I Hate To Leave This Beautiful Place

A Memoir by Howard Norman

This book was given to me two years ago from a student. It has sat unobtrusively on my shelf because of the cover. A cover which conveys melancholy. Melancholy by nature, I was hesitant, even fearful, in taking on a new author’s experiences similar in nature. Time was needed for a slow acquaintanceship with Mr. Norman.

However, steeped in sadness about the state of the world in this month and this year it seemed appropriate. I wonder if this only makes sense to me, dear reader?

Set in the mid-1960s with a beginning that is both familiar and almost endearing – a bookmobile, the apothecary (see, drug store) with soda fountain, I was lulled immediately into a sense of kinship with the author. His subsequent memories through the years in the narrative dispelled this feeling. All too soon I became the outsider looking in. The outsider wondering how on earth this young man, this married man, this father and husband, managed to get through his life with so much of himself intact.

His is a life that meanders; conscious direction seems to be an afterthought. From Grand Rapids to the Arctic to Halifax to Washington, D.C. he careens, geographically; so too do the events that affect his trajectory from the humorous to the mundane to the tragic. The overlapping of these parallel paths is the story. His story.

A whole world of detours, unbridled perplexities, degrading sorrows, and exacting joys can befall a person in a single season, not to mention a lifetime.


It was only at the end where I almost – almost – closed the book. Some tragedies are too heart wrenching. Living life is not for the timid. And while no pretensions, no hubris comes through with Norman, he is not timid. I am grateful for his courage.

A sincere thank you to my student at St. Alban’s School for expanding my universe with this author’s writing. You know who you are!

Norman, Howard. I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2013. Print.

Murder On the Orient Express

What version of this classic mystery do you prefer?

Première partie: le livre

A dear colleague handed a copy of this spanking new edition to me before our school break – the 1934 mystery that is once again resurrected, this time into a new film. It has been quite some time since I read a Christie mystery, and wanting to indulge myself over the Christmas holidays in reading that suited me (not my students), I accepted this book into my care for the two-week, academic lull.Christie_Agatha

First, this edition is beautifully crafted, from cover art, to paper, to layout and type design, and finally, its printing and binding. It was a pleasure to have in one’s hands [so there, e-book readers!]. Next, I will admit that I read every word without analysis; read it just for the pure pleasure of the Christie experience. As I grew into my young womanhood decades ago,  I read the works of Dame Agatha without any consideration through the academic lens where I was ensconced  for quite some years. I was never exposed to any discussion of her serious contributions to literature and specifically, to this genre. Being the librarian that I am now, and upon completion of this novel, I referred myself to Bloom’s Literature Online and came upon this:

“Christie suggests a general doubleness in the human character,” and further, “But it also creates a vision of life in which the self is ‘presented’ in what sociologist Erving Goffman has described as the staged reality we call ‘everyday life.’ “

This put me in mind of the present where we are present on and through social media. I, myself, am no exception. “Staged reality.” It has been called the ‘persona” in less recent times; the self we want others to see as the true one, rather than the self that is imbued with all its conflicts, insecurities, weaknesses. The ambiguity of lives.

It is no wonder, then, that from decade to decade, this singular title has been reprinted, re-filmed, and re-enacted ad nauseam. All the characters are staging themselves – each individually- and in collusion with one another to create this reality for the world to observe and judge. We are not so different, n’est pas mon ami?

Deuxième partie: les films

Having thoroughly enjoyed the book, on a dark winter evening I proceeded to snuggle into a blanket, with cats, on the sofa to watch David Suchet as Poirot in my favorite version of this book to film adaptation. It is a subtle and sublime rendering of the text. What I noted immediately is that it gave me an insight into the brooding and almost reluctant Poirot as he encounters this mystery; it sets the atmosphere for moral dilemma that runs throughout the film – and one Poirot will face at the story’s end.  Good vs. evil.  Right vs. wrong. Justice. Choices all people encounter everywhere, not just on a train bound for Paris, snowbound and derailed.

Which leads me to the newest rendition of the book in film by director, Kenneth Branagh. I admit to you here – this is based solely upon the trailer. While the visuals, thanks to Ridley Scott are stunning, the rest of the film is not my cup of tea.

There is too much action. Too much physicality.  It is too American. Gone are the nuances of evil, fear, and impending retribution. Gone is the quiet psychological tension. All these intangibles of a great writer such as Christie and what she brings to the narrative. But, one must judge for oneself, in the end. I offer three options here for your new year. Bonne année, mes amis!

Birns, Margaret Boe, and Nicholas Birns. “Agatha Christie: Modern and Modernist.” Agatha Christie, New Edition, Chelsea House, 2015. Bloom’s Literature, online.infobase.com/HRC/Search/Details/380161?q=Murder On the Orient express. Accessed 24 Dec. 2017.
Christie, Agatha. Getty Images. Central Press. Bloom’s Literature. Web. 24 Dec. 2017. http://online.infobase.com/HRC/Search/ImageDetails/12?imageId=35765.
Christie, Agatha. Murder On the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery.  William Morrow, 2017.
“Murder On the Orient Express (2017) Trailer.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 2017, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3402236/videoplayer/vi612153625?ref_=tt_ov_vi.
“Poirot : Murder on the Orient Express.” YouTube. YouTube.com, 2017, https://youtu.be/AKPrq5dhkts.

God On the Rocks

Is God dead? Not with this book!

“But the weather had changed and darkened and home was nowhere to be seen. She turned her face out to the incoming sea and splashed on” (147).

GodMy only “Jane Gardam” reading is limited to The Hollow Land despite her claim to fame with the trilogy Old Filth. Finding a copy of God On the Rocks in a local Little Free Library was a treat many months ago, and it has been sitting on my bookshelf until this month. Summer. A fine time to explore more works by good authors.

Again, Gardam’s main protagonist is a child – bible-quoting, 8-year-old Margaret this time rather than young boys – and so I anticipated similar character development. Yes, even plot lines, dear reader, I hoped would be akin to The Hollow Land which I loved so much. Not so this time.

This is a most unusual tale in many ways that I am not sure I can even speak to it as well as it deserves. Rather, I will contradict the New York Time’s review. While I do agree that Margaret is an anchor in a harbor of very strange folk, dare I say psychologically suppressed without the least amount of introspection, I am not sure she is a conscious of this as one might think. She – an odd child of even odder parents – is singular in her approach to her circumstances. As the reader, making sense of all of this is a challenge for one such as I who revel in linear stories; this one goes back and forth. Combining the characters, the unusual plot, and the time overlays make me feel as if I too am a resident of Gardam’s Seaview Villa.

Perhaps this was the author’s goal? If so, she darn well accomplished it with this reader. And “No,” Miss Kline. I would not call this a charming novel  (or a “comedy” as IMDB notes for the film version) nor do I know intimates who remotely “resemble our most beloved friends and relations.” I prefer all of these characters’ quirkiness to remain on the printed page.

Gardam, Jane. God On the Rocks. Europa Editions, 2010.
Kline, Nancy. “Abnormal Psychology.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 Oct. 2010. Web. 09 Aug. 2017.