From the Archives, Volume I: Kicking off the Summer

Recently I’ve been musing about repeat reads and authors whose work I relish so much I look forward to the next almost as soon as I’ve finished their most recent. Some authors, of course, have passed, so there won’t be any new entries from them: Mary Stewart, Willa Cather, Lewis Carroll and O. Henry come to mind. These writers are some who are the reason many people re-read.

Others, however, are current and it’s not been too long since reading and enjoying the stories that leapt from their imaginations or ideas and contemplations sprung to mind upon reviewing accounts of historical figures. Some authors have appeared at this blog more than once, others just a single time, and occasionally I wonder about the worlds they’ve all created or expanded, perhaps the characters or settings: how they might have grown since we’ve last met, or the manner in which we might regard each other since last crossing paths? How might other people perceive them?

So last night I perused some entries from May and June in other years, eventually deciding to showcase a few once more—for the benefit of those who’ve seen them and not. Especially now, in this season of a little respite for many of us (even if only in smaller ways), people are beginning to contemplate summer reading. Of course this goes on for other reasons year-long, so I thought it would be fun to kick it off as a series now, when the warmer weather is making its presence known, drawing us out to decks and yards, to gardens and beyond to revel in the glorious outdoors with the expanse of the sky to signal the limitless possibilities of what we might find in the “golden afternoon.”

Beirut Nightmares by Ghada al-Samman

During a two-week long subconflict of the Lebanese Civil War, al-Samman’s protagonist finds herself trapped in her apartment by competing snipers stationed within nearby buildings during the 1975 Battle of the Hotels. She experiences a series of dreams that begin to merge with her waking world and forces her to confront reflections of herself and the society she not only inhabits but also contributed to. Within events through the fortnight period, al-Samman explores the identity of place and how it affects those within as well as the cost of re-birth.

“Where” exactly an author is coming from, it has become more and more clear in literary studies, often is influenced by geographical location, although not merely a physical space as defined by political boundaries. To be sure, this indeed plays a part in an individual’s sense of identity. However, the topography of a “mental map” serves to create a sense of self as well, and its formation is influenced by a variety of factors, such as the past; emerging or existing words or phrases with nuances peculiar to geographic location; currents events; how and in what way individuals view themselves as well as how they perceive and remember others. Click here to read more.

The Hour of Parade by Alan Bray

The Hour of Parade is the recipient of an indieBRAG Medallion (click image).

One of only two actual reviews in today’s collection, The Hour of Parade sees Alexi Ruzhensky journey in later winter of 1806 to Munich with intent to avenge his brother’s death by killing Lieutenant Louis Valsin, the French cavalry officer who’d recently cut young Mischa down in a duel. Very soon after the novel’s opening Ruzhensky meets up with the concept of a small world when he runs into two soldiers from Valsin’s regiment, necessitating his rapid entry into the scenario he has fabricated as cover: that his father had business dealings in Austria and he means to straighten out his family’s financial affairs.

In these moments author Alan Bray creates a palpable tension for the Russian officer as well as readers, who can sense his apprehension as “the dead and the unknown living” both seem so near to his current moment, the vivid imagery erupts into scenes that overcome his awareness. Click here to read more. 

The First Lie by Virginia King, Guest Post: “Rocking with Rocks”

The First Lie is an indieBRAG Medallion Honoree (click image).

This novel from Australian author Virginia King may be set mainly on Hawaii, but reminds us that Down Under many are pulling out their warmer clothing in preparation for the onset of winter. Lucky for readers, curling up in a nice corner with a great book is also a yummy proposition. And while this guest post leans toward the author’s sequel, The Second Path, whereas I actually reviewed The First Lie, I include it here because it does carry our theme of re-visiting old literary friends—plus I really loved King’s analysis of rock symbolism, and I think you will too.

“The symbolism of objects has always fascinated me. My love of folklore means there’s always a mythical twist to my modern mysteries and ‘magic objects’ with fairy tale credentials often link up to form a matrix of clues. Such as rocks.

In Selkie Moon’s second mystery The Second Path the symbolism of rocks came to me, setting up a chain reaction of events in the story. It’s a good example of how an idea implants itself in the subconscious and multiplies into a theme.” Click here to read more.

March to Destruction (Book II in The Emperor’s American series) by Art McGrath

In addressing how he came to write about an American serving in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, author Art McGrath references his quest to discover how such a circumstance might come to be. “It was discovery through writing, and while it may sound like a cliché, it was as if Pierre Burns was standing over my shoulder telling his story. He wanted to be discovered.”

