Tuesday, December 13, 2011

R.I.P. Challenge Catch Up: The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories

Newton, Michael, ed. The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories: From Elizabeth Gaskell to Ambrose Pierce. London: Penguin Books, 2010.

(Yes, I know it's December, but I'm still catching up on writing about my R.I.P. challenge books. I've got two more to tell you about after this one. Oh well, the winter is as good a time as any to pick up a spine-tingling book, so maybe I'll inspire some good winter reading for you -- or titles to put on your list for next year's R.I.P. challenge).

Ahh, what could be better than to sit down on a rainy afternoon in Maine, large mug of tea at hand, and a collection of ghost stories? I read the majority of these stories while in Maine in October. They were a perfect complement to a volume of Victorian vampire stories I'd also brought with me to read.

I liked this collection because it included some of my all-time favorite ghost stories (W.W. Jacob's "The Monkey's Paw", M. R. James's "'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'"), but it also introduced me to stories I didn't know, most written by authors I didn't know (Mary Elizabeth Braddon's "The Cold Embrace", Mary Austin's "The Readjustment"). Talk about a book that leads one to read more. I could probably spend 2012 doing nothing but reading books and story collections I've been inspired to read just from this book. Instead, as is typical, despite notes I've made in the book and titles I've put into the T.B.R. tome, this book will probably go on a shelf, and I'll read nothing more that I learned about from its pages until years from now when someone says to me, "Have you ever read this collection of Margaret Oliphant stories? You really must."

What makes this collection great is Michael Newton's Introduction and his Notes. The Notes are terrific. They provide biographical information about each author as well as information on when and where each story was first published. I hate cheap collections that give the reader absolutely nothing to help put stories into context. Occasionally, I came across what I consider classic "Penguinesque" endnotes, the sort that make me think, "I flipped all the way to the back of the book and nearly lost my place for that?" Here's a prime example for you:

He was made welcome at the Globe Inn, was safely installed in the large double-bedded room of which we have heard, and was able before retiring to rest to arrange his materials for work in apple-pie order upon a commodious table which occupied the outer end of the room, and was surrounded on three sides by windows looking seaward. (p. 264)*
This passage is followed by an endnote. Hmm. What might it be? Perhaps there's some information about superstitions surrounding windows that look seaward. Or maybe the fictitious Globe Inn is based on a real inn that still exists. Or possibly (one of my favorite types of end notes), we'll get some details about how this story connects to some other story, either by the author or one of the author's friends. But, no, flip to page 406, and here's what you'll find:

"apple-pie order: perfect neatness"


Luckily, as I noted above, most of the endnotes weren't of this sort, and Newton's Introduction is well worth reading. He explains why he's chosen the stories he has, and he gives descriptions of different kinds of ghost stories (useful to those of us who dabble in writing our own such stories). He follows his Introduction with a "Further Reading List" that is more enticing than most such lists. He's done a superb job, really, of putting together an anthology, taking care to include all the bits and pieces that are necessary to make an anthology complete. That's the editor in me speaking. Now, let's hear the reader in me give you brief commentaries on each story.

Elizabeth Gaskell: The Old Nurse's Story
This one effortlessly and effectively combines many classic elements of the genre into one story.

Fitz-James O'Brien: What Was It?"
If you like a little humor thrown in with your creepiness, this is a story for you. Thank goodness for the endnotes, though. O'Brien expected his readers to be literate way beyond what I am.

Edward Bulwer Lytton: The Haunted and the Haunters: or, The House and the Brain
The alternate title says it all: the irrational meets the rational. We all know I love a good irrational v. rational tale.

Elizabeth Bradden: The Cold Embrace
Oh, if only this sort of vengeance could be visited upon all such cads. I think I must read more Bradden.

Amelia B. Edwards: The North Mail
This one's a great twist on the sort of fears loving wives have experienced ever since the institution of marriage was created.

Charles Dickens: No. 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
Dickens was a Master when it comes to describing the ghostly. This is a good one for those of us raised on urban legends of ghosts of train wrecks.

Sheridan Le Fanu: Green Tea
(Beware, those of you obsessed with drinking green tea for your health.) This story's a prime example of the moving away from the romantic to the scientific. Here, spirit possession is nothing a physician can't handle, given permission and the time to do so. Oh, and there's a monkey, so wonderfully evil, a touch I loved.

Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Ghost in the Cap'n Brown House
Bet you didn't know that Beecher Stowe wrote ghost stories. I love the way so many of our classic writers experimented with the genre. This is a fine example of how urban legends might start and spread. Each of the two women in the story is convinced that her version of it is the honest truth. And what fun everyone in town is having with both.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Thrawn Janet
Was ever a more Presbyterian tale written? I found it difficult to read because of all the Scottish dialect but well worth the trouble. The Scottish glossary in the back of the book, whose inclusion I initially questioned (silly me!) came in handy.

Margaret Oliphant: The Open Door
Here's a story to verify everything the medium James Van Praagh would have to tell you about ghosts. I loved it! Oliphant's writing style is sublime. She's already in the TBR tome (thanks to you, fellow bloggers), and I must read more.

Rudyard Kipling: The End of the Passage
I found it interesting from a historical perspective, but I really didn't understand what happened. And not in a "Was there or wasn't there a ghost?" way. I mean in a "Huh? What are these characters doing and why?" way, the sort of story that has be rereading pages and still not understanding, while my mind wanders (basically, the way I read every story I had to read for high school English classes).

Lafcadio Hearn: Nightmare Touch
This story's horrific in its own right and is made even more so by the treatment of the poor child -- whether his horror was real or not.

W. W. Jacobs: The Monkey's Paw
Okay, I take that back about the way I read every story for high school English classes. I loved this one when I read it for high school, and I still love it, even though I've read it God knows how many times since then. Is there a single ghost story anthology that doesn't include it?

Mary Wilkins Freeman: The Wind in the Rose-Bush
(I wonder when we stopped hyphenating rose bush.) This is a classic ghost story, sort of an imaginative take on your friend's friend's brother's tale about the young hitchhiker who left her sweater in his car and when he went to return it to her house, his parents informed him she'd been dead for several years.

