30 October 2009

Liberating Myself From Self-Imposed Goals with 1,358 Pages of Tolstoy

Like many of you, I read a lot of books. I hadn't intended reaching this particular milestone, but having already read 88 books this year, and with two months left to go, it looks like I am on target to complete at least 100 books in 2009.

In 1994, when I first started keeping track of the books I finished reading, my reading habits were quite a bit different than they are now. I was 25 years old, had roommates my age, an active social life, and I was studying for the GRE to get into graduate school. During that entire year I managed to read a whopping five books. Since the list is so short, I will share it with you:
Wilderness Tips – Margaret Atwood 3/19/94
The Culture We Deserve – Jacques Barzun 5/1/94
The Enigma of Arrival – VS Naipaul 7/10/94
The Machine in the Garden – Leo Marx 12/5/94
The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald 12/11/94
Kind of an interesting and odd list, don’t you think? Two of the five are non-fiction, which I don’t read much of these days. The Barzun I have no recollection of whatsoever, the Marx is a classic text in the field of American Studies, which is what I was headed off to study in grad school. Of the remaining three, at least one is a bona fide classic (Fitzgerald), one is often considered an important novel, perhaps even a baby classic (Naipual) and one is by one of the greatest authors alive (Atwood).

From late 1995 to early 1997 the number of books I read went up considerably thanks to grad school. Most were non-fiction but there was also a fair amount of great American literature thrown in as part of my degree. Works by Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Crane, Howells, Dreiser, and others were read and dissected in class.

Having to do all that reading for grad school did three things: it reminded me that I loved to read, it conditioned my brain to read older, and in many cases more challenging fiction, and the required reading lists left me chomping at the bit, wanting desperately to create my own reading list. When I finished my degree I couldn’t wait to get to the public library. I wandered the shelves four hours and discovered for the first time in my life some of the truly great authors: Willa Cather, Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton, and James Baldwin among others.

From then on, and through another Master’s degree, my reading habits kept up pace. In 2004 I heard a radio feature on a woman who had written a book about reading a book a week. I remember thinking that I easily read more than 52 books in a year. So I consulted my books read list (which by then was also in spreadsheet format) and discovered to my surprise that the most books I had read in a year was about 39. So I made it my mission to complete at least 52 books in 2004. Every year since then I have pushed myself to do more than the previous year. Even though it hasn’t always worked out that way, 2008 was kind of slow for me, it has been an encouragement to help me keep striving to read more.

And now this year it looks like I am going to break 100. I must admit that keeping an eye on the number of books that I read has had an impact on whether or not I tackle some bigger books. I still manage to dig into a chunky Trollope now and then. And this year I even managed the Wilkie Collins doorstop also known as The Woman in White. However, I feel like reaching the 100 book mark really frees me up to tackle a really, really big book.

So I am going to embark on War and Peace. All 1,358 pages of War and Peace. I am not sure if I am going to wait until I finish my 100 for the year. I am kind of itching to start now. And I am not sure, with my other reading, if I will finish it in 2009. And frankly, at this point I don’t even care if I actually make it to 100 books this year (big step for an OCD-head like myself to let that go). I just love the fact that nearing that unintended goal, I feel kind of liberated take on the mother of all chunksters.

Besides with a cover like this who could say no?

Do your reading goals, whether they be driven by book or page quotas, online challenges, book clubs, school, or any other sort of real or perceived pressure keep you from reading what you really want to?

29 October 2009

I can fit 150 books in my nightstand, now I just need to read them

In 30 seconds when you are redirected to HOGGLESTOCK.COM use the search feature there to find this post.

I have been on a bit of a book buying binge lately and the to-be-read pile has grown ever larger. I keep my TBR pile in my overly large nightstand (which is actually a Florence Knoll credenza), but the recent acquisitions have started to overwhelm the capacious interior of that fine piece of furniture.

Here you see the nightstand in its natural state: uncluttered, sleek, hiding all of its secrets behind its ebonized doors.