In March to Destruction, superb sequel to McGrath’s The Emperor’s American, the author indeed employs the Method philosophy to tell Burns’s story—in fact, so effectively that readers would be forgiven for believing this to be the memoir of a real historical figure. Since the series’ opening novel, Burns’s—excuse me, McGrath’s—narrative has tightened as he further employs an economy perhaps reflective of the manner in which a soldier’s self awareness might utilize minimum movement to ultimately provide maximum advancement. Click here to read more. 

Author Spotlight: A Study and Some Personal Experiences of Lewis Carroll

Early edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, inspired by a rowboat expedition up the Thames, with Dodgson, the Reverend Robin Duckworth and the three Liddell sisters: Alice, Edith and Lorina.

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Just about every adult and nearly as many children have heard this cryptic question, though the answer is shrouded in time, lost documents, hearsay and conjecture. Alice herself probed some very curious matters and her beloved creator, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson—better known as Lewis Carroll—seemed to have no end to puzzles and queries with which to bend our minds and provide all sorts of intrigue: a little something for everybody.

However, Dodgson was much more than a quirky children’s author. He was also a mathematician and logician, artist and Anglican cleric who served as a don at Oxford University. In his time the art of photography was in its infancy, and Dodgson was a keen practitioner, later running a successful studio that produced about 3,000 images, though many have been lost.

Dodgson taught mathematics at Christ Church College and, like today’s learners, many of the students were accustomed to blocking the possibility that they could do well in mathematics. He created fun ideas and games to help make the material less dense and dull, as well as syllogisms to aid in the study of logic.

From childhood, even before I fully understood what I was absorbing into my brain, I found Dodgson’s life and career to be fascinating and filled with worlds of information from nearly every discipline. Dodgson was also an artist and he inspired me to give the form a serious study, so for one year I focused utterly and completely on drawing. Click here to read more. 

While there are a few other entries in May and June of previous years, by necessity there are limitations to what could be included here. However, at least two of those authors will be re-visiting the blog, so do keep your eyes peeled! Also, I probably did review others within this time in at least one other year (2015), but they don’t appear via the archives because at that point I’d switched to another host, only to return here a year later. Bit by bit I’ve been re-posting those reviews, so I think they have all by now been added, though in other months on the calendar than initially.

To see other reviews from this or any other time period, see the archive drop down button in the right sidebar. And until next time, happy reading!

(A little something for everybody.)


Image of the Week: Perspective

Image of the Week: Perspective

A few years ago I made many pictures of things I saw that caught my eye, and being around children a lot facilitated that pursuit. Children share a great deal, and are fascinated by so much in the world around them. The trails we frequented at that time were filled with treasures, and links were often made to other activities we participated in, especially reading.

To my great satisfaction, we happened then to be engaged with Alice in Wonderland, a book I’d delighted in as a child and so pleased the children had chosen. They loved the nonsense verse and silliness inherent in the tale, and we looked for portals to Wonderland as we made our sojourns along the wooded areas the trails typically wound through. Evidence of a rabbit in a waistcoat here, a Cheshire Cat there, and their hushed tones of mystery made me feel so happy. They were so much fun to be with.

The concept of perspective occasionally intruded on our great good times—typical for the age group, though, and we sometimes role played in order to put ourselves in each other’s shoes, to experience the world through the eyes of another. Or, as the case may be, from the height of another.


One of their best discussions came on a day when we read the passage in which Alice encounters the Caterpillar as he perches on his mushroom, smoking a hookah. Alice makes a bit of a faux pas as she unwittingly denigrates the insect’s short stature. He, of course, becomes upset—a scene some of the children re-played from having seen the Disney movie production of Alice in Wonderland—and then they engaged in a swift round of “Oh dear.” It was so funny to watch (and listen) as one by one, sometimes repeatedly, they pronounced what seemed to be Alice’s favorite phrase to worry.

There was a large mushroom growing near [Alice], about the same height as herself, and when she had looked under it, and both sides of it, and behind it, it occurred to her that she might as well look and see what was on top of it.

 She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large blue caterpillar, that was sitting on top with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or anything else.

 “Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.

 “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”

 “What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar sternly. “Explain yourself.”

 “I cannot explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”

 “I don’t see,” said the Caterpillar.

 “I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,” Alice replied very politely, “for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes a day is very confusing.”

 Of course this resulted in much and great play as a swirl of children experimented with and play-acted as different sizes, peering over pretend mushrooms (either imagined from thin air or represented by pillows) and taking turns being stern or polite, polite or stern.

As you might imagine, the children themselves were various sizes and, being children, could well make believe and eagerly embrace it all as the learning experience it was, some even chewing on a bit of philosophy in our later discussions, with regard to who one is being affected by what one is—or how tall they are.