M.R. James: "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad"
It's the epitome of an M.R. Jamesian tale (clever, intelligent, funny, and creepy with great twists) and one of my favorites, especially since if I happen to be traveling alone, staying in some b & b with two beds, I can spook myself if I think about it too much (most especially if I'm dumb enough to watch one of those ghost hunting programs on the TV that's also in the room).

Ambrose Bierce: The Moonlit Road
I loved this one because it's a brilliant merging of mystery and ghost story.

Henry James: The Jolly Corner
I'm surprised I'd never read this one till now. Very Henry Jamesian. That means it's very erudite in a way I shouldn't like, that should bore me to tears, but I loved it anyway, which has been my experience with everything I've ever read by James. (I wish my last name were James. It seems then I'd automatically be a great ghost story writer.)

Mary Austin: The Readjustment
This one's a marvelous exploration of how a couple can love one another and never be able to communicate that love to each other.

Edith Wharton: Afterward
(How clever to end a book with a story called "Afterward".) I barely remembered anything about this one from the first time I read it, but I love Wharton's ghost stories, so it was a pleasure to read it as though I were reading it for the first time. Like Edwards's story (and also like many of Wharton's other ghost stories) it's another one that preys nicely on wifely fears.

* Guess the author of that quote. I'll put all correct guesses in a hat and send a copy of this book to the name I pull.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch

Sankovitch, Nina. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my life (as I recently emailed Friend-Not-Husband Bob), decided to do one of its periodic imitations of hell. We received a call from Bob's brother Peter telling us he was in the intensive care unit of the Stamford Hospital in Connecticut. We knew he had been bitten by a couple of ticks two weeks prior; that, not feeling well, he had gone to the doctor on Tuesday to be checked for lyme disease; and that she had immediately sent him to the emergency room when she saw his condition, mostly because he was very short of breath. We are, basically, Peter's only next of kin. Bob has no other siblings; both his parents are dead; and Peter never married or had any children; and he lives alone, in what was his parents' house. It was important for us to be there for him.

To make a long story short, Bob found someone to cover for his Thanksgiving Eve church service, and we raced up from Pennsylvania to Connecticut (as much as anyone can race, packing up, for an indefinite amount of time, two humans, two cats, and a dog and traveling the New Jersey Parking Lot Turnpike the day before Thanksgiving). By the time we got to the hospital, Peter had been intubated. Soon, thereafter, he suffered acute renal failure. He did not have lyme disease. He had ehrlichiosis, which is another tick-borne infection that systematically attacks all the muscles and all the organs in the body. It's supposedly extremely rare, although we've subsequently discovered that Peter's neighbors' dog had it. Also, it isn't always so severe. Peter's case was complicated by the fact that he lost his spleen when he was in a car accident back in his twenties, so his immune system is compromised. Typically, the infection is treated on an outpatient basis with antibiotics.

We got back to Peter's home Wednesday night completely exhausted. All I wanted to do was eat the takeout food we'd bought and then crawl into bed with a good book. I'd brought a couple of books with me, but somehow, nothing appealed, so I went searching through boxes of books that Peter, who works for a company that displays books for publishers at trade shows and gets many books free, had in what his parents called "the pool room." Most of these are thrillers and mysteries, which seemed like good fare for the circumstances, but then I realized that he also, inexplicably, because I can't imagine his ever reading it, had a copy of Nina Sankovitch's Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. I grabbed it, and a couple of mysteries, and headed up to bed.

I have to admit that I started with a mystery (Michael Malone's First Lady -- top notch!). Sankovitch's book had caught my attention. I'd read about it in the blogosphere and Goodreads.com (mixed reviews) and had come across it at my favorite bookstore in Maine, but I wasn't overly eager to read it. I knew the premise: Sankovitch used books as therapy to help her deal with her sister's untimely death, spending a year reading a book a day. She wrote about each one on her blog, which I've skimmed, but I'm not a faithful reader. Her year was something that sounded both extremely exhausting and extremely fun to me. The exhausting part was what made me a little hesitant. A slow reader like I am could never take on such an enterprise. Also, we all know how good I am at writing daily blog posts.

Despite my hesitancy, I took it along the next day to the hospital and was hooked from the moment I read the first paragraph. Her Prologue is about the day she made the decision to read one book every day for a year. She was on a weekend getaway with her husband, and she read Dracula -- one of my favorite books -- in a day. Her description of doing so was a real page-turner (complete with such things as missed dinner reservations), and I realized this was going to be a great book -- funny, poignant, real -- to get my mind off the horror going on around me.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is supposed to be a roundup of that year (after all, she's already written reviews of all the books), but it's actually much more than that, and little did I know what therapy it would actually be for me while I sat for hours at the hospital, listening to doctors and nurses and hoping and praying that Peter would be okay. Sankovitch's rich writing captures the way reading is such a part of the lives of those of us who have been obsessed with books since before we could even read. The book is like a memoir told through the books she's read since she was a child, what they have meant to her, what they have taught her. She focuses specifically on this particular year (Oct. 2008 - Oct. 2009) but expands details to encapsulate her whole life. As our stay in Stamford began to drag on (I'm still here), I said to Bob at one point, "One of the things I miss most is our books," which would be a silly thing to say to a non-reader. I mean, I had plenty of books to read, but Bob understood. My statement marked me as a perfect audience for Sankovitch's story: a reader who thinks of books as friends, just like Sankovitch does, and who gets great comfort from being surrounded by those friends, even if she isn't necessarily engaged with them. The books around me right now are virtual strangers, many of which I have no desire to get to know.

Another plus for this book is that Sankovitch happens to live in Westport, CT. I worked in Westport for 11 years. When she described the Westport Public Library, one of my favorite lunch-time haunts, I could envision it. She even, in her Acknowledgments, thanks one of the librarians who served on a library advisory board for me. She takes the train into NYC. I know that commuter train well. She talks about walks along the river that I used to walk along. All of this familiar turf was comforting. Not only could I relate to her relationship with books, but I could also relate to her setting. Finally, I could relate to the fact that she's a third daughter.

