Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch and Me…

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading details how a year of reading a book a day healed the author, Nina Sankovitch, after the death of her older sister, Anne-Marie. I understand this reading project because it reminds me of my own. I have not lost my sister. I have not lost my brother. Thank God. The person who has died is me … at least the me I used to be.

“Everyone has a before and after, the times of our lives divided by an event of loss or suffering or hardship.”

Sometime in 2006, my own body turned on me … literally. First, my immune system attacked and killed my thyroid gland causing hypothyroidism. Then, my immune system redirected its attack to my intestines and I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. After trying various medications that did not help, I found one that did, but after about a year this medication induced Lupus and I was no longer able to take it or any drug in its family. The last available medication supressed my over-active immune system too far and in 2009 I developed a serious intestinal infection that resulted in surgery to remove that section of my small intestine. There are currently no other medications available for Crohn’s Disease treatment that I can try. As there is no cure for Crohn’s Disease, and other such auto-immune disorders, I may simply never be the person I used to be. In the last year, a lovely fibromyalsia diagnosis has been added to the mix along with the news that my intestines no longer absorb certain nutrients from food, such as iron and vit B12, which means the rest of my lifetime will include necessary forms of supplementation. While there are good and bad days, my physical limitations have made it difficult for me to be the wife and mother I once was. Although I continued to work after the first few years of my diagnosis, I am not currently able to do so. I had to put aside my college studies and my career goals and the clock is ticking. There are many days when I feel like I don’t know who this person staring back at me in the mirror is. There are many days that I feel like a failure. There have been many days when guilt, anger, bitterness, sadness, and depression have washed over me  … certainly because of the disastrous wake of these disorders, but also because of other mounting personal issues in my life. I try to remember that there are many people with worse struggles than mine. I try to remember to thank God for each new day.

Nina shares this quote: “Have you ever been heartbroken to finish a book? Has a writer kept whispering in your ear long after the last page turned?” – Elizabeth Maguire

I have had to grieve the death of the person I once was and begin to accept the person I have become. This little reading project of mine has given me a vehicle through which I can begin to regain a purpose in my life beyond living for my daughter and perhaps through which I can begin to heal in some way … much like Nina Sankovitch. This is why I was so moved by her story. This is why I am so moved by the journeys of the other bloggers I have had the privilege to become acquainted with through my own venture. We are all somehow nourished by books, reading, blogs, writing … etc. It is a magical thing.

Each chapter of the book has its own message … its own lesson. The book could almost be read as a collection of essays and yet … it must be read as a whole as there is a thread weaving through the writing bringing everything together in a way that I admire. I wish I had been familiar with more of the books that are referenced. I found many of the titles to be quite obscure. I really wanted to connect with Nina through specific books, but in the end I found that it was enough to connect with her through the idea of reading as therapy. I need this therapy, this nourishment … oh, how I need some healing.

“The truth of living is proved not by the inevitability of death but by the wonder that we lived at all.”

Nina has reminded me that sometimes “the sheer value of living”, the feat of living is enough … that the little things are what matter … that it is ok to do only the minimum house cleaning that needs to be done … that it is ok to do only what I really want to do (to spend my diminished energy wisely) … that I must focus on the good memories … that “one must take control of one’s life or become nothing but a broken branch, drifting in the current” … that “books can pave my way” … and so much more. Thank you Nina.

Checkin In … and Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

I’ve been busy … thinking … thinking about reading rather than actually reading. The problem is that there are just so many books out there that I want to read that I have been having a hard time focusing on any one selection. I need to finish that Anne Sexton biography, but I suddenly couldn’t help myself and decided to join Allie’s (all ready in progress) read-along of Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray. (I did not have a copy of this selection, so I checked it out from my local library. The original library card was still in the back of the book, although check-out is now computerized. The book was first checked out on July 27 1963! Suddenly, I was wondering what brave souls in my town had checked this out before me … before I was even born?) I am craving a look at Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch, The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma, and Breaking Night by Liz Murray. Apparently, the memoir addict in me needs a hit.

