31 October 2010
The NYRB Classics Reading Week hosted by A Literary Stew and Coffeespoons begins on November 7th and goes through the 13th.
Do you have one on your shelf that you haven't read yet? Or maybe you have one you loved and haven't blogged about it yet. Or maybe you have a NYRB wish list that you want to share with those who might be prone to give you a book. Whatever your interest it would be fun to have you reading along.
I took the picture below the same day I took the other one that so many of you liked. This one is fun because you can see some of the great cover art that NYRB uses.
Since we picked up our brand new shelter dog today I had to make today's Sunday Painting one with a little canine flair.
Francisco de Goya
Museo del Prado
She was absolutely perfect in the car. She seems to be completely toilet trained. She told us when she wanted to go out. She walked very well on the leash. Gets along with kids and other dogs. We may have found the perfect dog for us.
Ready to see her new home.
Checking everything out.
She seems to love the library.
With her part Corgi ears, Lucy is ready for Halloween.
27 October 2010
|Gay me in high school. (With super supportive Jeanie.)|
It shouldn't have been much of a surprise. With the very loud voices of hate often drowning out those who are supportive, it really should be no surprise that some LGBT youth feel just as isolated now as I did in 1985.
I hope every parent out there who has a feeling deep in their gut that their child is different--and trust me, most parents know before the really know--I hope those parents stop and think about what they may be conveying to their child. Do your words and attitude make them feel worse then they already do? Does your fear or embarrassment overwhelm you when you think about your own child being "one of them"? So much so that you forget about the fact that you love your child? To you I say "wake up!" Deal with your own issues and don't make them your child's issues. Do it before it is too late. Give your gay child a hug, don't wait to cry over his dead body. My parents struggled just like I did, maybe for different reasons. But I always knew that they loved me.
The parents of the bullies have a responsibility as well. Saying "boys will be boys" isn't good enough. You don't care about the loser queer kids? You don't need to. Think about yourself and your own kid. Do you want your bully of a child to go through his life knowing that he was responsible for someones death? Like it or not, the march for gay rights and inclusion is inexorable. There may be set backs, but I can guarantee that by the time your child is an adult he will be ashamed of his actions or be in the minority. So you too need to think about what you are conveying to your children.
Some have criticized the "It Gets Better" campaign for putting the responsibility onto the shoulders of the gay kid and leaving the bullies alone. Well we don't have time for the bullies to change. We need to let gay youth know that their lives will get better if they are only around to see it unfold.
As I said, I got over my issues with being gay 25 years ago, but seeing all of these It Gets Better videos has not only reminded me of the pain and isolation I felt back then, but it has also been incredibly life affirming. The gay movement has been many things over the years. There were the brave, righteous days of post-Stonewall gay rights in the 1970s, and the brave, righteous fight against hate and apathy in the early days of AIDS in the 1980s. There has also been the mainstreaming of gay in every day life. From being out at work, to seeing gay faces in popular culture, to the rise of gay couples and their gaybies, to, what seemed like science fiction just 10 years ago, gay marriage.
Out of these terrible tragedies there is a real opportunity for gays and straights alike. Faced with the prospect of having blood on our hands, we all need to stand up do the right thing. Do we stand silent on the side of darkness or do we choose to affirm the value of every child?
This is a watershed moment for straights to get off the fence and pick a side, but it is also a watershed moment for the LGBT community. Many of us have become so comfortable with our own status quo we have forgotten the struggle. And I know I personally have stayed clear of issues related to gay youth. So worried that I might be seen to be "recruiting". The result was to leave it solely up to supportive straights to take on the responsibility of safeguarding gay kids. The plethora of It Gets Better videos has shown me that we in the LGBT community owe these kids more. We not only need to be advocates but we need to share our stories. And one thing these videos do so amazingly well, is show that we are up to the challenge.