Peter is now well on his way to making a full recovery. At this point, I am dying to go home. As much as I love Connecticut and all my friends here, it is no longer home. I don't have a routine here. I don't have my kitchen here or my aforementioned book friends. I'm hoping he'll be out of rehab this weekend and able to care for himself, by which point I will have been here for over two weeks. Meanwhile, I've been both comforted and inspired by Sankovitch. No, I don't plan to read a book and write a blog post a day, while running a household in which she and her husband have four boys. It helps that she reads about 70 pages an hour, which is almost twice the speed at which I read. I wouldn't want to have to limit the books I choose to read to a certain number of pages. But I've definitely been inspired to stick to a new reading and writing schedule I've set for myself (it was meant to be a New Year's Resolution, but I started it on Dec. 1 instead of Jan. Always a good idea to get a head start). I'm very sad for her that she lost her sister at such a young age, but we are fortunate that she took that sorrow, took on this project, and turned it into such a delightful, thought-provoking book. If that's not inspiring, I truly don't know what is.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

When I was growing up, my parents had this big, rectangular clock radio that they turned on every morning when they woke up. I'd inherit -- or, actually, more like steal -- it when I was in high school and use it as my alarm. By then, I had it set to my favorite FM album rock station, but back when I was very young, my parents had it set to the popular AM station that was mostly news and played the pop songs of the day. I remember many songs wafting out of that radio, but this is one of the earliest I can remember. I loved it, and my brother and sisters and I always sang this when we were on long car trips.

I particularly love this video, despite the fact that it's a little blurry. I love the shots of the audience, and look at that orchestra backing up a pop group. Most of all, though: look at that dress! I want a dress just like that. I also want to be able to sing like that. Oh well, one can always dream.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The 2012 Classics Challenge

Yes, yes, I know. I haven't even finished posting on the books I read for the R.I.P. Challenge, although I have finished reading them and will be getting posts up on the last three soon. Oh, and yes, I did just get chosen to be on Central Pennsylvania's One Book One Community committee, which means reading something like 40 or 50 books, but you know, winter is on its way, and for some reason, when winter hits, I like to turn to the classics. Maybe it's because I have fond childhood memories of reading Louisa May Alcott during Christmas breaks, but I love to curl up with mugs of tea or hot cocoa and a book that has stood the test of time, especially if it's a book that was actually bound and printed over 75 years ago and looks as if many, many have enjoyed it over the years.

How could I possibly not join A Classic's Challenge, created by Katherine Cox of November's Autumn? If nothing else, you've got to love that button you see here and that I get to put on my sidebar (if I can remember how to do that. If you don't see it there, someone in the know, please tell me how to do that in Blogger). What's really great about this challenge, though, is that it doesn't necessarily involve writing individual posts on each book (although I'm free to do so if I like). Instead, on the 4th of every month, I'm going to be responding to a prompt as it pertains to the book I'm reading (or have just read). That's a great idea, and I'm very interested to see how it goes. I'd never gone blog hopping until I joined the R.I.P. group read of Fragile Things, and I discovered that I really enjoyed it. It's more fun than bar hopping, for an introvert like me, and there are no hangovers to fear.

And now, without further ado: here is the list of seven books I will be reading in 2012. We are to read seven, three of which can be rereads. I've listed them alphabetically by author (I'm such a librarian).

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (a reread). When reading classics in the winter, one must read Austen. I have a suitably old, old copy of it to read, although I'd be tempted to buy one of those new Penguin hardcover editions like the copy of Emma Zoë's Mom gave me for Christmas last year. I can't justify doing that, though, in this house overflowing with books, especially when I have my grandmother's copy (in two volumes, nonetheless).

The Arabian Nights by Husain Haddawy (based on the text of the fourteenth-century Syrian Manuscript edited by Muhsin Mahdi). I actually have a three volume set of the tales, but I thought I'd start with this single-volume first. I've been wanting to read these tales for a long time (obviously, since I have acquired both a single-volume and a three-volume set), but recently reading Neil Gaiman's "Inventing Aladdin" has moved them from the "want-to-read-one-day" category to a "must-read-soon" category.

Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace. This is actually two books in one, but I'm counting it as one, because each one is relatively short, and they're both in this one volume that I got on sale at Borders before it went out of business. I never read the Betsy-Tacy books when I was a kid, but I read an article about Maud Hart Lovelace not long ago that got me interested. In these two books, Betsy has gotten to high school. If I like them, I'll go backwards and read about her childhood years.

The Company She Keeps by Mary McCarthy. I got this one at a library book sale ages ago. I read The Group when I was in my twenties, loved it, and have been meaning to read something else by her ever since. This will keep me from waiting another twenty years to do so.

1984 by George Orwell (a reread?). Maybe I will discover once and for all whether or not I actually read this one in college. Then again, maybe I won't. Anyway, I've become more and more interested in it as of late, given the "Big Brother-like" world we seem to live in today, and, really, I just think it's something I ought to have read.

The Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles. Believe it or not, I've never actually read the whole thing, only Oedipus Rex, so, it will sort of be a reread but not really, and since 1984 may not be a reread, I figure I'm still well within my limit of three. A friend of mine has been reading Greek tragedies lately and has gotten me interested in doing so.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. Litlove wrote about this one some time ago, made it sound great, and I figure it's probably one of Stein's most accessible works, so I thought I'd start with it and see if I want to explore her further.

I reserve the right to swap out any of these titles with something else that comes along and interests me more, but right now, this is my plan. Join the challenge, if you'd like, or just enjoy it vicariously through all the other participants.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Friends and Socks

For a number of years, I wished for a pair of hand-knitted socks. Ideally, I'd knit them myself, but we all know how well my little knitting project went. I finally had to admit that I just don't have the patience for it. Maybe it's something that could teach me patience, but not at this point in my life. I'd rather spend my time reading and writing.

Since I'm probably never going to knit my own socks, the next best thing, of course, would be to have a friend who is so-inclined knit a pair for me. In fact, that's better than knitting them myself, because every time I put them on, I would think of my dear friend who'd spent all that time and effort knitting me a pair of socks. How humbling.

Well, for my birthday last year my friend Linda did just that. She gave me a pair of socks that she had knitted for me. I probably shouldn't say it was the best birthday present anyone ever got me (after all, I got an engagement ring one year for my birthday), but it was definitely one of the best. And I was right: I think of Linda every time I wear the socks, which I happen to be doing today, because it's suddenly turned quite chilly here in Pennsylvania.

For a number of years, I've also wished that I appreciated poetry more than I do. It's high time I got over my fear of poetry, left over from my high school days. I've had this wrong belief for so long that all poetry is chock full of hidden meaning that I'm too stupid to understand. Now, confronting this irrational fear is something, unlike knitting, that I know I can actually do. In 2011, I've chosen to read more poetry than I ever have, and I've begun to make great strides when it comes to poetry appreciation, begun to realize that, yes, some poetry is chock full of hidden meaning that I'm too stupid to understand, but plenty of poetry speaks worlds to me, or touches me, or makes me think. I've also realized that there are plenty of novels out there with hidden meaning that I'm too stupid to understand, but I don't avoid reading novels, and you'd never hear me say, "Oh, I'm not a big fan of novels."

I mentioned in my recent post on what I read while I was in Maine that one of the books I read was Americans' Favorite Poems edited by Robert Pinksy and Maggie Dietz. In this collection, Emily Wilson Orzechowski, a 59-year-old teacher from Oneonta, NY, chose the following poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda:

Ode to My Socks
(translated from the Spanish by Stephen Mitchell)

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheep-herder's hands,
two socks as soft
as rabits.
I slipped my feet
into them
as though into
with threads of
and goatskin.
Violent socks,
my feet were
two fish made
of wool,
two long sharks
seablue, shot
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons,
my feet
were honored
in this way
They were
so handsome.
For the first time
my feet seemed to me
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
of that woven
of those glowing

I resisted
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as schoolboys
as learned men
sacred texts,
I resisted
the mad impulse
to put them
in a golden
and each day give them
and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
and then my shoes.

The moral
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
and what is good is doubly
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
in winter.

(Pinsky, Robert and Maggie Dietz, eds, Americans' Favorite Poems: The Favorite Poem Project Anthology, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2000. pp. 200-202)

Emily Wilson Orzechowski chose it as her favorite with this comment, "I have knitted socks." (p. 200) Emily Barton would say, "I have received socks knitted by a dear friend. Everyone should be lucky enough to have such a friend in life." I'm pretty sure Pablo Neruda would agree with me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Little Eye Candy

Every so often, we need a little candy instead of a real meal, don't we? As long as we don't eat enough to gain 25 pounds and rot out all our teeth, it's certainly okay. I've had a bit of a craving for some empty calories lately and thought I'd share them with you, so here you go.

As far as I'm concerned, forget any half-dressed pop-movie-star-of-the-moment with his ridiculous six-pack abs and bulging biceps. It just doesn't get much sexier than this. And look at that! They're fully-clothed (my God, Baryshnikov even has on a jacket). Then again, you all know what a sucker I am for a man who can dance. Two men who can dance, dancing together? Well, I can almost understand all those ridiculous lesbian fantasies men have.

Take our eyes off the double handsome physiques for a moment, and it's really fun to compare the difference between a tap dancer and a ballet dancer. Even someone like me, who knows absolutely nothing about the details of dance, can tell that they move differently. (But, you know, that's kind of like claiming to read Playboy for the articles or something.)

If this is the sort of thing you enjoy: enjoy! If not, I'll try to provide a more substantial meal in my next post.

P.S. If they didn't dance, I would actually find Gregory Hines the more attractive of the two. In fact, when I was in college, I didn't understand why women swooned over Baryshnikov, and hung posters of him all over their walls, but that was before I'd actually seen any footage of him dancing. I changed my mind once I finally saw him dance.

Friday, November 11, 2011

R.I.P. Challenge: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

(This book was originally published in 1764.)

I'm still catching up on my R.I.P. challenge reads (and will be for quite some time, so bear with me). It's great to go away for three weeks, but not so great to do it in the midst of the R.I.P. challenge, when you finally decide to join it. Anyway, this was one of the books I chose for the challenge.

When Walpole first wrote The Castle of Otranto (as many fiction writers are wont to do today, although I'm guessing it may have been rare in his day), he claimed it was an old manuscript recently discovered and translated by "William Marshall Gent." I had to laugh when I read in the Introduction to this edition that,

His friend, the Revd. William Mason later wrote to assure Walpole that he himself had been entirely duped: 'When a friend of mine to whom I had recommended The Castle of Otranto turned to me with doubts of its originality, I laughed him to scorn and wondered he could be so assured as to think that anybody nowadays had imagination enough to invent such a story.' (xi.)

I am quite sure I would be as "duped" as the poor Revd. were someone to present me, tomorrow, with a so-called "lost" manuscript that manages to weave into it every gothic detail known to readers of such fare. That's because I'm convinced no one in the 21st century has the kind of imagination our ancestors had. Ironically, I would believe it whether the manuscript was "lost" from the 12th or the 18th century. You see, despite the fact that Walpole wrote the book, in part, to protest the 18th-century's "realist fiction," as he called it, he'd seen nothing, as far as I'm concerned, compared to the 21st-century's cynical, realistic fiction.

Forget what he might have thought about today's realistic fiction. I wonder what he might have thought about much of what's written today under the guise of "supernatural" and "fantastic" by authors who, outside the contexts of their bestsellers, would gleefully join in debates to prove that, personally, they believe in nothing other than the rational and the scientific. We've done our best to rid the world of all mystery and romance, other than Hollywood's simplistic and sentimental versions, and to make humans the center of the universe (very Darwinian of us, really).

