Second shelf from the top

December 1, 2012 @ 3:47 pm | Filed under: , ,

(Updated with book titles and other notes in the comments.) πŸ˜‰

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  1. sarah says:

    I love the sewing. We have a Japanese doll very similar to the one on the left. And a Russian matrushka doll – is that what the one on the right is? Does it open to smaller dolls?

    And by the way it is exceedingly cruel of you to post a photo of books with OBSCURED TITLES. The most enjoyable WHAT???? Growing up WHERE????

  2. Ellie says:

    **utterly bemused**

    Yes. My 10yo’s very first question from over my shoulder was: “But what are the books called?!”

    I echo him. And Sarah. Ahem. πŸ™‚

  3. Melissa Wiley says:

    Hee! You know that would have been my first question too. I was thinking I might try something for December—snapping a bit of bookshelf every day, and then later, when I have time, adding notes about the things in the picture. It keeps striking me how full of small stories our shelves are.

    So this one: the bookcase next to my side of the bed. Our bedroom is also my office; I write on my laptop, on my bed. Since I spend a lot of time parked beside this bookcase, I’ve filled it up, over the years, with things I especially like to look at, and books that are special favorites—or books high on my TBR list. Such as Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, which I’ve been talking about reading for AGES, have started two or three times but found myself struggling with the tiny print. This happens more often, lately, than I like to admit.

    The other books are Growing Up in the South, a short-story collection I must have picked up in grad school (I think there’s a Fred Chappell story in there) and John Fowles’s The Ebony Tower (boldly blurbed “The Most Enjoyable Fiction of the Season”, a bit of copy Scott mocks: “of the SEASON? high praise!”) is the only Fowles I have truly enjoyed—and then only a couple of the stories in the book. It’s a collection of stories that transplant some medieval themes into various (then-)contemporary contexts. I keep this ragged book around for the sake of the title story, a gorgeous, heartrending thing drenched in French sun and English yearning. We studied it in one of the best college courses I ever took—“Men’s Images in Literature,” taught by Dr. Robert Johnson at the now-no-more Loretto Heights College in Denver. Oh, what a class! We read the craziest assortment of books and plays, from Hamlet to Goldfinger to The Maltese Falcon. The idea was to explore the various ways men have been portrayed in literature through the ages—the archetypes, the tragic flaws, the new arrivals. This course was so excellent that (I am chagrined to confess) when I later took a women’s lit class at a different college, I was disappointed to find the focus was on writers instead of characters—I’d been hoping for a repeat of Dr. Johnson’s seminar but about female archetypes and archetype-breakers. But I digress. “The Ebony Tower” (the short story)—well, I didn’t exactly approve of it, but I loved it. The layers of it, all shifting and speckled with light and shadow, like the layers of forest canopy enveloping the old French house where the story takes place. The old satyr-like artist, hands failing. The weasels, the red flower, the wrenching relationships. “For one ghastly moment.” I happened to be taking another course in Medieval Lit at the same time, so the Tristan and Iseult echoes were very vibrant for me.

    So. Those are the books. Sarah, there’s a matreshka on the next shelf up but the doll in the photo, the one on the right, isn’t a matreshka, she’s a little wooden doll given to Beanie by a beloved neighbor back in Virginia. The neighbor was Turkish and I think the doll is too? The other doll, also wooden, is a Momiji, a birthday gift from my friend Krissy a couple of years ago. The painted wooden tiles (telephone, ball, sun) are part of a matching game I bought when Jane was very small, possibly the first toy I ever ordered for her by mail? From the Natural Baby catalog, of course, the source of nearly all Jane-things during her first few years.

    The little felt landscape is a recent gift from Rose, handstitched, precious to me. And the blue mug is a piece of handthrown pottery made by an unschooling mother I met at the Good Vibrations Conference two years ago. It holds my favorite pens and an old lip gloss (“Sugar”). And behind the mug, the splotches of color—a photo of bright embedded stones on the cover of a small book on Gaudi I brought home from our trip to Barcelona in 2008.

  4. Ellie says:

    Alright. Now see? That was beautiful! What a wonderful meander through that tiny corner of your home!! Thank you my dear πŸ™‚

    Oh, and In The House of Brede? Firstly, you must, you simply must read that book. Secondly. Specs: they’re good for things like tiny print. **mischievous grin, spoken as someone who has worn them since babyhood**

  5. Melissa Wiley says:

    I know, I know, I have GOT to get to the eye doctor! I have the silliest conundrum going at the moment. I wear contacts and I think I just need to get reading glasses to go over them, for books and package labels. But the dr wanted me to try multifocal contacts first. But only in the left eye, because the right eye has astigmatism. Well, it’s a bust. I can’t read small print at ALL. I have a pair of glasses with progressive lenses, and I can read print in those–but they’re awful for my laptop screen. I look down at the wrong angle for the lenses or something.