So many of these videos bring tears to my eyes, not just over the sad stories, but over the joys of making it through the struggle. Over the realization of the universality of what we have gone through. And this makes me proud. I think many of us in the gay community have shied away from those in the community who didn't look like the rest of society. We have discounted diversity and been afraid of the oddballs. With these videos I feel the last vestiges of my own internal homophobia break apart and slip away. The oddballs, the fairies, the freaks are not to be feared. I am them and they are me. If they don't deserve a place in society, why should I?
Maybe I am projecting my own feelings onto a mythic gay community. But I really feel like these videos show a LGBT community that is no longer afraid of itself. No longer worried about fitting in. No longer confined to the gay pride parade or a gay bar. Showing every gay kid the incredible array of possibilities is powerful. And I hope they all live to see what great things are in store for them.
So here is a selection of my favorite videos. There is something for everyone here. Clergy, opera stars, farmers, and a whole lot more.
And a link to the official It Gets Better website.
When I am not reading, watching TV, or otherwise mentally occupied, I tend to fantasize about all kinds of arcane things. One fantasy that has been popping into my head lately is about seeing a Barbara Pym novel turned into a film. As far as I can tell it hasn't happened yet.
I think my first choice would be to see Some Tame Gazelle brought to life, with Excellent Women coming in second.
The fantasy extends to who might play various characters. In general I think the following actresses would make great Pym characters.
As I was hunting around for pictures of Sophie Thompson I found out that she is Emma Thompson's sister! How could I not know that until now? Emma would make a good Pym character as well.
And why is Greg Wise (Mr. Emma Thompson) here? Do I need a reason?
What do you think he is reading?
24 October 2010
The fabulous Mrs. B over at The Literary Stew and new friend Honey at Coffeespoons are hosting a New York Review Books reading week November 7-13, 2010. And the best part is there are no rules.
If you haven't checked out any of the generally fantastic books from the NYRB, now is the perfect time. Read one or two (or ten), write about them during the week of November 7th, and then see what others are up to. Signing up is no frills and easy over at The Literary Stew. Join us!
If you haven't checked out any of the generally fantastic books from the NYRB, now is the perfect time. Read one or two (or ten), write about them during the week of November 7th, and then see what others are up to. Signing up is no frills and easy over at The Literary Stew. Join us!
|Here is my stack. Now I just need to figure out which ones to read for NYRB Reading Week.|
I chose today's Sunday Painting for three reasons:
1. It shows a cozy, book-filled room.
2. It is a local scene. You can see the Washington Monument in the distance out the window.
3. My blog friend Amanda at the Fig and Thistle is pregnant with a boy she has named Atticus. And something tells me that she would be pleased to see the name applied to a cat.
|Visiting Annie and Atticus|
Ingrid Groller Lane
23 October 2010
I feel like writing a post tonight but I know that I don't have the mental stamina to do any one topic much justice. So I am going to do the blog equivalent of a flashback episode on [insert name of your favorite TV sitcom].
This week on Masterpiece Theatre they aired Return to Cranford. When they showed the first Cranford series on PBS, I watched them all back-to-back one Saturday afternoon. On Wednesday night I ended up watching part of RTC, but decided to save the rest for sometime this weekend. Something didn't feel right about watching it at night. There is something about this kind of show that I much prefer watching in the afternoon. Maybe because I think weekend afternoons are the coziest time of the week.
What I did see so far in RTC was delightful. All the wonderful actresses are back and in top form. I think the thing I like most about this adaptation is how wonderfully formal the language is. I haven't read any of the books, so I don't have that to compare it to, but the language seems so much more precise and over-the-top antiquated that it makes Jane Austen's dialogue sound contemporary. Or is it just me?
More of Lessing
Before I embarked upon 1,358 pages of War and Peace, I was about 200 pages into Doris Lessing's 628-page magnum opus The Golden Notebook. It had been so long since I last picked up the Lessing that I forgot that I was reading it and have finished four other books since W&P. The long gap in reading The Golden Notebook made it a little difficult to pick up again But with just under 200 pages left, I find the book fascinating for so many reasons. I have been plastering the book with stickies so I remember all of the things I want to comment on when I get around to writing the review.
