The Book of Tea: 100%

Last week, I shared two of my favorite quotes from Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea. Since that time, I’ve managed to have a few cups of Lady Grey tea. And I thought I’d wrap up my “return to tea” with more quotes that spoke to me from The Book of Tea:

  • Regarding Taoist ideas on art: “In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistibly rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it.”
  • These next two, from a very long chapter all about flowers:
    • “Alas! The only flower known to have wings is the butterfly; all others stand helpless before the destroyer.”
    • “We boast that we have conquered Matter and forget that it is Matter that has enslaved us.”
  • This final quote, on the mystery of art appreciation, is perhaps my favorite: “At the magic touch of the beautiful the secret chords of our being are awakened, we vibrate and thrill in response to its call. Mind speaks to mind. We listen to the unspoken, we gaze upon the unseen. The master calls forth notes we know not of. Memories long forgotten all come back to us with a new significance. Hopes stifled by fear, yearnings that we dare not recognize, stand forth in new glory.”

That’s it for now!

The Book of Tea: 44%

Teapot
My beautiful, underused, teapot. A gift from my mom.

So, my latest serial on my Serial Reader app is Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea, first published in 1906. It’s only six issues, so I should be finished by this weekend.

I haven’t been ready to commit to a long read since finishing The Count of Monte Cristo. In the coming weeks, I’m determined to finalize the manuscript for The Conclusion on the Causeway, the final story in the Lacey Becnel trilogy. Thus, I’ve subscribed to some shorter serials in the interim. I’m hoping to pick up a longer story in another month.

Since Monte Cristo, I’ve finished The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which was a chore at 14 issues. And also “Second Variety” by Philip K. Dick, which was much easier, and only seven issues.

Reading The Book of Tea is making me long for my tea-drinking days. Many years ago, I drank tea exclusively, in place of coffee. But the convenience of a cold-brewed coffee concentrate has made it my go-to caffeinated beverage. It’s easy to make iced or hot, and one container lasts me a good while.

Once the weather turns colder, I’ll have the occasional cup of tea. One of my favorites is Twinings’ Lady Grey black tea. It has a much lighter flavor than Earl Grey.

Anyway, here are some interesting tidbits from The Book of Tea so far:

  • One of the earliest ways of preparing tea was “Cake-tea.” Okakura Kakuzo has this to say about Cake-tea: “Yet the method of drinking tea at this stage was primitive in the extreme. The leaves were steamed, crushed in a mortar, made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions!” Call me crazy, but that description really makes me want to try it.
  • Second favorite quote so far: “It has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.”
  • Favorite quote: “Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”

‘Til next time!

48 Hours in Baltimore

Water tower space ship

Or rather, the outskirts of Baltimore. Have been on the run, more or less, since Sunday. I sent off a draft of The Conclusion on the Causeway (the final story in the Lacey Becnel trilogy, and my third novel) to an editor on Sunday evening, and then caught a flight to Baltimore. Attended meetings there (for my day job) Monday and Tuesday, and just returned home last night (late).

A few quick observations:

  • The water tower pictured above is in Hanover, Maryland, and is very near to the hotel where I stayed. I like how it looks like a propped-up flying saucer. This picture was taken at sunrise; at night, it has red lights around its perimeter, and looks even more like a flying saucer.
  • I was waiting until I sent off the above-mentioned manuscript before subscribing to another serial on my Serial Reader app. I’m now reading “The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and it’s a tough one. Full of dense language like: “The Sovereign, merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it should be.”
  • Related to bullet #2: I’ve learned Jean-Jacques Rousseau was Swiss. I was curious about this author’s provenance, because his name sounds French, and I know “The Social Contract” influenced a lot of the revolutions of that era. Including the French one.
  • Related to bullet #2, part 2: Speaking of revolutions, amidst the dense language, there is also stuff in there that seemed to influence our founding fathers. Lots of talk of unalienable rights and the common good. And “the people” as a sovereign state unto themselves. Kind of interesting to read this 250-year-old text in a spot so close to our nation’s capitol.

Finally, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from “The Social Contract” so far: “Moreover, truth is no road to fortune, and the people dispenses neither ambassadorships, nor professorships, nor pensions.”

 

The Count of Monte Cristo: 100%

Count of Monte Cristo 2002
I’ve never seen the 2002 movie version, a deficiency I plan to correct soon.

