Tag Archives: Gilead

RECENT READS : TELLING THE BEES  BY Peggy Hesketh


 

At first I thought the novel had been written by renowned American author, Marilynne Robinson, because the tone of the story, the slow, measured delivery of information, the nostalgia for an earlier simpler time, were  redolent of her novel Gilead. A novel, by the way, which I greatly admire.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour and read it soon.

I checked the jacket photo of the author, Ms Peggy Hesketh, resorted to Wikipedia, and discovered Peggy Hesketh is a journalist and author and currently teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of California. Furthermore she definitely bears no physical  resemblance to Ms Robinson. This said, I still think  her prose is in the same category. It’s elegant, lucid,  and paints a  picture of the beekeeper, the solitary Mr Albert Hoenig, who has lived all his life  in the house his parents built, in a small town.  He lives a very quiet life, devoted to his beekeeping and modest activities – walking to the Library, for instance;  reading poetry and his beloved books.

When his lifelong neighbours are murdered, the  past begins to reveal itself ever so slowly, and Mr Hoenig is forced to  revisit his relationship with his neighbours,  and long repressed events and feelings.  At the end of the book – and the finale is quite dark – I needed to remind myself I’d been reading a crime novel, but the crime is so low key and the emphasis of the book is on the technical and historical aspects of beekeeping , together with Mr Koenig’s slow reminiscences. I learnt a lot about beekeeping by the time I reached The End!  What I found fascinating were the snippets of beekeeping traditional lore – hence the title Telling the Bees. A successful beekeeper is attuned to his bees, the hive, their moods, and he (or she) uses traditional rhymes and rituals at certain times – lore passed down over the generations. Mr Hoenig really did tell the bees about important things. Perhaps a little too late.

A strange and unusual book. It’s beautifully written. If you enjoy elegant prose  and would like to learn about the honeybee, then try this novel.

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MAKING SOUP & CONTEMPLATING LIFE


 

Because I’m currently reading, no : absorbing – or trying to – Mary Paterson’s book “The Monks and Me”, I’m paying careful attention to peeling carrots, the rasp of the peeler, and plop  of the peel landing in the bin. Next comes the peeler over the cylindrical shape of the sweet potato – no rasping this time – just the thin purple peel dropping silently into the bin; noting the myriad little indentations still clad in skin. Taking the washed  potato to the old yellow and white chopping board; the cool,wet pressure against my left hand as I grip it firmly, the pressure of the knife handle in my right hand, the effort to force the knife through the thick object. Then the crisp chop-chop-chop sound of the knife as I slice the potato into batons. The creamy white flesh against the bright yellow tea-kettle design on my antique chopping board. Paying attention.

How much attention do we pay to our daily lives? In my case – very little. Whilst I may be multi-tasking  all day long, for how much of this time am I really present with my actions? Not much. I know I spend 90% of my time preoccupied with plans, thoughts, ideas, reminders, rehearsing speeches, more plans , the occasional  memory fragment, more plans … and so it goes, all day long. Mary Paterson went on a 40-day silent retreat at Plum Village in France, the monastery of renowned Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn. She diligently followed the routine, the schedule, the meditation periods, the Noble Silence, the instruction on Mindfulness (be here now!  as Ram Das so succinctly said, so long ago).  And it paid off. As she puts it, “she returned Home” to a peaceful place within.  The book is very readable, in short chapters, one for every day of her retreat. So: if you’re feeling beleaguered by pressures of modern life, read this book! And start  paying attention.  Slowing down.  It works.

Another writer who is  currently receiving a lot of attention, is the Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard, with his mammoth exploration of his life titled in Norwegian ‘Min Kamp’ – yes, that’s right, ‘Mein Kampf” in German and in English : My Struggle. It was Socrates who proclaimed : . An unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined life is not the life for man. KOK has certainly taken this dictum to heart.

One Goodreads writer sourly recorded that it had been too much of a struggle, and she’d abandoned the book. Others lavished 5-star reviews, while others wondered why the trivial minutiae in his daily life was of any interest or importance to his readers. I saw him  being interviewed by Razia Iqbal on BBC arts & culture programme, Talking Books,  recorded at the Hay Book Festival this year, and was smitten by his Viking good looks – those blue eyes and that silver hair! However, I’m not sure that I’m up for a 3 000+ page exposition of his life, some of which appears to be sordid and difficult e.g. the aftermath of the death of his alcoholic father. Not only this, but the account of Knausgaard’s life is not a memoir, says the author, it’s a novel, despite being a blisteringly true account of current events within his own family. Some of whom are now not speaking to him. No, really, he cannot have it both ways. Either it’s a memoir, or it’s fiction. And if it’s a factual account of events and people in his life, including himself, then surely its ….  Oh I don’t know. Life’s too short. Go figure.

For some reason, whilst chopping veg for my soup (and obviously not paying attention to what I was doing  – yet again!) I recalled reading a book by Marilyn Robinson titled Gilead*, which is narrated by an old minister, living in a small American town, at the end of his life,  and the reader is privy to his reflections about his life. This remarkably short book was a masterpiece of simplicity and clarity, humility and wisdom. I think I’ll buy a copy of Gilead  and forgo the task of enduing the Norwegian saga.
*Marilynne Robinson’s second novel, Gilead (2004), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Ambassador Book Award. Gilead takes the form of a letter from an ageing Iowa preacher to his seven-year-old son. Written in simple and sparse prose, it is an uplifting meditation on life. http://contemporarylit.about.com/

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MORE BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS


The Believer (magazine)

The Believer (magazine) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree – Nick Hornby  (read in February  2010)

I’ve waited at least three years for this book and when I came across it at the Book Lounge  I pounced on it, and bought it immediately.  Whenever I visit the Book Lounge I find an extraordinary book that is just marvellous.  It’s because they stock literary books that the chain-stores don’t keep.

I enjoy books about books and this one did not disappoint: in fact I devoured it in two-and-a-half days, leapt on line to Takealot.com and ordered the second volume of Hornby’s book reviews without turning a hair – can’t wait to read it.  I made happy lists of NH’s Books Read in my own notebook ,so I can trawl the Libraries for his reads.  I’m thrilled that he shares my enthusiasm for Gilead and I want to read Marilyn Robinson’s second novel.  Hornby admits he buys books, piles them round the house and doesn’t always read them. Sounds very familiar – it’s a good thing we don’t share the same living space!

I had fun on the Internet looking up Nick Hornby – he’s a busy boy; apart from writing very successful novels, he writes articles about sport, rock music and also  writes book reviews. He has cleverly turned his passions into a rewarding career. His novel About a Boy  has been filmed, starring Hugh Grant, and I loved it

I Googled The Believer which NH writes for; it’s an American literary magazine for which  NH’s book diaries were written, and formed the basis for Polysyllabic Spree.   He’s irreverent, erudite, funny, has catholic reading tastes, and he loves Dickens.  Note to self: read more Dickens.  P.S. Novelist Robert Harris is NH’s brother-in-law.

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