Category Archives: The Written Word Endures

The Written Word Endures #12

15th January, 1946

Dear Mr. Adams,

I no longer live in Oakley Street, but I’m so glad that your letter found me and that my book found you. It was a sad wrench to part with the Selected Essays of Elia. I had two copies and a dire need of shelf-room, but I felt like a traitor selling it. You have soothed my conscience. 

I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true…

– Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Written Word Endures #11

The Master Hand looked at the jewel that glittered on Ged’s palm, bright as the prize of a dragon’s hoard. The Old Master murmured one word, ‘Tolk,’ and there lay the pebble, no jewel but a rough grey bit of rock. The Master took it and held it out on his own hand. ‘This is a rock; tolk in the True Speech,’ he said, looking mildly up at Ged now. ‘A bit of the stone of which Roke Isle is made, a little bit of the dry land on which men live. It is itself. It is part of the world. By the Illusion-Change you can make it look like a diamond – or a flower or a fly or an eye or a flame -‘ The rock flickered from shape to shape as he named them, and returned to rock. ‘But that is mere seeming. Illusion fools the beholder’s senses; it makes him see and hear and feel that the thing is changed. But it does not change the thing. To change this rock into a jewel, you must change its true name. And to do that, my son, even to so small a scrap of the world, is to change the world. It can be done. Indeed it can be done. It is the art of the Master Changer, and you will learn it, when you are ready to learn it. But you must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on the act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow…’

-Ursula K. Le Guin, Earthsea, The First Four Books, A Wizard of Earthsea

The Written Word Endures #10

‘Now,” said Georg, snapping me out of my thoughts, ‘there is one further thing that your father has left you, and I must ask you all to come with me. Please, this way.’

We followed Georg, uncertain of where he was taking us, as he led us around the side of the house and across the grounds until we eventually reached Pa Salt’s hidden garden, tucked away behind a line of immaculately clipped yew hedges. We were greeted by a burst of colour from the lavender, lovage and marigolds that always attracted butterflies in the summer. Pa’s favourite bench sat underneath a bower of white roses, and tonight they hung lazily down over where he should have been sitting. He had loved to watch us girls play on the little shingle beach that led from the garden to the lake when we were younger, me clumsily attempting to paddle the small green canoe he had given me for my sixth birthday.

‘This is what I wish to show you, ‘ said Georg, once again pulling me out of my reverie as he pointed to the centre of the terrace. A striking sculpture had appeared there, resting on a stone plinth about as high as my hip, and we all gathered round to have a closer look. A golden ball shot through by a thin metal arrow sat amidst a cluster of metal bands that wound intricately around it. As I noticed the outline of the continents and oceans delicately engraved on the encased golden ball, I realised it was a globe and that the arrowhead was pointing straight to where the North Star would be. A larger metal band looped around the globe’s equator, engraved with the twelve astrological signs of the zodiac. It looked like some kind of ancient navigational tool, but what did Pa mean by it?

‘It’s an armillary sphere, ‘ Georg stated, for the benefit of all of us. He then explained that armillary spheres had existed for thousands of years and that the ancient Greeks had originally used them to determine the positions of the stars, as well as the time of day.

Understanding its use now, I took in the sheer brilliance of the ancient design. We breathed words of admiration, but it was Electra who cut in impatiently, ‘Yes, but what does it have to do with us?’

‘It isn’t part of my remit to explain that,’ said Georg apologetically. ‘Although, if you look closely, you’ll see that all of your names appear on the bands I pointed out just now.’

And there they were, the script defined and elegant on the metal. ‘Here’s yours, Maia.’ I pointed to it. ‘It has numbers after it, which look to me like a set of coordinates,’ I said, turning to my own and studying them. ‘Yes, I’m sure that’s what they are.’

There were further inscriptions beside the coordinates and it was Maia who realised that they were written in Greek, commenting that she would translate them later.

‘Okay, so this is a very nice sculpture and it’s sitting on the terrace,’ CeCe’s patience was wearing thin. ‘But what does it actually mean?’ she asked.

‘Once again, that is not for me to say,’ said Georg. ‘Now, Marina is pouring some champagne on the main terrace, as per your father’s instructions. He wanted all of you to toast his passing. And then after that, I will give you each an envelope from him, which I hope will explain far more than I am able to you.’