    So. Going to have to bite the bullet and get just plain reading glasses to go over just plain contacts. But we have no vision insurance right now. (Nor dental. Blerg. And our health insurance just went up another 20%. Double blerg.)

  6. Ellie says:

    Ohhh!! I didn’t realize you already had them (specs). That’s a very blerghy issue you’ve got! I definitely sympathize! I can only read now without my glasses on: I have to hold the book a few inches from my nose! (Bless the iPad, with its zoomable screen). I have bifocals, new prescription last autumn, but my vision has already changed drastically. I’ve no vision insurance either (well, none at all actually, but even my kids, who do have health insurance, have no vision coverage. It has always seemed so ridiculous to me, that eyes and teeth aren’t included in standard coverage). Reading glasses are pretty cheap (relatively speaking), I would give them a try … My stepfather is a gifted woodcarver, he creates utterly beautiful Buddhas; he wears reading glasses over his bifocals, when carving.

  7. sarah says:

    Oh my. That was beautiful. I am speechless … “The layers of it, all shifting and speckled with light and shadow, like the layers of forest canopy enveloping the old French house where the story takes place. The old satyr-like artist, hands failing” … Oh my. That’s story, right there. That’s the old sound of poetry. I don’t know I could ever read the actual story, it would surely disappoint me after having read this. You make me wish for a book made up only of writers’ impressions of other writers’ works. No, you make me wish for a volume of poetry from you.

  8. Melissa Wiley says:

    Oh, Sarah, gosh, thank you! It’s funny…lately (mired so deep in my own book) I find myself yearning to write about writing, frankly, roughly (unpolished I mean)…some of the books I love best are the readers-notes kind like the ones by Noel Perrin and Nick Hornsby and Helene Hanff. (Who, funnily enough, are all in the photo I posted today, behind the flowers.) Writers writing about reading. Readers writing about writing. I have this one longish meditation brewing, wanting to come out (but no time until the book is done, everything now is ‘when the book is done’), about mothers in books—how to write a mother, how I’ve done it, how others have. I reread Rilla of Ingleside last week, umpteenth time, and was struck again by how lost Anne’s character is—the real Anne of the earlier books, who disappears after House of Dreams—and how Montgomery seems to have trouble with mothers. She can do aunts and guardians and housekeepers and nosy neighbors brilliantly; but her mothers are either dead (and idealized), cartoonish (though for Valancy’s mother the cartoon is just right) or lightweight. Even (and it feels like a betrayal to admit it) Anne—anytime something bad happens in Rilla, Anne’s packed off to bed with a headache. She’s in bed for weeks after the news about Walter, or is it when Jem’s reported missing. Weeks! Impossible for me to picture young Anne Shirley taking to her bed for weeks over anything. Anyway—it took me to Caroline Ingalls, and the way my Martha developed (there’s a story there), and Mrs. Ray, and Mrs. Quimby, and then a slew of others. Someday I’ll write it all down.

    I think where I was going before the mother-detour was that it’s easier to write about writers who aren’t living—who aren’t going to cross paths with me in real life or via google. πŸ™‚ I haven’t read Ebony Tower in a really long time, years and years, but the images have stayed with me so vividly. And the feel of it–this heavy melancholy and yearning, and people on the verge of making wrong choices, hesitating out of fear rather than conviction, which is an interesting state of mind to contemplate. And somehow that story makes me also want to reread Peter Taylor’s The Old Forest (also the title story of a collection)—some overlapping theme between the two but rendered so very differently, the Taylor heavy with Southern heat and manners…mmm, I just want to read and read, and then write a little.

  9. Melissa Wiley says:

    About poems…I used to write so many. Then I got out of the habit somehow…busy with novels and babies, I guess. You’d think poems would fit into the interstices but they just didn’t seem to. I need so much more space to write small. But lately I’ve had a sense I might be heading somewhere different after this book is finished.

  10. Ellie says:

    Oohhhhh!! Oh Lissa, yes! The Absence-of-Anne has always driven me utterly batty. (And by always, I mean since my teens). On the other hand: House of Dreams altered her irrevocably. Some women are so altered by their babies’ deaths that, even if they have or despite having other children: they are nothing like what they used to be. Losing my daughter skewed my outlook and makeup in most peculiar ways. I think it’s taken me the full twenty-five-odd years since to come to a genuinely better and whole place. From that perspective, I can see why Anne is the way she is … Or rather, can see why LMM was able to *write* her as she did. In the later books there are several mentions of Anne’s delicate health β€” being so ill after Shirley was born, for example, that Susan raised him his first two years. I suppose I always read that as postpartum psychosis. And then the headaches β€” migraines? I know from what my children go through, and my grandmother too, just how debilitating those can be.

