#KaramazovReadalong Day 1: Who is Fyodor?

The #KaramazovReadalong adventure begins with the first chapter entitled Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. To commemorate this special date, I steeped a pot of Russian Caravan tea, which has a bold smoky taste of lapsang souchong, oolong, Assam, and puerh to accompany me on this profound journey into Russian Literature.

Who is Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov? What was he like? The narrator was quick to provide clarity on Fyodor’s character. On page one, the description was delivered, without any hesitation or sentimentality, in this sentence:

And yet all his life he had been one of the craziest crackpots in the whole of our district.”

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky has been on my “To Be Read” stack of books for several years but I have hesitated, waiting for the right moment. Then serendipity arrived in the form of an e-mail message from my blogger friend and book aficionado, Liz Humphreys from Leaping Life, announcing that she was organizing a #Readalong of The Brothers Karamazov to coincide with the 200th year anniversary of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s birth. The stars aligned when Elisabeth Van Der Meer, from A Russian Affair, agreed to join the party. Liz, Elisabeth, and I are inviting you to join us on this reading adventure.

This is your invitation to join us as an invited guest.

Three Apples Fell From The Sky

I just finished reading Three Apples Fell From the Sky by Narine Abgaryan. My thanks go to Elisabeth Van Der Meer, from the blog, A Russian Affair, who recommended this book. Serendipity seems to bring books to me at the right time. From beginning to end, this book was an absolute joy.

Amazon’s overview provides a great introduction to the narrative, but it is in the reading that the lives of the villagers come alive, their stories tumbling from the pages into my life.

In an isolated village high in the Armenian mountains, a close-knit community bickers, gossips and laughs. Their only connection to the outside world is an ancient telegraph wire and a perilous mountain road that even goats struggle to navigate.

As they go about their daily lives – harvesting crops, making baklava, tidying houses – the villagers sustain one another through good times and bad. But sometimes all it takes is a spark of romance to turn life on its head, and a plot to bring two of Maran’s most stubbornly single residents together soon gives the village something new to gossip about…

Elisabeth Van Der Meer & Dave Astor on Why Should We Read the Books We Do Not Want to Read Tea. Toast. & Trivia.

Poetry in Brief – a day in a life – by Jean-Jacques Fournier

I had been checking the mail awaiting a special arrival.

Two days ago, I received the package that held the first edition of Jean-Jacques Fournier’s poetry book, Poetry in Brief – a day in a life -.

I had already downloaded the e-book format, but there is something wonderful about feeling the pages turn and reveal the words that are waiting for me on the next page.

Jean-Jacques” acknowledgement at the end of the book was poignant and a testament to the creative talent of Marianne, his wife and life partner.

“My profound heartfelt thanks to my dear wife and life partner Marianne. For it is she with her creative mind, for near all my book designs, continues to be my poetic council, reader and adviser. Thus so with patience, that can still endure my unorthodox writing time, and schedule abuses. Her ongoing encouragement, along with that of generous readers, have brought this effort, my seventeenth collection of poems, to a finished book state.”

I have already taken Poetry in Brief on my nature walk and spoke the words aloud in the sunshine to the audience of spring flowers.

Pen, Paper & Signature

My fountain pen arrived yesterday at my doorstep.

It was not what I expected.  The cartridges were missing.  How could this be?  I soon discovered that I did not look at the fine print which features the benefits of this specific fountain pen.  The cartridges were not to be found when I looked back at my order.  

Serendipity had prevailed for I had been looking for a fountain pen that required ink and reluctantly ordered what I thought was a cartridge fountain pen.  I was excited to see the small pump-like apparatus that had clearly been upgraded since my 6th grade fountain pen days.

Now to order the ink.

Fountain pens are perfect for cursive writing, which is making a comeback in the world of keyboards and digitalization. Research suggests (and even maintains) that cursive handwriting stimulates the brain in ways that typing cannot.  Other advantages included increased writing speed (I have yet to experience this benefit as my fingers love to type), improved fine motor skills, increased retention and enhanced legibility and spelling ability.   Best of all, my signature will be of higher quality! 

Over the next months, I will put cursive writing to the test and report back on my findings.

