Monday, July 14, 2014

All About Illness, Introversion, and Quality Reading

Yeah, another pic of David ;)

Where do I even begin?

Well, it's been over a year since I started this blog.  So much has changed since.  In fact, my life has changed drastically in just the last 6-7 months.  Thank goodness.  But how can Sister share all of this in one small space? Well, I can't.  But I will say that there is a lot to be proud about.  In the last chunk of time, I have ventured out far beyond my expectations and self-imposed limits.  And I find that I am just barely touching the world of potential beyond myself.  I haven't even begun to reach any sort of real limit; anything borne out of isolation and introversion is mostly from a trapped world within.  In other words, Sister has begun to live a little more fully.    

This might seem a bit deep for a fun little blog post, probably deeper than I intended when I set out to compose a new entry after several months.  But, realistically, we are all meant to continue to grow and look ahead.  I will be writing about this soon enough.  

For now, given that I presently have a terrible cold (I have lost my voice for the last few days), I have chosen to write about something very direct and meaningful that, ironically, has to do with the past.  Go figure.  

I love to read, always have and always will.  I also like to surround myself by people who enjoying reading, and I like encouraging non-readers to try again.  Goodness, I could not live without a novel or two (or seven) resting at my bedside.  If I was ever blinded, I'd pay an Englishman to read to me.  Just kidding.  Anyhow, I would not want this part of my life to be missing.  But if I did pay that Englishman, I would have everything read aloud repeatedly, from The Metamorphosis to The Courtship of Princess Leia.  For real.  

The one question I ask myself is this, how did I get to be this way? How on earth did I find a home in my world of books? and, which books did this to me??

This leads me to into a short, very short, list of books that shaped the Sister you are hearing from today.  (By the way, you've heard of all of them before, nothin original here)


1.     East of Eden by John Steinbeck   -   Age read: 19

A bit corny, doesn't do the book justice-but I like it anyway.

How could I possibly write anything of how I feel about this novel and its impact on my life?  Oh Steinbeck.  His words burst open my conscious and subconscious mind, allowing them to intermingle and find harmony in (lengthy) descriptions and real characters (who doesn't relate to a little sibling rivalry?) and then-goodness-there's the depth in his carefully, meticulously chosen details.  Still, these things really only added to my appreciation for this story.  The main meat, the real reason that I first fell in love with this beautiful novel, was that this man could so accurately put the quiet and raw, even the ugly parts of humanity into words.  Mind you, without trying to liven up the story line with beautiful people, romance or ridiculous adventure.   Just writing this, I feel like picking it up again.  

2.    Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson  -  Age read: 13

I read this novel at a point in time when I desperately wanted to be in control of my own fate.  I didn't realize this at 13 but looking back, I can still see the confused and searching person that I was starting to become, and how important it was that I read this book.  In a lot of ways I could relate to the protagonist, David Balfour.  He's a cool guy, the kind of person you could trust with a secret and know that he won't stab you in the back or sing like a canary under pressure. I will admit that I was secretly in love with him as I read the novel for the first time. No matter what happened, I could feel that he would come through the thick of it all and with the help of his brash and newfound companion, Alan.  There were times he had to brave it alone, as well.  Still, as I read the story, I imagined I was there with them, making our way through the Highlands of Scotland, fleeing through the heather. I may not have been in total control but hey, neither were they and everything worked out in the end.  

By the way...After finishing the book, for about a week or two, maybe longer, I went constantly on mini hikes, pretending that I was on my way to meet the Red Fox.  Hey, this was technically still part of my "childhood" (albeit an extremely nerdy part).  

3.    The Complete Short Stories of Dorothy Parker  -  Age read: 20

"Don't look at me in that tone of voice."

I wish I could explain why I love Ms. Parker, the sassy, sharp-tongued, viciously opinionated and "above-average" average lady.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that, at least from my perspective, she wrote what she felt comfortable expressing and wouldn't tailor her words to fit others' needs and tastes.  This did get her into trouble sometimes but no amount of hurdles kept her words from becoming immortal.  Many of her most famous lines, (i.e."Beauty is only skin deep...") are still used today.  I also found her personal life to be terribly exciting, especially her unrequited love for fellow writer, Robert Benchley.  Also, this might sound terribly superficial but many of her poems rhyme well.  What I mean is, they rhyme fluidly and without sounding in corny.  I admire that.  Now, her short stories are another matter entirely. 