Once the doors are open, however, you see a different story. Organized chaos. (Yes, my chaos must be organized or I can't sleep at night.) In some cases I have three rows of books lovingly crammed in.

There are a few advantages to having books double and triple stacked in a cabinet. Yes, many of them are hidden from view. And after a while I forget what is in there. But that is also the beauty. Re-organizing the stacks offers endless hours of entertainment for someone like me who likes to look at, hold, and smell books just for the fun of it. Plus each time I pull them all out I get excited about things I forgot I had and get to reassess what I should read next, even though I almost never follow my own future reading plans. (I have a hard time being told what to do, even when I am the one telling me to do something.) Besides, this way, when I finish a book, I get to open the doors and root around for the next thing read.

This past weekend, in an attempt to fit as many books in as possible I took everything out and stacked it up. This way I could see what I had, what might be read next, and come up with a plan to fit my new additions into the cabinet.  It turned out I had just shy of 150 books that I needed to get inside.

I could stare at the stacks for hours. Go ahead click on the photo, see if you can make out any of the titles.  In the picture below I give you a little better chance to see some of them, including some of the newer stuff, which includes 6 of the 12 Persephones that are on their way to me...

...and all but two of Penguin's English Journeys series. Since taking the photo below I recieved another one from The Book Depository (free shipping anywhere in the world). But alas, the volume with A Shropsire Lad is out of stock. I am blaming Cornflower's book club on depleting the supply.

28 October 2009

Open Letter to the Democratic National Committee

Dear Bozo:

Yesterday I got a call from a professional fundraiser asking me to open my wallet and make a donation to the DNC. In the past I have gladly done just that. I have given money to the DNC, the fundraising arms of both the House and Senate Democrats, Democratic candidates for President, and even money to Democratic candidates for Congress in districts where I don’t even live. And I have traveled to Pennsylvania, Ohio and southern Virginia to knock on doors for Democratic Presidential nominees.

But yesterday I refused to heed the clarion call for donations to help save the country from whatever the Republicans have in mind. And you know why? Because no amount of “grassroots” money from citizens will ever be enough to get the duly elected Democrats in Congress to pay attention to something other than their own egos and their allegiance to the corporate money that keeps them in office. How does my $25 or $250 or even $2,500 stack up against the pile of money that big business funnels into the political system? If you get my personal check will Senator Dodd pick up the phone when I call to tell him that he is handing big banks everything they want while passing along all the risk to me? If I take a couple days of salary and send it to the DNC will Senator Baucus let me write health care legislation instead of his seven former staffers who now work for health industry lobbyists?

And don’t even get me started on the ethics-challenged Congressman Rangel keeping his committee chair.

Maybe, just once, Democrats could lend meaningful support to a Democratic President, the leader of their party. But it seems like too many Democrats in Congress want to relive the glory days of 1994 when they assisted the Republicans in neutering another Democratic President.

I am not saying you will never get money from me again, after all I do think that Democratic crooks are a better option than Republican crooks. But for now I’d like to see Democrats begin to pay back the Americans who delivered them majorities in both houses of Congress.

Love,  Thomas

[crossposted at Opensewer]

26 October 2009

Cool Cover of the Week (Supersize Edition)

Here is the cool cover of the week. Unlike Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing (see review below), Guy Browning's Maps of My Life actually delivers what it says it will. It is an amusing little memoir organized around maps, real and imagined, that tell the story of his life. One of the more amusing things is the fact that Browning refers to his brother as the Fatted Calf. It also has fun maps inside as well as other illustrations. Since I read it some time ago, I won't review it here, but the Independent has.

Claire at Kiss a Cloud figured out my little book cover quiz, that the cover art below is also used on the endpages of Persephone No. 32, The Carlyles at Home by Thea Holme. After months of staring at the image in the Persephone catalog and then finally getting the book, I was so so surprised to see the same image, albeit a little worse for the wear on a book I found while digging through a bin at a charity bookshop. For those of you interested in content the book looks at the marriages of John Ruskin and Effie Gray, Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, George Eliot and George Henry Lewes, and of course Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle. I am not sure whether to read it before or after the Persephone.