I leave you with this quote to consider:

“When you die, others who think they know you, will concoct things about you… Better pick up a pen and write it yourself, for you know yourself best.” Sholom Aleichem, Russian Writer

Celebrating Ireland with Armergin

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Tradition maintains that on March 17, in the year 432, Saint Patrick, at the young age of 16, was captured by Irish pirates from his home in Great Britain and taken as a slave to Ireland. Little did the pirates know that this young man would be an agent for change and celebrated centuries after his passing. They had found a treasure greater than gold

I am celebrating by going back in Ireland’s long-ago history to meet up with Amergin, aka Glúingel (“white knees”) a bard, a Milesian prince and Druid. It is said it that he was a judge for the Milesians in the Irish Mythological Cycle.

“The Mystery” is a starting point for more research into the ancient stories. Thank you for joining me in a nature walk, reading Amergin’s poem, “The Mystery.”

In researching this poem, I have come across the renowned Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory, Irish dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager.

This is Augusta, Lady Gregory’s translation of The Song of Amergin “The Mystery.”

“I am the wind on the sea;
I am the wave of the sea;
I am the bull of seven battles;
I am the eagle on the rock
I am a flash from the sun;
I am the most beautiful of plants;
I am a strong wild boar;
I am a salmon in the water;
I am a lake in the plain;
I am the word of knowledge;
I am the head of the spear in battle;
I am the god that puts fire in the head;
Who spreads light in the gathering on the hills?
Who can tell the ages of the moon?
Who can tell the place where the sun rests?”

Celebrating Robert Burns with Dr. Leith Davis

Simon Fraser University Centre for Scottish Studies

Tonight, we celebrate Robert Burns, affectionately known as Rabbie Burns, the great Scottish poet and lyricist. He has been given the honoured titles of National Bard, Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet. He penned in the language of the Scots, even though much of his writing is in light Scots dialect and in English.

This year will be different from all other Robert Burns Suppers that have been held throughout its history. January 25, 2021 will be the first time that the Burns Supper will be going virtual across the world.

Dr. Leith Davis, Professor of English at Simon Fraser University and Director of Simon Fraser University, Centre for Scottish Studies, speaks of another moment in the history of Burns Suppers when new technologies connected the community celebrations across vast distances.

Dr. Leith Davis, Director Centre for Scottish Studies

Thank you for joining in celebrating the life and works of Robert Burns.

Celebrating National Hat Day 2021

Celebrating National Hat Day with Jean-Jacques Fournier with his poem, The Gift of a Day.

January 15th is National Hat Day, an unofficial holiday that celebrates one of the most essential accessories invented centuries ago.  The Egyptians sported sassy headgear, along with the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Even Frederick the Great had something to say about hats when he remarked, “A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in.”

I did not know that the Fedora was originally a woman’s hat. Nor did I know that “hatters” and “milliners” were not the same, although both made hats. Traditionally, hats for women were made by milliners and hats for men were made by hatters.

Hats keep us warm in winter’s chill and cool in summer’s heat. Hats shield us in spring rains, and protects us in autumn winds. From sun hats, berets, beanies, baseball caps to graduation mortarboards, hats give us a reason to celebrate.

The Gift Of A Day ”
– to live as tho a lifetim
e –

Was yet another guide,
For what I am to live…

I am alive since now,
To live as tho a lifetime
This and every day…

Will only be,
Of consequence
When I am there,
As I’ve no time
For what may never be…

The gift of a day
Be another morrow,
I am alive again
Since now,
For yet another
And find to choose
I am to live this day
And those that follow
As though they be a lifetime!

written in Montréal© Jean-Jacques FournierSeptember 17, 1988, the day of my birthday,alas not my birthyear!

Dave Astor’s ‘Twas the Write Before Christmas

The week between Christmas and News Years is a time of reflection and anticipation. The days are mellow, with the festive glow gently prompting us to look back to where we have been even as we look forward to where we are heading next.

Poignancy and anticipation invite us to invest in the present moment. As Edith Sitwell, advises, “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”

This winter, the duo of tea and books will take on new meaning within our continuing solitude.

My books have been neatly stacked and tea is at hand. And in this joyful spirit of reading, I think of Dave Astor’s literary version of Clement Clark Moore’s famous poem “A Visit from St. Nicolas, which he posted on December 13, 2020.

I am beyond thrilled that Dave game his permission for me to recite, ‘Twas the WRITE Before Christmas. Thank you Dave!

My dear friends, please join me in reciting this heartwarming poem that says thank you for the past year even as we welcome 2021.

I invite you to visit Dave at Dave Astor on Literature, where books and stories come alive.