 My favorite short story, hands down, is "The Waltz" (which also happens to be the very first Parker piece I ever read).  I found this story accidentally, at random as I was flipping through a large anthology of female authors (I was taking a women's literature class) looking for something good to read on the bus.  The opening lines hit me like a brick to the jaw.  Nothing had struck me quite as intensely as the way she arranged her thoughts. The general story is uncomplicated, it is about a young woman at a dance, waltzing with a young man that she can't stand dancing with.  To me, the first person narrative creates fabulously humorous touch that I immediately related to.  Interestingly, not only are the young girl's thoughts about having to dance with this boring dolt recorded, but the best part is what she actually says to her partner as he continues to step on her feet and whip her around the dance floor and, even worse/better, how she finds herself dancing repeatedly with him, practically trapped.  Thereafter, I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on that Dorothy had published.  Because I enjoyed her work so much, for part of my final project chose to read this story aloud  to my class in her "voice."  

4.    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bront
ë  -  Age read: 12

I used to lean far more towards Jane Austen (she is still part of this list, by the way) but now as I am older, I am more of a Brontë girl.  Perhaps I enjoy the darker bits of life a little more, and like a Brontë, I don't pretend to make it through the terrible times with as much beauty and grace.  Isn't that what you taught me, Charlotte?  

My uncle's wife, a die-hard reader of classic literature, shared her treasured copy with me after finding that, horror of horrors, I had never read Jane Eyre.  She nearly passed out when I told her I didn't know who Charlotte "Bront" was.  That seems so long ago, and it is now that I think about it.  

As soon as I read the first chapter, I immediately "got it."  I wholly connected to Jane.  She was my "other" sister, a fighter and an intelligent young woman with strong moral fiber. She was so cool and whenever I felt unattractive (hello puberty!) I would think of Jane and wonder why no one could see past her mousy hair and into her loving, honest heart.  Here's the topper, I was sobbing (and loudly) from literally the moment she left Mr. Rochester until the next chapter.  Yes, I read through the tears.  I just hate unrequited love.  This was the first time that I realized that a young woman didn't need to be fabulously beautiful to be loved and, by reading a novel that many of my peers would be obligated to read much later in high school and college, I was shocked to find that I could easily read classic books with older language and cultures at my own speed and for enjoyment.  

5.    The Shuttle by Frances Hodgsen Burnett   -  Age read:  15

I found this particular novel and copy at a Goodwill in West Portal.  I loved that it was an old hardback book, with an illustration of a lovely, dark-haired young woman speaking with a young man in a garden set against an embossed green book cloth.  I only realized later that it is an early edition of a novel written by the famous Frances Hodgson Burnett. The book inhabited an odd corner of my old bookcase merely as decoration, until one winter break I caught the flu and had to stay in bed for the entire two weeks.  As I rested under a mountain of blankets, patiently awaiting the next dose of flu medicine, I pored over the pages and few illustrated plates within.  I would read as long as my sinus infection (great combination with the flu) allowed me to, sometimes covering one eye in order to keep reading.  I could not put the book down.  I learned here to love lengthy tales of dysfunction and madness. There is one thing I want to stress, just as Louisa May Alcott's A Long Fatal Love Chase is completely different from Little Women (and pretty much any other book she wrote involving the March family), the same is true for The Shuttle.  This is a product of the popular Victorian romantic literature of Burnett's early career, a far cry from The Secret Garden, though there are many garden scenes and a gardener.  

Doesn't  Frances look fantastic?
As I read this novel, with a playlist of my most dramatic sounding classical music to accompany it, I found that the main Character Bettina Vanderpoel, is a young woman with a lot of integrity and business sense.  The novel begins around the time in American history when many extremely wealthy young heiresses were married off to English and European men with aristocratic titles, often ones who no longer had any wealth of their own. These unions were synonymous with transatlantic money.  Well, the main meat of the tale begins years after Betty's older yet timid, golden-haired sister was quickly married off to a total jerk (an Englishman with-surprise, surprise-a title but no dough) and hadn't been heard from since.  The story really picks up when she decides to jump on an ocean liner and find out the truth-alone.  