As for the image, Mrs Carlyle is hiding on the sun-damaged spine of the book which is not shown here. The image is by Robert Tait.

25 October 2009

Persephone Fans, This one is for you...

First, if you haven't seen this post, you need to apply your Persephone knowledge to solve the mystery.

Second, have any of you noticed, or heard about a big old typo on the spine of Persephone No. 72? The spine on both the book and the dust jacket incorrectly says: "House-Bound of Winifred Peck" instead of "House-Bound by Winifred Peck". Someone had a tipple before signing off on those proofs?

I am delirious at the arrival of my first Persephones but I have only gotten 6 of 12 so far. I am waiting for the others to arrive before I blog about my haul.

Book Review: Smoke and Mirrors are on the Landing

Howards End is on the Landing
Susan Hill

There are many in the book blogosphere who have loved this book. And there are many who thought they would love this book and then were kind of disappointed by it. Although there were moments of unalloyed joy as I read HEIOTL, I think I fall into the disappointed camp of book bloggers. Although, disappointed is probably too strong a word. It is a book about reading and books and cozy chairs and lists. What isn’t to love?

For those that may be reading about this book for the first time, Hill decides to limit her reading for a year to books that she already owns.

Much has been written by bloggers about Hill’s take on bookplates (she is against them) and book blogs (she is sort of against them). While I agree somewhat with Hill’s assessment that bookplates are largely unnecessary I don’t agree that they are for “posers”. Many who love to read, including Hill, not only love the content of books, but also love them as objects. Aesthetically pleasing fetishes that we not only love to read, but we also love to arrange, re-arrange, look at, hold, feel, and smell. Why is it surprising then that lovers of this particular kind of printed beauty might fall in love with an aesthetically pleasing bookplate?

Hill’s thoughts on the Internet (and by extension book bloggers):
The start of the journey also coincided with my decision to curtail my use of the internet, which can have an insidious, corrosive effect. Too much internet usage fragments the brain and dissipates concentration so that after a while, one’s ability to spend long, focused hours immersed in single subject becomes blunted. Information comes pre-digested in small pieces, one grazes on endless ready-meals and snacks of the mind, and the result if malnutrition.

The internet can also have a pernicious influence on reading because it is full of book-related gossip and chatter on which it is fatally easy to waste time that should be spent actually paying close, careful attention to the books themselves…
And since book-related gossip and chatter on the Internet is pernicious and is full of fragmented, small pieces of pre-digested ready-meals, Hill decides to publish 236 pages of fragmented, small pieces of pre-digested book-related gossip and chatter. Give them what they want, make your money, but somehow act like you are above it all. (Reminds me a bit of Jonathan Franzen’s bullshit moment in the Oprah book club. You are decidedly crass, and pedestrian, but I will take your money anyway, if only to teach you all a lesson.)

Some of the more enjoyable aspects of the book for me were all of the tales of encounters with famous authors. Even as a writer herself, I feel like Hill may have had more than her fair share of encounters with great writers of the recent past. Hill comes of literary age in a period and milieu where some of “the greats” were still alive and kicking. Imagine EM Forster dropping a book on your foot!

And then of course there are moments in HEIOTL when Hill writes about some of one’s favorites. Having recently read, and having absolutely loved, On the Black Hill, I was gratified to see Hill give Bruce Chatwin’s amazing work its due. But then there are other sections where she talks about authors unread by me or even unknown to me. Which could be a great thing, opening up new worlds to me, but Hill’s descriptions did little to incite my interest in the authors. There may be one or two I may now feel compelled to hunt down but none jump out at me. (For inspiring introductions to books and authors you never knew you wanted to read, I say check out Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust.)

