Monday, December 27, 2010

London Snow: A Christmas Story

Finished London Snow: A Christmas Story, written by Paul Theroux and illustrated by John Lawrence. This is a very slender volume. Two children live with their mother, Mrs. Mutterance, above their sweet shop in London. Just before Christmas, their cruel and miserly landlord, who lives upstairs, tells them he is planning to evict them and turn the shop into a launderette. The next morning they awake to a city blanketed in snow, into which their landlord disappears. The children say good riddance, but Mrs. Mutterance does not want him on their conscience and institutes a search. This was a quick and intriguing read. The wood cut illustrations are wonderfully detailed and add to the mysterious mood of the book.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Storm in the Village

Finished Storm in the Village by Miss Read, published in 1958. This is the third book in her Fairacre series of life in a small English village. There is a lot of worry and upheaval over the proposed building of a housing estate for workers from the nearby atomic plant. The site for the project is Hundred Acre Field, a beloved and rich bit of local farmland which has been featured in numerous paintings by local artist Dan Crockford. The project would involve many changes for the inhabitants of Fairacre, Beech Green and Caxley, including higher rates, larger congregations and the re-organization of Miss Read's school. Mrs. Pringle with her limp of disapproval and the Vicar with his shedding leopard skin gloves reappear, as well as other charming characters. This book, even more than the first two, reminds me of Jan Karon's Mitford series. I always like to curl up with a Miss Read novel around Christmastime.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The White Stag

Finished The White Stag, written and illustrated by Kate Seredy. It won the Newbery Medal in 1938. This is a tale of Atilla the Hun, from his birth to his finding a homeland for his people in what is now Hungary. The story is epic. The drawings are sensitively rendered and the prose is thoughtfully written. I couldn't quite get myself to enjoy this book. Perhaps it's the subject matter. Perhaps it's my lack of interest in anything that happened before 1600.

Seredy won two Newbery Honor Medals as well for The Good Master (1936) and The Singing Tree (1940). She also won for her illustrations in Ruth Sawyers The Christmas Anna Angel in 1945.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Phantom Tollbooth

Finished The Phantom Tollbooth written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Fieffer, published in 1961. In elementary school in the 70s I felt like this book was always around, hovering at the edges of things. Maybe because it looked like a boy's book, or maybe because it seemed too science fictiony, I always avoided it and never actually read it until now. It's so wonderfully clever and original. Like the C.S. Lewis' wardrobe, the tollbooth is the gateway to a magical world where so much seems to take place, but when a child returns to their own world, very little time has passed. When it was published there was concern that the book was too smart, too challenging for children to grasp. I think it would be interesting to read it as a child and then revisit it as an adult to compare the two reading experiences. Juster is also the author of the charming The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics. I remember seeing the film version of this in math class numerous times.

I found a wonderful interview with Juster on

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Mindful Way Through Depression

Finished The Mindful Way Through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn. This book was assigned reading for me. My therapist felt that the techniques taught throughout would be useful for dealing with chronic anxiety. I'll admit that I was skeptical at first, but having read the whole book and used the accompanying meditation CD, I can say that it has some excellent points.

Many of us speed through our days on a sort of frantic autopilot, not experiencing life as it happens. The authors explain that this is the work of the "doing mind." I myself spend a lot of time ruminating, rehashing old, stressful conversations or events and even imagining new non-existent ones. The techniques of mindfulness help the reader to redirect the mind from these patterns to experience what is actually happening at that moment. You have to retrain your brain. It's challenging if this is an old habit for you, but definitely worthwhile. Many breathing and meditation exercises are also suggested.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Four Gardens

Finished Four Gardens By Margery Sharp. This is Sharp's fifth novel, published in 1935. It tells the story of Caroline, a kind and mild woman, from her girlhood into late middle age. Each section of the book, and her life, features a different garden. It has the usual Sharp charm and attention to detail. Something about this book reminded me of Barbara Pym's writing, probably the character of Caroline herself.

This was an interlibrary loan from the Flint Public Library. The book had several stamps inside indicating that it had been decomisioned and was probably in storage when I asked for it. I'm very happy to have been able to give it a proper airing.