I did finish Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934, last night. Although I like mysteries, this was my first go round with Ms. Christie – the most widely published mystery author of all time. I put this selection on my project reading list because I felt that Agatha Christie was the definition of “classic” as far as women mystery writers go. Set on a passenger train, the story held my attention, but by the end I couldn’t help but think that much of what was happening was highly improbable, including Hercule Poirot’s incredible detective skills, and this was a bit of a turn-off for me. Then again, I have never been much of a detective myself (although I can play a mean game of Clue) so who I am to judge the probability of his skills? I was also not impressed with the ethnic stereotyping that I felt was present in the writing.

Agatha Christie 1890-1976

In the end, all I can say is: Was it Mrs. White in the dining car with the fork? Well, you will just have to read it to find out!

Good Detective Advice: “If you confront anyone who has lied with the truth, he will usually admit it-often out of sheer surprise. It is only necessary to guess right to produce your effect.” – Hercule Poirot

Liar, Liar…

I don’t ever participate in the memes floating around the neighborhood, but this week’s Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and Bookish was a classic that I just couldn’t resist: Top Ten Books I Have Lied About!

1. I lived with my grandmother growing up and she was a little on the … umm … let’s say conservative side. When I brought home Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret in elementary school and she asked me what it was about, instead of divulging any bust increasing, puberty related content I immediately replied … GOD!

2. Admitting to having read AND liked the Twilight series seems to be a major party foul around the blogosphere … but here it is: I read and LOVED ’em!!! Oh, God … did I just say that out loud???

3. I have some kind of weird aversion to Harry Potter fans. I am always saying how much I hate the series, but that can’t really be possible when I have never read the books!!! Well, I tried to read the first one once a long time ago, but never finished it. I have no idea why the mere mention of this series makes me want to gag. Maybe it has something to do with the giant spiders in one of the movies I happened upon once on late night cable … who knows.

4. I once did a HUGE term paper in highschool on Edith Wharton, got an A, but never read one ounce of her work … still haven’t.

5. Allie, plug your ears! I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace for a read along back in January over at  A Literary Odyssey … well, all except the last 220 pages! For some reason, I just never finished it. I meant to, but as more and more time went on, I just slipped it back on the shelf. I have to get it over with soon. That way when I tell people I have read War and Peace, the last 220 pages aren’t haunting me … as if the first 1000 pages weren’t enough …

6. I say I really like the stream of consciousness writing style … and I do … at least the idea of it. But, reading Joyce and Faulkner is PAINFUL … ugly painful!

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

*This post may contain spoilers for those that have not read Wide Sargasso Sea, published in 1966. * 🙂

“Blot out the moon,

Pull down the stars.

Love in the dark, for we’re for the dark

So soon, so soon.”

“There are always two deaths, the real one and the one people know about.”

How true this is for Mr. Rochester and Antoinette: the death of who they each could have been being so much more haunting than the ultimate end of life.

I had no idea this little gem existed prior to hearing about it on various blogs. I have
to wonder what Charlotte Bronte would have thought of this extension of Jane Eyre, but I was impressed. I was swept into another world, another time, another place … rich with culture, Obeah, secrets, and emotion. Jean Rhys laid down some exquisite prose: haunting and sweltering: her words seemed to capture the thick, heavy, sweltering atmosphere of the Jamaican setting. Oppression, a major theme of the novel, is brought to life for the reader in the metaphor of oppressive humidity in her words.

Racial tensions play an interesting role in the novel. The white folks are the minority here and this “reverse discrimination” is what ultimately drives Antoinette’s mother
mad. Tragedy, fueled by this racial strife and hatred, takes her home, her son,
and her mind leaving her daughter Antoinette vulnerable to a marriage with a
man who is little more than a stranger, rather than the “colored” boy she loves. But,
despite the fact that Rochester and Antoinette are married for reasons that
have nothing to do with love, they seem to fall for each other anyway and are
initially happy together. Ironically, they are drowning in their passion for one
another as Daniel Cosway enters the story: a man I despise.

Daniel, who claims to be Antoinette’s half brother, takes it upon himself to write a letter to Rochester claiming that he has been duped into marrying a woman who is
hiding many secrets including the history of mental illness in her family. It
appears that Rochester becomes convinced that Antoinette is destined to be just
as crazy and immediately begins to push her away. It is as if in an instant,
Rochester’s world becomes colored by a shadow of negativity and all that he experienced before was just a beautiful dream. This one petty, vindictive action by Daniel puts in motion a chain of events that leads to the heartbreaking death of who both Rochester and Antoinette could have been and she becomes the lunatic in the
attic of Thornfield … Bertha … a zombie .. “a living person who is dead.”

