30 October 2011

I Discovered I'm Ambivalent About Daphne

Had Simon and Polly not hosted Discovery Daphne this month, I am not sure I would have ever picked her up. I have already told that story, but even setting aside my unfounded anti-Daphne bias from high school I am not sure I would have ever gotten around to her.

If you would have asked me after Hungry Hill--my first du Maurier which I finished earlier this month--I don't think I would have been too positive about her.  Certainly nothing wrong with Hungry Hill. A perfectly acceptable and readable multi-generational family tale. But also nothing that made much of an impression.

So how do I feel now that I have finished Rebecca? Well, at the risk of annoying lots of readers and bloggers whose reading tastes I respect and often share, I'm left wondering what all the fuss is about. My reactions as I experienced them (and spoilers galore):

1. I almost gave up three different times trying to get through the first ten pages. Something overly flowery or impressionistic, or something I couldn't ever put my finger on. It wasn't until the unnamed narrator (let's call her Miss Narrator) mentioned Mrs. Van Hopper that I began to feel like I may want to continue.

2. My interest deepened as I began to read more about Miss Narrator's role as a paid companion to the rich American Mrs. Van Hopper. It felt promising. Like she was going to break free from her depressing future. And when she started to be courted by Mr. de Winter I started to care about her and what happened to her.

3. There was a scene where Miss N and Mr. de Winter are riding about the coast in his car. Something in this scene struck a chord with me that made me glimpse some part of my past and gave me a kind of happy/sad nostolgic groove.

4. And I certainly got caught up in the excitement of Miss N marrying Mr. de Winter and leaving her drudgery behind her. But my joy turned to annoyance when she gets to Manderly and seems completely incapable of adjusting to her new situation. Sure, a young twenty-something is going to be clueless about many things about being in a relationship with a man 20 years her senior. But I feel like a character like Miss N who was making her way in the world as a paid companion of rich gentleladies would  have better perspective on the ways of society. She certainly seemed perceptive enough when it came to the follies of Mrs. Van Hopper's social climbing. And her frequent daydreams about what she thought people thought of her certainly indicated that she was perceptive, yet she seemed utterly clueless about how to steel herself against the situation. I guess maybe I am blaming the victim, but it annoyed me nonetheless.

5. I also felt like Miss N should have been more up to the challenge of her situation at Manderly given that she could have still been at the beck and call of Mrs. Van Hopper.

6. Everyone's Rebecca obssession was just way too over the top. Rebecca this, Rebecca that. Yeah we get it Daphne, you want us to understand how fantastic Rebecca was. My annoyance was only exacerbated by the fact that millions of pages later du Maurier lets us know that Rebecca was actually a big ol' bitch of a liar. And I get the fact that Miss N's problem was that she projected way too much of her own insecurities on both Max and the others who did (or seemed to) worship Rebecca.

7. Despite all of her imagined scenarios about what people thought, Miss N takes way too much at face value. After having experienced a bit of life in Monte Carlo, did it never occur to her that Mrs Danvers was overstepping her bounds in a million different ways? I am not saying Miss N should have had the courage to tell Mrs D to go fuck off but she could have at least imagined that scenario. God knows she imagined everything else.

7a. And why in the world would she take Mrs. Danvers' advice about what to wear for the fancy dress ball. She knew how freaky deaky Mrs D was by that point, why in the world would she listen to her at that point.

8. At some point when I figured out something in the plot sooner than I was probably supposed to, I did skim about 30 pages or so until it actually happened. I wish I could remember what the plot point was...

9. I should also admit, however, that once Rebecca's body was found I did find it to be quite the page turner until the end of the book.

10. Why are we supposed to accept that Frank, Miss N and the Colonel are all okey dokey with the fact that Max killed Rebecca? Really? Max didn't know she had terminal cancer when he killed her so even after we learn that fact it doesn't exonerate him. at all

11. I did enjoy the ups and downs of the investigation, vacillating between wanting Max to get caught and wanting him to get away with it.

