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Archive for March, 2015

Today’s Mindful Reader column features the New Hampshire poet laureate, Alice Fogel, and former U.S. poet laureate Charles Simic. Here’s the beginning:

It’s almost April, and that means National Poetry Month.

If your immediate reaction to that statement is to roll your eyes, shake your head, or yawn, bear with me. And listen to the words of Charles Simic, Pulitzer Prize winner, former U.S. poet laureate, and longtime New Hampshire resident, who notes in “The Life of Images,” his new book of collected essays, “Poems are other people’s snapshots in which we recognize ourselves.”

So relax, forget everything you learned in school about poetry, and think of poems as what people shared before Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.

– See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20150329/LOCALVOICES/150329228#sthash.MXMIEGKu.dpuf

 

 

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I heard a piece recently on NPR about The Millstone. I have loved other books by Margaret Drabble, most recently, The Pure Gold Baby, so I sent off for The Millstone on inter-library loan. It’s wonderful. Like much of Drabble’s work, this novel explores the inner life of a woman, in this case a young woman working on her PhD in Elizabethan poetry named Rosamund Stacey. It’s 1960’s London, she’s living in her parents’ flat not far from Broadcasting House, home of the BBC, and it is in that neighborhood that she gets to know George, a BBC radio announcer. George believes Rosamund is having two affairs, when in fact she is dating two men she doesn’t really like all that much but not sleeping with either of them. In fact, she’s a virgin.

She really likes George, and after one brief evening together, she hopes to hear from him again, but he doesn’t call. Shortly thereafter she finds herself pregnant. She considers her options and decides against an abortion. But she also decides against contacting George, “I still could not believe that I was going to get through it without telling him, but I could not see that I was going to tell him either.”

The rest of the book is about Rosamund’s determination to continue her scholarly work, to keep teaching private students who are preparing for university entrance, to try to live as independently as she can and to have her child. The sections about baby Octavia’s birth and the first months of Rosamund’s motherhood are really lovely. Her self-examined life, and her thoughts on her friendships and family relationships, are lucid and observant.

There’s a scene where the baby is in the hospital, and Rosamund sets herself to the task of getting past the old-fashioned Matron who believes mothers shouldn’t be allowed to visit their children, that is delicious. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you what she does and who she meets, but this portion of the book is emotionally complex, tender, funny, sharp, and thoroughly entertaining to boot. All the scenes at St. Andrew’s Hospital – before and after Octavia’s birth, focus a sharp lens on women in 1960’s London society. Even the minor characters in these scenes, as well as Rosamund’s friend Lydia who moves in and both complicates and simplifies her life, and other characters we meet only seldom, are fully realized. Rosamund’s parents, who appear only in a letter they write home and in Rosamund’s remembrances of how they raised her, feel like people the reader knows enough about to recognize them.

Drabble writes such beautiful prose. Here Rosamund is taking Octavia home after she’s been in the hospital, “The air was bright and clear, and as we drove past the formal determined structure of the Crescent, ever-demolished, ever-renewed, I suddenly thought that perhaps I could take it and survive.” In that one sentence, the outer and inner worlds intersect, Rosamund notes with perception and tenderness her own resilience, the reader has a sense of her growth as a character and her potential.

Lovely, clear, and without extra words. Drabble is one of my favorite writers and I’m really grateful to NPR for running that piece, which reminded me of how much I love her work.

 

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The title of my blog post is the New Hampshire Sunday News headline for my column today. You can read it here for free. This week I review Boston author Nina MacLaughlin’s Hammer Head: the Making of a Carpenter, which is a terrific read and a really thought provoking look at the value of making tangible things instead of — ahem — stuff people read online.  If you know anyone about to graduate and confused about what to do, this would be a good gift.

I also review New Hampshire native Meredith Tate’s “dystopian New Adult romance,” Missing Pieces, which is also thought provoking in its own way, and fun to read.

Take the link and thanks for reading!

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One of my library colleagues recommended The Miniaturist, which she describes as a gothic historical novel, so I thought I’d give it a try. Gothic has several connotations, but in this case I think she’s referring to the undertone of mystery and romance throughout the story. Set in the late 1600’s in Amsterdam, the novel centers on Petronella Brandt, the eighteen year old bride of a middle aged merchant whose fortune and influence have earned him a comfortable living and respect. His household is unusual in that his unmarried sister Marin lives there, and that his servants are an orphan and a black man, who Johannes Brandt took in as children and employed.

Despite his unconventional and rather swashbuckling life — he has traveled far and wide, when most people of his time never left their neighborhoods — Brandt must live according to the strictures of the Burgomasters who run Amsterdam and the zealous fire-and-brimstone clergy. Public piety and private hypocrisy run rampant. Brandt is set in his ways and unprepared for a young wife (for a variety of reasons he was happy remaining unmarried), but he tries to make her happy, giving her an elaborate cabinet which contains an ornate miniature model of their house.

Nella is baffled by the gift but searches for a craftsman to furnish it. She commissions a few pieces from a miniaturist listed in the city’s directory of artisans. Before long, she is receiving pieces she hasn’t commissioned, which reveal details of the house and its occupants that Nella herself is only just learning. How does the miniaturist know? Is there prophecy in the tiny dolls and objects? Magic? Or mere spying? Who is giving away the Brandts’ secrets? “You thought you were a locked box inside a locked box, Nella tells herself. But the miniaturist sees you — she sees us.”

The story goes beyond melodrama though. Nella comes into her own as a woman, wife, mistress of a prosperous home, sister-in-law, friend, and Amsterdamer. Raised in the country by a family with not much left but its good name, Nella has to learn the ins and outs of city life as well as of her strange new home. I enjoyed watching her catch on to business, politics, relationships, life. Nella tries to understand, but some of what she discovers — through the miniaturist’s gifts and her own expanding awareness — is either shocking or hard to fathom or both.The other characters are also interesting, although not as fully drawn. The details of seventeenth century Amsterdam are fascinating.

An absorbing read, well worth getting lost in for a few evenings.

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In today’s Mindful Reader column in the New Hampshire Sunday News I review Holly LeCraw’s The Half Brother and Dr. H. Gilbert Welch’s Less Medicine, More Health.

I found LeCraw’s novel complex and original, and if you or someone you love has recently been diagnosed with a chronic or serious condition or is approaching retirement, Dr. Welch’s book is eye opening and thought provoking.

Take the link (it’s free) and thank you for reading!

 

 

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