Perhaps most disappointing to me was that I felt like there was a little bait and switch going on. Hill writes about going on a “year-long voyage through her books”. Yet there was very little to suggest that Hill actually did what she said she was going to do. Or, if she did, she has so distilled her year of reading from home into little snippets of literary musings, that the reader gets no sense of the actual journey. Much of what she writes has the smell of her life of reading and writing, and doesn’t describe a journey, at least not a new journey, at all. HEIOTL gives no sense of time passing, no moments of “it is only January 15th and I am already finding it hard to avoid that new book by X in the shop window” or “as Autumn arrives I am drawn to that copy of X that I stumbled across back in July” or something like that.

It is certainly Hill’s prerogative to favor a more abstracted look at her year-long journey rather than describe the journey itself. But she seems a little scattered and unwilling to commit to one approach over the other. Here and there Hill describes certain books or types of books being in certain rooms of the house. I actually appreciate this part of the narrative, it does suggest a journey and it is detail I find interesting. But as an organizing motif she doesn’t really follow through enough for it to really work. She confuses the issue in the final chapter when she writes about finally making it to the top of the house. “I am taking out far too many books. I need at least another year of reading from home.” Is she suggesting that the climb to the top of the house has been stretched out over a year and now she has reached the last room and won’t have time for all the books she is pulling off the shelves? And are we really to believe that her reading over the year was directed by a systematic and seemingly linear tour through the rooms of her house?

Perhaps Hill, wanting to write a collection of literary musings, decided she needed a clever hook or some kind of framework in order to sell the collection. I have no problem with that, but don’t lure me in with a plot device that I find fascinating only to ignore it once you start waxing rhapsodic about your tastes and experiences. Many of the chapters don’t even attempt to follow any premise other than “I want to talk about this author so I will”. In some parts of the book there is some sense of the chronological aspects of the year-long journey, but the mentions are few and don’t really provide the structure suggested in, or interest created by, the opening chapter. The main body of the book is a sometimes fascinating compilation of book-related thoughts and experiences Hill supposedly had during the year broken down thematically. But where is the journey I was promised?

And did anyone else get the feeling that she did a lot more re-reading than she did discovering new things hiding in her enormous collection of books? I have a vague memory of her opening up a few long ignored volumes. But I never really felt like she had any moments of real discovery. I am not the closest reader in the world so I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed something, but where were the “aha” moments? Her journey of discovery reads more like a description of her daily commute down a well-trodden, and entirely familiar, path.

The more I write about HEIOTL the more I want to read the book she promised, not the book she wrote.

Book Review: The Photograph

The Photograph
Penelope Lively

This review might be a little on the short side. As much as I like Lively, I am a little ambivalent about The Photograph. Not to say I didn’t like it. I just expected more. The plot is pretty clever and can be summed up fairly easily. Glyn finds a picture of his deceased wife Kath that suggests that she had an affair with her sister Elaine’s husband Nick. Glyn confronts Elaine, Elaine confronts Nick, etc. Not wanting to give away any of the twists and turns I think I will leave it at that.

The Photograph is an enjoyable, easy read. The characters are believable and have interesting jobs that provide interesting context (landscape designer, publisher, historian), but the twists and turns of the relationships themselves—while understandably fascinating to others—was not all that interesting to me. And if I went into great detail about the book (and included some spoilers) I could detail the ways in which I don't think some of the events and characters portrayed ring true. And there are even a few things that happen that explain why this book carry's the "Today's Book Club" seal. (For those that don't know or remember this was the Today Show's attempt to cash in on the popularity of Oprah's book club. And we aren't talking about Oprah's better choices either...plus it was on morning TV with Katie Couric. In other words this is not a badge of honor.)

If you are only going to give Penelope Lively’s fiction one shot, read Consequences instead. Far more interesting and compelling. If you plan to read everything she as written because she is a wonderful writer (which she is), or you are looking for something to read on a plane, The Photograph is still worth the time.

