Lisl Zlitni
Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?
Before the Second Sleep

4th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Tony Riches
Undoing The Facts For The Benefit Of Fiction?
The Writing Desk

5th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Pam Lecky
Murder in Saxon England
Pam Lecky

6th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Derek Birks
King Arthur? From Roman Britain To Saxon England
Dodging Arrows

7th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson
Æthelflæd’s Daughter 
Samantha Wilcoxson

8th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Cryssa Bazos
An Anthology Of Authors
Cryssa Bazos

9th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Elizabeth St John 
Anglo-Saxon Family Connections
Elizabeth St. John

10th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Judith Arnopp
Alditha: Wife. Widow. Mother.
Judith Arnopp

11th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Brook Allen
Roman Remains – Did the Saxons Use Them?
Brook’s Scroll

12th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Amy Maroney
Emma Of Normandy, Queen Of Anglo-Saxon England – Twice
Amy Maroney

13th October: Annie Whitehead – hosted by Simon Turney
Penda: Fictional and Historical ‘Hero’ 
Books & More

14th October: Helen Hollick – hosted by Annie Whitehead
The Battle Begins…
Reads Writes Reviews

15th October: A joint post hosted by both of us
Annie – Casting Light Upon The Shadow
Helen – Let Us Talk Of Many Things

We hope you will enjoy
Stepping Back Into Saxon England’ with us!

All images courtesy Annie Whitehead

Book Review Rollout

And so here we are – 2020. It’s a long way off from 2012, when I first started this blog, and I’ve come into contact with some really fabulous people. Most of the time this site has been going I’ve done book reviews, and at one point I stopped, picking up again with other ideas and topics I wanted to talk about or delve into. To be honest, I still want to do this, but it’s kind of hard to stay away from the stories. This, of course, has happened before, and I periodically opened up to accept a few reviews. When I started contemplating things again this time, I decided to do shake it up a bit. Some aspects will stay the same, though, because the goal is to make it easier for all involved.

One of my current reads

As a child and teen I was enamored of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Crystal Cave and anything by Lewis Carroll. These days I still read all that, plus memoir, ghost stories, historical fiction, various non-fiction, young adult, time travel and lots of indie books.

So here’s how I’m opening up the works ~

While I used to ask that authors shoot me an email to see if I’ll do a review, I decided to just do away with that. Since I have a lot more on my plate than I used to (at least it feels that way—it could be that some things were just replaced with others), I’ve given myself permission to respond with very brief emails or not at all. If you receive a brief email from me, please do not take it personally; it is sheer necessity. The “not at all” category used to be something like authors sending me e-copies of their books without asking if I would review them. 

To be honest, these authors were onto something, even though I’d always said, “Don’t email me your books; I’ll delete them.” But they had a good idea because lots of stories looked quite intriguing and I thought, “Actually, this could be pretty efficient.” So I sort of took this idea like a piece of clay, rolled it around a bit and created my own shape to it. Out of this and past experiences, I developed these guidelines:

  • If you are interested in a review, just go ahead and send me your book. Please note the following caveats:
    • I only accept hard copies. Extended electronic reading gives me a headache and I’m done with it, so paperback or hardback are fine. I will provide my address below.
    • I do not guarantee I will review your book once I read it. Unless I become inundated, I will start every book I receive. If I finish and decide to write a review, I will let you know, so please be sure to provide your email address.
  • I work really hard on my reviews and aim to make them quality pieces. Because these entries really are joint efforts—you write the book and I do the review—I have an expectation that we don’t fall into a one-sided association here. Indeed, you wrote the book, and so you should get the kudos and income from it, and my goodness I hope you make heaps of dough! (I don’t say that sarcastically; I know it’s fashionable to demonize success these days.) However, for the blog part, I’ll be posting my reviews to Amazon, Goodreads and linking on Twitter (possibly one or two more). So I’m bringing into the mix that part of the deal is that you help promote the review and link to it and the blog—and please, not just as a one-off. Doing this makes it a win-win situation and is a very small way to help a blogger to help authors, especially indie authors, whose marketing departments often need frequent infusions of caffeine. Seriously, though, the more viewers any given book blog gets, the more people are going to be seeing your book(s!) reviewed, and the better chance this level of exposure advances to a higher one.
  • I work full time and am currently engaged with a few of my own projects. I am carving out very specific time to spend on reading books for the blog, but I’m just one person with a family who takes priority. I don’t mind if someone sends an email with a What’s up? (so long as it does not become excessive), but please do not be rude to me. I’m not going to put up with it.
  • If you would like to do a giveaway, by all means please let me know; I’d love to host it. Authors outside the United States can, at least in my experience, order from (as opposed to Amazon UK, etc.) to send books Stateside, rather than having them ship overseas. 
  • Please check back here periodically, as there may be updates or additions to the guidelines. 
  • Update 2020-9-25: I actually meant to add this in re: emails: If you want to notify me you’ve sent a book, I’m not opposed to this. That makes having your email easier for both of us (and more assured for you that I do have it), plus I can keep my eyes peeled for your packet. My main objective in the email limitations is to keep people from sending me e-books. If you’re making an honest effort, no worries.

Be sure to have a peek at my sidebar periodically as it changes to reflect the rotation of reads. I also keep a widget full of blogs I follow – which needs a thorough dusting, to be honest – so check it out when you swing by to see if I’ve cleaned up or added more. For updates on this and other items, go ahead and click that button!  (Upper right on main page or tab at bottom right.) You’ll get a notification–just one, so you won’t be inundated–to let you know there’s something new for you to check out.

You can contact me at scully_dc AT yahoo DOT com; I can also be found at Goodreads.

And, as promised, my mailing address:

Before the Second Sleep Book Reviews
Attn: Lisl
1601 West Northern Lights Boulevard 90032
Anchorage, Alaska 99509
United States

Glad to have you here and I hope each one of you is finding something marvelous in this crazy, mixed-up world.

Click image to see 2016’s “Month of Mary Stewart”

A Novel Exploration: The Catcher in the Rye

Not long before I entered official teenagedom, I became aware of The Catcher in the Rye, a book I sought out from curiosity, and put down less than impressed. I couldn’t comprehend what the fuss was all about, and didn’t really care for Holden Caulfield. Super negative, he swore a lot and hypocritically labeled others as phonies when he himself told lies all the time. Pre-teen Me, who herself wasn’t exactly the most positive of people, wanted to experience Great Literature and tried reading other J.D. Salinger books, but it all went nowhere.

