Joys of July

Just can’t believe that July is almost over! The girls start school on August 12th and 14th, dates which coincide with their ages, -though that soon will change, since they are having birthdays this fall-.

Frankly, I want school to start. Not for the girls, who are holding to their vacation time as fast as possible, :), and not because I’m tired of being with them. They are old enough for me to enjoy doing things with them, or just hanging out at home. It’s work that I miss. You heard me. I do enjoy my job as a substitute. It suits me perfectly. It motivates me to wake up, and once out, I like having things to do, at work and after. The day or days I don’t work, I enjoy house work and going to the gym.

When you substitute, every day is different, yet when I repeat schools, there’s a welcoming familiarity with the staff. This job gives me lots of freedom, I’m very thankful for it.

The girls had a blast doing back to school shopping. I enjoyed their experience vicariously. A couple of times, when looking for clothes, we had some hiccups. Selection and nice fitting clothes in the sizes and styles my oldest needs and likes, can be a challenge.

For the youngest it was simpler. She wears a uniform to school. And then the backpacks, water-bottles, and some supplies. It was illustrative and fun. They taught me much, and I made some discoveries of products and stores new to us. There’s such a thing as the art of shopping, peeps, in store and online. 🙂

Conclusion, after several visits to stores and the nearby mall, and a gazillion trips to Walmart, oldest is ready for her first year of high school, and youngest keeps gathering courage to weather 7th grade.

Earlier in June, I thought my Back to the Classics Challenge wasn’t going that well, neither my book count in general. I didn’t mind, I just had no idea that once July hit, with more time in my hands, I’d meet nine of the twelve books for the challenge with some swapping around.

For me, the trick with these lists and challenges, it’s to move freely and to not worry if at times it seems one is not meeting the goal, or if it’s not met in its entirety. I wanted my summer reading to bring me joy and surprises, and the books to be like little vacations. I started to catch up with your wonderful blogs, and I couldn’t resist to follow some of your suggestions.

I got to read two books by P.D. James, a short stories collection of mysteries, and her famous dystopia, The Children of Men. I also decided to read C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves, and paired it with Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. I read Cleo’s amazing posts on Lewis’s book, which I recommend to all of you if you happen to read the book.

I saw Brona reading several of Maigret’s titles. Maigret is the detective of a series of many books written by Georges Simenon. She follows a Paris in July reading challenge, and also the 20 books of summer, -only that it’s winter where she lives-.

I don’t know why, but this summer I’ve gravitated towards dystopia and mystery. From Maigret’s title, –The Yellow Dog was my choice-, I went to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Maigret’s book was familiar. I believe I’ve read that story before, or watched the movie adaptations. I’ll go back to more of Simenon’s books. As for Christie, it’s always a sure shot to read her books. This title felt familiar as well, not that I would ever remember the plot, or who did it.

Then I stalked my sweet friend Janakay’s blog, at her post about prizes, newspapers columns on books, and the evolution, -or devolution- of the Booker Man Prize, and hijacked her comments section.

Do writers have to be tuned up to social issues, must they write keeping in mind current events? I know some books will always be more permeated with all that happens around us, and yet, to what extent is politics or causes something that should be acknowledged by writers? My conclusion, -as of now, I’m still thinking out loud-, would be that the writer of merit has to have something to say. There has to be a force of its own that drives that book out of the hand of the author into existence.

Many of you are talking about this, Roy here sums it all up:

I recently worked as a slush pile reader for a literary magazine, sorting out the best stories from the flurry of submissions. Many of these were quite expertly written—sharp prose, snappy beginnings, intriguing plots, quirky characters, and all of the other boxes ticked. However, the lion’s share lacked something which I came to call “weight.”

Just then I told myself that those nominated for Booker Man Prize, may not become the Balzac’s of our time, to give you an example, -since Roy compared those stories to his reading of Balzac-. The XXI century, by its very nature, won’t produce writers like Balzac. (Edited to add that there would be the Balzacs of today, along a myriad of writers and books that only time will prune).

Our age is such of proliferation, the explosion of many voices, the focus on the diverse and the different. Gone are the authors who forged such a comprehensive and weighty view of humanity, worthy of being called to carry the weight and place it on our hands in the form of a book, able to represent the fullness of their time, Humanity with capital H.

With this question in mind, everything these past days talked to me about it. From the prizes and the New York’s column called By the Book, devoted to Javier Marías, I took a detour to find my old friend, Italo Calvino, and I read in this biography that he started as a politically committed writer. Then he left behind the explicitly political, and became interested in the conflict of the modern human, our lives we live immersed in societies that trample over our individuality, the alienation we suffer in the cities.