“Very soon she’ll join all the others who know the secret and
will not tell it. Or cannot … they can be recognized. White faces, dazed eyes,
aimless gestures, high pitched laughter … they’ve got to be watched. For the
time comes when they try to kill, then disappear. But others are waiting to
take their places, it’s a long, long line … I too can wait – for the day when
she is only a memory to be avoided, locked away, and like all memories a
legend. Or a lie.”

The question is this: Was mental illness hereditary for Antoinette, an unavoidable destiny? Or was her fate caused by specific circumstance? If not for this letter and what followed could Antoinette have led a normal, healthy, happy life or would another event down the road have still triggered the same type of breakdown? Could Rochester have saved her if only he could have tried?

A young Jean...

Favorite Quote: “His name was Disastrous because his Godmother thought it such a pretty word.” – Antoinette Cosway

Jean Rhys 1890-1979

Becoming Carrie Bradshaw…Summer in the City: A Carrie Diaries Novel

I did not enjoy Candace Bushnell’s book: Sex and the City. It was a rare example of a book that was NOT better than the movie (or TV series in this case).  However, I am a huge Carrie Bradshaw fan, so when Bushnell began publishing a YA series about Carrie’s younger years I was willing to give her another try. This week I picked up the second book in the series: Summer and the City and finished it in one glorious sitting. The book detailed Carrie’s first summer living in NYC after her high school graduation and explained how she became friends with Samantha Jones and Miranda Hobbes. I enjoyed it, although I kept thinking that I should have written this book. Why didn’t I think of this?
The (slightly weird) truth is that I wish I was the fabulous Carrie Bradshaw rather than the ordinary Carey Ruscitto. I live in NY State, but I have only been to NYC twice: once on our senior class trip and once for a concert at Madison Square Gardens. I wish I would have had the courage to leave my small town for the big city. I wish I would have spent my first summer after graduation taking a writing class, shopping in vintage clothing shops and at the Strand bookstore, and going to fabulously exciting parties.
I wish all of this had eventually led me to writing my own column at my desk in front of my window in Carrie’s exact apartment, to a love affair with shoes, the NY Public Library and John Preston (AKA Mr. Big). Maybe someday I will at least travel to the city for my own private vacation in Carrie Bradshaw’s world…I long to do this, especially after reading Summer and the City and re-watching the Sex and the City movie for the 10th plus time. The book was certainly not close to the caliber of the classics I have been reading, but it was a delightful light read!

Why Don’t We Write Letters Anymore? Anne Sexton: A Self Portrait in Letters

I consider the extinction of letter writing one of the great downfalls of technological advancement. I love reading journals and collections of letters. I recently picked up a very nice hard cover edition of Anne Sexton: A Self Portrait in Letters for less than $5 at a used bookstore. Anne Sexton wrote and published poetry in the 1960s. A suburban housewife and mother, she began writing poetry as a form of therapy. Anne, along with other poets such as Sylvia Plath, is often referred to as a confessional poet. This kind of poetry deals with intimate, and sometimes painful, details of the poets life such as mental illness, marriage, divorce, and sexuality.
Born on November 9, 1928, Anne was actually my grandmother’s age. Sadly, after a life long battle with mental illness she committed suicide in 1974, shortly before her 46th birthday. Her letters paint an interesting picture of the roller coaster ride she lived on. Through her written voice, the reader can tell when Anne is feeling “normal”, manic, disjointed, needy, depressed, and medicated. I have always felt that there is a thin line between genius and insanity. So, the fact that so many famous writers seemed to have suffered from mental illness, most commonly bi-polar disorder, absolutely fascinates me. Anne’s case is no exception.
She corresponded with many different individuals over the years including other writers and, even, a monk. It seems that many of these exchanges started out with an intensity on both sides, but inevitably the “friendship” would slowly dissolve as Anne became too needy. She expected these individuals to be her therapist, poetic sounding board, and lover all via a letter exchange.
Her letters were often witty, passionate, and raw. Anne was a horrific speller, used unconventional punctuation and typed most of her letters. In a letter to Tillie Olson, another writer, she says: I wish my letters could look like a poem…your writing is so tiny and perfect that it looks as if a fairy with a pink pen and rubies in her hair had sat down to write to me. And I…I must look like a rather stout man who sits by a very respectable black typewriter.”
Some of my other favorite excerpts:
“I wish I were nineteen. Not that it’s better or worse to be me at 36 but it gives you so much more time to grow. Inside I’m only thirteen and outside I have wrinkles and a family and many who depend on me.”
 “how does one go to sleep without pills? how does one live with the knowledge that death, their special death, is waiting silently in their body to overtake them at some undetermined time? how can this be done if there is no God? how does one not get struck by lightning when everyone knows it could and just might strike YOU? or tornadoes that suck you right up into a cloud?
Sleep without pills? impossible. take pills! death? have fantasies of killing myself and thus being the powerful one. God? spend half time wooing Catholics who will pray for you in case it’s true. Spend other half knowing there certainly is no God. Spend fantasy time thinking that there is life after death, because surely my parents, for instance, are not dead, they are, good God!, just buried. Lightning? wear sneakers, stay off phone. Tornado? retire to cellar to look at washing machine and interesting junk in cellar.”
* Oddly enough, Anne’s advice on lightning was exactly that of my Grandmother’s … which cracked me up!!
A Self Portrait Rendered by Anne
“Your traveling Button will now walk somehow down the stairs and out of her tears.”