I read The Castle of Otranto a number of years ago, or so I thought, but I now wonder if I just started it and never finished it. It doesn't show up in past book journals I've kept, and all I could remember about it, before I read it this time, was some sort of wicked prince, a sickly son, and a huge helmet. I couldn't possibly have finished it, because there's so much more to it than that, and the "more to it" is very memorable.

Anyway, I agree with the one thing I've heard everyone I know who's read it say about it: it's hilarious, because it's so over-the-top. May I repeat myself (or am I repeating the Revd.?)? It's incredibly imaginative, especially given the fact that it was the first novel of its kind. Walpole had no contemporaries to read who made him think, "Ahh, I could do that. Let me try," which is not to say that Walpole didn't provide plenty of nods to other writers, most especially Shakespeare.

Speaking of drama, if I were to sum up the book in one word, "melodramatic" would be my word of choice. So much so that I often felt that I was reading a play rather than a novel, despite the fact that all the dialogue is woven into the text in paragraph form without the use of quotation marks. That is, the human characters are all melodramatic and engage in the sort of dialogue (e.g. "'Villain! monster! sorcerer! 'tis thou hast slain my son!'" -- p. 21) that makes the book so funny.

We mustn't ignore the Castle, though, a character in its own right. The castle's large and lovely and complicated, with his turrets and towers and secret passages, not to mention just plain secrets. Oh, and did I say ghosts? I mean, would he be able to hold his head up without some ghosts? Add some ghosts to this most magnificent hero. He's a most magnificent hero, and I just may have fallen madly in love with him, but then, I've always been a sucker for a lovely castle. Like most romances, we can forgive it for not exactly being the best written book we've ever read. I mean, it's provided us with a heroic castle and a fun plot that has as many twists and turns as a secret passage.

Pour yourself a steaming cup of tea. Pull some short bread out of the cupboard, and place it on the tea cup's saucer. Turn off the phone. Tell everyone in your household that you have some horrible communicable disease, and they must stay away from you. Then, light the fire, sit down by it with your tea, short bread, and this little book, and don't get up until you've turned the last page. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Dear Smithereens requested a few photos from me. I thought I might use them to demonstrate details from the book. Here they are:

These characters did not appear in The Castle of Otranto, but that bridge did, I'm sure. Some knight and princess are stuck in the woods behind it.

The forests around the castle probably didn't look like this. Too golden and New England-y, and well, New England hadn't yet been invented.

More like this, I would think. There must be a witch hiding in there somewhere, huh?

The sea as viewed from the castle window. If you're lucky, some ghostly vessel will soon arrive on the horizon. In this case, it might be a giant ghostly vessel.

A most treacherous path for a princess to follow, should she choose to run away from a castle.

Monday, November 07, 2011

What I Read on My Fall Break

I recently got back from our annual 3-week stint in Maine in the fall. It was, as always, a lovely time in which Bob and I basically became complete recluses when we weren't out hitting the hiking trails (where I'm still a recluse, but Bob isn't. He chats with everyone he meets along trails. Luckily, this time of year that isn't as many as it is in the summer time) or eating in fantastic restaurants. I had all kinds of grand plans to do things like write all my pen pals (sorry, guys. Despite all promises to be a better pen pal, I suck, I know. Does it count that I constantly think about writing each of you?), make to-do lists that would help organize my life once back home, consult nature guides to learn about wild flowers and trees, etc., etc. What did I actually do? I read. And cooked. And outlined and wrote ghost stories. Oh well, it was vacation. Why should I have done otherwise if that's what I wanted to do? I thought I'd share my reading list with you, so here you go.

Books Finished

Americans' Favorite Poems edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz (2000, W.W. Norton)
This is a great collection for a "reluctant reader" of poetry, like me. Quotes by Americans of all ages and from all walks of life precede each poem, and these quotes explain why people have chosen it as a favorite. Some of these explanations helped me to connect better to certain poems myself. Others made me admire people for making connections I didn't see or just couldn't make. I was reminded that reading is such a personal experience, but it can also be wonderful when shared, and I was heartened to discover so many who still turn to literature when faced with tragedy, which many seemed to do. I also found some new poems to add to my own "favorites" list, while enjoying rereading many that are already there (surprising I'd have such a list, being a "reluctant reader," but, apparently, I do).

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (2008, 1764, Oxford University Press)
I read this for the R.I.P. challenge, and I will write a proper blog post soon. Warning: I will be gushing.

The Demonologist: The True Story of Ed Warren and Loraine Warren, the World Famous Exorcism Team by Gerald Brittle (1980, Berkeley Books)
If you lived in or near Monroe, CT in the 1980s and 1990s, which I did, you knew who Ed and Loraine Warren were. Their most well-known "case" was probably Amityville. Bob got this book from them when he invited them to come speak at the boarding school where he worked in the eighties (before I knew him). I've been planning to read it for years and finally did. When it wasn't scaring the bejeezus out of me, I was busy thinking it was the dumbest book I'd ever read. Talk about clichés straight out of B movies (a possessed Raggedy Ann doll, a sorceress who even as a young child played games with things like pentagons, teens who invite trouble by playing with Ouija boards, etc., etc.), and I'm pretty sure you could find the word "havoc" on every single page of the book. Eventually, though, I came to the conclusion that it had been what I had hoped it would be: a worthwhile read, because it provided me with much fodder for my own attempts at writing supernatural fiction.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (2006, William Morrow)
At this point, you're saying, "Really, Emily? You read that one?" Great book, though. Truly. Read it.

Love in Idleness by F. Marion Crawford (1894, Macmillan)
When in Maine, one must read a book that takes place in Maine. This is a very light read, which is not to say it isn't a delightful one, as well as a wonderful walk back in time. Crawford's characters are well-drawn and easily imagined, and the book provides a glimpse of Bar Harbor just before the turn of the 20th century, with photos and everything. I was enchanted.