12. Are we supposed to feel something when Manderly goes up in flames? Dude, you just got away with murder, a torched house seems like a small price to pay. It would have been better if the deranged Lesbianic Mrs Danvers dressed as Rebecca had slit your throat and then set the place on fire. Or she could have made Miss N dress as Rebecca, made out with her, and then forced her to kill Max. I mean, you want creepy, gothic? Lets really make it a Halloween mess up in there.

As you can see there were a few things about the book I enjoyed but the annoying bits kind of neutralize them. In the end my overall feeling is ambivalence. I think I would  have to be pretty bored to pick up another du Maurier. Just not my cup of tea.

29 October 2011

Shelf Esteem No. 2


In this my second installment of Shelf Esteem, I'm giving you two shelves to look at. One doesn't show many books--but it shows them up close, and the other has lots of books in it, but none of the titles are discernible.

I failed to mention in my first installment of Shelf Esteem that John came up with the name. We batted around many bad ideas, and just when I was about to throw in the towel and do something really boring John called out "Shelf Esteem" from the other room. I think it works.

Shelf One

Cozy Factor: I don't like TVs in libraries, but the existence of this one suggests that there is a comfy couch on the opposite wall. The sunlight streaming in (and the snoozing dog) also suggest that this indeed might be a cozy place to read.

The Books: I feel like I know this person based on the contents of his shelves (yes I think it a he, and probably a gay he as well).

First off there are a few books relevant to my professional milieu of architects, planners, and historic preservationists. Most notably for me are two books that I also have on my shelves: The Urban Wilderness, a seminal planning book by Sam Bass Warner Jr, and Edge City by Joel Garreau a journalistic look at those suburban no-places like Tysons Corner, Virginia.  He also has a book that every architect and wannabee seems to own S,M,L,XL by the annoying Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas--or rather produced by his studio. I have never understood the appeal of this book and feel that its ubiquity can only be put down to me-tooism.

So why do I think he is gay? Well if the DVD of Moulin Rouge doesn't make you think so, he also has The Swimming Pool Library (gay), The World of Normal Boys (really gay--and really good), and a Cunningham on one spine makes me think it must be Michael Cunningham. He also has a book by Paul Monette a gay author who wrote novels that dealt with the early, deadly days of AIDS. I remember liking Monette's books when I read them in high school and college. But think of that, my young gay self was steeped in the literature of AIDS--how depressing.

The Shelves: I am kind of ambivalent about open ended shelves like these for both functional and aesthetic reasons.

Is this person a reader? Kind of. I think when he does read he either reads stuff for work or he reads non-fiction that he feels he should read. I also think there are some volumes from his grad school days. Strikes me as the kind of person who reads fiction on vacation, would prefer to read Le Carre (he has at least two) but augments that with (again) stuff he thinks he should read like Roth, Irving, and Oates, the gay novels, or things like The Slaves of New York (the gayest of all?). This is a guy I would have wanted to date--being blinded by a few interesting things on his shelves--but  ultimately he would have been too conventional for me, and I would have been too irreverent for him. I mean the man owns a book by Bill Gates and one called Winning with Integrity.

The book I would read if I had to pick one: I would probably re-read The World of Normal Boys.

Shelf Two

Cozy Factor: The shelves themselves are cozy, but the room is not. I think it could be fairly easily, the comfy blanket helps, but overall too many crisp edges.

The Books: I can't see any of the titles, which is a crying shame because there are a lot of them.

The Shelves: Again I am ambivalent about the open ended shelves, but I really like the look of these. The uninterrupted horizontal lines really puts the focus on the books.

Is this person a reader? Yes, and yes. Not only because of the volume of volumes and the lack of any other filler, but there doesn't seem to be any art books or coffee table picture books (not even on the coffee table). Also, none of the spines look like blockbuster spines and the sheer variety suggest they aren't being purchased to look good--although they look good to me.

The book I would read if I had to pick one: Sadly, I can't tell.

