Snowbound Reading through the Decades

snowWhen the snow is up past your knees and you can’t open the door, then all you can do is stay in and read. That’s why I love the snow.

I’ve been wandering through the decades with a chronological short story collection and I’m stuck in the 1950s for now. The collection begins with a story published in 1915 and goes up to the end of the century. I’ve seen farming communities replaced by city life. Writing styles have become more rushed. Now I’m stuck in suburbia surrounded by themes of society’s expectations and restrictions. I’m looking forward to the 60s.

My favorite story from the 1930-50 era is “Resurrection of a Life” by William Saroyan, published in 1935. The character remembers being a newspaper boy in 1917, roaming the streets, shouting disastrous headlines. It beautifully shows what that might do to a young boy. Not only does he see the coldness of the city, but he repeats and sells stories of war.

“There he is suddenly in the street, running, and it is 1917, shouting the most recent crimes of man, extra, extra, ten thousand huns killed, himself alive, inhaling, exhaling, ten thousand, ten thousand, all the ugly buildings solid, all the streets solid, the city unmoved by the crime, ten thousand, windows opening, doors opening, and the people of the city smiling about it, good, good, ten thousand, ten thousand of them killed. Johnny, get your gun, and another trainload of boys in uniforms, going away, torn from home, from the roots of life, their tragic smiling, and the broken hearts, all things in the world broken.”

DSC01831_2We see and feel the city, the people bustling by, and the boy there in the middle of it all. While others think of war as abstract, he breaks it down to individuals. He sees their faces caught up in something large and monstrous. Toward the end, he still manages to find beauty in it all:

“And all that I know is that we are somehow alive, all of us, in the light, making shadows, the sun overhead, space all around us, inhaling, exhaling, the face and form of man everywhere, pleasure and pain, sanity and madness, over and over again, war and no war, and peace and no peace, the earth solid and unaware of us, unaware of our cities, our dreams, unaware of this love I have for life.”

Sometimes I take a break to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s a great one so far.

Are you snowbound or enjoying the sunshine? What have you been reading lately?

49 thoughts on “Snowbound Reading through the Decades

  1. Something about the green building there surrounded by all the more modern skyscrapers, it really binds into the time where you definitely would see a young man yelling extra extra 🙂

    • Hahah – I was imagining him there too! The author is from CA and the picture is of San Francisco so maybe he saw a scene like that one. We just have to imagine it without the modern cars and newer buildings. I was glad a man with a hat walked into the scene at least. Hope you’re not too buried in snow!

      • Luckily? we got only rain lately and a whole lot of wind, second year in a row where our winter was thwarted by Pacific Ocean’s many tantrums.

        Dang, after the thought of vintage cars passing by my imagination is going again heh! 🙂

      • I’ll hope for snow and reading for you! I’m happy that picture got your imagination going. Sometimes it seems easy enough to step back into time that way.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful collection. I love that excerpt although it’s a sad reminder we’re still sending our boys (and girls) to war.

    We have a lot of snow. It’s icky. And gray. Sigh.

    • It’s pretty good so far. The best stories are the ones that really show the time period. Whenever I see something like that written from long ago, I’m amazed that people had all the same thoughts that we do today about war or injustice – if they were fed up with it all then, you’d think it wouldn’t keep happening. Our snow is frozen solid and gray now too and we’re supposed to get more soon!

    • Ha ha. We’re in the 50’s too here (in Idaho)…with rain, but I thought that was super warm. I didn’t have to wear a hat or gloves when I went on my walk today during a dry minute. Enjoy your sunshine. I’m a little jealous of that since we’ve had lots of fog and rain for weeks. ***Oh, and Sheila, you’re doing the perfect thing for being snowbound. I like the snow too when it makes me homebound and I can read. Enjoy the 60’s when you get there.

      • It sounds like you’re getting our usual weather and we’re getting Idaho’s. With all this snow, we’ve only had one snow day so far but there’s more on the way so I’m hoping to jump into the 60s soon!

    • That sounds balmy to me right about now! We’ve been down into the teens lately. I love it when the TBR pile grows and grows. It’s exciting to see all the possibilities.

  3. War. Specificity brings it home.

    I recognize that street in San Francisco. I walked down it tonight past the City Lights Bookstore on my way to a writers group meeting. 😀

    It’s been pretty balmy here, but it was chilly tonight. Complain Complain. Maybe in the mid 50s. 😀

    • I love those passages for that reason. The whole story is pretty powerful. I thought you might recognize that building – I’d love to be able to walk by it all the time, especially on one of those nice, warm days! The bar in there is fun too. It brings you back in time even more than the street outside.

