My Reading Round-Up of 2017

My Reading Round-Up of 2017

According to my notebook that I use instead of Goodreads (which I loathe, more of that later) I read 78 books in 2016. I’m coming in a bit behind that this year. At the time of writing, it’s 73 completed, but as I am close to the end of a number, there’s a real chance the total will go up a bit before midnight strikes and I turn into a pumpkin. Oh, sorry, wrong fairy tale.

Around 30 or so of those titles were non fiction, some of which were poetry, some of which were part of my journey into Jungian thought and some were to do with health and on natural history.

Of the fiction, I’m not going to talk about the books that I read and didn’t enjoy, or the ones I gave up on. It’s too common for disgruntled authors to take umbrage and offence if a reader mentions they didn’t like a book; it’s one reason I avoid Goodreads as a reader. As an author, I avoid it because there are plenty of readers who can be extremely mean and unkind when a book has failed to live up to their expectations; it’s also quite difficult to be thick-skinned about seeing a fellow-author give a low star to one of my own books when they’re someone I’ve chatted with on social media etc and been quite affable with. While almost all writers I know are wonderful and supportive people, I’m sure we have all come across a few who would take your breath away with how nasty they can be to other writers. I heard a tale recently of one author who tweeted a picture to another author, of that other author’s book in a remainder bin at a cut-price book shop.

I stepped out of my comfort zone too, and I read two novels that fit very much into the fantasy genre and one science fiction. Early in the year I read and very much enjoyed https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mountain-Darkling-Chronicles-Sophie-Tallis/dp/1909845973/ White Mountain by Sophie Tallis; it has the unique aspect of a main character being a dragon and a “goodie”. It took me out of myself during a tricky time. The second fantasy novel was https://www.amazon.co.uk/Song-Ice-Lord-Parallels-Clement-ebook/dp/B00L72RTY0/ Song of the Ice Lord by J.A Clement; I found this a fabulous read, not only because of the beautiful and compelling descriptive writing but also by the sensitive way Ms Clement handled various relationships. Another bonus was the little green bird who became a beacon of hope in the story. Also by the same author is a wonderful seasonal novella/longer short story A Sprig of Holly: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sprig-Holly-J-Clement-ebook/dp/B00AICTQSM/ which is free to enjoy.

The science fiction title was Running Out of Space by S.J Higbee. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Running-Out-Space-Sunblinded-One-ebook/dp/B076BV5LS8/ I found this a refreshing reintroduction to sci-fi, something I used to enjoy very much but abandoned in my twenties when it became too mysogynistic and entirely male-dominated. Depicting a somewhat dystopian future, this fast-paced novel entertained me while slogging away at the gym.

I revisited my old favourites, acquiring a variety of secondhand paperback copies of some classic Agatha Christie mysteries, some of which I had not read for decades. It was good to read them again and understand quite how much she created the genre of cosy mystery.

Not quite cosy, but still very compelling, was another departure from my comfort zone, in the form of Ailsa Abraham’s Attention to Death https://www.amazon.co.uk/Attention-Death-Ailsa-Abraham-ebook/dp/B01MRBTYLX/ . A murder mystery set among military police, with the two main characters trying to conduct a discreet love affair (very much against protocol, in all sorts of ways) this contains one of the grimmest of murders (be warned, not for the faint of stomach) and does not flinch from revealing inherently homophobic attitudes among many of the characters and institutions. A good, if somewhat grim at times, variation on the classic murder mystery. I’m not a fan of romance, gay or otherwise, but I didn’t find that aspect of the story intruded unduly.

On the same sort of genre (but not precisely) I read my way through two box-sets of the Charlie Parker mysteries, by John Connelly. Of the eight books that I raced through, some I found better than others, and more than half were superb. Quirky, veering into the supernatural territory, they’re a real treat if you like detective novels that challenge the norm and subvert the genre. Another novel that comes under that heading was Thea Atkinson’s Grim. Billed as a Young Adult novel, this was another nicely diverting read for my gym torture. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grim-Reapers-Redemption-Thea-Atkinson/dp/1543087876/

One of my Christmas presents last year was Caitlin Matthews Diary of a Soul Doctor https://www.amazon.co.uk/Diary-Soul-Doctor-Ashington-Casebooks-ebook/dp/B01N94TS3M/ . I had to make myself read this slowly, because I wanted to make it last. In the same genre (whatever it might be) as Dion Fortune’s Tales of Dr Taverner, this collection of linked tales is a highly diverting and intriguing exploration of the esoteric using (as Fortune did) fiction as a medium. I also read Matthews’ non-fiction Hundred Steps to the Grail, about the process of researching and writing a book about a book on the search for the Holy Grail https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hundred-Steps-Grail-Writers-Diary-ebook/dp/B01EXKSNDS/ and as a writer, I found the details of the process fascinating and revealing.