Murder of Angels by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2004, New American Library)
Another R.I.P. challenge read, and, yes, expect more gushing when I finally post on it.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Narrated by Jennifer Ikeda (2011, Penguin Audio)
I actually finished this one just before I left for fall break, but it's another R.I.P. challenge book, so I thought I'd include it in this list. Blog post (not quite so gushing) coming soon.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. Read by Neil Gaiman. (2006, HarperCollins Audio)
Yes, here it is again. The recurring dream. I have to say, though, that this was the first time I ever simultaneously read and listened to a book, and I highly recommend doing so with this particular book. It's best if you do it this way: read his annotation in the Introduction about a story/poem, then read the story/poem, and, finally, listen to him read it. You won't be disappointed.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Narrated by Stephen King (2000, Simon and Schuster Audio)
Friend-not-husband Bob recommended the audio version of this one to me, which I've been meaning to read for years. Can I say that listening to Stephen King read it made me feel as if I were taking a class with him? I've always respected King, but I respect him even more now, because he comes across as someone who knows exactly what he is: a good storyteller who enjoys what he does and has been successful but who knows he's no literary genius. If you are an aspiring writer who needs inspiration, you must read this book. Combine it with If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland and Eudora Welty's On Writing, and I guarantee you'll be sitting down at your desk to compose something. King offers sound advice, and he's honest, and funny, and endearing along the way.

Books Still Reading

The Town that Forgot How to Breathe by Kenneth J. Harvey (2006, Picador)
Part of my effort to read more Canadian authors, and Bob read it and urged me to do so. So far: eerie with well-drawn characters and a dreamy quality. How could I not like it? It's got ghosts and fairies.

Dracula's Guest and Other Victorian Vampire Stories edited by Michael Sims (2006, Walker and Co.)
Reading Neil Gaiman the way we did has taught me to slow down when it comes to reading story collections -- which I typically race through, especially collections of this sort. This is one of two other non-Gaiman story collections I took to Maine with me, and so far, so good. The Victorians (unlike today's writers) knew how to create vampires: spooky, mysterious, and dangerous.

The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories edited by Michael Newman (2010, Penguin)
I'm dragging this one, the other non-Gaiman collection I brought on vacation, out, because I just don't want it to end. I need to finish it, though, because it's the last of my R.I.P. challenge reads. Another gushing post coming your way soon.

Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger. Narrated by Emily Gray (2010, Recorded Books)
Georgette Heyer meets the supernatural, which sounds hideous, I know. But it isn't. It works. If you are going to be a contemporary writer who insists on creating vampires (and werewolves and ghosts, etc.) who aren't (always so) spooky, mysterious, and dangerous, this is the way to do it. Carriger's attention to detail and sense of humor are admirable. Brilliant fun made all the better by the fact that Emily Gray reads it so well. I'm glad to know that when I'm done with this one, there are three more, all narrated by Ms. Gray.

That's it. I'd love to know what you've thought of any of these, if you've read/listened to them. Meanwhile, I need to get working on all those R.I.P. challenge posts, don't I?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fragile Things Group Read Week 8

The Day the Saucers Came


Inventing Aladdin

The Monarch of the Glen

from: Gaiman, Neil. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. New York: William Morrow, 2006.

And then we came to the end. I've so enjoyed this R.I.P. group read, organized by Carl. It's been wonderful to read through a collection such as this so slowly, and it's also been wonderful to read all the different reactions to what's in it (when I could get the chance. The past couple of weeks have been difficult, as I've not been home with steady Internet access, but I've done my best and can't wait to catch up when I get home next week). These last four were a great way to end the read. I enjoyed all of them.

The Day the Saucers Came
A brilliant poem for anyone who's ever spent any time wishing the phone would ring and a certain someone would be on the other end of it. I love it all the more for the fact that I didn't see that coming at. all.

Okay, so this is not a story to hand to your vegetarian friends. However, if you love food, love the idea of belonging to an epicurean club, love the phoenix, and love the way Neil Gaiman can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary, then this is the tale for you (or, at least, it was for me, who loves all those things). He wrote this story as a birthday present for his oldest daughter, and one of the fun things about reading it for me was speculating on how many father-daughter in-jokes he might have included and what they might have been. A story that was great fun, all around and in every way.

Inventing Aladdin
You see, we all need to make up stories to survive. Only, Neil Gaiman says that much more eloquently in this little gem of a poem than I ever could. You see, also, some of us are better at putting the words together for our stories than others are.

The Monarch of the Glen
I really mustn't put off reading American Gods any longer. I loved this novella, featuring AG's Shadow, with its opening quote from Angela Carter (another one not to put off reading any longer,) from the get-go. The contemporary spin on Beowulf was done beautifully (of course. Would Gaiman do it any otherwise in a story? Although, full disclosure here, you can read what I thought about his movie version of same, here, if you'd like. I did, eventually come around to the wonderful graphic novel version by Gareth Hinds). Grendel and his mother are just perfect in this tale. The evil Mr. Alice shows up again here, but he's a bit less repellent than he was in Keepsakes and Treasures, probably only because we didn't get as many details about him in this tale. He's more of a mystery. This is the novella to give to a friend who's never read Gaiman to show off his brilliance and what sheer joy it is to read him.

And that's it. Overall, a fine, fine collection, with a few I didn't like as much as others, but none I could completely dismiss, that just makes me want to read more Gaiman. My final note is that I highly recommend doing what I do: read each piece first and then listen to Gaiman read it. You won't be disappointed, I promise.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

Sjöwall, Maj and Wahlöö, Per. The Laughing Policeman. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.
(The book was originally published in 1970.)

In typical American fashion (i.e. mostly clueless about authors in countries other than America and England), before this book was chosen for the Connecticut mystery book club, I'd never heard of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who wrote ten Martin Beck mysteries together before Per died. Also, in typical American fashion, I'd never read any Swedish mysteries until The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo became impossible to ignore, and my curiosity got the best of me. I've now read two Swedish mysteries. Based on this completely unscientific sample, I'd say that Swedish mystery writers are a bit obsessed with sex, especially -- shall we say? -- abnormal sex.