Fast forward to one of my seventeen-year-old son’s literary conversations, and guess which book popped into the mix? You know it – The Catcher in the Rye. “Oh, I’m reaaaallly not in love with that book,” I muttered, surprised to read the astonishment in his face. I admitted recalling very little of the story, just that I hadn’t cared for it. “The most I can give you,” I finally responded when he insisted upon some sort of input, “is a passage where Caulfield pretends he’s shot and acts, well, kind of stupid. At least that’s how I recall perceiving his behavior. Oh and a field of rye, where he catches children before they fall.”

Now, the truth is that my son has always been a reader and started first grade, a year he and his classmates were meant to conclude at Level 18 in the reading achievement measurement used at the time, at Level 16. He devoured Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone all by himself that year and collected a fair amount of certificates and school swag from racking up the reading points. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that all the literary experience, from then till now, might be used against me. He drew a breath, recognizable as the sort preceding a very long explanation or perhaps dissertation, and gave me the lowdown on this classic.

The themes to get the most airtime within The Catcher in the Rye were alienation from society and loss of innocence. Vague as my memories were, I could recognize this, though I did find myself thinking, Why didn’t I see this back then? To be honest, I was a bit of a reading snob as a youngster and probably believed I ought to have read a book that literary types lionized. However, I clearly took very little away from the experience, with the possible exception of even more of a bad attitude, though I do recall some semi-successful attempts to bring back some of the old-fashioned colloquialisms. (This was also true of my experience with The Pigman, a book I liked much better and constantly borrowed “You’re such a card” from.)

In the end, I decided I might give Salinger’s novel another go, and when I did, I wondered how on earth I could have missed so much that was so obvious. For starters, on a surface level The Catcher in the Rye is about a teenage boy roaming alone around New York City. But we begin to dig deeper into it all simply by understanding that this is his hometown, yet he feels so alone and frightened. It isn’t exactly a fear for his physical self, though that is there; more at the heart of his anxiety is the psychological warfare he seems to battle against, with others as well as himself the enemy. As he wanders through subways and parks, rides in taxicabs and tries to make connections, he asks people questions, their answers always falling short of the world Holden desperately tries to hold on to, while simultaneously aware that his transition into the next is inevitable.

This internal conflict, along with Holden’s perception of the adult world as poisonous and corrupt, plays a large role in his frequent school expulsions, the most recent of which drives him to these wanderings, owing to his desire not to see his parents before the school’s letter will reach them in a few days. With the security of a red hunting cap he loves and some money he had saved, Caulfield tries to make connections with people, known and unknown, often telling absurd and unnecessary lies or inviting them to the movies or for a drink. Time after time he is rebuffed or disappointed, and he sees the world as filled with people intent on the “game,” as a teacher had labeled Life, their phoniness and players’ attitude something he wants no part of.

Holden has a poor relationship with his parents, but loves his ten-year-old sister, Phoebe, and sneaks into the family apartment to see her. He tells her of the one and only job he truly aspires to, as a catcher in the rye, that is the individual stationed in a field of rye tasked with the job of catching the children playing there before they fall off a nearby cliff. By this time we are able to read this as the metaphor it is, and understand that Holden is so intent upon preserving innocence, his own and others’, that it has affected his outlook and behavior, even though this causes him to stay in place rather than move forward. This is exhibited in a passage in which Holden re-visits his younger childhood.

I walked all the way through the park over to the Museum of Natural History…I knew that whole museum routine like a book. Phoebe went to the same school I went to when I was a kid, and we used to go there all the time. We had this teacher, Miss Aigletinger, that took us there damn near every Saturday…The best thing…in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers…Nobody’d be different.

Of course, everything staying as it is when he was younger is what he wants. He admits to being immature, despite his tall stature and possession of a fair amount of gray hairs. But Holden’s narrative raises the issues that lay behind all this, or at least part of it. We never know for sure if he may have been predisposed to such emotional sensitivity, or if the environmental factors of his experiences—such as the untimely death of his brother Allie, who succumbed to leukemia, or a classmate’s suicide—exacerbated or initiated his perilous state of mind. Either way, these deaths represent an end of innocence, particularly in the case of Allie, whom Holden had perceived as the perfect child.

Because he desires most of all to preserve childhood, he clings to the past as he moves forward into this world he neither likes nor understands. Simultaneously, he tries to keep his sister safe. When he decides to run away, he sends a note to her school, requesting she meet him one last time. Holden and Phoebe walk around for a bit, ending up at a carousel, and though Phoebe herself says she’s too big, her brother persuades her to ride it. “When she was a tiny little kid, and Allie and D.B. and I used to go to the park with her, she was mad about the carrousel. You couldn’t get her off the goddamn thing.” He recalls the carousel always playing the same music and, like the museum setup, this static existence appeals to him because it will aid in keeping his sister safe from the world he himself so fears for her.

Though certainly not an exhaustive examination into Salinger’s novel, even this little bit I seem to have skipped in my elementary school reading. I would have been in around seventh grade, and I recall at that time also reading about Lewis Carroll, Arthurian legend and the Salem witch trials, the last of which I used as backdrop for a short story. Plus there was perhaps a bit of Nancy Drew still in there. All of this tells me I was likely not in the mindset of this sort of reading, nor mature enough for it.

One work’s visual interpretation of Holden Caulfield (Click for details)

Still, I went looking for more. As mentioned above, I moved on to Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, neither of which I remember a thing about. I do recall, however, reading about Salinger, who had become reclusive and refused to grant interviews. Very little information on him was available, but I did learn he had served in the European theater and saw some of the worst of the violence and cruelty war could offer, including Utah Beach and, later that year, the Battle of the Bulge. According to a video my son provided me with (which I’ll embed below), he also was one of the first Americans to help liberate a concentration camp. Yet other works—war novels such as Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five—were authored by men who had seen far less of the war’s brutality. For all his witness, Salinger understood that for the vulnerable, “normal” life could also impose a terrible ruthlessness if these individuals are unequipped or without the resources to handle it.

Pre-teen Me might have scoffed at such a sentiment (although I was actually a rather sensitive child), and even some grownups today might. However, this re-visitation of The Catcher in the Rye re-awoke something in me and I found myself feeling for Holden as he is angered by the F word graffiti’d on a wall, or crying when his sister loans him some of her saved-up Christmas money. As an adult now, I don’t get worked up, but can feel the affinity for what his emotions undergo even while understanding there’s a bit of naval gazing going on there.

The thing is this: Today’s insane world of relativism, lack of responsibility and consequences, and looking-glass ethics kind of crushes the idea that any of this is, at least anymore, as obvious as some might see it as. In literary examination, however, as John Green in his video points out, there can be more than one character. Here we have two Holden Caulfields: one living the story at age sixteen, and the one recounting, at seventeen, what happened the year prior. Green briefly discusses one of many angles not covered here, that of language usage as technique to bring readers into the story, something Salinger does with amazing skill. Through figurative language, for example, we are able to connect with Holden’s experiences and “see the world through his eyes”—and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it can enable us to better see the real world as well. Green seems to agree: Despite Holden’s battles being fought within ordinary city settings and not Hürtgen Forest, he says, we care about them. “That’s the miracle of language, especially effective figurative language…When students complain about reading critically, about having to do ‘all this English class stuff,’ that’s what they’re forgetting. All that ‘English class stuff’ is a way into empathy; for Holden and for all of us, it’s a way to hear and be heard.”

The world has never been a safe place for the uninitiated; in this way our times are not unique. At a certain point in the lives of all, loss of innocence is an inevitability and we have to find new ways to operate, understand and appreciate—Joy’s grape and all that. Still, I’m pretty certain we are unleashing some fairly horrible new realities on the innocent, so that catcher in the rye gig Holden wished for himself might come in handy after all.

Many thanks to Turtle for leading me to re-read
The Catcher in the Rye and introducing me to Crash Course

Overlooked Gems: Picks from My Playlist

Recent months have held a lot of talk about music in our house. Not that it’s a rare topic, but all the extra indoor time my teenage son had to spend spurred a bit of a shift for him. His passion is film, and this has not changed, and he has always loved music (who doesn’t?). However, he began to examine it a bit more lately, and we spent many hours discussing lyrics as literature, how they match the music, what the various rhythms spark in the soul and very much more.

It re-awakened a bit of something in myself as well. When I was a little younger than my boy is now, I was still discovering a lot of different styles and artists, then current or not, and had an older brother who played an instrumental part in this. By this time I’d long been introduced to the Beatles, who held my absolute and unquestioned loyalty. I’m serious about that loyalty thing: because I listened to almost nothing else except the Fab Four and sometimes the radio, I didn’t really know much about a great portion of the music world.

An afternoon nosing through my brother’s music library changed that because one book I settled in with contained photography of the sort that makes you contemplate life and the worlds of others. I wanted to know who these people were and what was important to them that they wanted to sing about to the world. I came to regard their creations as not unlike the poetry I read and wrote, and my period of examination began.

Fast forward now. My son loves the Beatles (something about the apple not falling far?), but can’t understand why my devotion seems to have shifted to Pink Floyd. I was rather tickled when he announced his love for Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song,” even though I suspected that might wane as the Thor Ragnorak movie he’d recently watched stepped aside for other films he considered higher caliber. “Now ‘Kashimir,’” I mentioned one day, “that is more than a song.” As time went on my recall drove me to play songs I loved but thought he would not likely hear on the radio, at least not as often as most artists’ and bands’ megahits.

And so I find myself here, making a list of songs that tend to be somewhat overlooked, even if they are nevertheless well known. They were at times the B-sides or what some regarded as fillers, though many took on a life of their own. In other instances they were quite famous, but just don’t seem to be recognized or played as much as their fellows, resulting in next generations making a lesser, or sometimes no, connection. Still others may be absolutely unknown by those who don’t dabble in music outside their own personal mainstream. There are probably loads of reasons why some truly great songs go overlooked, and I’d like to do my small part in changing that.

The following five choices, which will likely be joined by others, are in no particular order except what you choose.


“Letter to Hermione”  (David Bowie, David Bowie, later renamed Space Oddity) – Long before Hermione Granger and her friends inspired Muggle schoolchildren to cut classes and read books about the magical universe, David Bowie’s romantic breakup from a girl with the same name resulted in one of the loveliest set of lines he ever wrote. Revealed to the world in a song of loss, Hermione Farthingale unwittingly persuaded David Bowie to show the raw, awkward side, the one to which I related – and always remembered, despite the personas he’d developed that I later discovered (thanks to that music book). I didn’t know at the time I first heard the song, you see, that its confessional style was not at all Bowie’s preferred, which may be why it clung to me long after I found the rest of his catalogue. He has many musical acts of magic that combine so well with lyrics (especially within “Golden Years”), but this gorgeous, haunting act of wizardry has never left my mind.


“Fearless” (Pink Floyd, Meddle) – This may come as a surprise to some, given the disparate differences, but this one almost lost to “See Emily Play.” As a teen I had a curious fondness for Syd Barrett, and the circus-like music and sweeping melody that carried the lyrics of “borrow[ing] somebody’s dreams till tomorrow” intrigued me to no end. So what broke the stalemate? Well, when I hear “Emily,” I still feel why Past Me was so attached to it, but these days I go for Meddle a lot. Simultaneously introspective and ambitious, it energizes me yet still disperses calm. Within it, “Fearless” speaks to the understandable anxiety of standing by one’s conscience, and every single note plays this out in a perfect emotional match. It fit Past Me (within those teenage years of dissent), but is particularly relevant today. Honestly? Listen to the entire album.


“Isis” (Bob Dylan, Desire) – A lot of people don’t seem to know it because I simply never hear this song discussed or on the radio, but “Isis”—the story of a man married to Isis and what happens when he meets up with a mysterious tomb-raiding stranger — is one of those tunes that makes Dylan the absolute lyrical mage he is. Consider the following exchange were it to be in a novel:

She said, “Where ya been?” I said, “No place special.”
She said, “You look different.” I said, “Well, I guess.”
She said, “You been gone.” I said, “That’s only natural.”
She said, “You gonna stay?” I said, “If you want me to, yes.”

Sung in Dylan’s iconic, grainy voice (at times characterized as “like a dog with his leg caught in barbed wire”) with his distinctive pitch changes (also referred to as “affectation”), the song swings listeners around so much that mundane words become something special. None of the lyrics have the standard rhymes of some of Dylan’s other tunes, such as “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Tangled Up in Blue,” partly because it’s a folkie ballad backed up by an acoustic piano. But as the singer’s storytelling abilities are revealed, his voice also utterly brings to life the emotions the narrator feels, and we sense them too. We don’t need no rhymes.

“I Will” (The Beatles, The Beatles, commonly known as The White Album) – Even by the time my teenage years rolled around and the Fab Four were long in the past, people were still picking their favorite Beatle. (My teen son even made his choice.) Paul was definitely not mine; that honor went to George, who wrote, in my opinion one of the best Beatle songs ever. Still, this one confounded me as to why no one ever seemed to have heard of it, or it never came on the radio. Beautiful in its simplicity, it needs absolutely nothing else, not a single note or echo more than it contains to be the perfect song, love or otherwise, and the phrase “your song will fill the air” followed by “sing it loud so I can hear you” is bold but not ostentatious (unlike the nuance that generally comes with that second phrase when uttered today). John’s maracas along with Paul’s melodic “da da da da da” brings the song and its wonderful experience to a perfectly satisfying conclusion.


“Battle of Evermore” (Led Zeppelin, untitled album, commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV or Zoso, after a symbol on the album cover) – People are generally attracted quite a bit to alliteration, and “Battle of Evermore” showcases it stunningly, reaching into our past (e.g. with “angels of Avalon”; “dragons of darkness”), awakening us to what magic arises from that place. Inspired in part by reading of a series of Anglo-Scottish wars and Celtic mythology, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page’s ballad does utilize verbiage that might today seem a bit fantasy cliché but for the multitude of angles from which it comes at us. Their imagery, boosted by the pairing of words and duet singing (Plant and non-bandmember Sandy Denny), recreates a narrator and town crier, and we are the townspeople urgently listening for the outcome of events involving the Prince of Peace and Queen of Light.

The dark Lord rides in force tonight
And time will tell us all.
Oh, throw down your plow and hoe,
Rest not to lock your homes.
Side by side we wait the might
Of the darkest of them all.

 Adding connection to our experience is Page’s mandolin, filling in and around the voices, at times in turn, others together, as we tune in to a tale of spiritual warfare, the battle of good and evil fought on a plane we cannot see, but will be affected by nonetheless—forever.

“Battle of Evermore” might not, strictly speaking, fit into this list as it may not be quite as overlooked as it seems to me. Nevertheless, I have rarely (if ever) heard it on the radio and its visibility tends to be obscured by “Stairway to Heaven” and that song’s May Queen. However, it is a tale that touches the deepest parts of ourselves and where we come from.

Stay tuned for more to come from overlooked gems. 

Friday Night Flashback: Second Generation Harry Potter

British edition of the the first Harry Potter installment. I love Hermione’s hair in this image, which is also true to how it is depicted in the story.

It’s been a long time since I last entered a blog entry under this series—2016, in fact. So the time is ripe for a re-visit, which could be said to have its beginnings in May, when my now 17-year-old son and I decided once and for all—for we had tried this before—to re-read the entire Harry Potter series, start to finish. I’d initially started it in college and continued on, not yet interested in the movies as they began to appear while the book series was still being written. I started re-reading when I was expecting this very same boy. When he was about four the final installment burst onto the scene, enthralling this little turtle to no end, even though he had experience only of the debut novel from me reading it to him.

I can still see his sweet self, so small as he sits straight up against the fat pillow on my bed, his little legs stretched out in front of him, the enormous Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows laying on his lap. We had acquired it the night before at Borders, and he is wearing the glow-in-the-dark white Harry Potter glasses they’d given him. His enormous eyes peer out from behind them, reminding me why so many people are so inclined to give him freebies all the time. He’d walked away last night with three pairs of glasses and two posters. (We still have them.)

I would so love to live in a house like the Burrow!

When I tell that story nowadays he is apt to chime in with, “That’s not even the largest book at 759 pages, whereas The Order of the Phoenix has 870.” The kid has a mind like a steel trap and so when, a few months ago, we began talking about the movie series and he was able to remind me of so much I had forgotten (which has also happened before), I was enthralled by how much he’d retained. I understood how a teacher friend of mine felt, when Turts was in first grade and I’d been reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to him and a friend. He summarized the entire book for her in an articulate fashion that wowed her then, as his summaries and fill-ins do me now.

Even more so given that neither of us had really watched or read in a few years, something he mourned about a little. “It was such an important part of my childhood.” I laughed inside a bit at such a young person using that phrase, but understood where he came from. I remember his pride in having finished The Sorcerer’s Stone in first grade—all by himself. His adoration of the few HP themed items he had, for in Alaska we don’t see much of that kind of thing in the shops, and I personally didn’t then know they existed—not until one day in a thrift store I came across The Monster Book of Monsters, a furry book replica of that appearing in The Prisoner of Azkaban (for the longest my favorite in the series). We’d been Christmas shopping and I was absolutely thrilled to find it—but my gushing came also from the realization that outside of Alaska probably existed an entire universe of Harry Potter products. (Until then we’d really only seen the sort of merchandise that appeared in Barnes and Noble.) Perhaps not unlike the Alice in Wonderland shop I’d discovered during a long-ago trip to Manhattan, a botique in which much more than teapots were sold, and everything was decorated with something Alice related.

Explorations – a break from the formal classroom setting in which kids can choose from several topics to learn in a more relaxed and fun manner. This is from Turtle’s fifth-grade session.

In the end, we never really acquired much of it, though I admit sometimes seeing some items gives me a thrill as I recall Turtle growing up with Harry Potter and the conversations the series engendered. I told him so much, you see, starting before he was even born, and Harry’s adventures and scrapes related to so much in real life, including some of what Turtle has experienced in his. No magic, of course, at least not the sort requiring wands, but many others, such as the Harry-related games we played; how he purchased a wand for me to protect myself when he went to a friend’s sleepover; that he and Lilli (his aforementioned early playmate) used to call who they were when preparing to watch one of the movies (“I’m Harry !” or “I’m Hermione” – I myself always liked to call Luna); funny passwords we made up to go in and out of certain rooms; or the Harry-themed school Explorations he excelled at.

There also was the bullying. As a small child he didn’t quite know what to do about these situations, and when he got into trouble he didn’t immediately make the connection that what the bully had pushed him into led to these breakdowns. These were kids who were as unknowing as I was when encountering the enormous intelligence packed into such a small person who was sometimes bossy or didn’t quite catch on to social cues, on occasion getting lost in the shuffle. In some ways he turned to Harry, though I suspect not merely for the escape. He truly was advanced in intelligence (as we later learned), and so I wonder at times that he was, even then, analyzing the world he read about and was able to bring it to bear on his. He couldn’t put spells on his tormentors, but he did learn to assess people more critically and to choose very particularly who he would let become close—to be like Harry, who chose his friends based on mutual value and consideration, rather than popularity or intimidation.