6.    The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson  -  Age read:  Continuously since age 12

Pressed between the pages of my terribly worn copy (that I now realize I have had for over a decade) is a yellow rose given me by someone who really, truly inspired me in ways that I am still finding out now.  This person, a friend of the family, came to visit us and gave me two very important, life-changing gifts.  First, a notebook that I still have: to write my thoughts, dreams, whatever I felt.  The second, Emily.  I was so touched by his gift that even though I thought the cover a bit plain and wasn't completely sure why he chose this book of poetry in particular, I decided to read a bit here and there over the years.  Then when I was about 19 or 20, I read her again and something clicked.  Her words came alive; I could really get a sense of who she was.  Part of this, I'm guessing, was reliant on a bit of maturity and expanded vocabulary but also something very deep that I still can't quite understand even today.  What helped was learning more of her background, her style and the very intimate way she organized her thousands of poems by creating small, hand-sewn books. This actually inspired me to try a little "book-making/binding" of my own.  I might write about that sometime.


I guess my main connection to Emily is not merely that, like her, I have a lonely, brooding streak but I have a lot to say and no need for those thoughts to come flying off the pages of my notebooks.  By now I have countless notebooks filled with "poetry" that I have only recently unearthed though I continue to add to one now.  When I flip through them, I find that that though the wording, language and focus is different from Emily Dickinson is nearly every way, I found a home in her privately uninhibited style. 

Now, I realize that my friend may have merely walked through Barnes & Noble, looking for a book of poetry that I might possibly be able to digest (even for a precocious 12 year old) if not now then later.  He probably saw Dickinson's poetry and thought, a woman, this will work, she will be able to connect to this and after flipping through a few pages, went of to buy it. I somehow have a feeling this is how it went down.  Regardless, having Emily around when times grew tough and I started to use, I mean really use, that notebook to write some of my very first lines of poetry (interestingly, my friend was and still is a poet), I found that shy, reclusive Emily was exactly the kind of person I wanted to read.  Her poetry had a permanent home on my nightstand and she remained there for years.  

7.    Persuasion by Jane Austen  -  Age read: 16

Again, slightly cheesy.  Also, I don't remember Anne being described as lookin as cute as the girl on the cover.  
This is a much softer, slower Austen novel.  And a much more personal one for me.  The copy I own was a gift given me by a late friend who opened my mind to the world of Jane Austen and Regency era England.  I am forever indebted to her for taking the time to show me that people can be generous and sincere without wanting anything from you in return. She was one of the best people I've ever known.  

As you may have guessed, reader, from this post, I have a tendency to like a little hopefulness at the end of the day but only after a terrible struggle.  Isn't that life?  Well, it's something I connect to, anyway.  But didn't I just share that this is "softer" and "slower" novel?  At first.  Basically, Anne Eliot, the protagonist and a good woman, is depressed.  Plain and simple.  I connected to this first.  She is the middle sister, the one who is always giving and is easily persuaded by the strong opinions present in her life, family and friends.  She has been pushed around and used, expected to take sides for most of her life. She was even-gasp-persuaded to push aside love.  But that comes creeping back to haunt and, thankfully, both redeem and heal her.   

What I love most about this novel is the sibling dynamic between the three sisters, Elizabeth, Anne and Mary.  None of these women are particularly exciting or fantastic individuals.  No one does anything earth-shattering or brilliant.  They are all close to normal, average ladies.   What makes Anne stand out is her ability to break out of her shell and allow let her inner light to shine bright enough to blind every strongly opinionated person in her life.  This allows Anne a brief moment to collect her bearings and slowly reacquaint herself with who she really is and what she wants out of life.  Essentially, she is able to love herself and prove that she is not someone that can be forgotten, especially not by the man she loves.  This is my favorite Austen novel.  Though much quieter, I feel the simple truth that a good person can't and shouldn't stay down long.  

Oddly, I remembered how I felt, what I was doing and what each book felt like in my hands  as it read them.  In retrospect, I still would have read these books when I did.  


Alright, so this entry ended up being much longer than I intended.  And like I said, I have a really bad cold so I've been writing this at home (which may explain the "indoorsy" quality of this post). I will, however, be writing about some of the more exciting, things I've been doing over the last several months out of doors, or at least these ones.  Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed my mind scraps here, these books have been on my mind lately and, of course, they are only a tiny fraction of all the books (and only fiction, at that) and worlds that have gotten me through some uglier times.  

Thanks for your attention, reader.


Just as a disclaimer, I own none of these images and each are copyrighted by their respective owners unless otherwise stated.  Clicking the image itself will lead you to its source and proper credit.  Someone suggested I include this :) Technical!