August 2012

Books read in August:

  1. The Tombs of Atuan. Ursula K. Le Guin.
  2. Farundell. L. R. Fredericks.
  3. The Birth of Purgatory. Jacques Le Goff.
  4. Reflections on the Psalms. C. S. Lewis.
  5. Clowning in Rome. Henri J. M. Nouwen.
  6. Owain Miles. Robert Easting, ed.
  7. From the Earth to the Moon. Jules Verne.
  8. Orpheus and Eurydice. Robert Henryson.

Best (only) reread: The Tombs of Atuan
Best non-fiction: Clowning in Rome
Best (only) Middle Scots: Orpheus and Eurydice

Would you look at that? Three non-fiction books in one month, and only one was for my thesis. August was indeed a notable month for reading.

Too angry to think of a title

Last month, Ros and I took the train down to London. The train from Leuchars to Edinburgh was rather busy and we couldn’t find seats together. I found two empty seats near each other and as we walked down the aisle to get to them, a man in his late thirties or forties patted the empty seat next to him and made a suggestive comment. We ignored him and kept walking.

On the very next train, changing in Edinburgh, we took our booked seats at a table in the quiet coach. The coach was practically empty. Even so, a group of men with packs of beer piled into the seats opposite us and at our table. Before they were even finished sitting down, Ros and I exchanged looks and went to another carriage. ‘We hadn’t even said anything yet!’ one of the men exclaimed. They didn’t need to.

In Croatia, just a week later, Joanna and I had dinner at a pub recommended to us by our hostel receptionist. A group of men, already inebriated, sat at the table by the bathrooms and grabbed at me when I went by them. One even followed Joanna into the bathroom. I told the bartender and we left.

One of the university’s maintenance workers knows my name from the one time he came in while I was on duty in the museum. Since then he has pulled his car up to me while I’ve been walking down the road, crossed the street to talk to me (both of these a few times), and most recently found my work email address. Every encounter has left me feeling objectified and uncomfortable. And yet he hasn’t actually done anything ‘wrong’ that I would be able to point out to anyone.

But it makes me angry. Why should I have to feel vulnerable and uncomfortable simply on account of my sex? The mere fact that I am a woman does not give anyone, anyone, license to objectify me or make suggestive comments. I am not public property. I am not here for you to look at. I have a brain, a mind, a personality. I am a person as well as a woman.

But what is the appropriate way to respond? Stand up for yourself? They’ll laugh or make it worse. Cuss them out? That won’t help either. Ignore them and walk away? It removes you from the situation, but it doesn’t stop them from doing it again to someone else. The sense of futility that comes from being in these situations also makes me angry. Not only am I being belittled, objectified, dehumanized, but I can’t even stand up for myself. But I am getting increasingly fed up with the ‘ignoring’ tactic. Especially when it doesn’t seem to be working.

Now to write a carefully worded email that says in no uncertain terms to ‘Leave. me. alone.

From the Earth to the Moon

Opening line: ‘During the Federal War in the United States, a new and influential club was founded in the city of Baltimore, Maryland.’

Devoted to the progress of cannon and ammunition, the Gun Club (a Yankee enterprise) was responsible in part for the North’s victory over the South. But what is the Gun Club to do during peace time? Will the science of gunnery be lost? The president of the Gun Club rallies his troops with an irresistible idea: they shall build a cannon to fire a projectile to the moon!

The novel derives most of it humour from being a satire of nineteenth century American culture and science, and although being written in 1865, From the Earth to the Moon is also surprisingly uncanny in its subject of sending a man to the moon.

From the Earth to the Moon is a short, amusing novel by Jules Verne. The edition I have was printed in 1958, sold as ‘A Highly Topical Science Fiction Story’ by Digit, picked up on a whim from the used book table on Market Street on a sunny day. It certainly made for a diverting read on the 7.5-hour journey back home from Skye yesterday, though it wasn’t until two-thirds of the way through the book that I started to get really interested in the story. Until that point, all the plans of the Gun Club and its president had gone happily along without incident. That is, until they receive a telegram from a mysterious Frenchman…

Some years ago, on this very same blog, I discussed in a couple of posts (here and here) whether another one of Jules Verne’s works belonged on Kelly’s Essential Science Fiction reading list. I had concluded that Journey to the Center of the Earth did not, in fact, belong on the list, in my-very-humble opinion. Of course, it’s been four years since I’ve read the novel and I might change my opinion now, but I can say that I do think From the Earth to the Moon might be a possible replacement, thus keeping Jules Verne on the list of essential authors to read for the history of the genre — a role he ought to keep.

Favourite things

Flying kites:

My parents are currently visiting and one of the things my dad and I did a few days ago was go fly my kite. I hope we still have a few more sunny days before summer ends so I can go out and fly it again!

Travelling light

Packing for a trip usually means just throwing some clothes in a bag and going. I tend to think that I travel light — that is, until it comes to packing books. My parents and I are going on a family holiday to Skye and I already set aside two work books, two fiction books, a non-fiction book, a journal for my novel, my other journal, and my Bible.

Then I remembered that I’m going on a family holiday and although we will have two full days of travel, we’ll only be away five days. I’m not running away to read, I’m going exploring. So I’ve left out one fiction book and one work book (I really don’t want to be reading about Hell while I’m on holiday, though I’ll stick with Purgatory).

Needless to say, I only think I’m travelling light… 😛

Reflections on the Psalms

Opening line: ‘This is not a work of scholarship. I am no Hebraist, no higher critic, no ancient historian, no archaeologist. I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself.’

The title says it all: in Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis sits down to have a conversation with the reader, a fellow Christian who reads the Psalms, and wonders about this ancient poetry that we find so dear. He writes about the difficult things we read — such as judgement, connivance, cursing — as well as the beautiful things, the praising of the Lord. As he says in the opening line, this is no work of scholarship. This is simply one believer talking about the Psalms with another.

This book came highly recommended from a friend of mine when I’d mentioned I hadn’t read much of C. S. Lewis’s nonfiction. By serendipity, he couldn’t have recommended a better book to start with: I read the Psalms daily and have done for a very long time. As soon as I read the opening lines I knew I would enjoy reading these reflections. I found a kindred spirit who wonders at the same words, who finds the humanity of the Psalms both a comfort and a challenge.

Favourite things


This picture was taken earlier this week. Oh, how many shades of purple were the waves as they brushed against the pier! I wish I had had a camera with me tonight when Ros and I took a walk after dinner. The sun was setting, turning the sky aflame with a riot of colour. It was a brilliant evening: we ran down the short pier, we raced to the sea, we skipped and hopped over puddles. The tide was out, meaning the wide, wide beach was covered in a sheen of water, reflecting the golden and purple sky. We ran for the joy of running and stared in wonder at the colours of the sunset on the sea.

Favourite things

The sea and the green:

Someone from a southern city asked me today, “What is it like to live here? It’s just so… small.”

We might have only three streets pointing to a ruined cathedral, but we have the sea and the hills and the sky. When I see the sky so clear, the sea so blue, the hills so green, with the wind and sunlight as drink for my spirit, I ask, “How could I live anywhere else?”

The Tombs of Atuan

Opening line: ‘”Come home, Tenar! Come home!” In the deep valley, in the twilight, the apple trees were on the eve of blossoming; here and there among the shadowed boughs one flower had opened early, rose and white, like a faint star.’

Far in the desert is a cluster of temples to the Godkings of Kargad and the God-brothers; but the oldest of them all is the Temple of the Throne and the Tombs of Atuan. The throne is empty and the temple crumbling. While the other priestesses serve the living godking or the twin God-brothers, Arha — the First Priestess, the Eaten One — serves the Nameless Ones. Their domain is beneath the earth, in the Undertomb and the Labyrinth. Only their One Priestess may go beyond the Undertomb. But Arha’s faith in the Nameless Ones is shaken when an outsider steals into the Undertomb as if by magic. Who is he, and why has he come?

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin is the second in the Earthsea trilogy-turned-series. I read it for the third time this week; it is tied for my favourite in the series, alongside The Wizard of Earthsea. I love Tenar. I love the poetry of Le Guin’s writing, the grace with which she writes about a young girl chosen to serve terrifying and merciless masters, writing about fear, pride, and struggling with faith. The darkness of the Undertomb and the Labyrinth are tangible, palpable things. I feel Tenar’s fear when the Nameless Ones turn against her; I remember the hopelessness of the dark, the joy of coming up into the light.

‘Living, being in the world, was a much greater and stranger thing than she had ever dreamed.’

You don’t need to have read A Wizard of Earthsea to read The Tombs of Atuan — it stands alone — but if you have read A Wizard of Earthsea and enjoyed it, then you must keep reading. You won’t be sorry.

Favourite things

Bare feet:

Summer is walking barefoot on the grass, feeling sand between your toes. This morning the question wasn’t which shoes was I going to wear, but whether to wear shoes at all. (I did wear shoes, for all of an hour and a half, I think, and not all at once.)

The other day a friend asked me, ‘What does it feel like to be depressed?’ I was caught off guard, because the question I would have asked myself would be, ‘What does it feel like not to be depressed?’

Today signified what it feels like not to be depressed: the brilliant sunlight, the warmth, the green soft grass underfoot, the sand between my toes, the hopping on rocks and splashing in the sea. It means enjoying myself, my own company. Happiness is stepping from one seaweed covered stone to another; laughter unbidden when a wave surprises me from behind. It means walking barefoot everywhere, surrendering to and celebrating whimsy.

I used to catch glimpses of the beauty of light and of the earth when I was depressed — those glimpses are what kept me sane, grounded. I had to sit still and focus and be mindful of them. I know I am getting better because over the past year and a half, noticing the world is happening more often. I keep having more and more of days like today, days that I look around me in surprise, realising, asking, This, this is what Happiness feels like?

It feels like waking up. It feels like being alive.