Dave Astor’s literary version of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”:

Twas 12 days before Christmas, and all through the nook
Few things are more stirring than reading a book
The novels are stacked by the chimney with care
To read or reread, like the stellar Jane Eyre
The children are nestled all snug in their beds
Too young for Dostoyevsky to mess with their heads
My wife at her desk and the cat in my lap
To read George Eliot beats taking a nap

Then outside the window there arose such a clatter
As if Jack Reacher had made all the bad guys scatter
To that window I raced (I did not totter)
As fast as Voldemort chased Harry Potter

The moon shone down on Outlander-ish snow
Evoking ghostly visions of Edgar A. Poe

When what to my wondering eyes’ insistence
Appeared Ruth the librarian and eight assistants
Ruth read Tolstoy’s novels so lively and quick
I knew in a moment she wasn’t St. Nick
Her book faves came faster than Zadie Smith quips
She laughed and she shouted and said with her lips:

“Now, Hobbit! Now, Huck Finn! Now, Rob Roy and Moby!
On, Zora! On, Liane! On, Jhumpa and Toni!
To the top of to-read lists! Best-seller lists, too!
Whether dead or alive, they belong in your queue!”

The wind took book pages and made them fly
Up into the air: The Sheltering Sky
On top of the house the library team rose
Their cart full of fiction: Remarque-able prose

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
“Colette’s Claudine at School is such a fun goof”
As I drew in my head, and spun all around,
Down the chimney plunged Ruth, not Ezra Pound
Sue Grafton mysteries that had come in the mail
Stephen King novels streaked with ashes and hail
Even more books that Ruth had flung on her back
Including The Scarlet Letter in “A” big Nat-pac

Those books, how they twinkled! The titles so many!
Atwood and Baldwin and Louise (last name Penny)
Marquez magic realism and valet Jeeves
And Lily Bart in Mirth — any reader grieves

Ruth knows William Faulkner put a pipe in his mouth
And To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the South
And Winnie the Pooh has a little round belly
And Don Quixote “lived” before Mary Shelley
And Thomas Hardy was hardly a jolly old elf
And Of Human Bondage was based on Maugham himself

But don’t read Agatha Christie prior to bed
To avoid waking up feeling nothing but dread

Ruth, as The Pathfinder, decides on a path
Fills stockings with novels, like The Grapes of Wrath
She then mutters Vonnegut’s phrase “So it goes”
And back up the chimney the librarian rose
She sprang again on the cart, and gave a whistle
And away that crew flew like a sci-fi missile

But I heard Ruth exclaim, before she soared out of sight
“The Great Gatsby is better than Tender Is the Night”

25 Books in 2020 Challenge

January 2020, I received a message from my nephew, Aaron, with a Family Challenge to read 25 books in the Year 2020. Incidentally, Aaron is a prodigious reader, his last update saying that he had a 1300 page book ready for our Family Challenge 2021. I signed up to the 25 in 2020 challenge along with six other family members. Every month, we would receive Aaron’s inspiring update encouraging us to keep reading.

December 2020, I received the latest update from Aaron, with a new challenge:

I would love everyone to reflect on the reading they have done and pick a top 5 for the year and then from there select one book as your favorite book of the year.

Here is the challenge! I would then like you to make a short blurb about this book to sell someone on your top selection. Think “Back of the book” style blurb to hook someone in. I will then take the blurbs submitted and let your words try to sell your best book of the year to not one, but two independent individuals who will select the book of their choice based on only your blurb. If you could have the write ups sent by December 22nd, I will engage the two individuals selecting shortly after Christmas so we can have the winners in time for the 2021 kickoff.

Godspeed to everyone and let me know if there are any questions or concerns.

There will be prizes for the two selected.

So with Aaron’s challenge in mind, I decided that I would submit my blurb in video format. So, without further ado, here are my 5 top books for 2020 in alphabetical order. You will find my top pick recorded in the video.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Circe by Madeline Miller

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia by Dave Astor

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

October by Robert Frost

October by Robert Frost

November has made its way through time with a speed that leaves me breathless, even a little bewildered. My sister Sarah, has a theory based on quantum physics that time speeds up as we age. I’m thinking that she has insight into this matter, considering that we are nearing the end of 2020 and are about to usher in 2021.

October by Robert Frost was to have been published the first part of November since, as the title clearly states that the poem is all about October. So without further ado, please join Robert Frost and me in reciting October. His words resonate: “Begin the hours of this day slow. Make the day seem to us less brief.

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.