“Lonliness is a terrible thing and to be alone with people can be pretty horrible.”

On suicide: “There are those that are killed and the few that kill and then the other kind, those that do both at once.” At one point in a letter to Anne Clark, a friend who was also a therapist, she is again writing about the concept of suicide and then suddenly says: “Sandy and Les are coming over for a drink. I shall now go out to new kitchen and prepare shrimp and cocktail sauce.” What a contrast.

In a letter to her daughter Joy she says: “You went to the library yourself. Gee whiz I am happy … now you will be free in a way you have never been free. I mean now you can go to the library and find a friend anytime … long ago, when I was your age, I loved most to go to the library alone. To me it is one of the most important steps in growing up. JUST as special, I think, as getting breasts and all that kind of thing.”
“I hoard books. They are people who do not leave.”

 “Letters are false really-they are [sometimes] expressions of the way you wish you were instead of the way you are…(poems might come under the same category).”

“Oh, I really believe in God – it’s Christ that boggles the mind.”

“But you got only praise. But I know, praise can be heavy too. Yes. I understand.”

The collection was edited by Anne’s daughter, Linda, and Anne’s friend, Lois Ames. Between letters some biographical information is provided to allow for better comprehension of the letters, but I am still left wanting to know more details. I plan to read her biography and then after that I plan to examine her poems. I think it important to have an understanding of Anne the person before delving into her poetry since her style is so autobiographical in nature.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte…Final Thoughts…

*This post may contain spoilers for those who have not read the novel, although, from what I can tell, there does not seem to be many who have never read Jane Eyre. J

Oh Jane Eyre, (first published by Charlotte Bronte in 1847 under the pseudonym Currer Bell) even now I am not sure that I completely understand what all the hype is about. The novel did become much more interesting after the first third. I liked the book. It was certainly better than I had expected it to be, but I am still not sure if I can list it as one of my absolute favorites. However, it goes without saying that Charlotte Bronte was a talented writer.