Book Review: In Pursuit of the English by Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing is one of those authors you think you should read. I had a vague notion that I wanted to read something by her, but never got around to it until she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.  I knew that her magnum opus was The Golden Notebook, but I didn't tackle that door stop until after I had read a few of her shorter books. The first one I tried was The Summer Before the Dark and found it to be quite accessible and enjoyable. Then I moved onto The Fifth Child which was riveting and more than a little disturbing. And then I moved onto The Golden Notebook which was mostly worth the effort but didn't do much to endear itself to me.

And now here I am having finished In Pursuit of the English. For some reason this work, published in 1960--two years prior to The Golden Notebook, does not appear on wikipedia. Oh wait there it is, but it is listed under non-fiction. There is nothing about this book that reads like non-fiction and I read the whole thing thinking it was a novel.  How weird. It tells the story of a woman of European descent moving from Zimbabwe to London just after World War II. So now that I know it is fiction, I assume it is autobiographical. But wait, wikipedia doesn't list it under autobiography but under "Other non-fiction". What in the heck does that mean? Especially since it is written in the first person. Very confusing--not when I read it, but now that I am trying to figure it out.

Did I like it? Kind of. I liked the earlier parts of it that dealt with leaving Africa and arriving in London. But I was a little surprised that it took me so long to get through its 237 pages. There was something about it that dragged for me. I got hints of some of the psycho-political themes that would be endlessly explored in The Golden Notebook. I am beginning to think that Lessing may not always be for me. I have a few more her titles floating around my TBR shelves This experience knocks them a bit down the priority list.

If you would like to be able to say that you have read Lessing but don't want to suffer through The Golden Notebook, try The Summer Before the Dark or even The Fifth Child.

26 October 2011

Re-reading Childhood

Cozy domestic tale? check

Life affirming family story? check

A pet sheep called Rachel? check

Clothes being fashioned from other clothes? check

Post-war Europe? check

Life in a converted rail car? check

I mean hello, what isn't to love about this book?

When I was in grade school I read The Ark by Margot Benary-Isbert. I have no recollection of why I checked it out of the library years ago but it has stayed close to my heart in the 32 years since I read it. I thought of it recently and decided to see if I could find a copy online. Out of print and seemingly scarce, I found a few copies around $45 but the prices went up quickly from there. Maybe I could find a copy in the underfunded DC Public Library system. And lo and behold there it was, the only library copy in DC at my neighborhood library.

Being in the juvenile section of the library was trippy enough but to find the exact edition that I read all those years ago was fantastic. Even the pages smelled the same as they did when I was 10.

So would The Ark live up to my childhood recollections? Yes. I loved this book as much now as I did then. Except now I am also fascinated by the fact that the WWII refugees in this case were from Silesia and Pomerania who may have indeed fought on the side of the Nazis, although it isn't explicit, and the author does take a moment to mention that the family was not sympathetic to the government. On the one hand it is a little hard to feel much sympathy for the deprivations suffered by these refugees given the horror that had so recently been suffered by six million Jews. On the other hand...well it is hard to come up with another hand, I have never really read anything about how life in German attempted to get back to "normal" after the war and the Holocaust. I have certainly read all about the big stories of war criminals and such, but never anything about the average German trying not only to survive but somehow make sense of what had gone on in the Fatherland. Right or wrong these issues don't play much of a role in this book.

I really wish this book was in print so I could send out a few copies into the blogosphere for review. I think many of you would enjoy it, but I am also curious how it should be approached vis-a-vis the Nazi question above.   And most of all, I think this would make a great Persephone re-issue. It is certainly a more interesting children's book than the Persephone-published The Runaway.

22 October 2011

Shelf Esteem No. 1

For years John and I have been tearing images we liked out of interior design magazines. The idea was that one day the pile of images would serve as both a source of inspiration and a tool for narrowing down what we like for our own home. Recently we were culling the enormous stack of images so that we could put together a portfolio for an eventual meeting with an architect. As we went through them John kept stopping to study the ones that had garden pictures and I kept stopping to gaze at the ones of libraries. Soon I had a pretty fun stack of home library images of all sorts. It occurred to me that this kind of bibliobvoyeurism would find a receptive audience on My Porch.