Well, that was an interesting read over four and half months. I just (finally) finished The Count of Monte Cristo on my Serial Reader app. While I can’t say I loved the book, I definitely feel enriched by the experience.

Here’s my two-sentence review: Edmond Dantes is a likeable character, the Count of Monte Cristo is not. The set-up for his vengeance takes up a boatload of the narrative, and the final pay-off for all that plot building is a mixed bag.

Since the book is really about two people, Edmond Dantes and the Count of Monte Cristo (okay, two sides of the same person, but, I’m going for theme, here); and I just gave a two-sentence review, I’ll attempt to keep up with the “two” lists.

The two characters I liked the best:

  • Maximilien Morrel: dashing, brave, loyal — I loved this guy. Though his mopeyness toward the end was very off-putting.
  • Abbé Faria: Witty, warm, full of faith — I like to believe he would not have been so bent on revenge, had he made it out of the Chateau d’If alive.

The two scenes I liked the best:

  • Chapter XXIV: “Dazzled” — When Edmond Dantes finds the treasure on the island of Monte Cristo.
  • Chapter LXXI: “Bread and Salt” — When the Count and Mercedes talk at her summer party.

Hmph. Don’t get me started on poor Mercedes. I really like the character, but I hate how Dumas ties up her story line. There’s a line in V for Vendetta, when Evey Hammond (played by Natalie Portman) says, after watching the 1934 movie version of The Count of Monte Cristo with V (played by Hugo Weaving):

Evey: …it made me feel sorry for Mercedes.

V: Why?

Evey: Because he cared more about revenge than he did about her.

Now I totally get what Evey meant.

I’m off the “two” kick now, because there are a lot of thoughts spinning around in my head, many more than two, mostly revolving around the nineteenth century world of Dumas. Slavery was legal (although not in France). Women were second class citizens. Dueling was a thing. All these things factor into the book in some way. And not as a statement, as they might if the story were written today as historical fiction. It was all just part of the story, part of the culture.

Invaluable for gaining insight into an ancestral mindset. And very troubling when regarding the legacy of that mindset.

To conclude on a more positive note, I did find the ending pretty satisfying. Of course, Monte Cristo leaves Maximilien and his betrothed, Valentine, without saying goodbye. It’s just like him to be so annoying. But he at least leaves a letter, which kinda makes up for it. I’ll leave you with that letter’s last lines:

…until the day when God deigns to unveil the future to mankind, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: ‘wait’ and ‘hope’!

 

The Count of Monte Cristo: 62%

Count of Monte Cristo
The unabridged, Robin Buss translation. Not sure this picture adequately conveys the massiveness of this volume. At 1,276 pages, this thing’s a door stop.

We’re almost halfway through 2019, and I have to confess, I’m pleased. Specifically, I’m pleased that I’ve “re-discovered” reading.

To be fair, I never really “lost” reading. But I definitely lost a regular reading habit. Many years ago, the advent of full-time employment delegated reading to those precious free hours tucked in and around the work week. Then when I decided to devote a fair portion of those free hours to writing fiction, reading for pleasure went out the window.

In my early days of writing, I was concerned about reading and unwittingly co-opting another author’s style or ideas. So overwhelming was the feeling that I didn’t know what I was doing, I was afraid of confusing a process that was in a very primordial form.

I still might not know what I’m doing, but I’ve gained enough confidence to be able to look outside the confines of my own pages. Some part of me has always known that continued, deep, engaging, reading is absolutely necessary to any growth I hope to achieve as a writer. And I couldn’t be happier about finally arriving at that point in my writing journey.

So, a couple of quick observations about The Count of Monte Cristo, thus far:

  • While I’m still reading via Serial Reader, I discovered that there has been a recent translation, by Robin Buss, done in 1996 (I think). So the friendly folks at the Garden District Book Shop ordered the volume, and I picked it up from them. It’s been very helpful to refer to this huge paperback, when the public domain translation of a choice phrase has me scratching my head. I’m still an avowed fan of Serial Reader, though — because there’s no way I’m lugging around this rock with me. My phone is much lighter.
  • The plot reminds me of the soap operas I used to watch during the summer, when I was a kid. But the historical details make it a bit more educational.
  • I really want to see Tom Hiddleston play Edmond Dantes. All the capes, and the conniving behavior. . .it feels like a natural progression from Loki to the Count of Monte Cristo.

