Reading Challenge month 3 – A classic romance

Romance

When H chose this category last month, the image that immediately came to my mind was that rack of pink-covered Harlequin Romances at the book store when I was a kid.

That rack that I passed with barely a glance on my way to the brown clad books: dogs, horses, reference.

In fact, I went in search of that rack for a picture for this post and you know what I found? Fifty shades of grey. Quite literally. To be sure, there’s still a scattering of covers dressed in pinks and purples depicting clutching couples, shirtless men, and gowned damsels in distress. But most of the romance covers are unlike those of my dusty pink memory. They’re blue and black and grey, with motorcycles and vampires and empty landscapes. Old houses, space ships, jewels, and, of course, blindfolds.

And still, between the covers, it’s almost always that same long-told, reassuring story: one meets another, there’s the spark (love, hate, disdain, attraction), there’s the longing and the eventual coming to terms, there’s the obstruction (cruel step mother, overseas job, old girlfriend, different species, different planet), there’s the long montage of return to each other. And then there’s the ending… together or apart, with some hope that there will be love at some point, if only in a different time and place.

For this challenge, all I really wanted to do was read my favorite Jane Austen (Persuasion), which has all of the above elements in abundance, plus (to my mind) a heroine who truly deserves the happiness she attains at the end. Instead, I read a more recent classic: The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles.

It was fine. It had most of the elements. It had Sarah in her dark cloak at the end of the Cobb being buffeted by the wind and waves (the Cobb, in fact, makes an appearance in Persuasion). But it was no Persuasion. And now I’ve learned that the crucial element (for me) is the ending: Elizabeth and Darcy must end up in incandescent happiness. Anne and Frederick must end up on the deck of his ship, setting out for adventure.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

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Our books for month 3:

We’d love to know what you read this month. Please leave a comment telling us about it!

The category for the coming month is:

Month4

If you need help finding a book, here are some good resources (note, however, that just because a book was popular or best selling in a particular year doesn’t mean it was necessarily first published in that year; check the information for the particular book you want to read):

We’ll see you back here on May 9!

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This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category on the 9th of each month.

And one more for luck

Well, our month of poems is over.

As promised, I’ve posted a link to a different poem every day for April.

May is here, and that’s just as good a month for poetry, isn’t it, what with its budding flowers and showering storms?

And then there’s June, with its roses and graduation and brides. July’s picnics, parades, and strawberry shortcakes. August’s elongated days of warmth by the river.

And let’s not even talk about September and October, which are almost too poetic with their dwindling, slanted light, chilling evenings, and sparkling stars.

I’m sneaking one more in under the wire for April (pretend you read it yesterday). This poem’s got nothing to do with spring, but who cares?

I love the specific, recognizable details: the gravel and the sound of tires (in fact, a sound that always somehow evoked the scrape of horses hooves on a dirt road; a sound I adored as a child. I would slowly ride my bike over the gravelly ends of neighborhood driveways, over and over, just to hear it); the laundry list of chores that inevitably await at the end of any trip away, no matter how short; the stiff limbs unfolding from the car; that ticking engine, slowly cooling in the still evening air.

And I love the “and then”, that carries your gaze from the immediate mess of arrival, to the pear tree, in the tall grass of the meadow. The perfect pears. The gratitude for home. The chores can wait just a bit longer.

But mostly what I love is how the words in this brief poem—just fourteen lines long—take me from this wooden chair, in this chilly room, in this old house, on this cold, rainy, dark spring morning to the warm summer twilight in the writer’s imagination. I read it. I feel it. I’m there. Isn’t that what good writing—good art—is all about? Letting you live for fourteen lines, or three hundred pages, or a thousand brushstrokes in another time or place or in another person’s imagination?

Besides, I believe you just can’t have enough Jane Kenyon in your life.

Humor me.

Coming Home At Twilight in Late Summer

We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire. So much
to be done—the unpacking, the mail
and papers; the grass needed mowing . . .
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.

And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful.

– Jane Kenyon

Happiness

I have no good reason to be happy tonight.
It’s raining again — or still, if you prefer.
I’m tired from an interrupted night of sleep, and a long, busy day.
My sweetheart is stuck in Detroit when he should be here.
I’m at the leading edge of a busy week and my house isn’t clean.

And still, all is well.

I sat down here and felt a small kernel of happiness well up inside of me, unexpected and maybe undeserved after all my grousing today about the weather and my to-do list. But I’ll take it anyway.

I’ve been thinking about Jane Kenyon all day, because it’s her birthday, and I love her poems, and I wish she were still alive to write new ones.

And I’m grateful she wrote this one, as if just for me, this night.

Happiness

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

–Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems