COVID, Friendship, Writing, and Books: We’re better

It’s official — as of yesterday, I can smell the cinnamon in my oatmeal and taste hot chocolate — hurrah! Smelling flowers is uplifting — but no longer worrying that I could be snuffed out by toxic air or spoiled food? — mega-hallelujah!

Senses, mwah and mwah! Please don’t ever leave me again! Here’s to hoping that a benefit of COVID will be more research spent to help all who have limited abilities to smell or taste…

Illness is dreadful, but now that I’m securely on the other end of it, I see it provided me some upsides. For one thing, it’s reminded me how beyond-lottery-winner-fortunate I’ve always been in regards to wonderful friends — and that includes you, dear reader. Most strangers are merely people we haven’t yet had the opportunity to become friends with, no?

Besides appreciating the kindness of pals and soon-pals, I wish I could say I completed extensive writing on my “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat” novels, but my writing energy was nowhere to be found.

However, sitting and lying about  enabled me to do some reading. Without revealing plot points, here are my reviews of four books I’ve just finished. When I review books I appreciate, I notify the authors. Occasionally they email me back 🙂

Cover of "Earthlings" by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings: A Novel by Sayaka Murata

Pardon the gray matter, but my brain just exploded. This book is like nothing I’ve ever read before — and I read a lot of books and genres.

Picture Sayaka Murata’s earlier book, “Convenience Store Woman,” as a string of firecrackers that cleverly illuminates how soul-sucking capitalism can be. “Earthlings” is akin to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when 80,000 people vanished in the blink of an eye and 200,000 mostly civilians perished.

Equal parts sci-fi, reality, magical realism, comedy, horror, satire, and gore, she says this is her other-worldly response to a Japanese health minister’s announcement. In 2007, he said, “The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can do is ask them to do their best per head … although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines.”

Granted, there are beaucoup reasons “Earthlings” isn’t for everyone — but I have no time for those who’re simply offended that the story isn’t as cutesy as the iconically Japanese cover. The same goes for reviewers who lament the dearth of “likable” characters. For Murata, no one is all-good or all-bad, and no gender or age has it easy. Surely when Murata named an essential character “Yuu,” she knew the meaning of “you” in English.

Cover of "Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends" by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

This is a wise and chatty culmination of what the authors learned as co-hosts of their “Friendshipping” podcast. Their mantra: “Friendship is a skill.” Indeed, it’s one that merits continual honing, for which they offer great suggestions.

Cover of "The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention" by Julia Cameron

The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s 12-week manual, “The Artist’s Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” is ultra groundbreaking to creatives of any ilk. Each non-fiction book Cameron has published since then reiterates much of her original teachings — but for me, the repetition often works. This newest text is a 6-week DIY course that emphasizes the value of listening to each other, our environment, and ourselves.

Cover of "The 90-Day Novel" by Alan Watt

The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within by Alan Watt

Good chance Julia Cameron fans will enjoy this, given that there are a few similarities. If Cameron doesn’t resonate, you still may find this bread-crumbs/inside-to-out writing approach useful.

Are you reading or writing lately?

Book Art and Video by Cecilia Levy

(Click here for an audio version of the post that follows…)

What do books mean to you? For me, the sight of pages bound together conjures adventure, romance, learning and joy. A book suggests what a heaven-on-earth it would be to occupy the most epic reading room ever! In such a place, librarians would work to honor the greatness of fiction (like my soon-to-be-published “Flamenco and the Sitting Cat” novel), as well as non-fiction. Once published, every book in that magnificent reading place would live forever.

Artist Cecilia Levy resides in the small Swedish village of Sigtuna, between Stockholm and the university town of Uppsala. Her art ensures printed pages are neither discarded nor forgotten. In her hands, they are reincarnated, afforded three-dimensional lives as exciting as their first ones!…

Cecilia Levy, artist, working in her studio, Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, 2019. Photographer: Stewen Quigley.
Cecilia Levy, artist, working in her studio, Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, 2019. Photographer: Stewen Quigley.

“Paper Art” by Cecilia Levy

I am Cecilia Levy and I create sculptural objects in paper, using old book pages, wheat starch paste, and papier maché technique.

My work is exhibited internationally and is included in private and permanent collections, including the Swedish National Museum.

In 2017, my public art commission, “In Fusion –- Contemplation Pieces,” was installed in the main entrance to Stockholm’s New Karolinska University Hospital, NKS, twenty plinths displaying over twenty-five of my unique paper sculptures.

My home is in Sigtuna, my studio is at Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, and I’m a member of Konsthantverkarna in Stockholm, where my pieces are sold.

"Companion," teacup and strainer, 2018.
“Companion,” teacup and strainer, 2018.

I have a background in graphic design and bookbinding, and paper has always been my medium. I make sculptural objects in paper, using book pages. I only use old books, up until the 1960s. They have the paper quality, layout, and typography that I appreciate.

"Longing," mocha set, 2020.
“Longing,” mocha set, 2020.

Old book paper is a fragile and delicate material. It carries several narratives at the same time, both in content and regarding the passage of time. My works reflect this, the fragility of life. The pieces reflect my personal stories and memories.