Some thoughts:
1.      Did anyone else have a hard time picturing Jane as just an 18-19 year old girl? She seemed to resonate in my head as more of a contemporary of Mr. Rochester’s generation and I had to keep reminding myself how young she really was.
2.      I really enjoyed the scene where Mr. Rochester posed as the fortune teller! I also liked how interested Jane seemed to be in “signs” and the meaning of dreams and such. For example: “When I was a little girl, only six years old, I one night heard Bessie Leaven say to Martha Abbott that she had been dreaming about a little child: and that to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble, either to oneself or one’s kin.”
3.      It surprised me that Jane would travel back to see Mrs. Reed on her death bed. I am not sure that I would have been able to turn the other cheek and give the woman any satisfaction.
4.      Beautiful foreshadowing for what is about to happen to Jane and Rochester on their proposed wedding day: “It was not without a certain wild pleasure I ran before the wind, delivering my trouble of mind to the measureless air torrent thundering through space. Descending the laurel-walk, I faced the wreck of the chestnut-tree; it stood up, black and riven: the trunk, split down the centre, gasped ghastly. The cloven halves were not broken from each other, for the firm base and strong roots kept them unsundered below; though community of vitality was destroyed-the sap could flow no more: their great boughs on each side were dead … as yet, however, they might be said to form one tree-a ruin, but an entire ruin.”
5.      If you were Jane, what would you have done upon the discovery of Mrs. Rochester? Would you have escaped in the night to nothing and no one or would you have stayed with Mr. Rochester, your love, although marriage was no longer an option? “What is better?-To have surrendered to temptation; listened to passion … fallen asleep on the flowers covering it; wakened in a southern climate … to have been now living in France, Mr. Rochester’s mistress … or to be a village schoolmistress, free and honest, in the breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England?” I would have stayed with Rochester.
6.      Grace Poole…uh, how the heck did this woman retain her own sanity while being cloistered on the third floor providing care for a lunatic such as Mrs. Rochester? Wasn’t she scared out of her mind that she was going to end up dead herself? I don’t blame her for her propensity to drink gin in the evenings!
7.     Did I find any more similarities to Rebecca as I read on? Well, Grace Poole is odd, but she is definitely no Mrs. Danvers. There are many obvious plot differences and the more passionate love story of Jane and Rochester. Thornfield burns to the ground like Manderlay, but ultimately, Daphne du Maurier’s work felt much darker…it was much heavier on the “eerie” factor…much more suspenseful. Some of this was no doubt because Manderlay itself became a character, taking on a life of its own, while Thornfield remained just a setting and because Jane Eyre simply contained a much more hopeful tone than Rebecca.
8.      Did I find that Jane returned to her former feisty glory? Not exactly in the bold way that I had hoped for, but a certain fire laced with grace remained. Actually, I quite liked it.
Charlotte Bronte

Favorite Quotes:

“The waters came into my soul; I sank in deep mire: I felt no standing; I came into deep waters; the floods overflowed me.” – Jane Eyre
“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.” – Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte…Initial Thoughts…

I have read about a third of Jane Eyre, the classic I never intended to read, and so far…so-so. The novel opens with Jane looking back on her life at age 10. Her parents are deceased and she has been living in the home of her Uncle Reed who, on his own death-bed, forced his wife to promise to continue to look after Jane. She is provided with material comforts, but is treated cruelly and starved for affection. She is reminded each and every day just how unwanted she is in the Reed’s world. Ultimately, she is shipped off to a school for orphans. At least here, Jane meets companions and receives an education; however, the girls are often literally starving and there is a typhus outbreak that results in the death of many students. Eventually, the conditions at Lowood are exposed and improved. Jane excels academically and at age 18, she joins the cast of characters at the home of Mr. Rochester as governess.

Initially, I fell in love with Jane’s feisty character (the scene where she stands up to Mrs. Reed!!!), but her time at Lowood appears to have dampened some of her original fire. Perhaps this is just a natural maturing. I became bored by much of the story in this first third. I was struck with a “blah” feeling that reminded me of Jane’s simple, “blah” appearance. Is this where the term “plain Jane” originated from? However, things seem to finally be picking up. Someone has tried to burn Mr. Rochester alive by setting his bed on fire and there is much mystery surrounding one Grace Poole. The mention of Poole brings me to one of the reasons why I decided to read this novel in the first place: I had heard that it held similarities to Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. I found they both start rather slow, involve a mansion shrouded in mystery with an eerie portion of the home that isn’t used and include a whack job character on the house staff. Also, in both cases, the narrators are reflecting on their past. Will the similarities end here? Will Jane return to her former feisty glory? Ok, I am intrigued enough to read on…


Since starting this blog (as a reading journal of sorts), I have been contemplating keeping a personal journal as well. I kept a diary at different times in my youth. As an adult, I often wanted to start journaling again, but all the thoughts that swirl around in my head never seem to make it to paper. I get lost in the details of this idea. I like the idea of a regular pen and paper journal, but I hate my handwriting. Should I keep my journal on my laptop because there will be spell check and an orderly font? Will someone betray my trust and help themselves to my private thoughts (which happened to me as a child)?
Do you journal (outside of your blog)? Do you keep a notebook, a fancy cloth bound journal, or a computer document?