Skip to content

What I’m Still Reading this Summer

It’s War & Peace.  I am about two hundred pages to the end.  Tolstoy has analyzed and reanalysed the crucial battle in War of 1812 between the French and Russians in Borodino.  He has come up with two excellent metaphors, one of which is likening the two sides to duelists, which makes you sigh with pleasure for there had been such a duel between two men a thousand pages earlier.

It is a hefty, gorgeous book.  In the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, pages of French conversation spoken by the Russian elite are left intact, translated in footnotes at the bottom of the page.  Other notes are in the back of the book.  Having spent a good deal of the summer watching Scandinavian TV in subtitles, I found if I skipped right to the translation, I got nearly everything except when I had to return to the original for the English.  Here is my metaphor: it was like playing table-tennis, running from the translated English to the subtitled (footnoted) English several times on any one page.  If one knew French well enough to read (which I do not, nor in fact, know it well enough to speak) one could understand the way Tolstoy satirized a people so enamoured of France whom they would be shortly at war by their misspeaking the language.

So, that was an aspect that I would not have the pleasure of enjoying.  But that left me quite a deal to enjoy.  I am reading War and Peace because the last time I read it, in college, intrigued by the Audrey Hepburn movie, I had skipped right over the war to learn all about Natasha at home.  For years, I thought I had read at least half of the book, when to my chagrin, this summer I discovered if I read it at all, I retained very little.  So when the plot twists arrive, and they do, in translated English with ferocity, I was caught unaware.

I began early July, a few pages every night and in the afternoon, asking a Russian-American  friend about this history I had never learned in school at one point.  Knowing how I had obsessively googled information about The Tudors while watching all thirty-eight episodes of that glittery, tawdry, engrossing fantasy, I did not want to do the same about Napoleon or Tolstoy.  Well, I did google a bit about the royal Russian family, and Napoleon will soon be researched. (It was Josephine, “The real wife,” as Tolstoy put it, who brought so many roses to France.  That history is refered to in Chasing the Rose by Andrea Di Robilant.) But back to War and Peace.

Three hundred pages from the end, not being able to take it any longer, I sneaked a peek at the ending to find out what did happen to some of the characters.  Readers, I did not fling the book away.  I went right back in, still surprised as the plot turned, as Tolstoy brings back characters I had forgotten about, evoking a supreme sadness about the arrogance that takes lives.  War is arrogance, after all, a need to fight and prove which side is better, which side is best.  No matter the victor, no one is convinced in the matter.  The sun was in everyone’s eyes.

If Anna Karenina is the best novel to read in the winter, then War and Peace works very well in sultry summer, where the battles take place in winter, and Christmas can be read about in July.

The Windmill

Dragonfly shopping for earrings

Indira Ganesan, Dragonfly shopping for earrings, 2015

Eastham windmill

Eastham windmill

image image image image image

Sometimes you have to get out of traffic.  I was stopped at a red light, in the odious stretch of cars on a Thursday -let’s -go -to -the -Cape -Cod -House,-darling, and the Man, -I -am -getting -out -before -the -tourists -arrive.  Okay, I am probably who still says “man.”  Regardless, I was waiting on a light.  A young woman and her daughter where behind the fence of what looked like a Crafts Fair, squatting on the grass (or maybe sitting, I don’t know) and watching the traffic.  I rolled down my window (AC) and asked if it was a Craft Fair.  Yeah, she said, It’s good, thinking that’s what I asked.  The light was still red, so on green, I made the turn, found amazing parking (getting out was another story) and hopped on out.

The fair was on the site of the Eastham Windmill,  a mill that ground corn driven by horse and wind power.

This was a good craft art fair, part of the Wellfleet Oyster Fest.  The first booth I stopped by had beautiful stained glass and shells; another had garden stakes made out of knitting needles topped by glass art shaped like dragonflies and butterflies. It also had a very much alive dragonfly who inspected the earrings with me.  The third, where I lingered the longest, where I wish I had bought something, where I might go back and do just that, featured mobiles made of stone and recycled bottles.  Think Calder, not Woodstock.  Beautifully crafted, the artist said yes, she loved making the work, and having something balanced as well.  I am going back. I wish Sandra Bland could as well.

Summer Reading

Girl Reading

Girl Reading

Summer is a lawn and an umbrella, and books to read.  All the books you couldn’t get to all year.  Summer allows for trips to the bookstore, trips to the library, all in good weather.  This summer, I am tackling War & Peace again, only this time I plan to read all the war sections. So far Napoleon has made an appearance, and a favorite character who was single in one chapter appears in the next not only married, but with a marriage on the skids.  In between courses of the big tome, I happily read Emma Straub’s The Vacationers and Hanna Pylvainen’s We Sinners.  Before, it was Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, which made me sink into all thirty-eight episodes of “The Tudors,” a show which if not as intellectually compelling as Mantel, was colorfully addictive.  There are the books I didn’t make through last year, and the new ones I am placing in my mind’s reserve shelf.  Boundless summer, that has so much reading in it!


The mind wakes

Sky before storm

Sky before storm

It is about to storm.  The leaves are rustling like seeds in a gourd, like new silk saris.  Fog has partially covered the Monument, and the sky is wash of white.  One cat sleeps with a paw over her eyes, and another listens, alert, to the hammering of construction in the distance.  A car goes by, gathering speed.  Here is the thunder, low.


What it looks like now


a longish view


from the right


new columbine blooms, and one fern taking root.


after cutting down the iris, it began to sprout again.


hidden basket


more of the same


Hidden miniature rose and pansies, salvia, & bee balm.


From the right

So, here is what the Secret Hanging Gardens look like now.  To lemon balm*, iris, pansies, rose geranium, columbine, anemone,solomon’s seal, bee balm, wild violets, alyssum, million bells,  I’ve added a coleus, two types of Salvia, a bit of fern and sweet woodruff.  A protecting Crow Godess* watches. It is a garden of singles, of onesies, when wisdom says plant three of each, or five.  I hope in time, the violets and columbine will spread, as will the solomon’s seal.  I want to scatter some bulbs in the fall.

Does it represent my novel’s current state? My novel looks at a tragedy, which is couched in other events of a scattered extended family, during 1991-92.  That is, it is an assemblage of various plants (characters) in relationship to each other, but does it  an overarching harmonic scheme

Is it at all political?  Does it say anything?  This slender novel, I mean, garden,  beats back the wilderness with a view to free some trees.  Creating a garden; creating a novel?

What does it need, friends?





*Lemon balm from my friend, Alla; and a Crow Goddess medallion purchased from Sarah’s etsy shop.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 664 other followers

%d bloggers like this: