Rant of the Aged

I guess this would be rant number two as I've only actually posted one other. I write some things that I don't post. You should be grateful for that. The first rant was about weather forecasting; this is about aging, or more specifically how we respond to others who are aging, and that includes everybody because nobody is getting younger.

I'm 62. I've been noticing things change in the past couple of years. The changes that come with age aren't much fun but they're expected and we all learn to cope. It's just life. What I didn't expect was the change in the way people talk to me, or react to things I say. It was funny at first, but now it's downright irritating.

If I tell a story about some dumb thing I did, or something I forgot to do, it doesn't get laughs anymore. Like everyone else, I used to tell my friends about silly mistakes I'd made and we would all have a good laugh. It's good to be able to laugh at yourself. Then one day I told a story about something ridiculous I'd done, and instead of laughs, I got sympathy and "aww" and "poor you" looks. What happened? I used to forget things when I was in my twenties and thirties and it was funny. If I forget the same thing now, why is it sad?

And apparently I'm supposed to have become a prude. I've always found attractive men attractive. If I commented on a particularly hot guy in a movie, the women around me would enthusiastically agree with me. Now the same comment gets confused looks like people aren't sure I could really mean it. At what age was I supposed to stop appreciating a muscled torso?

I was in Walmart looking for white paper doilies for a craft I was doing for Christmas. The clerk I talked to looked at me with profound pity and told me gently that you see, dear, you can't buy those old fashioned things anymore because nobody has made them for years. So I left Walmart and bought them at the dollar store. If you don't have something, say so, but do try not to imply that I'm old and stupid, or even worse that I'm stupid because I'm old.

Same thing goes for the guy who was here the other day setting up my new internet service. He unplugged my router and pushed it aside and when I asked him about my home network he was at a loss for words. Finally he said "You have your own network here?" I said yes, that I needed to be able to access the files on the desktop from my laptop in the other room, so he hooked my router up again and said how surprised he was to find "that much of a system" here. Really? Because this is Computer Illiterate Street or because I'm older and everybody knows our brain cells leave with our hair colour?

Anyone of any age will tell you that they are still the same person they always were. Hopefully we've gained a little wisdom along the way, but essentially you are the same person inside your 40, 50, 60 and 70 year old head that you were when you were 30. My hair is gray and my body won't do half of what I tell it to do, but don't talk to my hair, talk to the me that's still in there. And don't assume it's incapable of intelligent thought.

There must be a set of rules for aging that I've never read because I'm seeing things I didn't notice before. Things like a lot of older women not wearing jeans. And surprise on people's faces over my book choices. And my music choices. And my tv show choices. I feel like I'm breaking the rules of Expectation For Aging Women if I read Stephen Hawking, listen to Pink, or watch Sci-Fi. Who decides what old people are supposed to like?

I've thought about it, and have decided to keep breaking the rules. And wearing jeans. And thinking men are attractive. I am still the same me, not some old person who suddenly came into existence on my 60th birthday.

And one day soon, I'm going to tell that condescending clerk at a certain store who talks to me slowly, with drippy sweetness, and calls me dear or sweetie, that dear would like her to shove her condescension right up where the sun don't shine. Sweetie.

End of rant.  

"Cakes and Ale"

Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

The story is narrated by William Ashendon, a young writer who has been approached by another writer, Alroy Kear, for help documenting the life story of celebrated author, Edward Driffield. Ashendon had known Driffield and his first wife, Rosie, when he was a boy and then again years later when he was a medical student.

There's a certain distance the narrator keeps between himself and the other characters, even the ones he says he feels affection for. It's hard to tell if he ever had deep feelings about anything, even Rosie, with whom he'd had an affair before she ran off with someone else, leaving both her husband and her lover behind. Maugham seems to hold a rather negative opinion of women in general. In Of Human Bondage he was overtly insulting, and in The Painted Veil and now this one the main female characters are wives who have ongoing affairs with other men. Maybe the distant feeling is a result of an inability to trust women or develop close relationships (with either sex?). Was it the author's inability or the narrator's? I didn't do enough research to make an educated guess.

I love Maugham's writing, if not his stories quite so much. Of Human Bondage had wonderful writing but Phillip Carey nearly drove me crazy for three quarters of the book. I liked The Painted Veil's story better, and now this one is my favourite so far, but the writing is impeccable in all of them. He has a wonderful talent, with a gift for irony - it's perfection really. Listen to this: "Most of us, when we do a caddish thing, harbour resentment against the person we have done it to, but Roy's heart, always in the right place, never permitted him such pettiness. He could use a man very shabbily without afterward bearing the slightest ill will." If you're not paying attention, you could read that and move on thinking what a great guy Roy is.