  4. Sheila, you mention snow, I’ll throw in wind, rain, cold… As if one needs an excuse for reading. Here along the Mediterranean it is the Mistrals (heavy winds) but even on a day at the beach I take a book along.
    I finished Sleeping With Cats and excellent autobiography by Marge Piercy and have just dived into Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar. Of course nearby is Alice Walker’s Horses Make A Landscape Look More Beautiful for quick poetry fixes… There is always a pile of books waiting to be read nearby and some poetry is always among them.
    Before moving to France, I lived an hour from San Francisco and enjoyed the city frequently. What are you reading at the moment? Léa

    • Rain and wind are good reasons to stay inside too. I’m always hopeful for a snow day because then I’m forced into staying home instead of going in to work – almost as exciting as the snow days during school. I’ll have to look up the books you mentioned. For now, I’m reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and loving it so far. Enjoy the Mistrals!

  5. I’m going to piggyback on your reply to Carrie up there.

    Agreed, that it’s amazing to see such similarities between the thoughts and emotions we have today compared to the people of the past. It’s something I’ve learned over the years and have tried to convey in my stabs at historical fiction.

    Like Nola Fran Evie, I wanted to make the women deep and also genuinely sexy, because I grew up thinking of that time period as I saw it presented to me in television shows like “I Love Lucy” or the general wholesome image we’ve seen time and time again. But people of the past were just like us, minus this crazy technology! : )

    • I’m amazed when I see quotes and writings from centuries ago talking about the need for peace – you’d think we would have learned by now! Different time periods affect us in different ways too. For me, one of the fun things about reading historical fiction is for the chance to see how the time period or culture might have shaped people’s lives. That’s one of the reasons why I loved Beneath the Satin Gloves!

  6. I wish I was stranded and could have a day of reading, that would be bliss, sadly here there is no snow, just sunshine, how the weather spites me! As a species, we seem to revel in not learning from our mistakes…

    • Hahah – that’s true – I’ll keep hoping we’ll learn somehow. Reading in the sunshine isn’t so bad either. It’s snowing again now and it’s supposed to keep up for the next three days. The snow banks are already taller than me. I love watching it fall but we’re running out of places to put it. I hope your weekend will be filled with sunshine reading!

  7. I love that snow at once stops time and forces you to stay indoors and yet allows you traverse time through your book. And that photo of your bench is so lovely – the snow makes all the garden furniture wonderfully plump! We haven’t had as much snow as you have, and now everything is frozen. I like snow but could so without the ice as it makes it hard to get around. How’s your pup enjoying the snow?

    • She loves romping around in the snow even more than I do! 🙂 It’s nice to romp around out there and then warm up with reading. I ended up getting a book of Alice Munro short stories and can’t wait to delve into that next. I hope you and Baffi are staying warm and that you’re finding some great books to read!

  8. Love the title Sheila, it makes me want to sit in front of the fire and curl up with a book even though we’re not snowbound! This year I’ve decided to catch up with the books on my Kindle – it’s so easy to download them but then they’re all just sitting there waiting, so I’ve dived in from the first on the list, no picking and choosing, just reading them one by one. So I’ve read three by Sarah Hall, two by Graham Joyce, Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway and reading a bit of a bizarre mystery from Henry Gee at the moment – all quite different but all enjoyable in their own way.

    • Thanks Andrea! Curling up in front of the fire with a book sounds good to me too. I hope you’re able to do that this weekend with or without the snow. That’s great that you have a little library waiting for you in the Kindle. And there’s always more to read – enjoy!

  9. Sheila what a well written post. You have me imagining these images of a small boy calling out the latest tragedies. Quite bizarre if it were to happen in todays world. The kid would definitely need a therapist after work. I tend to be a bit of a dreamer when I read. I like worlds unlike mine, yes fantasy, paranormal etc. But what I am noticing now as I read is when something is written well, I can stand back and say wow, I wish I could write like that. This piece was wonderful and unique only to you and I enjoyed being taken to another time and place.

    • Thanks so much Kath! That’s funny and true that he would need a therapist these days. I was in awe of that story while reading it. I love stumbling over sentences that make me stop and think or lift me away a bit (and you do write like that). For more inspiration, you might like Barbara Kingsolver’s novels – her descriptions amaze me. Or for a different kind of a world, a great one is Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card. That’s also good for dreaming while reading.

    • I haven’t heard of those but I’ll have to take a look – thank you! I love building up the to-read pile. My winter goal is to be surrounded by books and snow.

  10. I’m snowbound here too. Doing a ton of edits for the new book and starting up promo stuff. It’s a good time to be stuck in. My to do list is 3 miles long. 🙂

    • That’s great – I’ll look forward to the new book! There’s tons of frozen snow here but so far only one Snow Day. I’m looking forward to more snow already.

      • Thanks. I’m really excited about it! You are way worse off than me. I keep hearing about what’s hitting MA and Cape Cod. I’m so sorry. We’ve got about 4 feet of snow just chilling in the front yard.

  11. Snow, snow, snow. Everywhere I look, there is snow. And, more on the way tomorrow and this weekend. Kids have missed 4 days of school and had about a week’s worth of 2-hour delays so far. I am ready for spring.

    Right now, I am reading The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman. It is an amazing, tragic novel that takes place in ancient Israel when 900 Jews sought refuge from the Roman armies on Masada, a mountain in the Judaen desert. It is based on true events. I highly recommend it.

    • You must have even more snow than we do but that’s hard to imagine! I don’t remember it ever being this deep or staying around for so long. I’ll be thinking about you during this next one and will hope you won’t get too buried up there. The Dovekeepers sounds like a perfect snowstorm book because of the desert setting. I might just have to read that one next. 🙂

      • It’s a very intense book, which is good when you’re snowbound. If you do read it, let me know what you think. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Alice Hoffman’s style. She’s one of my favorite authors, and she handles the subject matter quite well, all things considering.

      • I’ll have to read it next if she’s one of your favorite authors. We could do a mini-snowbound book club. That sounds like more fun than shoveling.

  12. Hi Sheila, thanks for the follow – much appreciated! No snow here in London, just damp, cold and grey. Have been reading Hemingway recently. I read a terrific book about his four wives by Naomi Wolf called ‘Mrs Hemingway’, and that’s inspired me to go back and revisit the original novels. Being a Brit, we only had limited exposure to American literature when I was at a school and I’ve been trying to catch up ever since. Sounds like you’ve got some good recommendations on your site!

    • Thank you! It’s always fun to revisit Hemingway. I read A Moveable Feast a little while ago and enjoyed it just for chance to stroll around Paris with him. I’ll have to look up Mrs. Hemingway – that sounds interesting. I’ve wondered about his wives, especially when he includes them or people like them in his fiction. It makes me wonder what they’re really like. Thanks so much for visiting. I hope things will warm up there for you soon!

  13. There is nothing like a good short story. They are actually works of art. to be able to write so well, so concise, so thought provoking. Much hard to write than one thinks. many thanks Sheila, xo LMA (and Scrabble)

    • That’s true – they can be works of art – just like all those newspaper articles by your publicist. Give my love to Scrabble! xo

  14. This has certainly been a good month to hibernate! Currently reading “All the Light We Cannot See” and loving it. Stay safe and warm, my friend!

    • I haven’t read that one yet so it’s good to know you love it so far. I’ll have to move it up on the to-read list. Yay for hibernation!

  15. Well,Sheila,
    sorry to brag about the sunshine over here but for us Australians, all that snow Wow! I love reading historical material. I am currently reading “Horrie the War Dog” by Roland Perry. Horrie was the unofficial mascot for the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion of the Second Australian Imperial Force. An Egyptian terrier, the dog was befriended by a soldier serving in the unit when it was stationed in Egypt during the Second World War. The dog subsequently followed the battalion throughout various locations in the Middle East and in Greece and Crete, before being smuggled back to Australia in 1942. Horrie is believed to have been destroyed by quarantine officials, although this remains the subject of speculation with some researchers claiming that the dog survived after its owner switched it with another prior to destruction. It’s a great story.
    I am trying to psyche my brain cells up to read the latest book by Norman Doidge who wrote: “The Brain which Changes Itself”….”The Brain’s Way of Healing”.
    JUst finished reading “Johnny Nothing” by Ian Probert…an Indie author and journalist. It was a great read. It’s a tween level book but I love reading all sorts. Some have described it as hilariously funny but I seemed to pick up on the tragedy as well. You can check it out at: xx Rowena

    • Thanks so much for those suggestions! Horrie the War Dog sounds like a different take on the usual history books so I’ll have to check that out and I’m always looking for great Indie authors. I recently started reading more tween level books too. I really liked Marcus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger and for now I’m reading Don’t Let Me Go by Catherine Ryan Hyde (another great one so far)! So many great books, so little time.

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