Because Turtle had to be taught some social cues that most people understand innately, he came to rely on these analyses to help him get by. I can remember very clearly a first-grade classmate whose rudeness to his own mother shocked me. As with the bullies, Turtle didn’t catch the looks they exchanged, nor the tones of voice. But he had other ways to learn, if a bit more difficult. For instance, the boy had a borrowing scheme he employed on Turtle at book fairs: “You should get this book; it’s so good,” then ask to borrow it. He came to understand the connection, especially recalling that the boy had remarked one day that there weren’t any other books he was interested in. He later refused to allow his acquaintance to copy his math answers on a test and the boy subsequently latched onto someone else.

US cover – I love the image of the Knight Bus that seems to be part of the same series as the covers above, though this image reflects the story better, in my opinion. This portion of the narrative also is why this particular installment was my favorite for a long time: I’m in love with time travel and a fabulous rescue.

Turtle mightn’t have understood social cues and indicators, including ones that gave the warning signals he needed, but he recognized a pattern when he saw it, partly (I think) from natural inclination and partly from his own examination of the cohorts he observed in the Harry Potter books. He spoke of them frequently and once asked if he was stupid for having to experience being “used” to realize this boy wasn’t interested in his friendship, only what he could get from it.

“Oh, my dear boy, certainly not. Many people much older than yourself don’t catch on, even when it happens more than once. Some do, but they don’t have the courage to do anything about it.”

“Well, I wasn’t really sure. I wondered what would happen if I didn’t let him cheat off my paper.”

“Then, my love, you scored a double victory. You chose honesty even though you had a feeling he might not like it. You’ve knocked out a mountain troll and lived to tell the tale!” At this point he only understood certain symbolism, typically from seeing it acted out—and this one he had. And it thrilled him that I referenced a Harry Potter movie line. Though not exact in verbiage or parallel in experience, it reminds me of how Harry and Ron became friends with Hermione—one of my favorite chapter endings in the entire book series, in truth.

“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”

 In the following years he did indeed choose companions well; some of his friends today are ones he has known since early childhood, and they are a great group of kids. They don’t all love Harry Potter movies or books, which certainly contributed to his moving away from the series for a while. Kids grow, they encounter other or additional interests. Being at home, however, quarantined and unable to mix with his friends, also certainly influenced his return to the story. He spoke wistfully of reading in general, how he hasn’t been doing much of it, particularly Harry Potter, and we had a looooong conversation about that.

Turtle is something of a second-generation Harry Potter aficionado. He wasn’t yet born when the books initially exploded in popularity, and has always regretted not being around for those first B&N midnight release parties, where just about everyone dressed up as a character. He understands that the kids who read the books as they were released grew with Harry, and though this is also true of those who read the books later, he often points out that they are just reading “history,” grow that they might. The first generation experienced it in the 90s, at exactly the same time Harry and his friends did. “Do you know why they started releasing the books at midnight? Because kids would skip school to go buy and read the books,” he claimed. He says he will always miss those days, if it is possible, he adds, “to miss something you never experienced.”

More to come on our re-reading of this fabulous series, so stay tuned!

Some interesting tidbits about Harry Potter

Author J.K. Rowling’s website

Life Under Lockdown: Every Little Thing


Trends that develop in the Lower 48 usually take a while to reach Alaska. For example, even though Seattle is in quite close proximity (three hours by air), their silly sagging pants fashion required a bit of getting used to by people in the habit of covering up to keep warm. So it was a good year, maybe even two before the doltish amongst us decided to experiment with taking penguin strides in order to keep their belts from falling down their thighs.

The novel Corona virus, on the other hand, required no such persuasion: it simply hopped on people and their belongings like so many nasty little stowaways as travelers went back and forth for Spring Break, involuntarily and unknowingly providing the little bu**ers with transportation. Not everyone travelled: My son’s excursion to Italy and Greece was cancelled the week before, perhaps more because parts of Italy were locked down and in pretty bad shape, than because we knew, then, how out of control things would become.

Truthfully, in some ways I’ve been very much luckier than a lot of other people. I qualified to hang up the “And just like that, I became essential personnel” meme and continued to go to work every day. My son, on the other hand, stayed home and discovered how much he loathed distant learning. Of course, this wasn’t like the computer-based classes I engaged in in college: at that time I could walk out the front door and go anywhere I pleased when I was done. This kid, though, had to stay home all day, every day, growing more bored and lonely with each passing sunrise. There was plenty to do, but I’ll be the first to concede the weight of this state of mind is horrendous, and doing it is easier said than done. I did keep telling him to go outside on the deck, and a few times forced him to go on walks, which he resisted. I started to realize he was sinking deeper than I had first understood.

I’ve passed through this state myself – it’s awful. How does one describe the dual-minded awareness within which you know something like getting busy outside could help, or engaging in a hobby you really love, but just can’t muster up the will to do it? What if you really are inclined to just stay where you are but don’t have what might be referred to as “the luxury” to remain in bed? (I haven’t yet developed the language to describe what I can still only refer to as a cloud that hangs heavily over me, almost as if it weighs me down to the spot.) I have a son to support, so had to perform some mental gymnastics to push myself out of bed, though in my case this was exacerbated by COVID, not initiated. At work, I found myself almost zombie-like, under tremendous pressure to function properly, and by the end of the day I was so exhausted most evenings I did next to nothing upon reaching home. So I couldn’t become upset with my poor boy; we both had our own burdens, even if each one affected us differently.

But as time continued on and our imprisonment extended into what seemed like an eternity, I felt even more for him, because he is much more extroverted than I am. Even though it wasn’t just a matter of being in the company of others or not, still that affected him. He is pretty social and has made, I am pleased to say, some quality friendships, important relationships. But he yearned for them desperately.

