The Four Seasons

The Reading Chair

Many thanks to Taniya Barrows, Owner/Manager of THE READING CHAIR Independent bookstore in Ramona, California for permission to reprint her blog entry about THE FOUR SEASONS

Monday, November 10, 2008


I prejudged!I did, really! I had the honor of meeting an incredibly talented new author (and a local one at that) by the name of Laurel Corona who personally put her new novel, The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice, in my hands and I did not truly appreciate the gift I had just received. Granted, on that day I had a lot of books placed into my hands by authors, publishers and sales reps so it’s understandable that I didn’t fully grasp the treasure Ms. Corona handed me.But that wasn’t bad enough… I prejudged again!

I was in a foul mood. I had just endured a pretty crumby weekend and I was in between books. Four Seasons caught my eye and I remembered how much I enjoyed chatting with Ms. Corona. So I plopped onto my couch and began examining the exterior of the book, at which time I began to get a sinking sensation (yes, you could insert the age old book cover cliché here). I loved the concept of the plot; two orphaned sisters raised in the Venetian orphanage Vivaldi taught at and composed for and how the three lives intersected and influenced each other. But I have been burned before and something on this jacket cover, I can’t really articulate what, gave me the suspicion that the pages inside held the expected: superficial characters, a drawn out plot line and the sensationalistic and predictable subjugation and use of women in 18th century Italy!

Wow, was I cranky or what?! I was also very wrong!

Three pages…

That’s all it took, just three pages and I was hooked! I honestly started this book in the absolute worst mindset. I even told myself to just power through it and skim if I needed to. Yet, three short pages into this book all of that melted away. I was now emotionally invested in these two young girls who only had each other in a frightening world. I had to keep reading – not skimming, reading! I had to know that my girls were going to be okay. I needed to know that someone would be there to look out for them and shepherd them through a society that didn’t exactly view women as much more than pretty things that produced heirs; and if she wasn’t pretty, a nunnery was the best she could hope for.

The most remarkable part of this book is the growth of these two women. I found it easy in the beginning to think of them as “my girls.” Each moment I had to sit and read I was able to check in on “my girls.” However, as the story progressed and they were growing up, Maddalena and Chiaretta could no longer belong to anyone, not even the reader.

The Four Seasons is a magnificent surprise. Read it, I urge you! It is a story of life and the journey we all travel from childhood to adulthood artfully told. Two sisters diverge on the road of life and follow their own paths yet remain true to each other. Laurel Corona has given us a beautiful lens to watch these incredible girls grow into the remarkable women anyone would wish for as a sister, a wife, a friend. Corona even rejects the stereotype of the domineering man who must be overcome and beaten down. Men, women, the Catholic Church, the whispered customs of 18th century Venetian nobility and a demanding and controversial composer of the day are all respectfully represented and honored in this beautiful book.

-Taniya Barrows


The Four Seasons

Sharing the Wealth

San Diego City College celebrated itself this week. Coming the day after the election, I saw the showcase of faculty and student talent that launched my novel, THE FOUR SEASONS, from a perspective that might have escaped me otherwise. This has been so much on my mind that I want to share it with anyone who is listening.

My good friend and colleague Stephanie Robinson (pictured with me to the right) has been training in the operatic style of singing for years, but probably only a handful of people at City knew that, since she teaches electronic music composition–almost the polar opposite. When we talked last spring about putting on a launch for my novel, we realized that we knew almost nothing about what our colleagues do when they’re not at work. My guess is we had the skills among us to have offered a work for chamber orchestra at the event, but we didn’t know whom to ask. Most of us, myself included, try to cram as much work into our time on campus as we can, and don’t do much hanging out in the corridors, or sitting down in the often-deserted staff dining room area just to see who stops by. “I don’t have the time to get started,” I tell myself. “I don’t have the energy to get involved in any more lives.”

This isn’t good. I realize this with a particular sense of urgency now, since less than two weeks ago, a thirty-nine year old colleague in my department had a stroke. It isn’t clear why, but she thinks she knows, and her message to all of us, even before she had regained the ability to speak clearly, was “Slow down.” I’m going to try. I’m clear enough about who I fundamentally am not to expect a sea change in how I go through my day, but even baby steps to connect with others will make my life richer.

But that’s not really what I most want to say. In the afterglow of the election, I want to shout to the world a beautiful principle that was reinforced by putting on this show. When I decided that I didn’t want my launch to be just about me and my book, but to include others whose achievements also deserved celebrating, I set in motion something that has come back to bless me many fold. Rather than a small event in someone’s home or in a restaurant somewhere, THE FOUR SEASONS was launched in a theater packed with several hundred people. I don’t have that kind of draw myself, but together all the performers–Stephanie, dj, George, Terry, John Mark, Zaquia, and Ramon—did. The bookstore sold two full cartons of books, many to people who knew nothing about my novel before the event and can’t wait to tell others about it. Stephanie and all the other performers have new fans, and people are talking about how the college can keep this form of self-discovery going.

Sharing the wealth is not a scandalous concept despite recent attempts to make it seem so. It is the wellspring of the most profound blessings that come to us as individuals and as a society. Especially in times that are bound to grow more difficult for all of us, we must never forget that our real treasure is each other. I am reminded of this every time I enter the classroom at San Diego City College. The environment in which I teach was not possible when I was growing up. In fact, when I started kindergarten in 1955, it was illegal. My students (Stephanie’s and my team-taught class is pictured below) are African-American, Asian, Latino/a, and White; gay and straight; Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Atheist; male and female; native born and immigrants; vegan and omnivore. They span several decades in age, have more brains than money, and more hope than despair. It’s wonderful how comfortable they are with each other, and how open and eager they seem to be about making friends with people unlike themselves. They “get it,” that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and they are a microcosm of where we as a people need to be. We all need to want for each other what we want for ourselves, because we are all in this together.