This came after we went looking for pretty leaves and came across the above-pictured mushrooms, which I really liked owing to their color. I also joked about it being set up in a showroom manner, as if they were on display. And, as pointed out by more than one quick-eyed observer, it seemed one mushroom even had a bit taken from it!

We had laughed about it all when I showed them the digital picture, achieved by laying down on the wooded floor and snapping the shutter up close to the object of our observation. They said it looked gigantic to them—it was actually about four inches—and that they’d have to climb up to be able to sit on it, or stand on tiptoe and peer over to see if a caterpillar was perched on top. “Imagine the tiny hookah!” (It seemed quite odd to hear such a small voice saying the word hookah.)

“Are you content now?” said the Caterpillar.

 “Well, I should like to be a little larger, sir, if you wouldn’t mind,” said Alice: “three inches is such a wretched height to be.”

 “It is a very good height indeed!” said the Caterpillar angrily, rearing itself upright as it spoke (it was exactly three inches high).

And so it was that we experimented with the act of observing through someone else’s perspective, while doing same with the art of photography, not to mention looking around for that caterpillar.

Friday Night Flashback: Alice Dreaming, Diamond Eyes

[CLD image to be replaced]

As a child I was hugely in love with Alice in Wonderland and delighted when I found anything at all Alice related. Perhaps it was the talking animals, or maybe the rhymes. Even at that young age I loved words and the way Alice’s creator played with them delighted me to no end–I roared with love at the logic puzzles I could never figure out, and the shapes of his characters enthralled me. I acquired a copy of The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, and can still remember the red cover with golden lettering on the front. Inside that book were worlds I visited and studied for hours upon hours, reciting the words and creating my own dialogue and separate stories, even writing out some of my favorite scenes, filling dozens of notebooks in the process.

[Cover image to be replaced]

At one point I discovered Anne Clark’s The Real Alice, a find that exponentially widened my world, balancing in its pages a lifetime of literature, history, art, genealogy, mathematics, poetry and photography, all wound within stories of people’s lives as they grew and aged, loved, hurt, obsessed, engaged in feuds and criss-crossed the staggering lines demarcating social class, family boundaries and cultivated friendships.

It happens that one of the years during this time I somehow started to draw, unusual for me because I wasn’t (and remain) not very good at it. Poetry was more my speed, and in fact I filled a great many notebooks with that as well. I felt at home with poetry, as if I were cushioned by the comfortable words, held in in a protective embrace with each advance into the opening up of inner worlds. Art? I simply never gave it much thought.

I no longer remember which drawing was my first, or what thought persuaded my pencil to paper in sketching movements; all I know is that today I carry with me a small portfolio of drawings I’d done, some silly, some serious, all attempts at my own or copies of others’ work. I can recall sitting on my bed (near the fish tank that held two hamsters named Sylvie and Bruno), contented with the world as I engaged in my notebooks. Oftentimes memories are punctuated by remembered products of this era, or I see something (or my son and his own productions), reminding me of a particular drawing.

In this case, I recalled and went searching for this one~~

My drawing Alice
Image courtesy Lisl Zlitni

When specifically calling up the recollection, I want to say this is copy of a picture I’d seen in a book that I strongly suspect to be Clark’s. The swirls to the left and right appear to me quite Lewis Carrollish, and I vaguely recall not being able to duplicate them exactly. (They are just lines, right? Still, for some reason I couldn’t get it.) I thought I remembered that this in fact is a drawing by Dodgson of Alice Liddell, the small girl for and to whom the story was first told. Finding out for sure was a snap~~

[Dodgson Alice drawing image to be replaced]

The quoted words beneath the actual picture drawn by Dodgson appear, as you can see, in the same journal page as the drawing, and must be what inspired me to write a particular poem, memory of which is what got this particular flashback started. I actually wrote at least two poems about Alice Liddell, one influenced by her years as Alice Hargreaves and as she grew older and eventually passed away (1937) in a world far different from the one she shared with her sisters as a young girl.

But tonight is for the “happy summer-days”:

Alice on the wavy seas
dark hair tossing on the breeze
eyes a-dreaming, gleam alive
gazing upward towards the sky
Alice dreaming; diamond eyes,
with friends’ intoxicated sighs.
They pluck the stars where angels roam
to place them in their hair like combs.
Running, laughing through poppy fields
picking flowers with happy squeals.
In Wonderland they play at home
resting eas’ly on golden thrones
Forevermore, a tale to sing
basking in life’s pleasant spring!

This post previously appeared in 2014 at the blog’s alternative location.