I’m also listening to an excellent narration of Cry the Beloved Country. That book was written in 1948, when we still thought we could write and collect our individuality and present a unified and coherent text with weight. I have read nothing about this book. I’m not attempting any literary criticism, just mentioning this to say how quickly books get ‘dated’ when placed close to our current views. And yet, isn’t this an example of a compelling classic that rises above any limitations?

More blatant it’s the case of And Then There Was None, by Agatha Christie. Its faults and defects many can’t stomach, and rightfully so. And yet, if we give this treatment to each and every classic from the past, no single book will stand without offense. What do I mean with this? Simple. We have overcome many biases, yet we suffer from old prejudices that keep resurfacing with new strength. Nothing new! It’s our responsibility to approach books with a leveled head when judging their value, even if we read them with passion, no matter which are favorites and which aren’t. Just chew the meat and spit the bones if you can. Don’t goad in the author or character’s take on something when that something is shameful. Put offenses in context, not to justify them, but to trace them and see when they originated, how they were fostered or eradicated.

I came to a full circle. Not really me, the writers have. They always will. Italo Calvino writing about those problems through his more fantastical, mythical, or allegorical books, is responding to the problems of those living a globalized world, isn’t he? He’s claiming our individuality as much as those who are more up front with this pursue. Any good work of literature is a response to our times, -but it should be much more-, it has to root itself to something that transcends. That goes for the small humble title too, don’t you think?

I still wonder if there’s too much gravel in all the new titles being considered. That may also be my own bias. Some book plots on that Booker Man Price list, looked to me the same dog with a worn out collar. It’s unjust on my part to judge those books by their blurb.

However, I’m not alone in my lack of passion for most of the new books. (Did you know Rushdie’s new book is called Qichotte? I learned that at Janakay’s blog entry. If there’s someone who can pull off a new spin on this classic, that’s Rushdie. So maybe there’s one of our time Titans there, right?). In his article for the New York Times, the same Julián Marías admits he doesn’t try anymore to be up to date with his reading of the new.

Other authors also recommend or admit to reading more from the classics pool than the new shinny waters. I know all of you feel that need to hold to a good old classic from time to time, -or often-.

I’ve been blessed by ignorance, a utopic goal, and slender means, (and I smile because I chose those words thinking about The Girls of Slender Means, book by Muriel Sparks in which some of us are interested), to read mostly classics since my thirties.

First of all, I had no idea there were so many literary contests, even though when I homeschool the girls, I translated a course and it contained a supplement with many of the old prizes such as Caldecott and Newbery, and I had to find Spanish equivalents, but it was for children and teens literature. I forgot about the whole lot of other prizes such as Premio Cervantes, Premio Planeta, Alfaguara, Nadal, etc., and had no clue of the Anglo counterparts.

My utopic goal was to read The Classics, and not just, but I kept discovering more and more categories, and it all got out of control, like when Italo Calvino was trying to classify cities for his book Invisible Cities. I’m reading it now, and I’m fascinated by it, by the idea behind it and its author’s introduction to it. There were the Spanish classics, from the peninsula and all the other Spanish speaking countries, the American, the British, then the other countries of the UK, and there’s Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Europe is impossible to tackle, and there’s Russia, Japan, many other Asian countries. I have no idea about Africa. What about the Greek and Roman classics? I’ll never read all Shakespeare, -besides a few plays, the others remain impenetrable-. And all those children’s classics I never read, plus time to reread.

One day I also rediscovered poetry. Sigh. Still no money or exposure to the newer titles or literary subscriptions. All those literary universes kept breaking into cells and more cells. It was not all too bad to have stayed mostly within the classics confines. Not bad at all. It was my choice. And my book choices change some with time and new opportunity.

But the classics are usually inexpensive, one can find them in the USA everywhere.

To those who read from a different pool, or mostly modern titles, I will add that I don’t attach any moral merit to my preference for the classics. Reading is a complex activity which doesn’t mean the same to all.

And now the explanation of the photos I sprinkled in this post. Above is a slice of almond cake, known in Spain as Tarta de Santiago. Growing up in Spain, this has always been one of my favorite desserts. I was mystified by it, never thinking one could accomplish anything close to it at a home kitchen.

