The autumnal equinox marks the debut of the autumn (or fall, if you prefer) season. This astronomical event occurs quietly and without much fanfare in the sky (unlike the total solar eclipse back in August!). But at this moment, the “solar terminator” (the ring circling the earth, where day meets night), is perpendicular to the planet as it crosses the equator, thus illuminating the northern and southern hemispheres in equal amounts. In other words, on the equinox, the day and night periods are of roughly equal duration (12 hours). After the equinox, daylight hours in the northern hemisphere continue to decrease until the winter solstice — the shortest day and longest night of the year, after which the days begin to lengthen once again.
This year the equinox is on Friday, September 22 at 3:02 PM, Central Time. But even in the ebbing summer heat of early September, portends of autumn’s pending entrance are evident. We see the sun set noticeably earlier and find spent garden plants to uproot and pitch in the compost heap. Black walnuts fall with a thud, littering the ground and perfuming the air with their acrid, peppery aroma. And if you feed hummingbirds, you see them fattening up (like little Vienna sausages!) with frequent trips to the nectar dispenser, in preparation for their arduous, their non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico, to winter quarters. Continue reading “Autumn’s Equinox”
“Homesick For Another World” is a brilliant collection of short stories by Ottessa Moshfegh and a common affliction. It is certainly an affliction suffered by the characters that populate her stories. Some might describe her characters as losers and find themselves unable to understand how anyone but a loser or an aficionado or losers would enjoy these stories about drug users, sexual deviants, bulimics, body modifiers, bad actors, crooked Catholic school teachers, and one young girl who longs to murder the specific person whose death she believes will open up a portal to “a better place,” the place she’s always known she belongs. Well rest assured, having achieved the status of runner-up in dozens of eating contests, this gentleman is no loser, and this gentleman found these stories, despite the relative scantness of their plot, fascinating and absorbing. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Ottessa Moshfegh”
On September 18, 1937, the world was introduced to Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The world didn’t pay adequate attention, and the title went out of print for years. A 1978 reprinting brought the book recognition as an American classic. Alice Walker and Zadie Smith both cite Hurston as an influence.
Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, a town established and run by African Americans. It serves as setting for much of her novel. She went to New York for an anthropology degree from Barnard College and stayed for the Harlem Renaissance, with trips back to the south for story collection and research.
For those who might not know, bonsai is an art form that originated in China in which small trees are manipulated into desirable shapes using wires, pruning and a variety of tools. It translates into the Chinese words bon (or poon) meaning “pot” and sai (or sue) meaning “tree.” The amount of variation possible in the results of this process is amazing, taking into account all of the various tree species, geographical styles, pottery and compositions. It is a very personal expression of art and horticulture. Some people enjoy it chiefly for the meditative aspects of the work. Continue reading “Bonsai Bonanza”
Author William Claassen will be speaking about his new book “Risks” on September 14 at the Columbia Public Library. One of Columbia’s many nationally recognized authors, Claassen has authored four books and one play in the last two decades, along with numerous articles. “Risks” is Claassen’s first true memoir, recounting a life spent traveling, learning and performing humanitarian works across the globe. Among many common themes that stand out in these books is the initial influence of Thomas Merton’s classic autobiography “The Seven Story Mountain” on Claassen’s life and how it led him to take a different path. Continue reading “Author William Claassen”
“The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday.” So begins the novel “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce. Immediately, I found myself wondering what was in the letter, who wrote the letter and to whom it was written. I had to keep reading to find the answers to these questions. In this novel, the author examines the concepts of hope and redemption with a charming tale of a retired husband and father who takes a unique, impulsive and circuitous journey to fulfill a self-imposed quest to aid a dying woman. The story it captures is both poignant and humorous.
Jeanne Ray begins her novel, “Calling Invisible Women,” with “I first noticed I was missing on a Thursday.” This provocative sentence leads into a story about a wife and mother in her fifties who feels invisible to her family and the world around her. Her only worth seems to be in the services she provides — cooking dinner, doing the laundry and keeping the house clean. Imagine her surprise when she wakes up one Thursday to find herself physically invisible, but no one seems to notice. Ray uses a satirical voice to explore middle age, family dynamics and a woman’s role in modern society. Continue reading “Literary Links: Great First Lines”
After Annie Thompson turns in her own mother — a serial killer who preys on children — to the police, she creates a new identity for herself as Milly. But despite her name change, Milly struggles to leave her old life behind. As her mother’s trial draws nearer Milly tries to be the good person she wants to be, but is tormented by the voice of her mother in her head, urging her to give in to her dark side.
The gift of magic has been passed down from mother to daughter for centuries, but when Grand-mère Ursule dies magic seems to die with her. Still, her family continues to recite the spells and rituals that once contained power in an effort to preserve their craft and in the hope that one day the magic will return. Following five generations of Ursule’s family — from Brittany in 1821 to London in the middle of World War II — “A Secret History of Witches“ chronicles the family’s struggles to recover magic and change the course of history.
This book is a reflection on the former first lady’s unsuccessful bid to become president, examining the trials and tribulations she faced during the campaign, the lessons that can be learned from the election and how she has bounced back following her loss.