Of course, many American mystery writers are obsessed with sex, as well, and this book did happen to have been written during the height of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s, so I can't fault it for its "adult" content, and I don't. I found that recent history part of the book fascinating (protests against the police, protests against the war in Vietnam), but there a. wasn't quite enough of it to satisfy me and b. what was there, was tossed about in a way that the authors figured their readers would know and understand. In other words, they didn't provide enough details for someone like me, reading the book 41 years after it was published who knows next to nothing about Stockholm today and even less about Stockholm 41 years ago.

Still, the purpose of this novel wasn't to provide Emily Barton with a detailed history of Stockholm circa 1968. It's a mystery, and as a mystery, it's quite good. The authors pulled me in very early on with a set-up that maybe someone smarter than I would have seen coming, but I didn't. I was immediately drawn to the main characters, especially poor Martin Beck, who suffered from a cold throughout the entire book. There were points at which I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, and I really empathized with the police who were stuck with, as the New York Times Book Review endorsement on the cover of my edition notes, "... an apparently clueless crime."

This clueless crime was a mass murder on a double decker bus that took place late one rainy, mid-November night. The first two policemen to arrive on the scene bungle the investigation so much that, even if there had been clues, there are none left. The scene in which senior policeman Gunvald Larsson (a character I'd probably find obnoxious if I met him in real life, but whose sarcasm provides wonderful comic relief in this gritty tale) chews them out for their incompetence made me chuckle. At first, it seems as if the crime is just a random act committed by a lunatic, but Martin Beck, in a police briefing, soon notes,

'It seems far too well thought out. A mentally deranged mass murderer doesn't act with such careful planning.' (p. 49)
Eventually, the police, thanks mostly to Beck and his colleague and friend Lennart Kollberg, begin to make connections and to piece together an answer to the riddle of why someone they all knew (I'm trying to avoid a spoiler here for those of you who might want to read the book, but I'm not doing a very good job) was on that particular bus at that particular hour that night.

Sjöwall and Wahlöö's clipped writing style (definitely from the "no unnecessary words" school) were effective, and I loved the way they used dialogue to tell the story and to fill in gaps instead of providing long descriptions. One of my complaints about the book is that they broke one of the cardinal rules of mystery writing (oh, to hell with it. I'm going to have to include a spoiler, so don't read past this if you don't want one. However, it may not ruin the book for you. In fact, it might make the book better if you know this going into it): the murderer was someone we didn't meet until the last twenty or so pages of the book. There was no way we could suspect and nail the culprit before the police did. I was busy working on a huge, completely wrong theory for a while, because I'm used to reading mysteries in which part of the fun is trying to figure out whodunnit. If I'd known I was only supposed to be enjoying the riddle of how everything was connected and watching the police solve the crime, I might have read the book differently. In that sense, I would call this book more of a thriller than an actual mystery, a thriller disguised as a police procedural.

My other complaint is not really something I can blame on the authors, since they were writing in their place and time. Granted, it was, as I noted above, during the height of the sexual revolution, but since we all know that, long since that revolution has passed, the world is not in any way rid of its sexism (and especially not in Sweden, according to what Stiegg Larsson thought), I can't really be too upset with authors who weave sexism into their novels. That doesn't mean it doesn't bother me, though, and it does bother me that when a woman behaves the way a man does sexually (or the way, a "healthy," "normal" male is supposed to behave), she's labeled a nymphomaniac, whether she's a real life person or a character in a mystery. I was disturbed by the use of the term in this book and the way such woman were dismissed.

Finally, I have one question for the other members of the group. I didn't really get it: why, exactly, did Asa Torell go live with Kollberg and his wife for a while? Was that just some sort of red herring, or was there a real purpose in that plot detail? Or perhaps we were just meant to understand what a nice guy Kollberg was.

Overall, I'm glad to have read this one. It's nothing spectacular, but it's a perfectly fun way to spend a rainy afternoon and evening.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fragile Things Group Read Week 7

In the End


Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

from Gaiman, Neil. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. New York: William Morrow, 2006.

Week seven, already, for the group read of Fragile Things. Then again, it may seem like it's been forever for those of you who realize I've posted on nothing else in the past seven weeks. Oh well, only one more week to go, and then we'll get back to blogging about other things.

In the End
Being the wife of a minister, and being someone who, along with that minister, knows that humankind has a responsibility to care for creation, not to destroy it, I found this "going back to Eden" tale fascinating. What a wonderful, imaginative concept, the man and woman returning to the garden. The touch of man taking away each animal's name, as if he has no right to name them, is magnificent to those of us who know that the sacred (e.g. God) was never to be called by name.

I'm pretty sure this one wouldn't have made any sense to me at all had I not seen the movie The Matrix. As it was, I saw the movie so long ago that I had to do a bit of thinking and piecing together to make it make sense. A bit of work, but I came away from it really liking it. I can't help making the connection to Corporate America. After all, doesn't the following quote sound like someone who's just retired from a cushy, corner-office job at G.E., say, a company that took good care of him, allowing him to support a family and send two kids off to good colleges?

They may be heartless, unfeeling, computerized bastards, leeching off the minds of what's left of humanity. But I can't help feeling grateful to them. (p. 248)
Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky
Meh. I loved the title, but this one just did nothing for me. I did, however, like the fact that one of the journal entries is dated "Friday the 32nd."

How to Talk to Girls at Parties
If his children's books make us realize Gaiman certainly remembers what it was like to be a child, this story makes us realize he also remembers what it was like to be a teenager. His sense of humor shines brightly in this wonderful tale of teenage insecurity in which one boy (our narrator) attends a party with his friend Vic. Vic is the sort of guy who has success with all the prettiest girls at parties while our narrator Enn gets stuck talking to mothers in kitchens. Although I was a girl, that's a very familiar story from my own teenage years. Anyway, Enn tells Vic that he doesn't know how to talk to girls, and Vic chides him, telling him they're just girls. But are they? I love the girls in the story and the conversations Gaiman dreams up for them. I also love wondering, what, exactly happened to Vic in that upstairs room.

I may or may not get around to posting about the last week's stories next Sunday. If not, I promise to write about them as soon as I can.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fragile Things Group Read Week 6

My Life

Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot

Feeders and Eaters

Diseasemaker's Croup

from: Gaiman, Neil. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. New York: William Morrow, 2006.

