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Gleanings, and what you put in, you get out.

I decided that I need to read something funny, and the latest book I bought is by an author who is not at all funny–she’s good, but not one bit of funny.


Yes, there is the element of cocaine in the book, from 1938.

So it came to me that I had not read Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson, in some time. I do love the British voice, and especially the British voice from the middle of the past century. I’ve already done a post on the novel and author Watson; you can read it here.


From the introduction to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day:

“I suppose I first read this novel some time in my early teens, because it was my mother’s favorite book, the one she went to, I now understand, not only for an escape into laughter and joyful fantasy, but because in some ways Miss Pettigrew, middle-aged, poor, and a governess, mirrored my mother herself.” ~ Henrietta Twycross-Martin.

I have nothing in the life I’ve led that makes me like Miss Pettigrew, except perhaps inside, the gumption waring all the time with dipping hope. Perhaps the same can be said of all of us.

The first paragraph:

“Miss Pettigrew pushed open the door of the employment agency and went in as the clock struck quarter past nine. She had, as usual, very little hope, but today the Principal greeted her with a more cheerful smile.”

It is the ‘as usual’ that adds so much to the sentence. It what makes me smile and have hope myself in a bit of fun. Maybe that’s because I understand it so. I think it is those two words that enable just about everyone to relate.

In the process of looking for my copy of Miss Pettigrew, I came across Reynolds Price’s novel, Roxanna Slade. I spied little bits of torn Post-it Notes marking a couple of pages. Of course I had to find out why I’d marked the pages and turned to read. Here is what I found on page 72:

“But again nobody touched on my feelings, and nobody seemed to notice what I could feel–that I was beginning to pick up speed in the long process of sliding down into a siege of the blues.”

Maybe my sense of humor is odd, but I find it is both the wording and the cadence of the sentence that makes me chuckle and shake my head. I know exactly what Price is talking about; I never just get the blues but I slip and slide into a siege of it. Makes me think of Jello. In Price’s description you get the gist of the character, and that she is sad, but the book is not sad. There’s just so much hilarity in that sentence. So much life. And even more understanding and compassion for what it means to be human.

Just as we are what we eat, our minds are what we put into it. I make it a practice to read authors who are much better than myself, who craft sentences that make me smile and make my heart jump up and dance. To write, you have to read, read, read, and read only writing that is better than your own, to draw you up higher. What you put is is what you will get out.



Gleanings, with commentary

I set myself to read more this week, and have. When the student is ready, the teacher appears, so they say. Perhaps setting myself to read drew to me the perfect book– Jacqueline Winspear’s novel, Elegy for Eddie. It is her Maisie Dobbs series, and I’ve read them all. How I missed this one, I can’t say, but everything does come at the right time, and this was the right time for me. I had my nose in the book–printed paper, ah, the smell and feel!– for happy hours.

“The old had been destroyed and the new was yet to come, and as Maisie knew only too well, the limbo in between was akin to a desert, a place where one stood with nothing while waiting for the road ahead to become clear.” ~ Jacqueline Winspear, Elegy for Eddie.

How often this happens to us in life. Sometimes the desert is deep and wide, and there is nothing else to do but wait. In the meantime– and it can be a mean time– read, books help the waiting. They help to keep our minds open. They are sort of like food and water until we reach the end of the desert.

If you don’t say yes on your own terms, you are saying it on everyone else’s terms, and the results will hurt you. ~ Claudia Altucher, The Power of No.

I have said yes to reading, and writing, and in order to do this, I have had to say no to circumstances and people. I’m getting better with practice.

When writers say that they don’t like what they’re writing, what they really mean is that they no longer like their own ideas and arguments. Seeing their ideas on the page, they no longer believe them. ~ Eric Maisel, Living the Writer’s Life.

Sometimes we grow to see that our ideas don’t work. But, I think, most of the time it is that we let doubt come in and steal the faith in the idea. We must keep our faith in our ideas and ourselves. How do we do this? By jutting our chin and pressing on, continuing to write right through the doubt. I like to think that when I’ve given up on a project three times, that’s a limit. Start and keep on going.


Scant Gleanings and Appreciation for Miss Read

I realized this morning that I had not noted anything of particular interest from my past week’s reading. I think it may be because my reading was scant. That awareness right there is cause for changes for this week. I started out this morning with some reading time and came up with this:

“The writer has the sense that she knows where she’s going when she starts out–that is, she has some intuitive sense of a destination and maybe even an intuitive sense of what the journey will look like. But she doesn’t have anything like a blueprint…she must accept that she is working in the dark; she must suspend her desire to force herself to move in a pre-set direction and must hold tight to a belief in the process.” ~ Eric Maisel, Living the Writer’s Life.

While Maisel directs this truth to writers, let me say this is true for living life in general. We’re all working in the dark. It’s helpful to have goals and plans toward those goals, but we have to open ourselves up to the unexpected, and when it happens, keep faith in the good and able within ourselves and our God.

* * * * *


Dora Jessie Saint, aka Miss Read

I finally finished Thrush Green by Miss Read. This book was the beginning of her series of novels set in the rural fictional community she named Thrush Green. I found there were places I had to skim, and I believe that caused as much by my often fatigue as Miss Read’s sometimes lengthy descriptions.

Yesterday a writing friend and I were discussing the mutual fact that we’re finding it harder and harder to read current fiction. We find so much of it poor writing and crafting in general. Because of that I hesitate to recommend the Miss Read books to anyone under 40; by today’s standards the books appear too simple and quiet. Although I can point out that they have remained in continual print since the beginning back in the 1950s, I believe. Times change, the nature of people does not, and Miss Read writes about people and the earth they inhabit, and flora and fauna does not change much either.

The Miss Read books are definitely worth a read for improving vocabulary and writing in general. Miss Read could evoke feeling from choosing the perfect wording.

Within the books, are addressed love, longing, and heartbreak, the joy of childhood, death, alcoholism and plain meanness, poverty and thievery, beauty and community, being odd and an object of scorn, foibles and hilarity, growing up and growing old and having to let go of lifetime dreams. After identifying these themes, I don’t know how anyone could call the books simple. It was Miss Read’s ability that made them look that way.

Please let me know if you’re reading something you especially like, and why you like it.


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