So, today I bring you the first installment of what I hope will be a regular feature: Shelf Esteem. Not every home library I show will be one I particularly like. Some I may not like at all, but it will be fun looking anyway.

And you may remember a previous post I did on some (what I thought were) really lame books on a shelf. (Might I add that in five years of blogging, that was the first post that offended my mother.) It's going to be kind of like that...but hopefully nothing that will anger the mater.

Here is the first subject of Shelf Esteem:

Cozy Factor: Pretty High. Overall I find this space pretty darn pleasing. The shelves might be a little cold but the floor, ceiling, couch, and desk all arm the place up. I like the the bits and bobs littered here and there on the shelves, and I imagine myself taking a minute to write a note with a fountain pen on some Smythson stationary before decamping to the couch with a good book.

The Books: Like many of the library photos in interior design magazines, this one has lots of art books. But in this case they seem to evince an intellectual interest in art rather than just a decorative one. But speaking of intellectual, the fiction that I have been able to recognize with the help of my magnifying glass suggests that the owner of this library sticks to literature with a capital L. A couple DH Lawrence, Primo Levi, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, James Joyce, Vaclav Havel, TS Eliot, Milan Kundera, etc.

The Shelves: Not bad. Clean and simple, they look adjustable, not sure I like the irregular spacing of the vertical members--especially the length of the long ones.

Is this person a reader? I think so, but probably used to read more than they do now. Either that or they don't like keeping their popular reads amongst the august tomes on these shelves.

The book I would read if I had to pick one: Probably the Lawrence because one of them is one I mean to read anyway.

19 October 2011

Book Review: Round the Bend by Nevil Shute


Don't think for a second that this cover
is indicative of its contents.
If I wasn't a Nevil Shute fan myself (and if Nan wasn't a fan), I would assume that Shute fans could be generally lumped together as being Gentleman Survivalists. Not the kind who hoard food in their heavily fortified and armed bomb shelters dug deep in some remote location, but the kind you might want around in a crisis. The kind of person who could navigate you safely to shore, or know which supplies to lay-in, which knot to tie, and which messages needed to be sent.  Indeed most of Shute's novels revolve around some sort of crisis that allow his heroes and heroines to leap into action with a high degree of calm efficiency.

I find this extremely satisfying. There is something about the way his characters identify a problem, consider possible solutions, and then get on with the business at hand that appeals to my own way of dealing with problems. I don't claim to be one of these efficient heroes, and I certainly don't have the knowledge or experience to be a gentleman survivalist, but I can be pretty good in a crisis and I really don't like to muck about or wait for a committee to figure out the best way to do things.

I am also attracted to people/characters who have practical skills. Which of us white collar types don't envy the ability and knowledge of a carpenter or a plumber? And raise your hand if you have never been impressed by a stranger offering first aid to another stranger in need? I am impressed when anyone jumps into the fray and makes something right. Once I was at a wedding where the bride's aunt and about three other church ladies fashioned an entirely new bridesmaid's dress in about seven hours when the matron of honor showed up the day before the wedding about 3 sizes bigger than the original dress. And the list goes on. Aside from general organizational brilliance and being adept in the kitchen I don't really have many skills that are useful in a crisis. (And speaking for those of us with organizational brilliance, our skills are often overlooked because everyone seems to think they can organize and prioritize. Unskilled folks don't jump in and say "I can sew you a dress in seven hours" or "Let me through I don't know first aid but I am going to try anyway". But yet, you wouldn't believe how many clueless people step forward thinking they can organize things.)

Not only does Shute's background in engineering litter his psyche but I think much of his work has a World War II-induced keep calm and carry on kind of quality.

