The days dripped away like
honey off a spoon.
– Wallace Stegner
Slice of Cake:
It has now been 3 ½ years since I began writing sky-t-tray—
And this week I’m celebrating!
Since starting sky-t-tray back in January 2019,
I’ve written more than 70 posts, read at least 100 books, added over 400 footnotes—
And received the loveliest thoughts, comments, and feedback
from you, my kind readers!
turned out to be one of the best adventures;
I’m so glad you’re here to share it—
And the best is yet to come!
** Happy 3½ Birthday **
– launched January 6, 2019
Salt Lake City, Utah
I’ve been thinking this week about which
one—of the 73 sky-t-tray posts I’ve written—might be my favorite…
Okay, maybe not just one favorite post! So far, I’ve now narrowed it down to around 12.
But here I’ll share 4 of them with you…
A post about a
Invited In is my post from February 2020 about Wallace Stegner, and what I called his hot buttered rum of a book, Crossing to Safety. Stegner is a grumpy writer who writes gorgeous prose about how absolutely essential friendships are in our lives.
We were all at the beginning of something,
the future unrolled ahead of us
like a white road under the moon.
When we got back to their big lighted house,
it seemed like our house too.
In one evening we had been made at home in it.
– from Crossing to Safety
by Wallace Stegner
A post about a
Unafraid to Fall is my post from May 2020 about Katharine Hepburn—and I give a whole heap of
moive recommendations, as well as a look at the real-life bravery that’s sometimes fostered within a big, supportive family.
We worked hard and fast.
The scenes were long and very concentrated…
The crew really interested because it is a
fascinating story… It’s funny and exciting
and just rouses you up.
You suddenly realize what a
tremendous opportunity it is just to be alive.
– Katharine Hepburn
A post about some favorite music…
Neighborhood Power is my post from July 2020 about the wonderful jazz pianist Erroll Garner,
about where he’s from and why that matters.
I’ve had no musical background.
Mine was all a gift. I was born with it.
– Erroll Garner
A post about some favorite family memories…
Half A World Away is my post from April 2019 about Ngaio Marsh—a theater director as well as a mystery novelist—and about New Zealand, where my family lived for five years.
The Peak changed from wine to purple
and from purple to black outside Dikon’s window
and no points of light had pricked its velvet surface.
At last he lost patience with watching and fell asleep.
– from Colour Scheme
by Ngaio Marsh
“Half Cup More”
It should be no surprise to anyone who’s read even a few of these posts, to hear
that I love classic literature—especially books from the 19th century.
But does this mean I love ALL classic literature?
Or even all 19th century classic literature??
No. Indeed not.
So! Here is a slightly snarky list of all the classics I call bad.
Most I forced myself to read through to the very last page.
Some I wouldn’t read through to page two.
Several things, which show up now and again in
classic 19th century literature, are problematic—
Here are three I especially dislike:
Sometimes there’s a main character we’re supposed to be
sympathizing with and cheering on—but he’s just not a good guy.
Gilbert Markham beats someone up with no justification
other than his own hurt feelings (in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë, 1848);
Victor Frankenstein is monstrously selfish to the point
of public endangerment (in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, 1818);
Heathcliff has a broken heart and so decides to sadistically torture
three generations of one family (in Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, 1847).
Sometimes the story builds up a Woman of Action, who moves forward bravely—only to see it all come to nothing: A man steps in and completely takes over the action, plot, and point of view.
Marian Halcombe is a terrific character, defending her sister, sneaking around collecting clues—until she’s caught, and we spend the rest of the novel tediously following around a much less interesting male character (in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, 1859).
Marguerite Blakeney starts so strong—boldly slipping out to gather evidence “alone, at night, and on foot”—then a man swoops in to tell her that all her efforts were worse than useless (in The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, 1905).
And sometimes there’s casual or blatant racism.
Often Sherlock Holmes stories are great. But some will turn your stomach with their language and bigoted assumptions about… well, pretty much everyone who’s not British.
Back to The Scarlet Pimpernel—and I was really enjoying this book for the first 25 chapters! but then—my heart sank when I turned a page and saw that Chapter 26 was titled The Jew. That sounded bad and it is bad. Really awful, frequent, and ugly stereotypes.
All but unreadable reading!
So there you go. A rare moment of un-enthusiasm
from my normally very enthusiastic sky-t-tray posts.
Maybe you’re thinking: Hey, steady on! That’s a Great Classic.
Or even if you’re like: Well, that one’s not all that bad…
Good! Let me know! I’ll be so interested to hear your thoughts—
I want to know what I’m missing!
In the meantime, what’s GOOD to read??
Well, I’m so glad you asked!
Instead of Wuthering Heights or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,
try Shirley by Charlotte Brontë (1849): This one takes a while to get started,
then Shirley shows up, and we’re treated to this lovely friendship between
two strong, interesting women—plus a true girl boss.
Instead of The Woman in White,
try The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868): It’s one of the earliest
mystery novels and includes a thoroughly delightful narrator called Gabriel Betteredge.
And for a truly good Sherlock Holmes story:
Try The Adventure of Silver Blaze (1892) about a young horse and his old boy.
Or The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter (1904) about a rugby star who is
baffled by the great detective’s utter incomprehension of sports.
Both stories are, of course, by Arthur Conan Doyle.
if you’d like to hear more about reading—
or not reading—classic books, here’s a link
to my November 2021 post about exactly that…
There is a freedom born from
the acknowledgement of greatness in literature…
Acknowledging any great work of art
is like being in love.
One walks on air.
…It is falling in love with immortality,
a freedom, a flight in paradise.
— from An Angel at my Table
by Janet Frame