The thing about reading: it’s addictive. Moby Dick was like a gateway drug. Not content to just read one thing at a time, I just recently finished Benjamin Taylor’s The Book of Getting Even, a novel I began in earnest over a year ago. Loved it. “Literary” fiction that isn’t afraid to deliver a good story, and make you feel every last pang experienced by its brilliant protagonist, Gabriel Geismar.

And I’m more than halfway through Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend. The observations about writing that keep coming up in this story are just devastating. In a good way. Like this bit, referring to D.H. Lawrence’s quote:

“But what about ‘Trust the tale not the teller,’ and how the critic’s job is to save the work from the writer? By ‘critic,’ you know, Lawrence did not mean self-appointed. I would love to see the consumer review that saved a book from its author.”

Okay, I haven’t been this long-winded in a while. That’s it ’til next week!

 

The Count of Monte Cristo: 22%

Frioul archipelago
Frioul archipelago, Marseille, France. Near the Château d’If, where Edmond Dantes was imprisoned. Photo by Paul Hermann on Unsplash.

I began reading The Count of Monte Cristo via my Serial Reader app on April 1. It’s split into 208 issues, compared to Moby-Dick‘s 79, so I will be at this for the duration of spring and well into summer. But thus far, I find it a much easier read than Melville’s classic. The narrative is straightforward and the language is simpler.

This might be a good time to address my motivation for reading these two particular classics. Or for choosing these two as the “first in line” as I attempt to rekindle my reading habit. My motivation feels, to me, pretty layered, and I don’t want to bore you with all that unpacking. So I guess the simplest way to state it is: there are themes in both these stories that seem to tap into a very rich vein in our collective unconscious, to borrow from Jung. And I’m seeking a deeper understanding of those themes and how those storytellers managed to mine them so successfully.

Or maybe even simpler: I want to improve my ability to write interesting stories with some meaning, and I realize that while some of the best teachers are long gone, their lessons live on through their work.

Some particular observations about The Count of Monte Cristo, so far:

  • Napoleon: It’s been interesting to read a story written when Napoleon’s imprint on the world was still quite fresh. Napoleon’s former reign, and his attempt to reclaim the throne, are pivotal parts to the early part of the story. Since I live in the one U.S. state with a legal system still largely based on the Napoleonic Code, learning some of this history seems like a wise thing to pursue.
  • The south of France: Marseille, France has been the focal point of the story. Dumas’s depictions of the areas around the coasts of France and Italy are very evocative, and have sparked a new longing to see that part of the world, Marseille in particular. I’ve flown into Nice multiple times, and have spent considerable time in Cannes (in a former work life), but I have never made it to Marseille.
  • V for Vendetta: Going back to my motivations for reading The Count of Monte Cristo, V for Vendetta is one of them. It’s one of my favorite movies, and Monte Cristo is a recurring reference in it. It felt like high time to see what those references are all about.
  • Speaking of serials: Wikipedia tells me The Count of Monte Cristo was originally published in 18 parts, over a period of about 18 months.

I’m on track to beat that time by far. I’ve upgraded the Serial Reader app so that I can receive multiple issues in a day, if I choose. My goal is to finish Monte Cristo in under five months, instead of the nearly seven months it would take me at a “one-a-day” pace. At any rate, this is not the last you’ll be hearing from me, regarding Edmond Dantes!

In the Past Month

Peggy Martin, my climbing rose, is one thing that has burst forth in the past month.

Writing-wise, 2018 was a blur. Here’s the best way to sum it up: my ambitions definitely overshot my capacity. I was so worked up about re-writing my second novel, and finishing a draft of my 3rd, that I put a lot of other things on hold. And that accumulation of other things continued into the first 2 months of 2019.

But on the first of March, I finally turned over a draft of number 3 to my editor. And I’ve spent the past six weeks. . .doing. . .well, I haven’t really accomplished anything, but I’ve done a lot of thinking. About how I want to write and publish moving forward. And about how I can go about balancing my day job with my writing vocation with my family and life in general, while carving out space for the pastimes I really enjoy.

For one thing, I’ve been reading a lot more. And I’m realizing just how much I missed it. The kind of reading that pulls you in for a nice, long, story and opens your eyes to the world and its history. I can’t downplay just how much I’ve relied on the Serial Reader app for my renewed reading habit. After I finished Moby-Dick, I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases” by Ida B. Wells, and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

In terms of quick reviews: I was mostly put off by H.P. Lovecraft’s writing, but liked his descriptions of Cthulhu. I’m a new fan of Ida B. Wells, and can’t fathom the courage she possessed to write so plainly about the terrifying reality she lived. And the 2,500-year-old The Art of War has really held up. Though I kept thinking Sun Tzu might have invented the listicle: “There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army,” “There are five essentials for victory,” etc.