Among the non-fiction were a couple of excellent natural history books. Peter Wolhlenben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hidden-Life-Trees-International-Communicate/dp/0008218439/ kept me from my fear of flying when I went to Austria in February, and was a deeply enjoyable and informative book. Fiona Stafford’s The Long Long Life of Trees covered a very different aspect of tree lore but was equally interesting, though I felt at times it tended towards a journalistic skimming of the surface rather than a deeper exploration. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-Life-Trees/dp/0300228201/ . I also very much enjoyed Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Places-Robert-Macfarlane/dp/1783784490/, though I did find at times a certain sense of irritation at the apparent assumption that the things the author did and the places he visited are open to all (when they aren’t), regardless of ability or status. But that’s only a slight cavil and speaks more of my own growing frustration at my health challenges.

Roz Morris’s Not Quite Lost (travels without a sense of direction) was a good read, entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Not-Quite-Lost-Travels-Direction/dp/1909905925/ There’s a sense of great British-ness about this travel memoir that is infused all through the text like the scent of tea.

One novel I got to read this year I cannot give a link to. Philippa Rees asked me to beta read a novel she entitled Acer and I am not sure quite what genre is falls under. Magical Realism might do, but it veers almost into science fiction. One of the premises of the tale is on human-plant hybrids, which makes it sound clinical but it’s a very tender tale of what makes us human and what parenthood is really about. I hope that she makes a decision to stick by her guns and the original vision of the story, and publishes it (and another novel I read last year). Perhaps the world is ready for the visionary and metaphysical works that Philippa has hidden on her hard drive.

In addition to these I read a number by Marie-Louise von Franz, acolyte, pupil and colleague of Jung’s, and a whole range of books on alchemy, psychology, Arthurian myths and legends and the grail. I’m around a third of the way through Jung’s own book on alchemy, but am unlikely to finish before year’s end, as it is much to think about and digest.

Having read all that, you might think I didn’t have time to write, but you would be wrong. I’ll save that topic for another post.

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The blind dancer is broken

The blind dancer is broken

The blind dancer is broken ~ a dream

Sometimes dreams give us clues about our inner world in ways that are both revealing and concealing. The last week or two I have been finding it very difficult to navigate my way through the world, and feel I have lost connection with things that have been important to me and my life force feels depleted and I feel direction-less. I’m working my way through a book on Jungian dream interpretation and after I started reading it, for the first time in a while a dream occurred that feels significant in understanding what is going on. I’m going to share it here; if you have any insights on this they would be welcome as I am hoping to clarify my own thoughts and often my friends here have been excellent at doing just that.

The first part of the dream is confused. I am trying to find my way through a city that feels hostile, as if either a riot has been happening or is close to happening, or one that has been at war. The streets are narrow and steep but more or less deserted. It’s dark, night time and a few places have lights on. I go into one place, on the side of a square, from which a narrow lane goes down steeply enough to need steps. It feels a little like the Mont Martre area of Paris. The place is a restaurant, but looks wrecked and no one is eating there. A waiter comes over, but he doesn’t want to take an order. He’s trying to find his daughter, to connect to her on Facebook but though I try to explain to him how to find her, my communications don’t seem to work. I give up trying to explain as we seem to have not so much a problem of language but of intelligence.