If all that is sounding pretty uninspiring, then this is the opposite: I’ve struggled with this sort of thing before I ever even heard of COVID, so…well, I’d love to say I had some great insight into how to make things better quickly, but I don’t. However, I do know that some days, before and during this time, were better than others. On the days that weren’t so much, I was very lucky in that my son, who is passionate about film, provided me with mental stimulation, at times persuading me out of my metaphorical corner, into an open area in which he could toss ideas out about movies we’d watched, many of which started life as books. That was great for me too because it helped me connect with my own passion: literature and the analysis of it I’d learned to engage in university. He didn’t always find success, but a lot of times he did, and we helped each other find our way back, or at least closer on many days, to where we needed to be.

I had a wonderful time in this city (Click image)

It’s not exactly a happy ever after, but I try to bear it in mind because I know many, many people in this world don’t have what we do: an amazingly close relationship filled with casual and intense conversation about all sorts of topics, uncomfortable included, and we both have—for the most part—been able to be honest with ourselves and each other. It has been thus since before he could even talk, because I communicated with him all the time. I showed him things, asked if he was happy, we went for walks and read together, I taught him a little sign language so he could tell me something of what I knew existed in his mind in instinctive form before he had the words to express it. The beginning of his speech was a very magical time for me because, having started to talk a little and then suddenly stopping, his re-emergence was gigantic, a full sentence that expanded into a river of words explaining exactly how to navigate the idea he was relating to me.

He hasn’t stopped talking since.

As an introvert, there are times I feel overwhelmed by his words, but I try to keep perspective, partly because they went away once and I don’t want that to happen again, and partly because they have provided so much joy and fulfillment for me. He has been able to aid me during my not-so-much days, and I also feel such pleasure at the idea that he could turn his skills into his life’s work and find great success. What parent wouldn’t be thrilled at that?

Another hope I have related to all this is that I have been able to give back to him what he has given me. Some evenings, I really didn’t want to do much of anything, but he persuaded me to watch something or other, a somewhat risky proposition given the high chances of me falling asleep. So often I wanted to just beg off, but didn’t because the kid was starved for company and, even more, someone to share his thoughts with. As mentioned, we had some of the greatest conversations on those evenings, even if I moved into doing some baking (rare for me, I’m more a cook than baker) or other activity.

I’ve loved this book since I read it on an airplane at 16

More recently, I sat at the table while he watched a movie and out of the blue he said, “This is nice!” He liked just being in the company of one another, even though engaged in our own activities. I think it’s because we have our own little ways of acknowledging each other: hair ruffles, me performing exactly what is coming up in a scene, him wandering over and doing something interesting with a ribbon or stamp. One of those occasions led to a conversation about what we’d been doing during quarantine, and we listed as many as we could recall, counting each one as a small (or large) triumph during a time when the ordinary became just a little bit more than that, because the forces that be seemed to be trying to steal them away from us. Reclaiming our lives became a trend that we could get on board with, even if it took us longer than others, even if we had to start anew each day. Every little thing, every victory counts.

Here are a few of my own:

Crafting – I’ve been doing some simple pieces that I’d hoped would lead to others. I started with journal pages.

Binge-watched Breaking Bad— Having rejected it about a year before quarantine, owing to the unsavory content that I really wanted nothing to do with, I surprised myself one evening when Turtle turned it on, I watched a bit passively, then suddenly had to know what happens to Jesse and others. Sure, Jesse is a junkie, the sort of person many dislike, but he was my favorite character and I really grew to care about him.

Went to work— Life has to go on, you know? Our building pretty much cleared out but our section mostly stayed on, which I was very grateful for. I really didn’t want to work at home, as difficult as getting to work on some days became. And it could be rough. But I did it! People were stressed and anxious, but we persevered. I’m really proud of our section.

Finished Outlander – It sort of fell off my radar a year or two ago, mainly because I only had the first season at that time. It had been hard to get because that season typically sold in volumes and they were outrageously priced. Then my son, who is a master Blu Ray shopper and finds fantastic deals in a variety of places (that’s how he built up his own collection), found the complete season in great condition for $5.00. More recently he gifted me the rest of the seasons I now own, which is up until four.

Started a novella – Because, yeah, wrangling to do the research reading and then writing for two works at once isn’t enough, right? I struggle to work on it most of the time (ditto those other two), but I’m determined to get it (and them) done. Lots of the ideas within it come from the conversations Turtle and I have had, and the analysis videos he watches and shares with me.

Baked – I think I said it above: I’m a better cook than a baker. Baking is a very precise science, and I’m afraid I just can’t cut it most of the time. But this reminds me of how, as a teenager, I über focused on drawing, a craft I had pretty much no talent with (and still don’t). However, I vowed to stay the course for one year, and all year I drew my heart out, producing a few pieces that were not too bad. I still have some. Anyway, I sort of went focus lite this time, and made muffins, cake and a couple of different cakey breads, such as pumpkin. I also discovered I actually can make brownies without burning the heck out of every single edge up to an inch in.

Started a junk journal – As in focusing on and actually following the instructions from a video tutorial. I did a couple of practice runs and then started on the real deal.

Began to re-read the Harry Potter series – after Turtle and I both got a bee in our bonnets from watching the movies for the millionth. It’d been quite a long while since either of us had read any of them, and we both started up again.

Spring Cleaning — Not sure where I started, but I know I did end up pulling apart my bedroom, wiped it all down and then put it all back together, rearranged. Did the same for the living room, and then decided to move the (stand-alone) freezer to a completely new spot and out of the kitchen (into the storage area). Also rearranged and re-organized my crafting supplies three times. I think I’m happy with where they are now.

Lots of movie watching – Also unsure of where this began, but one biggie was The Godfather, which my brother showed me when I was a kid and I really didn’t get into it. It’s still not my favorite movie in the world, but I appreciate it a lot more than I did before or even more recently, when I’d tried to watch it with Turts. (Beware the oranges.)

  • The Godfather
  • The Godfather II
  • Inception – from my boy Nolan, whose movies are amongst the very best.
  • Parasite
  • Grand Budapest Hotel – Three times was a charm for this hilarious film.
  • Perks of Being a Wallflower – Surprising line we repeat from this movie a lot: “They’re playing good music!”
  • New Beauty and the Beast
  • Old Beauty and the Beast
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — Brad Pitt becomes a better actor the older he gets.
  • 500 Days of Summer
  • Office Space
  • 1917 – The Great War. Oddly-positioned battalion lines, continuous movement, a day in the life.
  • El Camino – Continuation of Breaking Bad that probably shouldn’t have even been made. But I got my Jesse Pinkman fix in, and don’t regret watching.
  • Little Mermaid
  • Ladri di Biciclette – didn’t finish yet but am really intrigued. (Edited note: Finished it! Wow.)
  • 3 Idiots – Same as above; this movie already had a very poignant moment, intriguing given the title and what it is like so far, and I definitely want to watch the rest.
  • The Odd Couple – A Turtle discovery that I want to see more of: the actor who played a juror in 12 Angry Men is also in it, and I rather liked him in the legal drama, even though his role wasn’t super large.
  • Zodiac – Don’t love Mark Ruffalo, but he did a fantastic job here. Had to be persuaded to watch as serial killer stories scare me, a lot. While this did have some violence in it, the film was more about the mystery of finding the killer as he engaged in cat and mouse with the police. Also amazing: it’s a cartoonist who takes interest in the case because, as he says, he saw it fading away and no one would be brought to justice in the wake of overworked police whose caseloads increase every week.