24 October 2009

Welcome Visitors from Blogging Around the States

Booklogged over at A Reader's Journal has embarked upon an effort to blog about bloggers from all 50 states. As soon as I saw this I wrote to her and said "don't forget about the District of Columbia".  And she didn't. This week she highlights Yours Truly. Thanks for the opportunity.

So, to all of you visiting for the first time, I say Welcome. And don't forget to leave me a comment or two. Sometimes I get tired of the sound of my own voice--not often, but it does happen.  You can find lots of stuff on MyPorch, I have lots of travel pictures (Europe, Australia, Africa, the US, Canada), a few political rants, lots of stuff about books, some musical musings, and a whole lot of hyperbole.  Feel free to take me down a notch or two.

By the way, no comment from me on Blogging Around the States would be complete without mentioning that half a million American citizens living here in Washington DC have NO voting representation in Congress. American citizens in the rest of the US have two Senators and one Representative you can write to, call, email, etc., we have NONE. The reason those patriots dumped all that tea into Boston Harbor 200+ years ago was over taxation without representation. Well the Potomac is polluted enough so we won't dump anytning more into it, but you get my point.

Book Bloggers, show me what you're made of...

Yesterday I found myself at Books for America, my favorite charity bookshop, perhaps even my favorite secondhand bookshop. As I was quickly but methodically digging through the recent arrival bins, I came across this book and the cover image leapt out at me. Unfortunately there is some serious fading near (and on) the spine.

Let's see how long it takes for one of you to tell me where else I have seen this image recently.

Some of you might be thinking, "how would I know what Thomas has been looking at lately?" But, this isn't a test of how well you know Thomas, and it isn't a test of how well you know my blog. And there really aren't any clues on MyPorch--well only the slightest, but it would only make sense after you know the answer, so I don't recommend looking for a clue here--of course I do recommend going through the MyPorch archives, but I don't want to mislead anyone.

I think for some of you this won't be a challenge at all. And even if someone has already answered correctly let me know how long it took you to figure it out, or whether it stumped you. If no one has figured it out by Monday, I will add another clue. And eventually I will show you the back cover where the image continues. That might be the next clue anyway.

22 October 2009

Book (cover) Review: Persuasion

Jane Austen

With so much written about her over the years, how does one "review" Jane Austen. One doesn't. At least this one doesn't. Although I find reading Jane Austen enjoyable, and I completely understand the literary and sociological merit of her work, I tend to like the Jane Austen films better than the books. (Please, no hate mail.)

So you will get no substance out me on Persuasion. It is actually one of my favorite JA flicks. But the one from 1995. I am not so sure how I feel about the version from 2007, I seem to remember the plot of it was skewed differntly than the '95 version. Now that I have read the text, I want to see both of them side by side and make my determination not only about which one I like, but which one is closer to the text. I have them queued up on Netflix, so I should be able to blog about that in the near future.

What I really want to talk about is the cover of the edition I read. I picked it up at that English bookstore I went to in Den Haag. As far as I know, we don't have these Penguin Popular Classics editions in the US. I was totally drawn to their simple, GREEN covers. But when I tried to photograph it, it came out very bright greeny yellow. I thought it was something to do with my camera skills. So this morning I tried to scan the cover and the same thing happened to the color. So I headed off to the Interwebs to see if I could find a good representation of the color of the cover. And I did, BUT, I also came across many, many, many other pictures that suffer from the same yellowing problem that I had.

It is like vampires not showing up in mirrors. Have the scientists in the Penguin laboratory discovered a way to make their covers not appear correctly in photos? Also, I love the fact that they are using recycled pulp, but it doesn't make the tactile experience very pleasant.  UPDATE: I just noticed that even The Book Depository wasn't able to get images with the proper color covers.

See if you can guess which of these images is mine.