Here I am in lovely Maine, but it's a rainy day today, so I brought the computer over to the Southwest Harbor Public Library in order to weigh in late on the four stories in the R.I.P. Group Read of Fragile Things. I haven't had the chance to read what anyone else had to say, but here are my thoughts.

My Life
I've never been a fan of sock monkeys, thinking they're ugly. I guess I want my stuffed animals to be cute. I absolutely love this monologue, though. Gaiman explains in his Introduction that it was written to accompany the photo of a sock monkey who looked to Gaiman like his life had been hard. He certainly gave the heavy-drinking narrator of this monologue a hard, unbelievable life. Just like the stories in The Weekly World News, which Gaiman says were an inspiration, you don't know whether or not to believe the guy. Yet, you keep listening to him because he's extremely entertaining and you love wondering if anyone really could live such a life. Pass him another drink. He's someone I don't mind sitting next to in a bar (as long as he doesn't try to hit on me. He probably will. Only the weirdos ever hit on me in bars).

Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot
I don't know that much about tarot cards, but I absolutely loved this one anyway, probably because I so love vampires. In each of these vignettes, based on various tarot cards, like "Priestess" and "Magician," the vampires act the way vampires are supposed to act, that is, in monstrous ways. No Twilight-y, kind, falling-sweetly-in-love vampires here. These vampires are scary, and obsessive, and dangerous, which is exactly how I like my vampires.

Feeders and Eaters
If you love cats the way I do, this is not going to be your favorite Neil Gaiman story. I know it's a very effective horror device, but I hate it when harm comes to innocent animals. Still, I can't say I completely disliked this odd story that sort of merges the zombie-like with the vampiric. Anyone want to fry up some shaggy inkcaps, butter, and garlic with me? I promise we won't eat any sort of meat with them.

Diseasemaker's Croup
You would think that I, someone who suffers from a touch of hypochondria, would've appreciated this one. Instead, I found it a bit tedious. Gaiman, who usually seems to be so effortlessly clever was trying a bit too hard or something here. Then again, maybe I just didn't like it because I'm someone who suffers from a touch of hypochondria.

Now, if all goes as plans, my thoughts on the next four stories will post all by themselves this Sunday. A little bit of magic for you (or a little bit of telling Blogger when to post it, whichever you choose to believe).

Sunday, October 09, 2011

R.I.P. Group Read: Fragile Things 5


The Problem of Susan


How Do You Think It Feels?

from: Gaiman, Neil. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. New York: William Morrow.

First of all, before I discuss the four selections for this week's R.I.P. group read, I have to tell you what a dolt I am. You see, I completely forgot, when I signed on for this challenge (and the whole R.I.P. challenge) that I would be spending most of the month of October in Maine without easy Internet access. I can get it at the library, but when you are in Maine in October, you don't tend to want to spend most of your time at the library. And the library in Maine is closed on Sundays, so this will be my last official post on Fragile Things. Have no fear, though, if you are still interested in what I have to say about it, because I'm going to continue to read it and will post my thoughts when I can (along with the other books I'm reading for the R.I.P. Challenge). It just may be that you have to wait till November for me to finish up.

Now, onto my thoughts about this week's four:

Another poem. This one is absolutely charming, all about Gaiman telling "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" to his young daughter. First of all, can you imagine getting to be Neil Gaiman's daughter and having him read you bedtime stories? It's charming, but it's also poignant, as Gaiman remarks on the changes he knows will be inevitable as his daughter ages. It's also a commentary on the importance of story telling (you won't get any argument from me on that point). Finally, it's a commentary on the protectiveness a parent feels for a child. It's beautiful, really. Again, I wish I had a whole collection of his poetry.

The Problem of Susan
I've mentioned over the years, in other blog posts, that I was not the fan of Narnia that it seems all the other kids I knew were. I liked The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but not anywhere near as much E. Nesbit's fantasies or the Oz books. I read some of the other Narnia books, but basically just to see what all the fuss was about, and I don't think I even bothered to finish out the series. I was surprised, then, to find, that I absolutely loved this story. It doesn't matter that I had no idea what Susan's fate had been. Gaiman explains that both in the Introduction and in the story itself. What I love about this story is that he answers the question the reader wants answered, the one he or she has been asking, even after multiple readings of a favorite novel, and because he's a writer he can. It's like reading Little Women for the hundredth time and thinking, "Why couldn't Jo just have married Laurie?" The question, in this case, happened to be, "But what about poor Susan? Just because she liked to do things like wear lipstick?" It's the sort of thing that seems so unfair, her being denied her family's great reward. Gaiman does a superb job of imagining what happened to Susan. It's not blissfully happy, but it's probably not nearly the punishment C. S. Lewis probably had in mind for the child who was more fond of worldly things than she was of godly things (I like to think that even as a child I couldn't handle the Christian allegory in the Narnia tales, the way Lewis hits the reader over the head with it, which is what I discovered when I reread The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a few years ago. But, I suspect, it had more to do with not really liking any of the characters).

Heavenly, heavenly poem. I can't even begin to describe it. You must read it for yourself.

How Do You Think It Feels?
This is a melancholic love story. When I was young and went through my fair share of breakups, I used to wish that I could just, somehow, cut out the part of my brain that remembered the person, that remembered both all the lovely times we'd had together and all the heartache at the end. I felt I'd be better off if I could just throw out all the memories. Now that I'm older, of course, I'm glad I couldn't (and not only because I'd probably have less than half a brain at this point). All those experiences are very important for making us who we become, and they do make us wiser, and they do harden our hearts -- a little, at least. Luckily, most of us do not harden our hearts the way the heart is hardened in this story. Or do we? If Gaiman gave us hope in Harlequin Valentine, he sort of takes it away here. Nonetheless, I liked the story. If nothing else, it's always a comfort to those who've had to glue their hearts back together time and again, fearful that next time they might break beyond repair, to read a new theme on "'Tis better to have loved and lost..." even if it's an extremely bleak one.