Mulling over the possible locations of the coordinates, I walked back to the terrace with the others. We were all muted, trying to take in what our legacy from our father meant. As Ma poured us each a flute of champagne, I wondered how much of this evening’s activities she had already known about, but her face was impassive.

Georg raised his glass in a toast. ‘Please join me in celebrating your father’s remarkable life. I can only tell you that this was the funeral he wished for: all his girls gathered together at Atlantis, the home he was honoured to share with you for all these years.’

“To Pa Salt,’ we said together, raising our glasses.

– Lucinda Riley, The Storm Sister

*I’m starting the third book in the Seven Sisters Series today and so far the previous books have been engrossing, enthralling, enchanting and I adore the mythological currents that run through them as they relate to the Pleiades. I have heartily devoured these books and this complex and fascinating series that Lucinda Riley has created. She has woven a spell-binding tale of love, magic, mystery and intrigue and I can’t put them down!

The Written Word Endures #9

“We’re here.”

In an explosion of cheers and yelps, the car doors flung open as Palmer and Cara leaped out and ran like wild Indians across the dunes to the beach beyond. Lovie laughed and placed a hand to her heart as memories played in her mind. That was just what she and her older brother, Mickey, used to do. Now, years later, her children loved it here as much as she did. She pulled herself from the car and set her hands on her hips, lifting her face toward her house.

Primose Cottage was perched high on a dune overlooking the sparkling blue water of the Atlantic. It was the same pale yellow color as the primroses that grew wild on the dunes. With its blue shutters and doors, it looked like another of the wildflowers that surrounded it — purple petunias, sassy Indian blankets, and the lemon yellow primroses for which the cottage had been named. She lifted her hand over her eyes like a visor and searched for signs of wear and tear. The prevailing salt winds and the long winters were harsh on a house. A bit more paint was peeling, sand was thick on the stairs and porches, and there was yard work to be done, but all in all, the little house had survived another winter.

She felt the warmth of the sun as she pulled heavy brown bags of groceries from the car. It was just like the children to run off when she could use their help, she thought with a wry grin… Pushing open the the wood door, she was met by a wall of blistering heat and stale air in the closed-up house… Sweat beaded as she hurried to the large patio doors, unlocked them, and pushed them wide open… She was home at last! Home on the Isle of Palms.

In a burst of enthusiasm, Lovie felt the young girl hiding deep within her spring to life. Chores could wait. Unpacking the rest of the car could wait. Cleaning and dusting could wait. At this precious moment in time, her children were out on the beach, playing in the sun. This, she knew, could not wait.

Lovie almost skipped to the linen closet to pull out three thick terry cloth towels. She didn’t usually use her better towels for the beach, but sometimes one just had to break the rules. She tossed the towels in an empty grocery bag, grabbed her floppy purple hat, and hurried out the door.

Her heels dug deep into the soft sand as she raced along the narrow beach path…Immediately she spotted her children cavorting in the surf like shorebirds — Palmer a shorter, pale-chested sanderling, her dear “peep”, running on thin legs, dodging waves. Cara a sleek, slate-black hooded gull, raucously calling and laughing with joy.

Joy… It filled Lovie’s heart as she sprinted toward her children. She paused only to slip out of her shorts and tug her T-shirt from her body to toss on the sand. Her simple black maillot folded to her woman’s body, but she felt ageless as she raced to the waves. With a cry, she leaped into the water, splashing and surprising her children, who whopped in excitement at her arrival. She heard their calls — “Mama! Mama!” — as birdsong before she dove under the oncoming wave. The water was startlingly chilly yet refreshing.

Stroking beneath the water, she felt all the accumulated dust of the city wash away. Lovie kicked her legs, pushed with her arms, and burst to the surface. Gasping for air, tasting salt, she felt the warmth of the sun on her face.

– Mary Alice Monroe, Beach House Memories

* It certainly feels like summer around these parts. I’m on my third book in one week! We’re devouring books whole around here! My Mom introduced me to Mary Alice Monroe many moons ago, when she gave me a copy of The Beach House. The sequel to this book is just as moving and for anyone who grew up in or around the Lowcountry it certainly speaks to your Southern heart. I was left in pieces after this book. It was eloquently written. And as sea turtles have been a cause near and dear to my heart since I was a child, this book in particular is very special.

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The Written Word Endures #8

I believe in ghosts. They’re the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind. Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened.

I am ninety-one years old, and almost everyone who was once in my life is now a ghost.

Sometimes these spirits have been more real to me than people, more real than God. They fill silence with their weight, dense and warm, like bread dough rising under cloth. My gram, with her kind eyes and talcum-dusted skin. My da, sober, laughing. My mam, singing a tune. The bitterness and alcohol and depression are stripped away from the phantom incarnations, and they console and protect me in death as they never did in life.

…Time constricts and flattens, you know. It’s not evenly weighted. Certain moments linger in the mind and others disappear. The first twenty-three years of my life are the ones that shaped me, and the fact that I’ve lived almost seven decades since then is irrelevant. Those years have nothing to do with the questions you ask.

-Christina Baker Kline, Orphan Train

* This book has passed from the hands of my aunt, to my mother and now on to me. It is an incredible story; at times heartbreaking. I began reading slower and slower as I edged closer to the end. Because as much as I wanted to know what happened, I didn’t feel ready to leave this world behind. I have cried for these characters, rejoiced with them and for them when they found snatches of happiness, ached for them when life treated them so very cruelly and felt that I had the privilege of entering their world and taking this journey of loss, love and self-discovery alongside them. Although the characters are a work of fiction, the story is based on a truth. During 1854 and 1929 close to 200,000 children were transported from the East Coast of the United States to the Midwest for adoption; which for many, simply translated into indentured servitude. This is an extraordinary story and a part of American History that I never knew existed. My Nana always says, “they’re re-writing history; they’re leaving things out!” The real stories of these children should not be forgotten, nor should this part of history. It is not a story that I will soon forget, this is a book that’s gonna stay with me for a long time to come.

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The Written Word Endures #7

Then one Sunday evening, Jurgis sat puffing his pipe by the kitchen stove, and talking with an old fellow whom Jonas had introduced, and who worked in the canning rooms at Durham’s; and so Jurgis learned a few things about the great and only Durham canned goods, which had become a national institution. They were regular alchemists at Durham’s; they advertised a mushroom-catsup, and the men who made it did not know what a mushroom looked like. They advertised “potted chicken,”–and it was like the boardinghouse soup of the comic papers, through which a chicken had walked with rubbers on. Perhaps they had a secret process for making chickens chemically–who knows? said Jurgis’ friend; the things that went into the mixture were tripe, and the fat of pork, and beef suet, and hearts of beef, and finally the waste ends of veal, when they had any. They put these up in several grades, and sold them at several prices; but the contents of the cans all came out of the same hopper. And then there was “potted game” and “potted grouse,” “potted ham,” and “deviled ham”–de-vyled, as the men called it. “De-vyled” ham was made out of the waste ends of smoked beef that were too small to be sliced by the machines; and also tripe, dyed with chemicals so that it would not show white; and trimmings of hams and corned beef; and potatoes, skins and all; and finally the hard cartilaginous gullets of beef, after the tongues had been cut out. All this ingenious mixture was ground up and flavored with spices to make it taste like something. Anybody who could invent a new imitation had been sure of a fortune from old Durham, said Jurgis’ informant; but it was hard to think of anything new in a place where so many sharp wits had been at work for so long; where men welcomed tuberculosis in the cattle they were feeding, because it made them fatten more quickly; and where they bought up all the old rancid butter left over in the grocery stores of a continent, and “oxidized” it by a forced-air process, to take away the odor, rechurned it with skim milk, and sold it in bricks in the cities! Up to a year or two ago it had been the custom to kill horses in the yards–ostensibly for fertilizer; but after long agitation the newspapers had been able to make the public realize that the horses were being canned. Now it was against the law to kill horses in Packingtown, and the law was really complied with–for the present, at any rate. Any day, however, one might see sharp-horned and shaggy-haired creatures running with the sheep and yet what a job you would have to get the public to believe that a good part of what it buys for lamb and mutton is really goat’s flesh!

There was another interesting set of statistics that a person might have gathered in Packingtown–those of the various afflictions of the workers. When Jurgis had first inspected the packing plants with Szedvilas, he had marveled while he listened to the tale of all the things that were made out of the carcasses of animals, and of all the lesser industries that were maintained there; now he found that each one of these lesser industries was a separate little inferno, in its way as horrible as the killing beds, the source and fountain of them all. The workers in each of them had their own peculiar diseases. And the wandering visitor might be skeptical about all the swindles, but he could not be skeptical about these, for the worker bore the evidence of them about on his own person–generally he had only to hold out his hand.

