Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book club girl

For the last year or so I have been trying to become a book club girl or put  it simply attend book club meetings.  Maybe in between the summer reads it's a good moment to look back at my experiences on the way to becoming a book club girl. 

Ever since I have heard about book clubs I have wanted to join one.  It's one of those things that sounds so nice if you can say about yourself "I belong to a book club" (makes you feel more so much more sophisticated and intellectual, but ouch is that my real motivation?). 

It is a  wonderful way to be reading regularly. I love reading, but it does not mean I am committed to it. I often choose the easy way and settle for reading blogs and journal articles because to actually read a book I need to make an effort to go to the library or bookshop (or in the very least put an order on a book on-line).  And so attending book clubs meetings is in a practice of self-discipline and commitment. The book clubs I belong have an easygoing framework. You don't have to announce you will come beforehand, you are free to come to all meetings or only some. There is a lot of freedom in this, but then life often gets in the way. Even if a meeting is once a month or every other two weeks often something comes up. So I must say that coming to the meetings is a already a challenge. 

There are some things about book clubs that are as I had imagined. It is  amazing  to have this time with people who want to discuss literature for hours, are happy to dwell on the characters' motivations (or the authors) and come together just for the pleasure of intellectual discussion. How often in our hectic world do feel that just to meet up and talk about something is purposeful? 

Hoverer, I did not think that being with book clubs with their seemingly relaxed format (we sit in a cafe talk and laugh) could create a tense atmosphere.  In the book clubs I go to there is such a variety of opinions, of readership experience that our discussions can be quite heated. It is not that people are unkind, that sometimes it is unbelievable how a book can arouse opposite opinions of love and hatred. So do the characters and their motivations. 

This is definitely a place to practice self-expression and self-confidence. Especially that usually there is usually one or two people who have a very strong personality, persuasive tone of voice and radical views on what is literary value. They are simply intimidating. I am one of those readers that has somewhat of old fashioned tastes- I like good, innocent characters, happy endings and nostalgic ambiance. The "sophisticated readers" as I call them will often complain and criticize what I enjoy about literature.  If there is no postmodern fragmentation, ambiguity, formal experiments, a sombre (aka realistic portrait) of the human nature they consider the books uninteresting. In those moments I begin to question my tastes and choices and my voices becomes somewhat timid. 

But in fact the real debate begins when from the plot, characters and style we move on to discussing the themes and problems depicted in the book.We  all bring in our life experiences and confront about our values and systems of conviction. You become even more vulnerable because you don't hide behind the book any longer but say what you think. 

Here I must say that there is something magical about literature that you can end up discussing everything you want. After all isn't that what books are also for? In the book club you don't just discuss books, you discuss the world. Literature becomes alive.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lady Greville

The beautiful woman on the portrait is Margaret Greville. She was only Mrs Greville, but I like to think of her as lady Greville. I guess it fuels my romantic ideas about the England and its aristocracy. And possibly if you entertained the monarchs in your house and were a friend of queen Mary, isn't that enough to be called a lady?  

I visited her estate Polesden Lacey and was intrigued by her character. She was famous for being a gracious society hostess and her parties and events were known all over England in  the Edwardian times. The beautiful interiors take your breath away. But what caught my attention was that hosting and entertaining people was more than just a pass time for her, way to build connections (although her husband was a politician so it was important) or a social obligation. It was a certain choice of what to do with her life, the opportunities and wealth that was given to her.  As one of the volunteer guides in the house told me ,,Many rich people sit on money they have. She enjoyed it". 

Not that organizing parties is a noble mission itself (although she held many charity events and was involved in patriotic actions during the Great War), but how she did it. Every little detail in the house arrangement as well as in the planning of the parties was thought as to please her guests and make them feel as comfortable as possible.  I don't think that it was just the money she spent on having exquisite food or house (although the menus and the decor are impressive)  that attracted her friends and acquaintances. After all these were all rich people who could afford good food and probably had beautiful houses too.  I like to think it was her warm spirit and the intention she put in welcoming them. This is certainly the impression that I got looking at the thank you notes and listening to stories told by the guides. 

And then there was the fact that she quickly became a widow. She did not remarry nor did she have any children. Perhaps that is also why she wanted her house  filled with laughter and chatter.

Lady Greville  was a very discreet person. She asked all her personal writing to be destroyed after her death. Her final gesture was to leave the house to the National Trust, so that other people could come and enjoy the house. In the end I felt more as a guest than a tourist.

It was by chance that on the day I visited Polsdenlace was the anniversary of passing away of someone very close to me. However little I know of the real Margaret Grenville, she made me think of the woman I loved and lost.  She too opened her house family, friends and acquaintances. My "Lady Greville" did not have parlors  with gilded walls nor did she make miniature sandwiches that looked like works of art, just a big kitchen and a china set made of various bits and pieces. But she put on so much passion in the food she made, greeted her guests with so much happiness, that she will always be the perfect hostess to me. 

To me inviting someone for tea, dinner or party will always have a deeper meaning- an act of friendship and love.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Walk in the clouds

I have been angry at the weather lately. Wherever I am it just isn't warm. It is not cold either. I just don't feel at ease at outside anymore. There is a strange humidity and restlessness in the air. 

In the last days I have been staring at the clouds a lot. Trying to figure out if there is a glimpse of sunshine coming through or not. And then after the silly staring and useless predictions, the clouds have got me.

 I have forgotten somehow, how beautiful and majestic they are. How they glide through the sky smoothly and effortlessly. How change from an angry, gray  mass  to a gentle brush of white three thousand times a day. How you can stare at them for hours and think of the hidden kingdoms beneath them. 

My anger has turned into a meditation. I look at the clouds and don't care for the weather anymore. I am curious what shapes they will take, what shade of grey and white, what drama they will play...

                                         ( photo by my brilliant nephew)