The dream shifts and I am in my study. I have walked in to see that the smaller of my two desks, the one used solely for writing by hand and for drawing has been messed up. Items are scattered over it and I notice that the statue I treasure has been knocked over; the head seems to be missing, there’s water close to it as if spilled, and there is a flex like that of a lamp attached to it (the real statue is one I bought in 2003, shortly after moving to the Midlands but before I began writing again. It’s an interpretation of the Oracle at Delphi, about 18 inches or so high, of fired clay, glazed in several colours and textures, and shows a seated, veiled woman, eyes downcast looking into a bowl she is holding on her lap. The bowl can hold a candle. I bought the statue as a symbol of listening to my inner consciousness and trying to heed what might come from dreams and visions. It’s never been a public ornament downstairs and has always been either in my study or my bedroom. It was quite expensive (for me) and is one of a kind as though the range is still on sale, each item was unique and this one is no longer made) I am crestfallen and upset that this precious thing might be broken or damaged, and rush forward to look more closely. As I get closer I see that this is a different statue entirely. It depicts a dancer, in a pose, one arm outstretched, standing on one leg (this probably has a term but I don’t know it). The statue is in the same coloured glazes and washes as mine (dark green, light green, yellow, and pure gold) but it’s very different and not one that in real life would ever appeal to me at all as it has a fragile appearance and depicts a style of feminine grace I’ve never aspired to or valued). I look closer for damage and see that there is a chip off the chin; there are fragments of porcelain around and I wonder if it can be fixed back. Then I see that a whole strip of glaze has been knocked from the face, right across the eyes so that the dancer is now blind. I am searching for the broken fragments to mend the statue when I wake.

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Notes from Jung’s The Red Book (part one)

Notes from Jung’s The Red Book (part one)

As a birthday gift this year my husband gave me a copy of Jung’s The Red Book, a reader’s edition as the facsimile is very large and very expensive. I’m not especially visually orientated so the absence of pictures isn’t something that bothers me. (I do intend to get a copy of the complete book one day when I can justify to myself spending £150 on one book). I’ve long wanted to read this rather mysterious book, which was only made public in 2009, long after the death of Carl Gustav Jung in 1961. It’s hard to say what lured me most, the mystery or the possible clues to an inward journey. I’ve long held Jung to be something of a personal hero, for his work in realms few have dared to explore, and there is something that draws me to such work myself. Of course, his descent into the world of archetypes was backed by decades of study and thought, and mine is quite different. I’m no hero either. But I do believe that there is something that I must seek within my own unconscious, that it holds the key to my soul.

Anyway, I began reading and have decided to share some of it as I read. Things that resonate with me and things that have leapt off the page as being worth considering more closely. This first essay is prompted by a passage in the introduction:

In 1922, Jung wrote a paper on, “The relation of analytical psychology to poetic art works.” He differentiated two types of work: the first, which sprang entirely from the author’s intention and the second, which seized the author. Examples of such symbolic works were the second part of Goethe’s Faustus and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. He held that these works stemmed from the collective unconscious. In such instances, the creative process consisted in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image. The archetypes released in us a voice that was stronger than our own:

Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he enthrals and overpowers…he transmutes our personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, and evokes in us all those beneficent forces than ever and anon have enabled humankind to find a refuse from every peril and to outlive the longest night.

The artist who produced such works educated the spirit of the age and compensated for the one-sidedness of the present.” ~ The Red Book, C.G.Jung (introduction by Sonu Shamdasani)

Among writers one of the most entertaining of the memes that appear is the apparent irreconcilable differences between the Plotter and the Pantser. A Plotter will have worked out the entire plot, have folders of character background information, of research, often even chapter plans before ever starting to write the story. A Pantser writes by the seat of their pants, making it up as they go, and are often as surprised as the reader where a story ends up. I’ve seen a number of massive arguments going on in social media between proponents of both strategies, and have been baffled by them. There seems to be a sense of moral outrage that someone else uses a radically different strategy to produce a story.

Plotters claim that Pantsers are somehow lazy and disorganised, and are at the mercy of their own imaginations. Pantsers claim that Plotters take the joy out of storytelling, by being so meticulous and having so little spontaneity. It’s a conflict that’s unlikely to ever end.

I’m not going to come out entirely as either. I do write without much conscious planning, I admit this but I have begun to recognise that any book I have written was already mostly formed before I ever began to write it. A few have emerged fully formed, grabbing me by the scruff of the neck and making me write at breakneck speed. The Bet is one such. But every work is in there somewhere, fermenting, roiling and boiling away in a process of alchemy that I cannot control but can only be scribe to. I know there are writers who get very annoyed about other writers who feel as if they are more like archaeologists uncovering a pre-existing text, translating it perhaps or merely cleaning off the dust of millennia. I have seen arguments presented that this attitude denigrates the hard work and effort involved in inventing and crafting a story from scratch. I have no answer to that. I am one who is seized by the work, and I cannot either change or deny that. I have no control over what emerges from the unconscious, either mine or a collective one. I’d like to believe that I write in a voice that is stronger than my own personal one, that I channel something larger and more mysterious than stories. But nor do I deny that those who meticulously plan their work may also be subject to such a seizing either. Just as each of us reacts differently to life because of our own unique psychological make up, so too do we react differently to the promptings of the unconscious.