This might look bad, especially given what I recently wrote about reading…

…but since I drafted this post (about one week ago), I’ve perused the virtual stacks and reserved a bunch of library books. (I have no problem gathering books, looking at them hungrily and wanting to read them – it just rarely happens.) However, I started one yesterday, All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love and Petty Theft, intending just to get a feel for whether I wanted to keep or send it back.

I finished it today.

(Click the image!)

17 Books Behind Schedule, But Who’s Counting?

I just got a rather sad look at my Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge:

I didn’t do so well in 2019 either, as I mentioned earlier this year.

In the past I’ve said I didn’t care, that a book challenge shouldn’t be about the number of books I read. I should be trying out new genres, have a go at my TBR shelf, re-read old faves – something of more substance and intellectual curiosity than achieving high numbers. And yet here I am getting all mopey because my number is low.

I suppose there is something to be said for a number, perhaps an indicator that things are moving along for you – or not, if the numbers start to fall. For instance, I used to read roughly 60 books a year, which I am quite content to admit isn’t really all that impressive, but it was me. It was me moving into other worlds, learning about history, being told a story the way humans are always wanting to be told a story.

And I will also admit, it was kind of cool to be greeted with phrases such as, “5 books ahead of schedule.”

And now ~

17 books behind schedule.

OK, I’ll be honest. I’m not losing sleep over this. It does give me pause to know I’m not engaging in something I typically adore and have all my life. But I love sleep. I often fall asleep reading. I can’t blame it all on Covid, because this downturn was occurring before Novel Corona was a thing (it didn’t help, though, I agree).

Normally I’m not adversely affected by the cold and dark of our winters, but I will admit I do feel something wonderful with the onset of nicer weather, and my deck is definitely calling my name. Also, I picked up a research book I’d been reading, one I’d finished at least half of before I had to return it to the library, which then closed and stayed that way for months. I did finally find a decently-priced copy online; when I reached for it recently, I realized I should just start over, and that didn’t feel burdensome or unhappy in any way.

That must mean something sunny, mustn’t it?

Just for fun…

I leave you with a cover image of my favorite book in the whole wide world.


Book Review: The Ghost Midwife: Murder at Rotten Row and The Midnight Midwife

The Ghost Midwife: Murder at Rotten Row and The Midnight Midwife
Books II and III in the Seventeenth Century Midwives series
by Annelisa Christensen

Straight out of the gate: Having read and loved Annelisa Christensen’s earlier novel, The Popish Midwife, I reviewed it, and was rather excited when I received word about two newer books in the Seventeenth Century Midwives series: The Ghost Midwife and The Midnight Midwife. When at last viewing the slim volumes in my hands, I was a little disappointed, because I am a greedy reader, and when I love something, I want lots of it! Fear not, dear reader, as there is much to admire packed into the pages of these two smaller books. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the warm beauty of Christensen’s covers, with images framed by what could be a window, from which the reader gazes out upon scenes bathed in the yellowish light of the evening lanterns, all contrasted against the bright red, green and blue of a dress or cloak. The pictures are signature Midwives, and the moods they create absolutely match those of the stories within.

While writing and researching The Popish Midwife, the author happened upon “A New Ballad of the Midwives Ghost” and writes in her afterward: “Many ballads of the time were the equivalent of news stories made more enjoyable and memorable by putting them to music. The songs might have been sung in taverns or coffee houses, or learned and sung in the home or elsewhere.” This may strike modern audiences as a macabre practice, but then again, maybe not: Our own children still play “Ring Around the Rosy” and jump rope to a song about Lizzie Borden, while teens and adults alike engage in memery with topics lifted directly from the headlines. Christensen was no less moved, and her intellectual pursuit of the ballad’s origins resulted in The Midwife Ghost, a mix of history and imagination stemming from her knowledge of and admiration for the real midwives of the seventeenth century.

In 1679 London, young Mary enters service in a well-to-do house on Rotten Row, where she soon encounters the ghost of a midwife with some very specific instructions. Following a series of ghastly and frightening events that send alarm throughout the servant staff, all eyes fall on Mary, who discovers a dark and terrible secret that had been hiding in the home for fifteen years. It is up to her to work through the problem of her knowledge and what to do, while simultaneously the others begin to view her with suspicion.

One thing I love best about Christensen’s writing is its aura, the words she chooses that fit her stories, characters and the time so well. Moreover, the individual nuance makes itself known: Mary’s pleas to hear her story out before any judgment is passed, while wise with the understanding that hers is indeed a fantastic tale, could not be the words of Catholic Elizabeth Cellier, or even midwife Abigale, who in The Midnight Midwife also finds herself trapped within circumstance. Each woman has her own distinct voice, while simultaneously revealing themselves as persons of their time. Thus is the author’s skillful balance between depicting members of a society and people operating within the infancy of individualism.

As a ghost story, Mary’s yarn is probably best at the length it is, despite my own ravenous appetite for more. With this, Christensen’s judgement on length is validated, and the divisions between segments of the tale sit in perfect points. Through events as well as the way the characters speak, readers also get a solid idea of how seventeenth-century folk perceived their world, what frightened them, what was important. But these are not merely a gaggle of grownups on a more childlike level, or simple people in “a simpler time.” We may fancy ourselves more shrewd today, but Mary knows the world she inhabits: she knows, for example, to press the stubs of candles together to earn a few pennies, and doesn’t cringe when pulling an unseen cobweb from a dark recess.

I fortified myself with another deep breath. I could not leave it this way. A man never did find a misplaced thing, even if it was waved before his face. If I had imagined it all, it did seem as if it were real, and I would not believe it was nothing until I had searched in that hole myself.