I started Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo on April 1, but it’s a long one, and I’m going to be reading it for the next several months. It’s been an easier read than Moby-Dick so far, though. I’m sure there will be some future posts on the tale of Edmond Dantes.

Outside of my phone, I’ve been reading a hardcover version of The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. I’m almost halfway through, and I love it. A blurb on the back by author Cathleen Schine calls it “a novel about loss and the loneliness of writing and imagination. . .” More apt descriptions: “intense and elegant,” “gorgeously spare.”

I only read it at home, on the weekends, because it was loaned to me and I don’t want to mess it up. So I feel a bit guilty for having it so long. (I promise to return it to you soon, Mel!)

So that’s it for now, about me getting reacquainted with my pastimes. And I haven’t even touched my Netflix viewing yet. 🙂

 

Moby-Dick: 64%

Photo by Jennett Bremer on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I posted about my experience reading Moby-Dick on the Serial Reader app. I’ve kept at it, and am now more than half-way through. In about a month, I should be able to proudly state: “I’ve read Moby-Dick!”

Here are some observations from the first 80 or so chapters, and the Internet surfing those chapters begot:

  • I find myself rooting for the whales. The mariners on the Pequod have killed three so far (none of them Moby Dick), and the whole process is so brutal. And definitely fails all the modern-day “sustainability” tests. Here’s a passage I just read, regarding this one poor whale with a hobbled fin: “For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.”
  • That quote, right there, and other passages like it, are the reasons I keep reading. Melville doesn’t hold back in his descriptions, but he also doesn’t fail to subtly point out the ironies of the whole whale-hunting thing. I didn’t live in the 1850s, so I can’t say for sure, but in certain respects, his writing feels like it was way ahead of its time.
  • Speaking of the 1850s, I guess phrenology and physiognomy were a thing back then. In a truly bizarro chapter, Ishmael compares the facial and cranial characteristics of a sperm whale to a right whale. Even more weird, he does this because a head of each was hoisted on either side of the Pequod. At one point, he refers to the head of one as “Locke” and the other as “Kant.” Referring to the philosophers John Locke and Immanuel Kant.
  • Fun factoid: I share a birthday with John Locke.
  • Interesting factoid: Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay for the 1956 film, Moby Dick.

That’s enough for now!

Moby-Dick: 18%

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

The first two weeks of 2019 have been busy. Busy for me, at least. I’ve been writing, working, following the Saints (we play in the NFC Championship game this Sunday). Was down for the count earlier this week with a migraine (not cool at all). But I’ve also been reading Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, via an app named “Serial Reader.” (Thanks for the app recommendation, niece Cece!)

So far, my experience with this app has been very positive. Here’s how it works: Serial Reader contains a library of classics to select from — I think they are all works that are in the public domain. Then it parses out the tome to you in daily “issues,” that also show the average reading time. I’m currently awaiting Issue #16 (of 79), which has a reading time of 9 minutes.

My reading time usually takes a little longer, because, invariably, I’m conducting concurrent Internet searches to help ground me in Melville’s world of New England whalers, circa the mid-nineteenth century. Suffice it to say, my screen has seen a whole lot of info about Quakers, parmacetti (sperm whales), and stove boats (whaling ships), amongst various and sundry other archaic terms.

Two things to note: 1) That stated “reading time” seems to be key to me keeping up with this. Even in days that are jam-packed, I say to myself, “surely, I can find 9 minutes to see when they’re ever going to leave Nantucket!” And, 2) Melville wrote Moby-Dick in first person (I should have figured that out from “Call me Ishmael.”) And there’s a certain humor to his voice that I didn’t expect.

There’s a lot I could expound upon — like maybe offering up a few examples of that humor. And, my hankering to see In the Heart of the Sea. It’s a 2015 movie with Chris Hemsworth that I’ve half-watched before, and it’s based on the true story that inspired Moby-Dick. I really want to watch it again, in the context of my newly found nineteenth-century whaling knowledge.

Seeing as I’m going to be at this for at least the next 63 days, I’m sure there might be another blog post or two on this topic. 🙂