In essence I consider myself open to being seized, to become an oracle for something that needs to speak through me. It’s not a comfortable place to be. The process of being seized is akin to ecstasy, of loss of self and of being subsumed by something greater than the simple self. When it is done, there is a sense of being a shell, or being abandoned. There is a need to be willing to go where it takes you, of letting go of the reins. I have studied literature, I have read widely and I know ingredients make for a good story, yet none of this is ever deployed consciously when the voice of the unconscious seizes control. There is also the forlorn feeling when it is over that one may never again experience such a thing or produce such a work alone.

There is also trepidation because while it can seize, there can be prolonged hiatuses where it withdraws seemingly in the very middle of dictating a story (so to speak) leaving you high and dry. I can only speculate about why this happens. There are forces at work that are beyond my own reckoning. One can get a way through a work and then have it falter, the words drying to a dribble, then to nothing. I’m still unsure what to do when this happens, whether to keep on by dint of determination and invention or whether to retreat, withdraw and allow the flow to resume when the time is right. If my ponderings are correct, then for me it is time to take stock, go into the cave and become still, become ready and wait for the seizing to return.

The Evolution of my Animus ~ how he grows and changes as I do

The Evolution of my Animus ~ how he grows and changes as I do

During a conversation on Twitter with Marc Nash I made a throwaway comment about having hero/animus issues. What I’d meant was how the hero (or if you prefer ‘main character’) of one of my novels reflected my own animus. If you are not familiar with the concept of animus/anima then do have a bit of a read. I’m not a psychotherapist and I’m just a writer so those with more wisdom than I on this subject will need to bear with me, without yelling at me that I’ve got it wrong.

Wikipedia, that first port of call for information has this to say about what the anima/animus actually is/are:

The anima and animus are described by Jung as elements of his theory of the collective unconscious, a domain of the unconscious that transcends the personal psyche. In the unconscious of the male, this archetype finds expression as a feminine inner personality: anima; equivalently, in the unconscious of the female it is expressed as a masculine inner personality: animus.

The anima and animus can be identified as the totality of the unconscious feminine psychological qualities that a male possesses or the masculine ones possessed by the female, respectively. It is an archetype of the collective unconscious and not an aggregate of father or mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or teachers, though these aspects of the personal unconscious can influence the person for good or ill.”

Much of my life I have found I am a poor fit for being terribly feminine. I climbed trees and made boats and roamed the countryside pretending to be an astronaut. But when I wasn’t being a tom-boy, I wrote. My first novel was written when I was ten years old. I’ll tell you a little more about that shortly.

Jung, whose work on the anima and animus is really worth dipping into, explained that neither is static and is something with develops and changes as the person grows. I’m only going to focus on the animus here as for my sins, I am a woman.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anima_and_animus

Jung stated that there are four parallel levels of animus development in a female.

The animus “first appears as a personification of mere physical power – for instance as an athletic champion or muscle man, such as ‘the fictional jungle hero Tarzan‘”.

In the next phase, the animus “possesses initiative and the capacity for planned action…the romantic man – the 19th century British poet Shelley; or the man of action – America’s Ernest Hemingway, war hero, hunter, etc.”

In the third phase “the animus becomes the word, often appearing as a professor or clergyman…the bearer of the word –Lloyd George, the great political orator”

“Finally, in his fourth manifestation, the animus is the incarnation of meaning. On this highest level he becomes (like the anima) a mediator of…spiritual profundity”.Jung noted that “in mythology, this aspect of the animus appears as Hermes, messenger of the gods; in dreams he is a helpful guide.” Like Sophia this is the highest level of mediation between the unconscious and conscious mind.

My first novel had an astronaut as the hero. At the time I was fascinated by science fiction and read avidly pretty much everything the library held in the genre. I read things that were so beyond suitable (rest assured, though, parents, much of it went over my head and I only understood a lot later if I reread things) and some fiction written for kids. I was amused greatly recently by an advertising campaign for Lynx deodorant where macho archetypes such as life guards and fire fighters were ‘trumped’ by an astronaut, and if this is to be believed then the astronaut is the ultimate champion or muscle man!