You may remember the giant tree we had taken out of our front yard. Well, it left behind a giant stump that is too close to the house to be chipped out by a stump chipper. So I bought this product that is supposed to help speed the decomposition of the stump. But in order to use it, you are supposed to drill holes in the stump. I actually had a lot of fun drilling the holes, and was amazed at the different shades of sawdust produced by the stump of this now departed tulip poplar.
Making a Molehill out of Mahler
Gustav Mahler's 8th Symphony is nicknamed the Symphony of a Thousand for good reason. While most performances don't come near to having 1,000 performers, the fact that it calls for a very large orchestra, two large adult choruses, a children's chorus, and 8 soloists means that there are usually a lot of folks practically falling off the stage.
The work is monumental to say the least and this review should be talking about the mountains of Mahler I heard this week. But alas, in this week's performance of the work at the Kennedy Center by the Mariinsky Orchestra with Valery Gergiev conducting, there just weren't enough singers on stage. With only about 120 adult singers on stage they could have used about 100 more. I am glad I went, but it was underwhelming to say the least. Check out this clip of the truly monumental forces gathered at the Proms this year who really gave the piece a work out. This is just the first part of the first part. If it is new to you, just imagine hearing it in person. Talk about a wall of sound.
20 October 2010
open to the public. The bad news is it appears to close for the season at the end of October so I won't be able to visit it while I am in London. That is a bummer because the house is easily the third main character in Thea Holme's social historical look at the life of Thomas and Jane Carlyle's life in their Chelsea home from 1834 to Jane's death in 1866. Turns out Thea Holme's husband Stanford was the curator of the house museum and they actually lived in the house in the 1960s. Not surprising then that she decided to write this book.
I started reading The Carlyles at Home during the readathon, but all the descriptions of home improvements kept my mind wandering to all the things that we needed to do to our place. I also couldn't really read it before going to sleep either for that same reason.
There is lots of domestic minutiae for those of us that like that sort of thing. The Carlyles at Home is a primer on daily life in the mid-19th century. Almost a behind the scenes look at all those costume dramas we love to read and watch. Food (limited selection, always leading to indigestion), gardening (Jane liked flowers, Carlyle like fruits), home improvement (seemed to be constantly making changes to their home), finances (misers with unsteady but overall decent income), and servants (always hard to find and keep).
I love books that deal with incomes and expenditures and this one includes a whole chapter on money. I had to do a little online research to understand the difference between pounds, shillings, and pennies. After so many years of not really understanding it is nice to finally know that there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. And that a price of 1/7/6 would mean that something cost a pound, seven shillings and 6 pennies. But don't try and convert those pennies into modern pennies because the old pennies were not of equal value to the new pennies that were ushered in upon decimalization in 1971.
And speaking of money. Remember how annoyed I was by the fact that the Provincial Lady was not very organized or good with money? Well Jane Carlyle would be just the person to put her in her place. She is the personification of competence in domestic housekeeping. And Jane's skills and abilities went well beyond what most women were allowed to do at the time. She was an executive ahead of her time.
After reading The Carlyles at Home, I am even more interested in reading Phyllis Rose's Parallel Lives which looks at the married lives of five Victorian couples including the Carlyles. I am curious to read a less romanticized view of the couple. For Thomas Carlyle just seemed like a bit of a baby and a bully. He was constantly complaining, and it was Jane's lot to make everything perfect for him. A pretty impossible task.
One of the more amusing stories about Jane was the crisis she faced at the prospect at having to attend an aristocratic ball décolletée. The fashion at the time was that even the most modest of ladies during the day would bare their shoulders and (ahem) bosoms by night. For 49-year old Jane this proved to be almost too much. She was fairly forced into it by Carlyle who declared that true propriety required conforming to the fashion of others. (That is some message for all you parents trying to get your children to dress with some sense of modesty.) In the end Jane became entranced by how well she looked in the dress once she saw herself in it in the candlelight.
This is social history that doesn't necessarily feel like non-fiction. You will find lots of quotes interspersed but you won't find any citations so it doesn't really have an academic feel.
This book is perfect for anyone who wants to understand the daily life of a middle class Victorian couple or anyone who likes reading about domestic details. Or both.
17 October 2010
For those not so interested in art (say it ain't so) you might be more interested in:
My review of The Provincial Lady in London by E.M. Delafield
My review of Requiem for a Wren by Nevil Shute
A particularly popular post on what might constitute American cozy.
Now, on to the paintings. The brilliant German painter Gerhard Richter has an amazing range of technique and style. The first one below shows his amazing abilities in photo realism. The other three are from what I refer to as his fuzzy photo realist period.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
|Woman Descending the Staircase|
The Art Institute of Chicago
Carre d'Art-Musee d'Art contemporain de Nimes
|Illustrations by Arthur Watts|
And once my mind starts to overwhelm my willing suspension of disbelief, all hell breaks loose. Once I give in to organizing her world I start to question her life choices, and then I end up feeling a little exasperated. Not surprisingly given the title, in this volume the Provincial Lady goes to London. She rents a flat for herself so she can work on her next book, which she never seems to get around to. Caught up in way too many seemingly unpleasant social situations, she doesn't ever seem to get around to writing anything. And in that sentence is a world of hurt for someone with a brain like mine.
- She needs to set a writing schedule to ensure she has time to maintain her professional commitments.
- She needs to realize that a more effective work schedule would allow her to earn the money she needs to cover her costs.
- She needs to stop being a social suppliant. By taking control of her social life and saying no in the right way and at the right times she would not only preserve more time for her work and things she would prefer to do, but she would also gain a bit of the upper hand--especially since her successful book has increased her social value. A few declined invitations would only add to her social allure, and over time increase her demand allowing her to pick and choose the social occasions that she might actually enjoy.
- Did she really think that busy, distracting, expensive, London was the place to write?
And what's up with her marriage? They seem about as happy together as two strangers waiting for the same bus.
Although my mind works overtime reading these books, I do actually enjoy them. One thing Delafield does particularly brilliantly is the way in which she manages to make the books feel like real diaries. As I have noted in the past:
The diary entries brilliantly capture the episodic, shorthanded cadence so typical of how one thinks about things. Not always in lovely complete sentences, but short bursts of thought, like thousands of brain synapses firing directly onto the page. There is much that made me chuckle in this book. And of course I love a good bit of domestic detail and this book does not disappoint on that account.
Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Nevil Shute. He is a fantastic storyteller whose penchant for manly man adventures is balanced by his penchant for including strong female characters. Despite the fact that British born Shute only spent the last 10 years of his life living in Australia, his many books with Australian themes or settings place him in many minds in the pantheon of Australian writers. A somewhat forgotten or overlooked writer since his death in 1960, Shute has been getting a bit of attention in the blogsphere in recent years thanks to Vintage Classics reissuing four of his novels with fantastic new covers. And most recently the Riverside Readers book group read his nuclear Armageddon blockbuster On the Beach. You can see what Simon, Polly, Sakura, and Kim thought about that book on their blogs.
Since I find Shute's novels to be unputdownable, I thought reading one of them would be a great choice for last weekend's 24-hour readathon. So I picked up Requiem for a Wren which was the only Shute on my shelves that I hadn't read. In it, we find Alan Duncan returning home to his parents' farm in Australia after spending several post-WW II years in London. Right off the bat he, and the reader, are informed that his parents' parlourmaid has just killed herself. I can't say much more than that without spoiling some of the mysteries that swirl through the book. There were many aspects of this story that I found compelling and the novel drew me in as quickly as I expected, but overall I was disappointed with Requiem for a Wren. It felt like the more compelling outer story was, in the end, just a shell for Shute's interest in writing about WW II which took up the majority of the literary real estate and comprised the inner, story within a story. Shute often frames his novels this way and it usually doesn't give me any pause whatsoever. But in the case of Requiem I just don't think I was in the mood for the shift.