For instance, my a mocha set, called “Longing,” is a replica of a set given as an engagement gift from my grandfather to my grandmother…

"Chapter One," thistle, 2015.
“Chapter One,” thistle, 2015.

Visible traces from the passage of time, marks from previous owners and readers, paper quality, color and typography, holes in the binding, wrinkles and dog ears, olden expressions and spelling, and the (sometimes) odd content. All of these are characteristics I value and are what determine my choice of working material. Every single piece of paper is chosen with care.

My different pieces represent different sides of me. I often use everyday objects, those found at home, or in thrift shops. These Hobo Boots are special to me. They are appealing to the eye. They were fun and pleasing to make, yet they also have a serious underlying message about homelessness and poverty…

"Hobo – Homeward Bound," boots, 2012.
“Hobo – Homeward Bound,” boots, 2012.

My 2017 public art commission, “In Fusion – Contemplation Pieces,” was installed in the main entrance of Stockholm’s New Karolinska University Hospital, NKS. In all, twenty plinths held over twenty-five unique paper sculptures. I was inspired by folk medicine, especially plants and herbs that can be used for infusions, in other words, herbal teas…

"Coltsfoot and Artichoke," medicinal plants for a public commission, 2017. Photographer: Alvaro Campo.
“Coltsfoot and Artichoke,” medicinal plants for a public commission, 2017. Photographer: Alvaro Campo.

The title of the commission is a play on words that indicates a fusion between art and folk medicine. “Contemplation” is used, in a sense, to look at/be aware of/be exposed to. It’s an essential term within philosophy and theology. People coming to a hospital are often anxious and worried. My hope is for visitors to halt for a while, and to let their minds wander.

Here’s a video of Cecilia at work.

What do books mean to you?…

The Gift of a Book by Tom Darby

The smallest kindnesses of strangers, things that they probably no longer remember doing, have benefitted me for my entire life. Those gestures combined with the sorcery of books can conjure magic potent enough turn lead into gold!

Tom Darby is a blogger and writer, born in Chateauroux, France, raised in Klamath, California, residing in Spanish Springs, Nevada. He is an award-winning journalist and hall-of-fame radio jock. You can find his stories and other articles here.

Read on for Tom’s example of exactly what I mean…

One of Tom Darby’s “Trees of Mystery” tags.

“The Gift of a Book,” by Tom Darby

The roadside tourist destination opened at seven in the morning, and I was expected to be there an hour later, ready to work. My job was to place a red-on-yellow piece of 15-by-5 inch cardboard on each automobile that read: ‘Trees of Mystery’ in large letters and ‘Shrine of the Redwood Highway,’ below that.

We called them ‘tags,’ those who put them on, ‘taggers,’ and the act of doing so, ‘tagging.’  The object of the job was to slip a piece of wire through the holes at either end of the tag and hook the wire over the bumper so that the tag could be seen as a vehicle passed by on the highway. 

Advertising at its simplest.

There were usually three or four taggers on duty each day in the summer months. Each boy hauled a hundred tags and twice as much precut wire in a leather satchel in, through and around the vehicles that quickly filled the parking lot.

One early morning I approached a young couple from British Columbia, Canada, driving a burnt orange Volkswagen bus and asked if they’d like a tag on their vehicle. They did and I obliged them.

As I stood up I saw a thick paperback book shoved down between the dashboard and windshield. The artwork of a ‘naked woman’ swimming with a gigantic shark, mouth agape and swimming out of the depths to gobble her upheld my attention.

“I jus’ finished it,” the woman said, “Do you want to read it?”

“Yes, please.”

She retrieved it and handed it to me.

“Thank you,” I responded.

It took me all of the summer of 1974 to finish “Jaws,” written by Peter Benchley. That gift helped to germinate, not only my young but ripening imagination but also my continuing desire to write.

Has the kindness of a stranger ever affected you profoundly?

Indy Book Reviews by D. Wallace Peach: Reblog

On sweltering days of summer — or for that matter, any other day of the year — one of my favorite ways to distract myself from whatever’s bothering me physically (like extremely hot or cold days) or mentally (like stressful situations) is reading good fiction.

With all the wonderful indy authors that self-publishing is making possible, the world of fiction has become more exuberantly varied than ever. Which independently published books do you enjoy?

Blogger and indy author D. Wallace Peach writes from Oregon. She began writing later in life and has more than made up for lost time. Here are some of her favorite authors…

Novelist/Blogger D. Wallace Peach

https://mythsofthemirror.com/2019/07/24/indie-book-reviews/

Myths of the Mirror

The best thing about spending the last 2 months driving between Oregon and Washington, living out of a suitcase, and ignoring my bossy muse has been catching up on reading. Indie books were gifts from heaven!

It’s been a while since I’ve shared reviews of books I’ve enjoyed. These are in no particular order. And there are more to come!

A Thousand Yesteryears

by Mae Clair

Intriguing plot and believable characters. At the death of her aunt, Eve Parrish returns to Point Pleasant to sell off the family hotel. Not only is the town known for sightings of a fantastical creature, the mothman, it’s also the location of a bridge collapse that, fifteen years ago, claimed the life of Eve’s father and friend. That tragedy still hangs over the town, and Eve has no plans to stay.

But her old crush Caden Flynn still lives in town, a man haunted…

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