    Now I’m contradicting myself πŸ™‚ It is true that the manner in which her character changed/grew up was disturbing and sad, and not what I hoped for and maybe not realistic … And yet, when I stop and think, when I read deeper, I come to the conclusion that LMM actually wrote a realistic older Anne. Then too, we have to remember that those later books aren’t about her, they aren’t telling Anne’s story, and so we don’t know her, intimately, the way we did before.

    Am I making any sense?

    The later Anne books are linked in my mind (and my teenage past) with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s First Four Years, in which her baby son dies. I always wanted *her* later story too. I wanted the reality, you know? This is understandable, of course, given my own baby, and the fact that Anne and Laura were such friends for me, you know? But instead we’re only left with inferring and wondering.

    Well, I’ve rambled through my morning coffee and now must do my exercises and PT. Happy Monday my friend {{hugs}}

  11. sarah says:

    So much I would say in response … and I will try not to say it all, because otherwise it would be wearisome to read. But I agree with you about Anne. I can appreciate why Maud had that issue though. She found motherhood hard, she had a stillborn child, a mentally ill husband whom she possibly didn’t love with all her heart, she herself suffered depression … And although her heroines are fiesty little things determined to find the good in the world, her stories really are quite dark. I’m having some trouble thinking of many straightforward and simply happy families in her books, except the Ingleside crew. I wonder if she didn’t have much real life experience of good, warm motherhood to draw from … and also whether she actually resented Anne in some way for getting to be the mother Maud wanted for herself and/or wished herself to be.

    I would love to hear what you had to say about writing mother characters. One of my own wishes is to write a fantasy story in which the heroine is a mother. On my own shelf, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is the only book I can recall off the top of my head which has a mother as the central character, and Sybel doesn’t really qualify as a particularly good one. Since women are the biggest audience for these books, you’d think they’d be better served with characters which reflected their lives and concerns.

  12. Melissa Wiley says:

    Ellie, I like your take on Anne post-Dreams. It’s funny—when you mention migraines it sounds so plausible and likely, and you’re right that a health issue would account for the changed adult Anne—but since, as you point out, she’s a supporting character in Rilla, we only have this outside, incomplete view of Anne; and maybe (as I mull this over) that’s what’s so jarring/disappointing: after having been inside her head through her childhood and young adulthood, including REALLY inside her head in Windy Poplars, I feel sort of bereft and wistful watching her from a distance in Rilla. Now, after pondering your post-partum psychosis and migraine theories, I’m feeling like: oh Anne sweetie! why didn’t you TELL me you were sick! Like finding out a friend had been going through a difficult health crisis and you had no idea.

    I’ll say that my greatest complaint about adult Anne is the whole Christine Stewart episode in Anne of Ingleside. It feels ridiculous, every time. Anne wouldn’t doubt Gilbert’s adoration of her for a second. I suppooooose one could argue that it fits with her childhood tendency toward runaway imagination…but it just never struck me as the specific kind of runaway fancy she would be prone to.

    Sarah, so true about Montgomery’s stories being really quite dark. And I agree that her own painful experiences very much colored the way she depicted mothers and mother/child relationships. It’s funny that her very best relationships, the most nuanced and complete, tend to be between childless older women and children (or young mothers, in the case of Miss Cornelia/Anne or Susan Brown/Anne—in both cases, Anne is a kind of child in the older woman’s eyes). Pat and Judy, Anne/Marilla (obviously), I’m forgetting some. Though I’ll tangent and say that possibly my favorite Montgomery relationships of all are Valancy/Abel Gay, Emily/Cousin Jimmy, and of course Anne/Matthew! The description of Matthew “having a bad time of it” after the party with Anne & schoolmates is a favorite literary moment of mine—and Valancy sitting on the back porch, talking to Roaring Abel, who actually does roar with laughter at something she says—oh, such a terrific scene!

