February 2012

Books read in February:

  1. Dune. Frank Herbert.
  2. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Patrick Ness.
  3. The Septembers of Shiraz. Dalia Sofer.
  4. Dealing with Dragons. Patricia C. Wrede.
  5. The Ask and the Answer. Patrick Ness.
  6. Tales from Earthsea. Ursula K. Le Guin.

Best reread: Dune
Best new read: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Best (only) anthology: Tales from Earthsea

A much better month for reading than January was! I am eagerly awaiting some books I’ve ordered from the public library to come in, particularly the final instalment in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. Our Town’s public library is pretty abysmal, but fortunately we are networked with all of the public libraries in the county and so we can order books from other libraries. For the size of our public library and the prominence of our town, I was appalled to find that all of the books are in the room on the ground floor (I thought there were more upstairs! Nope, just a meeting room and computer lab.) and that the books were divided into Children/Juvenile, Teenage, SFF, Thriller/Crime, Paperbacks, and Novels. I would hazard a guess that my complete personal library — including my books both in the U.S. and in the UK — just might give our public library a run for its money. I am going to look into whether they take donations; if they do, then from here on out I’m taking my books to them instead of the charity book shop, as much as I support Barnardos charity. Maybe I’ll alternate. We’ll see.

Ode to tea

Tea is the elixir of life.

The best cuppa is made by pouring just-boiled water over teabags in a teapot. Our household prefers Yorkshire tea. Once the tea has steeped a suitable amount of time — approximately two minutes — then one pours the tea into cups. I’ll let you in on a secret: tea tastes best when one already has milk in the cup when one pours the tea. Milk, no sugar. The perfect cuppa.

Tea: how such a simple thing can both calm and fortify the spirit! Its warmth relaxes and enlivens, awakening the mind and warming the blood to press onward, to greet the day and see it through. Tea can help alleviate any problem. Someone’s just recalled your book? Drink a cup of tea. Don’t know where this chapter is going? Tea. Depressed by the employment outlook in your field? Tea. Worried about paying back your student loans? Tea. No really, tea.

Yes, tea is essentially just flavoured hot water. Yet its virtues come not only from texture or taste, but also in the very act of production. One has to stop what one is doing, wait for the kettle to boil, wait for the tea to steep, wait for the tea to cool enough to drink without burning one’s mouth. Drinking tea is a lesson in waiting; compelling the drinker to pause and to reflect. Tea clears the mind, calms the spirit, comforts the heart.

When in doubt, drink tea.

The Septembers of Shiraz

First sentence: ‘When Isaac Amin sees two men with rifles walk into his office at half past noon on a warm autumn day in Tehran, his first thought is that he won’t be able to join his wife and daughter for lunch, as promised.’

Isaac Amin is arrested by the Revolutionary Guards for nothing more than being a wealthy businessman and a Jew. While Isaac struggles to survive interrogations for months in one of Iran’s worst prisons, his wife searches for him and tries not to give up hope, their ten-year-old daughter is forced to transition to a new school where her friends and classmates are all the children of Revolutionary Guards, and their son, at university in New York City, copes as best as he can with the uncertainty of his family, his religion, and his identity.


The Septembers of Shiraz
by Dalia Sofer is a quiet, unassuming and poignantly written account of one family’s experience during the Iranian Revolution in the 1980s. Each family member’s story is as interesting as the other’s — Sofer easily could have reveled in the description of Isaac in prison, but her restraint makes his time there all the more stark and bleak. The account of his wife, Farnouz, and of his daughter Shirin, as they search for him and keep their lives going in Tehran as best they can are not any less compelling for being ‘mundane’. And Parviz, sent away to a far off country so he wouldn’t be drafted into the army, his story remains relevant even though he could be said to be living a completely different life so isolated from his family. The four stories interweave and enhance each other; you cannot have one without the other, or if you did, the story would be incomplete.

I must admit, I do not know much about the Iranian Revolution. Truth be told, I picked up The Septembers of Shiraz because its spine looks an awful lot like The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, one of my all-time favourite books. I appreciate novels like The Septembers of Shiraz for bringing to life periods of time and history that are unknown to me, especially recent history. I am reminded of Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi, Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, When We Were Orphans by  Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham, each offering a glimpse of a piece of history.