Book Review: The Return of the Soldier

The Return of the Soldier
Rebecca West

At 185 pages, and with a really big font and really big margins, this one definitely falls into the novella category. But what a crackerjack little novella it is. Written in 1918, the essence of the plot is about Captain Chris Baldry, a WWI soldier who returns to England with post-traumatic stress disorder that leaves him with amnesia. He remembers Margaret, a love interest from 15 years previously, but doesn’t remember Kitty, his wife of 10 years. The fact that Margaret is of a lower class than his own, and perhaps more importantly, than his wife's, is an added twist that really seems to drive the Kitty mad.

I think some of the class material is a little heavy handed and even some of the plotting is a little clumsy at times, but I really enjoyed this book. It was one that I found myself reading while walking down the street and riding in elevators because I didn’t want to put it down when I arrived at work. Which is a bit of a shame in some ways. There are moments in the book that compel one to want to read on, but much of the book is also rather atmospheric and would have benefited from more relaxed and sustained reading sessions. The final chapter makes for a pretty fabulous, but not necessarily happy, ending.

Victoria Glendinning’s introduction written in 1980 is rather un-illuminating. John thought it sounded like an uninspired term paper. Are introductions even necessary to most books? In some cases they helpfully explain context that enhances the main event (i.e., the narrative itself). But in many cases they seem rather gratuitous. A way to throw a few dollars, or in this case pounds, to a writer or academic. Not that I am opposed to that, but at least make them good. And more importantly, if an introduction or preface doesn’t help put things in context then make it an afterword instead. Don’t tell me what to think about a book before I read it. Tell me what I thought of it after I have read it (he said, tongue firmly in cheek). What do you think? Are introductions a gratuitous waste of trees?

We didn't take out the camera much in Amsterdam...

The four of us spent the weekend in Amsterdam. And for some reason, despite all of the great things to photograph, we didn't take out the camera much. Go figure.

Den Haag: Den Paarty

The reason we went on a trip to Belgium and The Netherlands so close on the heels of our trip to France and Switzerland, was that my good friend Ron was turning 40. His partner Barry wanted to surprise him. So a few days before his birthday we appeared. And Ron was surprised.

Here are some blurry pictures of the party. The quality of the photos not only protect the guilty, but look a bit like Gerhard Richter paintings if you ask me.

Den Haag: Parliament

These are all photos of the Parliament buildings in Den Haag. Or as Barry likes to call it: Hogworts.

Den Haag: The mean streets of The Hague

Our friends Ron and Barry live in Den Haag (The Hague) in the The Netherlands. Ron is a Canadian who I met when I was working in London in 1992. Being an American, I could work in England for 6 months, being a Canadian with British grandparents, Ron stayed forever. Or at least until he and Barry (who hails from South Africa) moved to Den Haag about a year ago.

I had only been to The Netherlands once before. It was a sunny weekend in March of 1995 and I only saw Amsterdam. So it was nice on this trip to see something in addition to Amsterdam. I still  want to go to Delft and Haarlam and a few other places, but Den Haag was a great place to start. I think it is a totally charming city and their neighorhood in the old part of town is just surrounded by musuems, shops and restaurants and is just a cobblestone's throw from the Parliament. And it was nice and quiet. I could live here.

Our pictures are a little lackluster, but here they are.

Den Haag: I love an allee

20 October 2009

Bookmark Giveaway: Everyone Wins!

For those of you that put your name in for my bookmark giveaway, instead of just giving away 6 of them, I have enough for everyone who entered. If you haven't already, shoot me an email with your mailing address. Congratulations to:

Lezlie at Books 'N Border Collies
Sarah at what we have here is a failure to communicate
Christine at Booktumbling
Denise at M. Denise C.
Nan at Letters From a Hill Farm
Booklogged at A Reader's Journal
Ti at Book Chatter
Framed at Framed and Booked (and many others)

Book Review: A Lively Life

Oleander, Jacaranda
Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively is a novelist of prodigious talent. She won the Booker Prize in 1987 for her novel Moon Tiger (which I haven’t read, but it is in my TBR pile). Oleander, Jacaranda is a short memoir of her childhood in Egypt and eventually England. Born of English parents in Cairo in 1933, Lively lived in Egypt until the final year of World War II when she was sent back to England to live, shuttling between her maternal and paternal grandmothers until she was sent off to boarding school.