I happened to type almond cake, and came to this site, and saw what it seemed an approachable recipe. I tried it. It was so easy, and the result so much like the flavor stored in my memory. I can’t stop recommending that you try it! I used three bags of sliced blanched almonds, $1.38 each at my local supermarket, plus the sugar, six eggs, the zest of a lemon and an orange, and four drops of almond extract, and if I only use it for this desert, will last me probably a life time!

The Nutella brownies were good too, but not as spectacular as the cake. I think they are even comparatively more expensive, since one cup of Nutella is almost half of a big jar, and the price is six something dollars. That’s okay too, I guess. My youngest who doesn’t like chocolate cookies, brownies, or chocolate desserts, was fond of these fudge-style three ingredients brownies.

As for the only two featured books, again, local used book store magic. I paid $10 for both, and that’s because I’ve run out of used book credit. I had the feeling I’d like this title by Atwood. I read her Handmaid’s Tale in a rush, many years ago. It was not a pleasant read, but I don’t think it was my time to understand it. Ruth at A Great Book Study, writes an interesting review from the point of view of a christian, and a reader who likes dystopian books.

I’m already and always preparing for next season, 🙂 I have Sandition in view for August, along with my friend Kim. Both Kim and Janakay pointed to the new series based on the unfinished novel by Jane Austen. I also have The Blind Assassin, which is longish, and I have a door stopper book I would be remiss not to read, after having made my sister in Spain buy it for me, and had it on my shelves for many years. Olvidado Rey Gudú, by my admired Ana María Matute. I considered her my buddy, -taking advantage that she’d never know me as to reproach my impertinent familiarity with her persona-. We are twinning with our love for Don Quijote and The Brothers Karamazov! But both these books demand commitment. I’m still on summer mode. Comes fall/winter, and I’ll be willing to immerse myself in a universe type book such as these.

The other acquisition is an ESV Bible. I not only collect Bible translations, but I read them as well. I was after an ESV copy, and I found it in like new condition. I just finished my annual Bible reading, but it took me longer than a year. And that’s, I believe, because I did not list the Bible in my ongoing books list, to have looked at the initial date. I want to keep better record of my Scriptures reading, it’s worth the effort.

At the risk of irritating and/or boring you, my friends, I’ll add that I’m back on an Italo Calvino’s phase, -I’ve had one before-. I’m reading his Invisible Cities, and I realized that The Baron in the Trees was part of what’s called a false trilogy, -false because it’s composed of three stand alone books, trilogy because all three books respond to a same thematic, to an exploration of the individual. The three books can be found published individually, and they are: The Cloven Viscount (1952), The Baron in the Trees (1957), and The Nonexistent Knight (1959). Together, they are published as Our Ancestors.

Wow. Did I have lots to say today? If you read this far, thanks, and know that I’m humbled by your attention to my rambles. Even if you skimmed and picked on something here and there, I thank you as well.

16 thoughts on “Joys of July

  1. Hi Silvia: a great post as always, with many ideas to think about. BTW I’m honored that you “stalked” my blog, particularly as you took a couple of points that had crossed my mind and then “ran” with them. I particularly liked the point you made about Calvino, that even in his most fantastical/mythological work he’s reacting to, or addressing the issues we face living in a globalized world, just as much so as those writers who deal with the issues more overtly. I also enjoyed the discussion of your reading choices, i.e., primarily classics. I love your enthusiasm! And there is so very much literature to read, even without throwing in poetry. On a good day, I’m exhilarated by the infinite universe of literature, on a bad one just a little depressed by my limitations (“oh my god, if I live another 100 years and read an average of 80 books a year I won’t get through my TBR list!”). Isn’t there some line of poetry from one of those earnest Victorians (Browning maybe?) along the lines of “a man’s reach must exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?” Can’t you just see all us bloggers in our perfect paradise, which would look something like the library of Alexandria, surrounded by piles and piles of books and manuscripts? What heaven!
    Speaking of which, I had to take a break from your post last night because all those luscious food pics were making me hungry. The tarta de Santiago looked particularly heavenly — I may have to try that one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love your poetry line paraphrase. It sounds like Browning, and I do love the thought of that Alexandria like library, maybe with a coffee shop that serves tarta de Santiago, hahaha.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I REALLY laughed at your addition to my proposed paradise — yes! The library must absolutely have a coffee shop, with the tarta de Santiago freshly made!
        Also, my little paraphrased poetry was indeed Browning (I finally looked it up, which I should have done initially) but I managled it a bit. The operative verb is “should” not “must;” i.e. “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” I would say that we’re both following R. Browning’s advice regarding our reading goals . . . . . .