What novels have helped dramatise history for you?

Favourite things

Secret ways into town:

Taking this way into town is ever so slightly out of my way, but I do like it sometimes: a walk by the river, through the hedges here, up the steps at the end of this path (with a stone engraved 1882), down another alley, and eventually onto South Street, coming out across from the butcher’s. It’s especially nice on a beautiful sunny day, as it was today.

Through the static

It’s been another week of headaches and exhaustion. Rather frustrating. I have enough latent health issues that it’s hard to pinpoint just what is causing my malaise this time. So I’m sleeping and taking pain killers and hoping that I get over whatever it is soon so that I can get back to work.

Our radio started going staticy several months ago. It used to live in the kitchen but we moved it into the sitting room where it was better for a while. But now it’s staticy again, and it particularly does not like my computer being nearby. That doesn’t deter us from listening to BBC Radio 3 and 4 though. I’m not going to miss the 6 O’Clock News just because of some static (though it does leave Petrarch Trelawny’s musical choices at Radio 3 Breakfast with something to be desired).

An infusion of lemon and honey is a wonderful thing.

On fasting

Today is Shrove Tuesday. Mardi gras. Pancake day. Which means tomorrow is the first day of Lent.

I used to give up soda or chocolate for Lent, but I’ve since, personally, tried to be more thoughtful about what it is I am going to fast from during these 40 days (+ Sundays) before Easter. I’ve given up music-with-words, all sugar, Facebook. For me, the purpose is to choose something that will affect my life, not only now, but after Lent as well. And yet I feel as though I ought to give up a food-item, and again, it should be something I would miss. Sweets? I actually don’t eat that much sweet. I nibble on a piece of Dove dark chocolate, let cookies go stale because I don’t eat them quickly enough. Meat? I don’t eat much meat either, and I really ought not to lose that source of protein and iron. When you don’t eat very much and what you do eat is healthy to begin with, you shouldn’t limit your options.

This year I’ve chosen to give up the computer between 9PM and 9AM. Being one of those people who procrastinates going to sleep, and being an ex-pat with most of my friends and family 5-6 hours behind me, it’s quite easy for me to just stay within arm’s reach of the computer long after I should have gone to bed. Similarly, there is no reason I should be checking my computer at breakfast when I’m going to be in front of a computer all day in my office. I hope that regulating my time on my computer will allow me to take care of my body better, to glorify God by making sure I get the rest and sleep I need; and that my morning routine, no longer eaten into by the computer, will give me more time for prayer and the reading of scripture before I start my day.

Do you observe Lent? How do you go about choosing what to fast from during this season?

The Knife of Never Letting Go

First sentence: ‘The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.’

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown, a town believed to be the last remaining settlement of New World. In Prentisstown, everyone can hear each other’s thoughts, can see the memories and images flashing through each other’s minds, in a constant, never-ending Noise. But only one month away from the birthday that would turn Todd into a man, he stumbles across the impossible.

Silence.

And now he has to run.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first of a YA dystopian trilogy by Patrick Ness. Recommended to me by a friend, given to me for Christmas, I picked it up and was immediately swept away. I don’t normally like books written ‘in dialect’, or with passages of semi-stream of consciousness, but with this novel, with its context of Noise, it fit both the character and the setting. Written in first person and in the present tense, Todd’s discovery of the silence and his flight through the swamp and into the unknown is immediate, pressing, urgent. I found myself anxiously awaiting the evening the four days it took me to read it, because then I could go home and keep reading. I’ve already reserved the next of the trilogy from the public library.

One of the reasons I thoroughly enjoyed this novel is because it did nothing that I expected it to. YA sci-fi/fantasy is my genre of choice, and though I have noticed a trend (well, three books) of YA dystopian novels being told in the first person and in the present tense (such as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Possession by Elana Johnson), this book, its characters, its setting, and its story were still refreshingly unique.

And I was particularly taken with the concept of Noise. Other authors have explored this idea of telepathy, but none have quite grasped the nuances and implications of a collective consciousness like Patrick Ness has. It is difficult to explain exactly how he has done it, but needless to say I found this aspect of the novel both fascinating and useful. Useful because my own novel Orion features a race which has this peculiar characteristic. I have much food for thought now regarding the further development of this aspect of my novel.

Should you read it? Of course you should.