Christensen brings us face to face with the awareness that our ability to be unafraid was preceded by those who first faced those ghosts. So too does she show us that our ancestors tackled the mysteries and vagaries of humanity, on levels corporeal and spiritual. Such is the challenge of the above-mentioned midwife, Abigale, who adopts a baby, also called Mary, an act that ushers in with it the holding of a secret that later threatens to destroy their lives utterly.

By the time this threat makes itself known, Mary is a 21-year-old sister to two other adopted girls and talented helper to her mother in the various birthing rooms Abigale serves in. However, Mary’s grown-up self is not the same as the baby she once was, and Abigale comes to understand that she has a choice to make, one that may serve to destroy her family or keep it whole.

Once more Christensen brings us into the mindset of seventeenth-century people faced with a fearful circumstance, again maintaining a balance, here between the depiction of their social and individual selves. The circumstances are both familiar and not to our modern world, as are the demands, sympathies and cruelties of human nature. Perhaps less familiar today, at least to some, is the comfort and guidance found in spiritual works, such as Saint Augustine’s City of God, from which comes the understanding that an omniscient God sees the whole that explains the diversity and similarity of parts, which individually contribute to providing an overall balance.

As a philosophy, it is often neglected in our modern world, particularly on a secular level and within varying contexts, and Christensen’s story takes her characters, and us, through a labyrinth of experience wherein they, often like us, seek the balance to which they belong and, therefore, the beauty of the whole. If this sounds a bit like dense reading , here is where you exhale, because the author does not need to engage deep and difficult texts in order to convey all this. Her character interaction is smooth and realistic, authentic in the differences they face as well as create, and the dialogue is superb in so many ways: there is a true seventeenth-century feel to it, even while we recognize much of what people say and how they behave.

Also based on a seventeenth-century ballad, The Midnight Midwife brings us into the joys and sorrows of one family headed by a single-parent midwife – the neglect of which, as a subject of study, Christensen here contributes to eliminating. In examining the fierce love of a mother and how far she will go – or stand back – to protect her child, she explores varied facets of seventeenth-century society and private life, the history of which are the beginnings of our own understanding.


Author Annalisa Christensen provided the blogger with copies of The Ghost Midwife and The Midnight Midwife in order to facilitate an honest review.

Annelisa Christensen is also the author of A-Z Monsters (Not) for Bed.

She can be found at Twitter and Facebook.

Sometimes it’s the Little Things

I’m sure I’m not alone in looking back on this past month with mixed feelings: glad to be moving away from it, but harboring misgivings about not having been as productive as I’d hoped. I do, after all, have a book to finish writing and had begun to do art journaling, though haven’t really completed much. Really, I ask myself on occasion, what in the world have you been doing?

But accomplishments aren’t always tangible, and the most important one these few weeks has been spending time with my teenage son, who has been engaging his film passion, most lately with watching the Harry Potter series. Having grown up reading and watching the tales, he stumbled into a long session of film-clip clowning, imitating the scenes and playing pretend. Eventually, our separate existences—mine being the one allowed to leave for work each day, but strangely exhausted at night—these existences merged and we went from “I want to see that clip real quick” to watching the entire series from start to finish. We’ve both also decided to re-read all the books. You could say we are on the same page.

U.S. edition cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Early this morning: I’d gone to sleep at about midnight but restlessness drove me to the kitchen by around 05:00. On the way I was gifted with a picture of the sun rising over the mountains. My Turtle had been watching it from the window and, struck by the orange beginning to peek over the mountains, wanted me to be able to see it as well. As it happened I came up behind him as he watched, so we both got to see the real thing.

Not as orange and glorious as reality, but perhaps you can imagine the edge between day and night.

Last week at work our section chief passed me a little packet that at first I took to be some sort of booklet I needed to do something with, but that actually turned out to be a present with a book inside. Surprising, to say the least, but that was nothing compared to my astonishment at the card, signed by everyone not telecommuting. How did they get this around to each other without me noticing? As I looked through The Bucket List: 1000 Adventures Big and Small, I sort of got stuck on one image of Norway’s Kjerag Mountain, more specifically a boulder wedged into the seemingly bottomless crevice. There is a lot more to see in the beautifully heavy book, with its snippets of information about 999 other places across the globe, a true starting point for armchair or other adventure.

Personal photo from one of the world’s most recognizable spots, included, of course, in The Bucket List.

At some point this week I was able to get everything up off the floor in my dining room and the carpet cleaned properly. It looked so beautiful and clear, which means a lot to me, given that when my surroundings are cluttered and chaotic, my mind tends to have difficulty escaping that. If the area is clear and organized, my focus is much improved. The clarity inspired me to take up my son’s offer to help  me move a bookshelf out of a spot I disliked any bookshelf in because it was a smaller area and the space used up simply shrunk everything too much. For better or worse, this meant I had to choose a fair amount of books to pack away, but he offered space in his closet, which meant I could get to the boxes fairly easily at any time, unlike other situations in which it would have been a big production and they would be, for all intents and purposes, off limits.

My newly rearranged smaller bookshelf, with a variety of categories: some previous review titles, a few classics, history and, at bottom, the paper lovers’ magazines I’ve spoken of before, most of which focus on a mindfulness theme. A deliberate choice I made, despite its consequence of less space for books, was to place items, such as the basket and Russian bowl, in its own space. This was to avoid clutter and a feeling of being bloated and overpacked. For me, this promotes a sense of relaxation and ease.

As we move into the newly developing world we are to inhabit, I do it with a sense of clean lines in life, having shed some extra weight, albeit not, as has happened in the past, a ruthless purge. My son had “consoled” me with the the reminder that at any time I want to switch books out or retrieve any, I can. Ah, yes, I do still hang on to some of the material: I am getting rid of a beautiful bookshelf, but continue to find it difficult to release books. Still, it suits, especially as I am laying out ideas to prepare my long-unused deck for summertime, and I try to retain a balance within my home, that is, keeping with a bring-it-in, send-it-out equilibrium.

While I haven’t finished much on anything that might qualify as a quarantine masterpiece, I did pave my way toward something I dream of accomplishing, and the pathway was a bit more delightful than had I traveled a hard road of focused determination. Memories and the creation thereof have been woven into each moment, even the really difficult ones, and sharing them is the best way I could have done this.


Pictures ©2020 Lisl Zlitni. Not to be used without permission.