The book pokes fun at the public image authors try to create and maintain. Driffield's widow, his second wife, is commissioning his life story and has left Lear with the awkward task of white-washing his past. Edward and Rosie had not always behaved with integrity, but that could be covered up quite easily. For the biographer, the real problem was Rosie.

Rosie loved life, and men. Lots of men. She was known to have been promiscuous and in her younger years had worked as a bar maid, a fact that horrified everyone from Ashendon's parents who didn't want their son subject to such vulgarity, to the second Mrs. Druffield who was trying to give her late husband a reputation he'd never actually earned. On the back cover of the book, the reviewer praises Rosie as one of the most delightful female characters of the 20th century. I think she's interesting but I never did manage to see in her whatever it was he saw. 

The author takes a few clever jabs at pretentious literary critics, as in this passage: "They upbraided the public because it could not see that here was a great writer and since the easiest way to exalt one man is to kick another in the pants, they reviled freely all the novelists whose contemporary fame obscured his." In another instance, the critics had made much of a volume of poetry written by an author whose subsequent work did not earn him the brilliant career they predicted..."and they were determined that he should suffer for their error."

 People have suggested that Driffield was meant to represent Thomas Hardy, but Maugham was adamant in denying it. Of course once I read that I couldn't help but look for similarities in Rosie and Tess and there are some, but you could probably say that about any two female characters in any two books. Driffield may not have been Hardy, but in what I read it was hinted at so many times that in my mind he always will be. The power of suggestion seems to always win.

Maugham's writing is just wonderful. It's witty and vivid and eloquent and I could go on and on but I won't. Read "Cakes and Ale". It gets a solid 8 out of 10 from me.

"Miss Clare Remembers" and "Over The Gate"

Miss Clare Remembers and Over The Gate by Miss Read

These are books 4 and 5 in the Fairacre series by Miss Read (Dora Saint).

Miss Clare is an elderly retired lady who spent most of her life teaching at Fairacre School. A regular in this series, she is a good friend of Miss Read's, the current school mistress, and one of the characters that make these books so wonderful.

The book is, as the title suggests, Miss Clare telling stories of her own life from childhood days to the present. She lived quite an ordinary life, as do most of the people in these stories, but the beauty of these books is not in exceptional stores; it is in the appealing way ordinary ones are told. The lovely language with an occasionally wry tone, the attention to nature as the seasons change and the willingness of the villagers to accept the quirks and flaws of their neighbours all make this series a delight to read. 

In "Over The Gate" the focus swings back to Miss Read and her life as current school mistress at Fairacre. She tells stories about her students, her run-ins with the grumpy cleaning lady, Mrs. Pringle, her friends in the village and the seasonal events that are a regular part of village life. At one point, she seriously questions whether Fairacre is where she wants to spend the rest of her life. With a good friend encouraging her to make a change before she becomes too settled in her ways, she takes a long, hard look at what she wants for her future: Fairacre or someplace where life might be a little easier?

I thoroughly enjoyed these books, as I always do, but alas it is time to move on and work at getting some of the 60 or so unread books off my tbr shelves. I reduced that number by 28 last year, but now I need to clear at least one shelf completely because I have no place left to put the books I have read. I think, too, this will be the year I go through all my shelves and get rid of some of those books. I hate to do it but the reality of a small house and few shelves forces me to it. Maybe I'll find some to use for giveaways - that will make the cruel task at least a little more fun.   

Celebrating Twenty Years of Book Club

This year is the 20th anniversary of the monthly book club I attend. We call ourselves R.E.A.D. (read, evaluate and discuss). When we began in January, 1994, none of us had any idea how big a part book club would come to play in our lives. We've built friendships with people we might never have known otherwise and those relationships now extend much further into our lives than just book club. We've been introduced to dozens of authors, some of whom are now the favourites of various members. And the books! We've read hundreds of books - some wonderful, some awful - and we've learned something of how to evaluate a book beyond liking or disliking it. For me, our book club meeting has become the highlight of the month.

When we were talking over various ideas for celebrating our twenty years together, we decided it would be fun to give something back. One of our members found the Dalit Freedom Network, an organization helping the Dalit people of India, who comprise one quarter of Indian's population.  They are the poorest of the poor, the untouchables. Here is a bit of information taken from the Dalit Freedom website:

"Dalits gained equal status under the law 60 years ago, but little has changed for them in daily life; they still face widespread discrimination. Dalits endure segregation in healthcare and housing, and are often forced to work in degrading conditions. Dalit children endure harassment from teachers and other students. Low literacy and high dropout rates are common for Dalits.