There were the men in the pickle rooms, for instance, where old Antanas had gotten his death; scarce a one of these that had not some spot of horror on his person. Let a man so much as scrape his finger pushing a truck in the pickle rooms, and he might have a sore that would put him out of the world; all the joints in his fingers might be eaten by the acid, one by one. Of the butchers and floorsmen, the beef-boners and trimmers, and all those who used knives, you could scarcely find a person who had the use of his thumb; time and time again the base of it had been slashed, till it was a mere lump of flesh against which the man pressed the knife to hold it. The hands of these men would be criss-crossed with cuts, until you could no longer pretend to count them or to trace them. They would have no nails,–they had worn them off pulling hides; their knuckles were swollen so that their fingers spread out like a fan. There were men who worked in the cooking rooms, in the midst of steam and sickening odors, by artificial light; in these rooms the germs of tuberculosis might live for two years, but the supply was renewed every hour. There were the beef-luggers, who carried two-hundred-pound quarters into the refrigerator-cars; a fearful kind of work, that began at four o’clock in the morning, and that wore out the most powerful men in a few years. There were those who worked in the chilling rooms, and whose special disease was rheumatism; the time limit that a man could work in the chilling rooms was said to be five years. There were the wool-pluckers, whose hands went to pieces even sooner than the hands of the pickle men; for the pelts of the sheep had to be painted with acid to loosen the wool, and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off. There were those who made the tins for the canned meat; and their hands, too, were a maze of cuts, and each cut represented a chance for blood poisoning. Some worked at the stamping machines, and it was very seldom that one could work long there at the pace that was set, and not give out and forget himself and have a part of his hand chopped off. There were the “hoisters,” as they were called, whose task it was to press the lever which lifted the dead cattle off the floor. They ran along upon a rafter, peering down through the damp and the steam; and as old Durham’s architects had not built the killing room for the convenience of the hoisters, at every few feet they would have to stoop under a beam, say four feet above the one they ran on; which got them into the habit of stooping, so that in a few years they would be walking like chimpanzees. Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor,–for the odor of a fertilizer man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards, and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting,–sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!

-Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

*My Mom and I often trade books and give each other recommendations. This was a book she read in high school and I added it to my reading pile. I pulled it out this summer and have been slowly devouring it. I’m not normally a slow reader, but summer kept me busy and I’m only half way through the book. It’s a frightening account of the way in which food is treated and the horrendous working conditions that the people within the processing factories endured. I say “is” and not “was”, as unfortunately food safety standards are still in this day and age not being met. In the past month I have read two shocking articles about the food industry, one published this morning (see below). It’s quite grim really and is most surely food for thought!

UK’s top supplier of supermarket chicken fiddles food safety dates

The chicken run: blood, sweat and deceit at a UK poultry plant

Food brands ‘cheat’ eastern European shoppers with inferior products

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The Written Word Endures #6

“What was it like when you were growing up?”

Sookie took a sip of her tea. “Like a three-ring circus, with Lenore as ringmaster. The house was always full of people. The bridge club or garden club always had some kind of meeting at our house and Buck’s friends were running in and out. Poor Daddy, I miss him. He was the sweetest thing; he said the only reason he could live with Lenore was the fact that he was deaf in one ear. One time Buck said, ‘Daddy, why can’t you hear out of that ear?’ And Daddy said, ‘Wishful thinking, son, just wishful thinking.’ He was a scream.”

Believe me, Mother lives well, but since Daddy died, who knows what she’s liable to do next. She can come up with the craziest things.”

“Like what?”

“Just crazy stuff. Five years ago so many new people started moving here and she didn’t think the Welcome Wagon and the Newcomers’ Club were doing enough to suit her so she formed the Welcome to Selma Club … and I feel sorry for the poor people who move here. As soon as they hit town, Lenore’s troops make a beeline over to their house and swarm all over them like ants before anybody else can get to them. I said, Mother, it’s a wonder you don’t scare them to death. I know if I looked up and saw Lenore Krackenberry and her gang storming up my driveway with ribbons and balloons, singing at the top of their lungs, ‘Welcome to Selma,’ I’d move back where I came from.”

“Singing what?”

“Some old stupid song that one of her friends wrote. “ ‘Welcome to Selma, Selma, Selma…can we help ya, help ya, help ya.’ It’s just awful, but God knows people know they are welcomed.”

Sookie got up. “Promise me you won’t let me have more than two glasses of wine. Earle says I’m a cheap drunk and I get silly and talk too much if I have more than two glasses. I’m liable to get drunk and reveal all the family secrets.”