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I am very sympathetic with your falling behind on the challenge and catching up again! After arriving at June with little more than a couple Balzac novels under my belt, I’m now sorting out my time better and I just finished a collection of Stefan Zweig novellas and a Shakespeare play (I think you could read them all!). As for posting about these books, that’s another story…

    In the middle of June, I had the chance to try some tarta de Santiago, joining a pilgrim group through Spain for a couple weeks and finally ending up in Fatima, Portugal. It was a great way to end my time over there, and now I’m starting my new adventure in the American Midwest and finally gathering my personal library into one spot for the first time in 6 years.

    Keep sharing your love for the classics! I found one small library today that had no more than 10 books that could be described as classics (if I remember: 1984, Animal Farm, Old Man and the Sea, Aesop’s Fables, and a novel by Alice Munro, if that counts). I’m sure you’ll enjoy what exists of Sanditon, but then mourn its incompletion. I think it would have been very different from her other novels!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a pleasant surprise! I’ll add it to my July Joys as well. Many times I’ve checked your blog, to be sure I have it at my feed and I hadn’t missed any posts from you. Then I remember that you not always can write, but I know you are always reading. I’ve not heard of Stefan Zweig, I’ll check him up.

      Earlier, I finally read Los pazos de Ulloa. Thanks again. If I hadn’t been reminded by you, I don’t know if I’d have read it. And I find it a jewel of a book.

      So glad you got to eat tarta de Santiago. When you move Midwest, if ever you feel nostalgic for Santiago de Compostela and your Camino de Santiago days, making the cake it’s surprisingly easy and hard to mess up, -my type of dessert-.

      Thanks for the encouragement. I know the mixed up feelings about Sandition. I too mourn the books we’ll never see from her pen. Persuasion was showing another phase of her. I’ll still read it, and hopefully the series makes it justice.

      It was such an honor to read your comment, and I wish you well in your new adventure, and lots of fun gathering your personal library.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Syliva, I found you via, I think Ruth’s blog. This was a long, but very interesting post. It’s nice to meet a fellow blogger who likes the same books as I do and is also a Christian. Having said that, I don’t think I’ll ever read Atwood, although I think you and Ruth’s comments (on her blog) are very on point.

    I am now following your blog. Feel free to visit mine, although it might be a little more eclectic. I read as my whimsy takes me which includes a lot of non fiction, mysteries, classics and books that some might wonder why the heck I even bothered, but there it is.

    Also I find that interesting that you grew up in Spain. I visited Barcelona and hablo un poco espanol, pero mi grammatica esta mal. Pero puedo leer muchos libros como la Biblia, TinTin y ahora estoy leyendo Jane Austin en espanol. No se como a usar los accentes y las virgulillas cuando usando una computadoar Americana. 🙂 Lo siento.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The beginning of your post reminds me that structure is necessary in life. As much as one dreams of a permanent vacation, it wouldn’t be as pleasant as we think. 😀

    I am glad to hear your summer reading is going well. It has been fun following your progress along on goodreads and on your blog. It is too easy to get wound up about these challenges we set for ourselves! I like how you just follow your bliss and read where your interest takes you. I wish I would allow myself to do this more…read multiple books by one author in quick succession or delve into a subgenre for a few books. This is how I read when I was a teen…just following my passions.

    I try to keep an informal balance between new fiction and classics. It is always stunning to me how “modern” many classic novels actually are. This is because the human condition has not changed all that much in the past 100+ years no doubt. We still have the same hopes and fears, it’s just some of the outward trappings that change with the times. It is fascinating to wonder who will still be read and appreciated 50, 100, 150 years from now. I do get quite excited by new books too. I don’t blog about them typically because I am lazy, but I read them.

    Calvino is one of my bugbears. I really hated If On a Winter’s Night…I found it frustrating. I find reading a loving review about that book more interesting than actually reading that book. But I do want to give him another chance and Invisible Cities might be the one I try next. Right now I’m still plugging away at The Wings of the Dove by Henry James and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Neither book calls my name when I come home at night so my reading is of them more dutiful than pleasurable. But to make up for it, I am also reading The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble. This is my first book by her and I am really enjoying it and wondering why I took so long to try her books.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ruthiella, thanks so much for your comment. I enjoy reading it.

      I agree, we all need a structure and a routine.

      You said it very well, about human nature not having changed, and I too find the classics so ‘modern’. I am intrigued by the thought of what would be read 50, 100, 150 years from now.

