Tuesday, June 29, 2021


heat wave reading

It's too hot to think much, this morning.  The windows are shut since the temperature is currently just under 80 degrees in the house, but it's hotter outside and may be in the low 90s this afternoon.  A fan is pushing some air around, and Hodge is in the coolest place indoors, the north-facing living room.  He's flat, sacked out for the day.  I'm going to get a few things done and then join him, with a good book.  Current reading is as follows:

Yesterday was also revoltingly torrid, so after completing something momentous, in my little universe at least, of which more in just a moment, I sat for a few hours and read books.  I've been painting for days, and working on lots of other things, and had almost forgotten what relaxing felt like.  It was good to lose myself for a while and inhabit some other interesting places and times.  I re-read The Summer Book by Tove Jasson (nyrb edition 2008) from cover to cover:

I first read it when a dear friend found out I never had, and sent me this copy.  It's like nothing else I've ever read, except it holds a few shades of Gerald Durrell's memoir My Family and Other Animals, a book inextricably linked to my childhood, since my family and I read it aloud several times, on long car trips especially.  The Summer Book holds the same kind of hilarious/dreadful combination of events which aren't even truly events, just happenstance or life observed, in there alongside the over-arching theme of an oddly absent parent, which is barely explained, and yet the family carries on with life as it is.  I might re-read My Family and Other Animals soon, too, come to think of it.  It's perfect summer reading.

As is today's choice for a re-read: The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim (Macmillan 1900).  Certain books ask to be read again every few years, and this is one of them.  Gentle yet piercingly thoughtful, if memory serves.  She says (pp.1-2):  "I want to be alone for a whole summer, and get to the very dregs of life.  I want to be as idle as I can, so that my soul may have time to grow.  Nobody shall be invited to stay with me, and if any one calls, they will be told that I am out, or away, or sick.  I shall spend months in the garden, and on the plain, and in the forests.... I shall be perpetually happy, because there will be no one to worry me.  Out there on the plain there is silence, and where there is silence I have discovered there is peace."

Sounds like heaven, although after the enforced solitude of last summer, I have doubts.  Solitude may have come easier for von Arnim than for most, seeing as how she was married to a count, lived in a schloss, and had servants.  I do not fault her for that (and I recognize how those very circumstances trapped her in certain ways), instead I enjoy the fact that she had time to write, and did write, very well.  Her schloss-life did not last all that long anyway, since the count created trouble for himself and lost everything.  The Elizabeth von Arnim Society offers a fascinating look at the ruins of the manor house and surrounds, as it exists today.

The other books shown are either finished or in process.  I just read In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary (Flatiron 2016), and it was enlightening to discover the life story of the woman behind all those children's books we know and love.  I wish the book had more direct quotes from Brown's diaries, though, not just the one tantalizing quote at the very end of the book.  The Jed Perl anthology, Art in America 1945-1970 was a long long read, and utterly fantastic.  It took me two or three months to navigate all its 800+ pages, but it did what all great books should do - led me straight to more great books.  Since many of the selections he chooses are from other sources, and while I already own some of them, some I didn't.  But I do now!  At the moment I'm halfway through another recent arrival, retired pastor Rob McCall's collection of brief essays (and sermon-like commentaries) Some Glad Morning: Holding Hope In Apocalyptic Times (Pushcart Press 2020).  In the introduction he says (p.9):

"The world is gradually moving from dogmatic religion established by male hierarchies and based on supernatural revelation to open-sourced religion established by consenses and based on Nature.  We are moving with it."

Sign me up, although as always I have my doubts about the word religion.  There is something, though, something undeniable and sacred and I experience it when I'm outside, and I love it and feel at home there, and feel loved in return.  This is, in part, what my book is about, not just about painting, and the little island I stayed on for years.  Speaking of my book - this is the momentous event I would like to mark, and share.  Yesterday I finished working on the remaining details of my manuscript, and today I have turned over the whole messy thing - cover mock-ups included - to the lovely woman who will format it for me, so it looks like an actual trade book, and I can send it to the printer.  All this will take a while, but I hope to have copies in hand before the end of summer.  Another wonderful reason to get some lemonade from the fridge, put my feet up, and take the rest of the day off.  When evening arrives and the day truly cools down, Ryan will be home, Hodge will wake up, and we'll open the windows wide and watch the fireflies dance in the dusk.  They are out there, tiny lights in the dark, showing us the way.  Enjoy these hot summer days, they are so fleeting.  I eye next year's already-stacked woodpile with satisfaction, and think more than a little fondly of winters past and future.

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