Oddly enough, one of Shute's biggest failings is one of the things I love about his work. As I have noted previously, and as Kim notes in her review of On the Beach, Shute's writing cannot be called elegant. In Kim's words:
Shute also tends to write in a fairly stilted manner, using phrases that seem ridiculous -- "The breakfast came upon the table" -- and referring to characters by their nationality or occupation -- "The Australian", "The scientist", "The Commander" -- which grate with constant repetition.He certainly takes a similar approach in Requiem. The writing can be corny sometimes and feel a bit like a 1940s film with everyone talking in a rapid, clipped manner where every word is focused on moving the storyline forward. It can make for some one dimensional characters. But the odd thing is, I love this about Shute's book.
Now that I have dissed both Shute's prose writing in general and the narrative structure of Requiem specifically, you may be thinking that I wouldn't recommend this book. Not quite. As I have said I love Shute's quirky prose and many of you would be happy to overlook it in favor of compelling story telling. And the story within a story structure of this particular novel wasn't problematic, I just wasn't in the mood for the inner story--I wanted more of the outer story. The only thing that should stop you from reading this book is reading another Shute novel. If you go back to this link, you can get a sense of which of his other novels you would find interesting. But if Requiem is the only Shute at hand, you shouldn't be disappointed.
15 October 2010
Of course definitions of cozy can be pretty broad and varied. I can think of many different authors that could be considered cozy
P.G. Wodehouse (?)
Most things from Persephone
Anne of Green Gables
The Secret Garden
Old Fashion Cozy
Perhaps Wilkie Collins and even Dickens for those that like him
With the exception of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series (Canadian) and Heidi (Swiss) my idea of cozy is decidedly British. (I should be spelling it 'cosy' I guess, but the My Porch Manual of Style won't allow it.)
Hmm...what about...no...maybe...mmm not really. What could be considered American Cozy? Is there American Cozy?
Let me try again...
Maybe Laura Engalls Wilder?
May Sarton could be complex cozy, especially her journals.
I know Miss Read fans would put her on the list. UPDATE: D'oh! Michelle Ann pointed out that Miss Read is English. What was I thinking?! I have read about four of her books. Maybe it is because American blogger Book Psmith is so into them. But she is also into Wodehouse and he sure isn't American. Sheesh. I guess my brain melted a bit.
There is some temptation to overlap with chick-lit, but while those may be highly enjoyable, I don't think I would put them in the cozy camp.
Books on books can be hugely cozy. In fact Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road is like the Empress of Cozy. But, although Hanff was an American and half the book takes place in America, the focus seems a little too Anglocentric to truly be American Cozy. Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris could though.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher's The Home Maker is definitely American Cozy. Of course it took British publisher Persephone to revive this gem.
I think I could put American food writer Ruth Reichl on the cozy list. Her three volumes of memoirs are delightfully cozy. Just make sure you have something delicious to eat near to hand.
Edith Wharton would fall into the Traditional American Cozy, and to some degree Henry James as well. I think a case could be made for Willa Cather as well.
But all this feels a bit like stretching. Is the cozy read uniquely British? Which authors or books would you consider to be American Cozy?
12 October 2010
Let's just say that Salome is troubled child in a broken, abusive family situation. Here she is holding the head of John the Baptist right before she makes out with it. The severed head was a present from her stepfather. Salome had requested the head as a reward for stripping naked for her stepfather (Herod) while her mother watched.
|Deborah Voigt as Salome|
I went to the Washington National Opera tonight to hear Voigt sing the role in this Strauss opera based on the play by Oscar Wilde. I have heard Voigt sing on several ocassions in other places but this was her first time singing with the WNO. Her she is when she is not playing a twisted necrophiliac.