Like most children, young Penelope is more open to the experiences of the environment she lives in than are the adults in her life. The narrative contains its share of fond memories typical to a childhood memoir, but the typical childhood bit only goes so far in this particular autobiography. The subtitle of the book “A Childhood Perceived” aptly describes Lively’s approach to her material. Threaded between snippets of insect hunting and comic tales of her nanny’s attempts to home school her, Lively confronts and analyzes the impact her adult intellectual filter has on her memories. Some of it is pretty straightforward like the adult knowledge of sanitation versus her childhood desire to join local children playing in a stream. At other times Lively’s focus is more academic. Some of her observations considering childhood perceptions are offered in the abstract, and others are directly related to her own situation “growing up in accordance with the teachings of one culture but surrounded by the signals of another.” With an emotionally absent mother and an often physically absent father Lively’s Englishness is enforced by her zealously patriotic British nanny.
Lucy’s patriotism was absolute and implacable. There was English, and there was other. To be English was to be among the chosen and saved; to be other was simply to be other. There were gradations of other. American or Australian was other but within shouting distance, as it were. French, Italian, Greek were becoming unreachable; everything else was outer space. Within the unrelenting xenophobia there was a stern creed of tolerance and respect for alien practices, especially religious practice. I knew that it was offensive to stare when Muslims were at prayer, that mosques must be entered with the same reverence as Cairo’s Church of England cathedral. The world of other was different, and hence of no great interest [to adults], but you accorded it a perfect right to carry on as it did.
The blurb on the back of the book describes this as a bittersweet memoir, and there was plenty in Lively’s childhood that could fall into the bitter category. But Oleander, Jacaranda is also an interesting, sometimes sweet and sometimes humorous story. It is a contrast of cultures and attitudes that are foreign not just because of the geographical juxtaposition of an English child in Egypt, but also because it captures a moment time that I find fascinating. A good read for Lively fans, WWII English childhood fans, and Egypt fans.

(P.S.: Lively’s description of a return visit in 1988 has cured me of my interest in finding Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria. According to her, barely a shred of the physical setting of the Alexandria Quartet survives. Not that she has much affection for Durrell’s work, but that is beside the point.)

19 October 2009

I do love a list

1. Still sick. Just a cold I think. It doesn't look like I have H1N1, at least according to the CDC website. I have mastered the art of the elbow sneeze and cough.

2. I made butternut squash soup yesterday. Delicious. We are having the leftovers tonight.

3. It rained all day on Saturday. And by all day, I mean all day. But I didn't mind for one second. John and I ran some errands in the morning and then cosied up the rest of the day with TV, books, and of course, the web.

4. I must admit a certain fondness for Beyonce's latest album. Some of the songs get stuck in your head to the point where you want to tear your hair out, but that is the price you pay for a good pop hook.

18 October 2009

Cool Cover of the Week

One of my favorite authors, and probably his finest book. How could I pass up this paperback edition? Oddly enough it is undated.

17 October 2009

Blogger Finally Has XL Pictures

I am no expert at using Blogger. But I am exceptionally happy that they now offer an "extra large" option for posting pictures. If I had unlimited amounts of time I would go back to older posts and make all the pictues XL. Hopefully you will all enjoy the bigger pics.

Pannekoeken in the Huis

On the drive back from Peit Oudolf's garden we stopped at a Pannekoeken Huis in the little town of Hummelo (actually I think it was in Doesburg or something like that, it was near Hummelo.) Had one with Ham and Cheese and then for dessert I had one with Bananas, Chocolate, Whipped Cream, and Ice Cream. Believe it or not I didn't finish the whole thing.