Mid-winter Reading

Well, to be more accurate, it should be Autumn-Mid-Winter reading. Here are the books I’ve read since the last time I posted a list (in August). Yes, I did manage to read fiction while finishing up my PhD. I had to. I needed that escape more than anything, sometimes.

Books read September-December:

  1. Shift. Hugh Howey.
  2. The 13 Clocks. James Thurber.
  3. Four Ways to Forgiveness. Ursula K. Le Guin.
  4. The Nature of Blood. Caryl Phillips.
  5. Lacuna. Barbara Kingsolver.
  6. Fortunately, the Milk. Neil Gaiman.
  7. The Book of Lost Things. John Connolly.
  8. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Catherynne M. Valente.
  9. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. Catherynne M. Valente.
  10. The Christmas Mystery. Jostein Gaarder.
  11. Pegasus. Robin McKinley.

I had actually stopped reading for a while after reading a frustrating book and personal circumstances, but some friends put The 13 Clocks by James Thurber in my hands. Thurber’s whimsy, storytelling, and play with words whetted my appetite again. So the list would be better labelled, ‘November-December reading’.

Granted, the last four on the list were read in the last two weeks. I thought I would read more after submitting, but I’ve been sleeping. 🙂 Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver was 600 pages or so? But it was a pleasure to read. I loved how it transported me to Mexico — hot, vibrant, colourful, chaotic Mexico, the perfect contrast to cold, grey, depressing Scotland, especially this winter. I remembered how I’ve longed to go to Mexico City and Tenochtitlan. I won’t say any more about the book just now, because I have half a mind to revive book reviews. (Dear Readers, do you want book reviews again? Tell me in the comments.)

And, because it is the end of the year, I give you Books Read in 2013. It is a much shorter list than in years past, for various reasons. But looking over the list there are a few books that jump out at me as ones that have stuck with me, or that I really enjoyed: Legend by Marie Lu, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.

What have been the books that stuck with you this year?

The Cat Who Came for Lunch

It was such a beautiful day that my parents and I took a leisurely walk along the sea on our way home after church. It was the first time in a couple of months since I had been to the sea, and it sun and the waves and the blue blue expanse of the sea was so calming to behold. Of course, I was exhausted by the time we got home, as my energy is still very low these days.

But as we walked up to my house, we were surprised by a black and white cat who I have never seen before. It was quite fat and friendly, and, well, we invited it inside for part of the afternoon. We kept the cat in the sitting room and kitchen, where it made itself quite at home…

IMG_9355 IMG_9357

IMG_9359It was so nice to have a purring, friendly, companionable feline in the house for a while. A cat truly is the soul of a home. We did set it outside again eventually, but I’m glad it chose to grace us with its presence for an afternoon. I wonder if it will come back to visit?

Keep still

Other than waking up enough for presents on Christmas Eve and dinner on Christmas Day, I’ve been sleeping since Little Christmas Eve. I have been exhausted since submitting my PhD thesis. Bone-weary. This passage from The Left Hand of Darkness resonates with me right now.

A physician came and said to me, ‘Why did you resist dothe?’

‘I was not in dothe,’ I said. ‘I was in a sonic field.’

‘Your symptoms were those of a person who has resisted the relaxation phase of dothe.’ He was a domineering physician, and made me admit at last that I might have used dothe-strength to counter the paralysis while I rowed [across the bay], not clearly knowing that I did so; then this morning, during the thangen phase when one must keep still, I had got up and walked and so nearly killed myself.

— from Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

I used ‘dothe’ — described as ‘hysterical strength’ in the novel, or the intentional harnessing of adrenaline to push through exhaustion — to get through these last few months. But pushing through on adrenaline has its cost. Now I am in the thangen phase and I must keep still.

I’m still baffled that I more-or-less slept through Christmas and that even going up the stairs or taking a shower leaves me tired. It looks like I’ve borrowed against January’s spoons,* and I need to rest a while. I may need to rethink my plans for January. I had planned a series of posts about Christmas and Ebenezer, but I am too tired to write them. Instead, you get this post about my exhaustion and The Left Hand of Darkness.