For a Dalit child and her family, education is the path to freedom. Attending a welcoming school and receiving an English education provides Dalit boys and girls with confidence, socioeconomic opportunities, and the potential to claim a place in society. Education gives Dalit children and their families the tools they need to break the cycle of discrimination and oppression." 

The goal of our fundraiser is to put a library in an elementary school for Dalit children. In November we rented a table at a university craft sale to sell used books and crafts, and we've made individual donations as well. The total cost of setting up the library will be $1500 and we are now very excited to be at $1093.30.

If you would like to learn more about the Dalits of India or make a donation to any aspect of their work you can do so at: 

If you would like to make a donation to our fundraiser and help us establish a library for Dalit children, you can do so at: 

Please take a few minutes, go to the website and learn a little about the Dalits of India. The more people who know, the more likely it is that things will change. And things must change.

"Papua, New Guinea"...and other stuff

No one ever argues much with positive reviews, but it seems everybody has something to say about negative ones. Some tell us if we have nothing nice to say we should say nothing at all, good advice in a social situation but not so much when you're attempting to evaluate something. Every review would be positive, not to mention boring and colossally unhelpful. Others say it's ok to criticize the plot, characters, dialogue, etc. as long as we don't say anything negative about the author. It is, from what I've been reading, considered rude to an author to say her book is badly written, but isn't it rude to publish bad writing and charge money for it?

A while back I read the thoughts of some authors who were talking about what the reader "owes" the author. The consensus was that a reader is free to dislike a particular aspect of a book providing he gives clear, literary reasons for his criticism.  Otherwise, they said, the reader should keep quiet. Maybe I'm in a bad mood but I have a strong urge to argue this point. I think if I pay for a book, at that point it's the author who owes me -  either a good story or good information, depending on what I've paid for. I don't think I owe him a favorable review or a "literary" explanation for an unfavorable one. I do think giving reasons for our criticism makes for more interesting reviews and can open up good discussion, but I don't think I owe it to anyone.   

All this stuff I've been reading lately has left me feeling a bit disenchanted with blogging, Goodreads and all the rest, and I don't really know what approach to take in this new year. I find myself second guessing everything I say about a book so as not to offend anyone. I'm not being sarcastic when I say that. I honestly don't have any desire to be offensive or to hurt anyone's feelings. On the other hand, I don't see any point in writing a blog that stamps "Yes!" on every book. Would anything be more boring?

So here I am and I don't know where I want to go from here. Is this just a slump or has Ordinary Reader run its course? Should I make changes? I'm doing a couple of things differently. I'm not as anal about posting on every single book I read anymore, I've found nothing at all happens if I skip one now and then, and I let myself get away with shorter posts now and don't waste time trying to think of things to say just to make them an acceptable length. Isn't it sad that I used to?

Blah, blah, blah. I'm tired of listening to myself talk about this as, I'm sure, are you. For now I'll take it one book at a time and see what happens.

The actual subject of this post is "Papua, New Guinea", the second novel in the "Notes From A Spinning Planet" series by Melody Carlson. Carlson is not my up of tea but my Book Club chose this, so I read it. To be honest, I didn't like it much. I did enjoy learning a bit about life in New Guinea; some history or geography in a book goes a long way toward making it interesting for me. What I didn't like about the book was it's formulaic Christianity, the making a big deal out of the obvious, the cliches, the attempt to disguise preaching as dialogue and the unrealistic view of life as a journalist. It's too sweet and too pretty, and the author tells us too much, not crediting the reader with any grasp of the obvious at all. I realize there's not much positive in that, but there you have it. Hope no one is offended... 

"The Careful Use of Compliments"

The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith

This is book #4 in the Sunday Philosophy Club series. If you've been reading my posts for very long, you know I'm becoming less enthusiastic about this series with each book.

I love the concept: a single woman living in Edinburgh, editing an obscure philosophy magazine, harbouring feelings for a man years younger than her, and taking an intense interest in other people affairs. She is driven to solve the mysteries of the people around her. It's a concept that should work and I very much enjoyed the first in the series, but I find myself bored with it now for some reason.

 I wouldn't say I dislike these books, I'm just not finding them very interesting anymore. Maybe I'll read one more, and maybe I won't. I don't know. I have no more on my shelf so this might be it for this series. Try them though, it might be just the thing you're looking for.