      I’m glad you have something more exciting. I don’t like the fact you are knee deep into two novels that are pleasurable. I did enjoy Cien Años de Soledad in my youth, and intended to read it this year again, but haven’t yet, 🙂 We’ll see. (I too sometimes read books for their value, even though they are not easy. I guess I like that dutiful part if I’m the one who assigns, LOL).

      I have read “If on a Winter’s Night…” two times. There’s ‘episodes’ of that unfinished book that I like, others not so much. It’s the most modern of his books I’ve read, the longest, the most ambitious. As for Invisible Cities, it’s a perfect second chance book. Shorter, much different, such a gem. It’s very pleasant to the reader, it has no breaks, it’s a book of dreamed cities, very original. I also loved The Baron in the Trees, modern but with a clear beginning and end, it felt like an old Italian classic, like a legend. You won’t be wrong giving him a second chance, I believe.

      Never heard of The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble, but I’m going to check it up.


  5. I’m not normally a cake eater, but the almond cake sounds delicious!!
    I remember enjoying The Blind Assassin quite a lit when it first came out. And thanks for the Maigret shout out. He’s became a personal favourite & a Something to look forward to in July.
    I have a book about Jane Austen’s times to hopefully finish this month (finally!) as I start Moby Dick.
    Good luck with the back to school schedule.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lovely, Silvia! You show your days’ beauty with your photos. I’m halfway through Sanditon and am loving it. Jane shines in this story, of course, even though it has a bit of a different tone than her other books. I’m sad to know she was unable to finish it but am glad to finally be reading it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. wow, I have run into discusssion about defetcs in And Then There Were None, probably my favorite by her.
    Italo Calvino!! I love Invisible Cities, but I found If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. really sublime. I love those Oulipo authors. I’m going to consider The Blind Assassin. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, ha ha. No matter the defects, I also find it a favorite. I think it can be enjoyed, and that’s not to say that we are subscribing to anything in it that is obviously wrong, for example, to talk about people in the jungle as savages whose lives aren’t worth as much as that of “civilized man”.

      I am liking more Invisible Cities because of the philosophical quality. I understand why “If on a Winter’s Night… is not liked, there’s a way in which it leaves us hanging. I still find myself seduced by it, and everything else I read by Calvino. You taught me something, I had to google Oulipo, I didn’t know what it was.

      I hope we both like The Blind Assassin, (I believe I will after those few pages, but I have to read and see.)


  8. Silvia, I am so glad that you came to my blog and left such insightful comments! You really helped me appreciate One Hundred Years of Solitude much more; I can see that you are a thoughtful blogger leaving carefully constructed comments and posts which I so appreciate.

    This post brings many thoughts to my mind. I, too, have loved teaching (for 35 years until I retired last May). The opportunities to impact a child’s life are priceless.

    I, too, loved back to school shopping both for myself as a child (those new school supplies! Crayons! Pencils sharpened by my father! A cork for my scissor’s sharp ends!) as well as for my son. Sadly, in retrospect, I dressed him “better” than his peers (in Doc Marten shoes for example, in first grade, and he was teased mercilessly). At any rate, school is good.

    I prefer Margaret Atwood’s earlier works to her dystopia. Both Cat’s Eye and The Robber Bride count amongst my favorite novels of all time.

    So nice to “meet” you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bellezza! What a treat, your comments.

      I read some of your posts and I love the way you write, your aesthetic and style. I’m a follower, and I plan to keep looking at your past posts, apart from not missing anything new.

      What a beautiful memory, ‘pencils sharpened by your father’. I remember going to the stationary store in Madrid, at a time when the store keeper showed you the items from behind the counter, and buying my supplies, even blank maps, and full ones for guidance.

      Doc Marten, be still my heart! As a teen and young person, doc Marten boots were the thing, LOL. The teasing is so unavoidable. When young, I remember there was a lot of teasing if you couldn’t afford brand items such as Levis, Benetton, brand shoes. It hasn’t changed. Vans, Crocs, and all the clothing stores at the malls dominate our schools landscape. Even for the one who wears uniform, there’s the paraphernalia such as hydroflask bottles, brand name backpacks and shoes for spirit day, or tennis shoes, etc. I love this you say, AT ANY RATE, SCHOOL IS GOOD. Yes. God is good. Life is good.

      Thanks so much for the recommendations on Atwood. I’m going to read them, since you count them amongst your all time favorites.

      Thanks again for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

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