    A thing I want to write about someday, in this mother piece or elsewhere, is how with Martha I got to do something really incredible—I can’t actually think of any other writers who’ve been able to do this in the same way—getting to alternate writing a character as a child and a grown woman, back and forth over eight books. (8 1/2, counting unfinished, never-published Martha #5, which I suppose is still floating around a hard drive somewhere.) It was a deeply gratifying experience, getting to write Martha as a little girl in one book and then imagine her future in the next, and try to show how the girl became the woman. That was my favorite part of writing those books. It was like getting to see your own child’s future (with the power to ensure a happy ending). Of course it was then sad not to finish the series out and let all those little seeds I’d planted come to fruition—re the Martha/Lew romance, that is. (I had such plans for them—the whole footrace thing, for one, which was going to have a nice payoff at the end of book 5 or beginning of book 6, and then there was my secret plan involving Martha’s wedding dress, and some buttons of great Little House significance…Oh well!) I *did* get to let Martha blossom into maturity as a mother, and that was satisfying. Puddingstone gave me a chance to let her be frank about her own painful experiences and how she’d weathered them. It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that that was the book I wrote the year after my own miscarriage. Anyway, there’s a lot more story there, about the research and how I came up with my vision of adult Martha. Someday I’ll write it up. πŸ™‚

    It was interesting with Charlotte, too…in that case I was working with Maria Wilkes’s vision of the adult Charlotte, and trying to imagine how my little girl would grow up to be that woman. I had enormous amounts of fun with that.

  13. MelanieB says:

    Oh yes, please. To have something longish by you about writers and reading would be a delight. And the thing about mothers…. I do hope you get around to it.

    I always thought the jarring thing about the later Anne was seeing her from the outside rather than the inside. I’d have loved to have one more book from Anne’s point of view watching her children at play. Even more so now that I’m a mother myself.

    Of all the unfinished tales that I long to see completed the Martha and Lew romance is high on my list. Sometimes I think of Tolkien’s vision of the artist in Leaf by Niggle and wonder if there isn’t a special place in heaven where all those tragic unwritten stories will be fulfilled at last. Oh wouldn’t that be the coziest thing ever, to sit around for half an eternity and hear all your favorite writers finish your favorite stories? And to be able to complete all those unfinished bits you never had the chance to do for whatever reason?

  14. sarah says:

    Oh my, how I love that idea Melanie! I am going to be drifting in the beautiful dream of it all evening.

    It’s so frustrating to know of that unfinished Martha book just sitting there, untold. Is there no chance of even an e-book?

  15. Melissa Wiley says:

    Alas, no…I’ve been begging Harper for ebooks of my novels for years, but my understanding is that they have to sort out digital rights with the Wilder estate first. Which seems to be taking an eternity.

    The unfinished manuscript…I’ve thought about just putting it up somewhere myself, for fun. I’d probably have to change the names. It’s awfully rough, though, as I recall. I haven’t looked at it in years. Martha was packed off to school in Edinburgh, living with Alisdair and his wife, a young widow with two difficult children…I had lots of hijinks with the children, but I’d run into roadblocks researching the schooling. By all accounts she’d have had a year or two at a kind of finishing school…which is very not-Martha, of course. And then there was to be all sorts of trouble in the sixth book, because one of the few things we know about the real Martha Morse is that her family disapproved of her marrying beneath her station. And they got married in Boston, not Scotland, which I found intriguing. I had a story all worked out to explain it.

  16. Scott says:

    Hey, spoilers, lady.

  17. sarah says:

    No, give more spoilers! Lots more spoilers. A whole book of them. πŸ˜‰ Names, shmames.

  18. Melissa Wiley says:

    Melanie wrote: “Sometimes I think of Tolkien’s vision of the artist in Leaf by Niggle and wonder if there isn’t a special place in heaven where all those tragic unwritten stories will be fulfilled at last. Oh wouldn’t that be the coziest thing ever, to sit around for half an eternity and hear all your favorite writers finish your favorite stories? And to be able to complete all those unfinished bits you never had the chance to do for whatever reason?”

    Scott reminded me of Dream’s library in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, full of books that never got written in real life, including:

    The Ring and the Phoenix by E. Nesbit
    Road Trips to the Emerald City by Frank Baum
    Arthur in Avalon by T.H. White
    Alice’s Journey Behind the Moon by Lewis Carroll
    The Lost Road by J. R. R. Tolkien
    The Man Who Was October by G. K. Chesterton
    The Conscience of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
    The Return of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens


  19. mamacrow says:

    Oh yes, and in an Angela Thirkel the Duke is having the ‘bookcase’ door in his library redone and all the books on it are the same kind of thing – ‘new’ books by Authors that the authors never actually wrote!

    Oh and Anne. Yes, I was sad she faded out into an indeterminate ‘grown up’. I think I presumed Montgomery was far more interested in writing about children…

    It’s one of the reason I vastly prefer Susan Cooldige, you stick with her characters up into adulthood when they’re becoming wives and mothers. Allcott, too.

  20. Melanie B says:

    I’ve never read Sandman but that’s just delightful.

  21. Melanie B says:

    I just clicked through to the list. Wow! What fun. I want to read these too:

    Psmith and Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

    The Emperor Over the Sea by C.S. Lewis

    Beyond Chaos by Roger Zelazny