Photo copyright Dario Acosta
The performance was at the Kennedy Center which is a presidential memorial in the guise of a performing arts center. These are fairly bad photos I took on my phone. They mainly show the views from the terraces.
|That's the Washington Monument in the distance|
and the Peace Institute in the right of the mid-ground.
|Looking up the Potomac toward Georgetown. |
That is the National Cathedral you see up on St. Alban's Hill.
|Lincoln Memorial from the roof terrace.|
|The lower terrace.|
|This giant bust of Kennedy is kind of growing on me.|
When I first saw it in 1993 I thought it looked like chopped liver
and kept looking for a giant cracker.
11 October 2010
|(This is not the edition I have.|
I just liked it better)
I would love to come up with a short phrase that would adequately describe this kind of novel. Categorization is not always helpful when describing fiction. It can unfairly pigeon-hole a book or an author's entire body of work. Or it can knock a book off of someones TBR because it falls into a category that a potential read thinks she doesn't enjoy. Still, despite the pitfalls I want to find a phrase or label that would sum up this genre.
In the past I have referred to it as "smart chick-lit" but I never felt comfortable with that. Chick-lit limits the scope of Wolitzer's novels and audience too much. Not wanting to get into WW III over my oversimplification, but I think true chick-lit is strictly of the boy meets girl, complications ensue, variety of novel. And none of the three Wolitzer novels I have thus far read fall into that category. I know there have been conversations out in the blogosphere about gender and fiction recently. Teresa at Shelf Love explored it well, but wasn't necessarily interested in slapping a title on this kind of fiction.
Maybe it would be helpful if I described what I think this category of book is all about. Usually written by a woman but not always. Focus tends to be about relationships. And it is definitely commercial rather than literary fiction. Teresa teases that out in her post: commercial fiction, no matter how well written deals with issues at the surface and doesn't make the reader look too deep to find meaning. It always uses a light touch, and I think, more often than not, uses humor or at least makes you chuckle once or twice.
So: relationship-oriented, commercial fiction, often with a splash of humor that may or may not be written by a woman. Oh, and they are usually a easy to read. Hmm. That doesn't really get me closer to my pithy descriptive phrase does it?
Let me try another tack. Which authors do I think fall into this, as yet, un-describable category?
Mary GordonNo doubt, even among the authors I have read, there are many others than I list here. And there are some who sit on the line that could be included depending on how much you squinted.
Nick Hornby (I wouldn't have thought of him, but Teresa was right to include him.)
Claire Messud (She tries to write literary fiction, but I think she fails.)
Still no closer to having a label for this kind of fiction. Maybe I should talk about The Position.
The spoiler-free way to sum up this plot. In 1975, Roz and Paul Mellow write a sex manual the becomes a wild success making them celebrities and sexual gurus. The book is full of illustrations of the husband and wife in various sexual positions including the one they invent: "Electric Forgiveness". What makes all this more interesting and complicated than it sounds is that the suburban couple have four children ranging in age from about 6 to 15 at the time the book is published. And they find the book. And it changes them.
The action doesn't stay in the 1970s for long. It flashes forward to present day (roughly 2003) quite quickly. Not surprisingly, almost 30 years later, the kids and the parents have issues. To say the least. After the initial chapter, Wolitzer tells the tales of what has become of each of the six Mellows, allowing plenty of space for each character to reveal him- or herself. She includes plenty of humor and drama and characters who are, for the most part, entirely believable. Wolitzer is not as successful in intertwining into all this the post-9/11, traumatic midpoint of George W. Bush's disastrous foreign policy. One can easily overlook these bits that feel tacked on. But I am less forgiving of the fact that a gay Republican character, even when having a crisis of faith about the direction of the party, doesn't even mention the incredibly divisive and hate-filled, anti-gay Republican agenda which was at its most venomous leading up to the 2004 elections.
Quibbles aside, The Position, as with all fiction in this category, was an easy and enjoyable read, and really helped my page count during the 24-hour readathon this weekend. If you haven't tried Wolitzer yet, I like her novel The Wife the best.
Which authors do you think fall into this category? And what should we call it?
10 October 2010
Scroll down if you want to see my 24-Hour Readathon posts. I wanted to put up my Sunday Painting before I took a nap.
The Teapot Cosy 1916
Margaret Preston (1875-1963)