“Do you have any?”

Sookie sat down and threw her legs over the side of the chair. “Secrets? Are you kidding? In Selma, honey, we couldn’t have a secret if our lives depended on it. My life is an open book. Everybody in town knows that Buck is a big goofball and that Mother is a card-carrying crazy … and I’m probably not operating on a full deck myself.”

Dena was unwinding and the feeling was pleasant. “Sookie, tell me about your life down here.”

“My life? It’s just a plain old normal life. You’re the one who hobnobs with the stars. We are just plain old people, dull, dull, dull.”

-Fannie Flagg, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!

* I simply adore Fannie Flagg. The closer I get to the end of her novels, the slower I read them. She weaves her worlds so well, I feel that I know these characters. I think some of us would even be dear friends. This book had so many things that just tickled my funny bone. It was hard to put it down at 2am, but I woke up Mr. Michie by bursting out laughing at a particular paragraph. So out went the lights…

The Written Word Endures #5

The Mists of Avalon Book Cover

They wound her hair in a garland of crimson berries and crowned her with the first of the spring flowers. The precious necklace of gold and bone was reverently taken from the neck of the Mother of the tribe and placed around her own; she felt its weight like the very weight of magic. Her eyes were dazzled with the rising sun. They placed something in her hand – a drum, taut skin stretch over a hooped frame. As it it came from somewhere else, she heard her own hand strike it.

They stood on a hillside, overlooking a valley filled to the brim with thick forest, empty and silent, but within it she could sense the life in the forest – the deer moving on silent, slender feet, the animals climbing in the trees, and the birds nesting, darting, moving, surge with the life of the first running tide of the full moon of spring. She turned for a moment and looked behind, on the hillside. Above them, carved white in the chalk, was a monstrous figure, human or animal she could not tell, her eyes were blurred; was it a running deer, was it a striding man, phallus erect and filled with the spring tide , too?

She could not see the young man at her side, only the surge of the life in him. There was a solemn, waiting hush all over the hillside. Time ceased, was again transparent, something in which she moved, bathed, stepped freely.

-Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon

The Written Word Endures #4

Foxs Earth Book Cover

The old road lies in another country, in an older South. Broom sedge and seedling pines chew voraciously at the roadside ditches. Malignant green kudzu masks toppling tenant shanties, rusted barbed-wire fences, brittle old telephone poles, whole sweeping miles of lunar roadside landscape. Cotton fields here are smaller, scantily tended, leached much of the year to blowing pink dust; 1930s iron bridges span tea-colored creeks with names like One Stump, Hellpeckish, Booger’s Water, Coosaula. They are tributaries of the deep-running Oconee River, which powers the textile mill in Sparta and a dozen towns like it, on its leaping journey to join the Ocmulgee and create the Altamaha at the fall line. The creek names are the harsh and homely place music of the Piedmont.

The naked earth is seldom visible along this old road, thatched as it is with sedge, pine, and kudzu. The pale dust of the fields and ditches is not the true color of the earth but the color of fatigue and decay. The earth is littered crazily here: with cement-block houses and grocery stores; with one-pump filling stations attached to wailing road-houses and evil-smelling rest rooms; with ancient, gap-toothed family graveyards; with sagging power lines and county road signs bleached by decades and pitted by the showered gravel of pickup trucks and tossed Pabst and Nehi bottles. Along this road only Jesus saves, only Coke adds life.

-Anne River Siddons, Fox’s Earth

The Written Word Endures #3

Jack Kerouac On the Road Cover

Two rides took me to Bakersfield, four hundred miles south. The first was the mad one, with a burly blond kid in a souped-up rod. ‘See that toe?’ he said as he gunned the heap to eighty and passed everybody on the road. ‘Look at it.’ It was swathed in bandages. ‘I just had it amputated this morning. The bastards wanted me to stay in the hospital. I packed my bag and left. What’s a toe?’ Yes, indeed, I said to myself, look out now, and I hung on. You never saw a driving fool like that. He made Tracy in no time. Tracy is a railroad town; brakemen eat surly meals in diners by the tracks. Trains howl away across the valley. The sun goes down long and red. All the magic names of the valley unrolled – Manteca, Madera, all the rest. Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries. I stuck my head out the window and took deep breaths of the fragrant air. It was the most beautiful of all moments.

– Jack Kerouac, On the Road