By the next novel, the hero had become a detective. I was completely (and irrevocably) in love with Sherlock Holmes and once I had devoured all the novels and short stories, I branched out into detective fiction of all kinds. For me, the detective was the ultimate romantic man. I stayed writing the detective/adventure genre for all of my teens, only venturing into other areas in my later teens when I became increasingly interested in the paranormal and what you might term the mysteries of life.

The hero of my novel written in my mid twenties was a lost soul, really, betwixt and between the romantic man of earlier but never quite evolving into the ‘word’ that Jung describes. He carried no great message either for me or for any readers at the time. My own descent into depression and apathy at this time following a rejection of a second novel that had reached committee stage at one of the big publishers, meant that I ceased to write.

But the processes beneath it all carry on like an underground river which seeped into the foundations and causes an eventual collapse of my resolve never to write again. A story, and an evolved hero took over my life, almost ten years ago now and if I look too closely at the time, I quake at the implications of it. I won’t talk about the story as such because that is another thing altogether. But I’d like to talk about the hero.

He’s not me, obviously. He’s himself. I’ve often wondered if he exists somewhere out there; in my psyche he’s so complete I think I know him better than I know myself. So the lines can become blurred. He’s the kind of person who makes an impact on others, usually despite not wanting to; he’d rather hide away and not mix with people. There’s events in his life he’s managed to wall over, remove from his everyday consciousness so that he doesn’t get ripped apart by them all the time. He’s intuitive but also quite reluctant to trust that sense of ‘knowing’ that he gets, often over-riding it to try to deal with things logically, rationally. His father is the kind of man who holds up logic, reason, good sense, as things to aspire to, to live your life by, and Antony desperately wants to please his father, to emulate him. Antony’s the quiet, shy clever kid in the corner that got picked on till he turned on his attacker and flattened him; but the bullies had to get in one final beating just to hammer the message home: you’ll never really beat us. He’s wary of people because he’s had too many so far who’ve let him down.

Events bring him to crisis point and beyond it into a free-fall where all he’d once held as certain, sacred, have become unanchored in his new reality. Having lost all his certainties he is faced with starting again, of setting out on a journey to find the self he’d lost or buried long ago. That’s where the third stage of animus expression kicks in. He’s faced with the need to speak, to bring back the truths and to voice them, to release the toxic secrets of his life and be free.

To aid him in this quest, another representation of my animus emerges. Father Peter is the wise old man so many people have said to me they’d love to meet and spend time with. He’s the guide to Antony’s dark journey, and he’s the ‘mediator of…spiritual profundity’. He doesn’t make it easy for his young protégée but he fulfils a role that has long been lacking in the lad’s life: someone who can listen to him, with intelligence and wisdom and discernment. The Bet has two further novels that follow it, as yet unpublished, but the journey Antony takes becomes deeper and darker in each one. For him realising that there is no final resolution for his trials is a tough one, because he’s so very scarred and damaged, yet his ability to keep going even when the journey becomes subterranean is what I hope may inspire others who come to read it. You see, as I have said before, if life is a journey, then any short-cut is a death trap. We all grow and evolve and change during our lives; attempts to remain still usually result in being swept away on the tide of life itself. 

A guide book to midlife depression

One of the presents I was given this Christmas was a book by a blog pal who has been producing some of the finest blog posts I have ever read concerning the journey of the soul, viewed “Through a Jungian Lens”. Robert Longpre, who many of you will know from his retiredeagle blog (see blogroll) has been producing his own photo books and finally I got a copy of the second, “Through a Jungain Lens: Swamplands and Soul” that I have been craving for a long while. There’s something in me that often will not buy for myself things that will do me good, and though I knew this book would do me good, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it for myself. Silly, I guess.

Anyway, my husband secretly bought me a copy and now I have it in my lap as I read. It’s hard to quantify what makes this such a special book for me: the intense photos, that draw you into a landscape that is at once familar as it is strange or the thoughtful and intuitive prose. The final section is a translation of The Dark Night of the Soul by St John of the Cross, a poem I have long loved, set with photos that enhance the poem.

There’s no real set path for surviving the midlife crisis but hearing that another has survived it is heartening and encouraging. This is a guide book to one man’s experience and it may help you in yours as I think it may help me in my journey through the coming years.

So, go to:  http://retiredeaglebooks.wordpress.com/ and have a scout around and see what leaps out at you.