Which, if you want to read a long, but interesting, interview with Ursula K. Le Guin that includes talking about The Left Hand of Darkness, you can read this one from The Paris Review.

And, fun fact, I have read twenty-four (24) out of thirty-four (34) of Le Guin’s fiction for adults. (She’s prolific: non-fiction, children’s fiction, poetry… I haven’t touched those yet.)

* ‘Spoons?’ You ask. I refer you to The Spoon Theory.

Little Christmas Eve

I’ve been reading a chapter a day from A Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder as a way to celebrate Advent. The novel centres around a magic Advent calendar and each chapter is a new window and a new instalment to the story about the pilgrims who are on their way to Bethlehem to see the Christ child. The frame narrative is set in Norway, where the day before Christmas Eve is called ‘Little Christmas Eve’.

IMG_9343Ebenezer the Tree is finally decked out and decorated and is happily hatching some presents. He’s never hatched so many gifts before!

A little seed

In the past couple of posts I’ve mentioned depression. I won’t go into all of the causes, reasons, whatevers here — my close friends and family know, and that is enough. What is making it even more difficult this time is the loss of dreams, of hopes for the future… specific ones that had come to have so much meaning and promise in my life. Now I am left holding air and the faded shreds of old dreams, staring into the unknown.

Some have heard me say that Sara Groves “sings my life”. The chorus of this song has crept into my head, and, well, I want it to be the song of my heart.

http://grooveshark.com/songWidget.swf

From this one place I can’t see very far.
In this one moment I’m square in the dark.
These are the things I will trust in my heart:
You can see something else, something else.

One of the things I’ve been wrestling with this Advent is that God is a God of the impossible. I am still learning what that means. But I am praying that he will plant a little seed in the remnants of my heart and that that little seed will grow into a dream. And that prayer, maybe, will give me Hope.

Little bears

Between the late sunrises, depression, and my own body clock, mornings have been increasingly difficult the past few weeks. Often I would get into the office in the late morning or at lunchtime and work into the evening. My mom would keep me company in my office in the evenings, after my office mates had left, the last week of editing and proofreading of my thesis, and she always made me leave the office before her when we left for the day.

IMG_9298 IMG_9300

(As always, click photos to enlarge.)

The next morning I would find a little bear with a note hidden somewhere around my desk. Then, on the morning I was going to submit my thesis, I found that my bedroom had been invaded…

IMG_9296…by miniature gingerbread men! That was certainly a surprise. Apparently my mom had conspired with one of the ladies at church to get the little gingerbread men and put them around to cheer me up.

it’s strange how one can complete and hand in a project that took four years (and a bit more) of work. I don’t quite feel celebratory — relieved, yes, that I finally finished and before my deadline, too. Just exhausted.

Besides, it feels odd to be celebrating when there’s still the viva (defense, for my non-UK friends) to come in a few months’ time. But maybe I will feel more celebratory once I’ve slept and rested a bit more…

It is Submitted

At 3.00 PM on Tuesday, 17th of December, I submitted my Ph.D. thesis.

IMG_9309

Some statistics:

  • 5 chapters, plus an introduction and conclusion;
  • approximately 73,300 words;
  • 246 pages total;
  • 586 footnotes;
  • 47 page Bibliography;
  • 11 pages of primary sources;
  • 480 items in Bibliography;
  • 4 years and 3 months.

I would be lying if I said the two months were easy. In all honesty, the last eight weeks have been among the hardest in my life, probably the hardest — and friends and long-time readers of this blog will know that I am no stranger to difficulty. I could not have made it through these last eight weeks or have finished my PhD thesis on my own. It is only by the grace of God, the prayers and encouragement of friends, and the physical, in-person support of my mother that I have made it to today.

So thank you, you who have prayed for me, encouraged me, and helped me during this time.

I do not think it a coincidence that my morning Bible reading came from Isaiah 12 today:

Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.

I hope to return to regular blogging — however, for now, I think I will curl up in bed with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente — an early Christmas present, and very apt for this particular scholar.