Round the Bend doesn't deal with a crisis in the way many of Shute's novels do, but it definitely has the same kind of can-do kind of quality. The novel focuses on Tom Cutter who moves from England to Bahrain with a beat up old plane to begin a transport company in the Persian Gulf. As he builds up his company he hires an "Asiatic" as his lead ground engineer who inspires his crew to bring God into their daily work. He is a Muslim, but his message is very ecumenical and he becomes a bit of a latter day prophet for flight and ground crews all over the near, middle, and far East. The novel also deals with Tom going native, or round the bend as it were. As with most Shute novels he also throws in a bit of pro-forma romance with a dedicated, highly capable girl. (Which no doubt serves as the inspiration for the wildly misleading cover art of this edition.)

Throughout the book Shute refers to pretty much anyone from that part of the world as "Asiatic" and it usually is used with an article in front of it like "he is an Asiatic" (like saying Barack Obama is "a Black"). The language sounds very wrong to modern ears. In other Shute novels his word choices are even worse. Because of this I have often wondered if Shute was a racist or just using the lame language of his time. I am happy to say that a passage or two in Round the Bend makes me think that Shute was not a racist at all--at least as it pertains to the "Asiatics". I can't find the spot in book now, but there was one passage in particular that I found quite progressive and made me think he isn't a racist after all.

Round the Bend was by no means my favorite Shute novel but still falls into the enjoyable category for me.

Despite Shute's somewhat hokey prose, lack of character development, and plots that move relentlessly forward with every sentence, I love his books.  For my rundown of some of his other novels check out this link.

14 October 2011

The Habit of Art

The young Alan Bennett.
I have long been a homebody. When I get home after work the last thing I want to do is go somewhere.--even when I like the place I am going. I used to go to orchestra concerts and operas all the time. Less often I would go to plays or participate in other evening activities. In recent years, maybe over the last decade perhaps, I go to fewer and fewer such events. Often I miss some really wonderful things because I can't budge myself from being cozy at home. So when I saw that Alan Bennett's play The Habit of Art was playing at the Studio Theatre here in DC I thought I should give it a go. Not only do I love Bennett's work in its many forms but the subject of this one also interested me. The Habit of Art deals with an imagined conversation between estranged friends W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten. I know little about author Auden but I know lots about composer Britten.

With all good intentions I bought myself a ticket. I even planned to go while John was out of town. At least I thought I did. For some reason I bought my ticket for the night John was returning home from an 11-day business trip. You can imagine how hard it was for me to tear myself away from John, Lucy, and home on John's first night back in town. But, contrary to some previous bad behavior and lots of lost money over tickets not used, I actually did manage to get myself to the theater and I am so glad I did.

I found Bennett's The Habit of Art so much more interesting than his play The History Boys. I will, however, admit that part of my dislike of The History Boys had to do with the fact that I saw it on a big proscenium stage on Broadway. I just don't like seeing theater in that kind of venue. Having cut my theatrical teeth in the audience of the (original) Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis with its thrust stage immediacy, I am left cold by productions in more traditional theater spaces. Anyhoo, being in the second row of the gently thrusting Studio Theater for The Habit of Art was intimate indeed.

The more vigorously thrusting stage at the
original Guthrie in Minneapolis
Ah, but the play's the thing. (But wait, it is only the fourth paragraph and you are already going to write something about the play itself? Wow.) I am not sure that I found the overall theme of The Habit of Art to be particularly profound, in fact there were moments where I found it slightly cringe-worthy in its theme of "somebody always gets left behind". But, as with so many things by Bennett, the beauty (and fun) is not so much in the overall message but in the details and the language. He is a master of dialogue and nuanced, pithy, poignant, and hilarious observations of everyday things.

The Habit of Art presents a play within a play which makes it somewhat hard for me to convey the plot. Unlike some other plays within plays, this one is rather intricately woven together in a way that really blurs the lines sometimes. And I think Bennett goes out of his way to toy with the conceit. Set in a rehearsal room at the National Theatre in London a group of actors rehearse a play about Auden and Britten. While I enjoyed the play within the play as it explored the lives of Auden and Britten, I think I appreciated the play outside the play even more. As I struggle to write this I realize I won't come close to conveying how this all works out and how much fun it is. But it is fun. One of the funnier moments that illustrates the moving back and forth between the play and the play within in the play happens when actor Fitz who is rehearsing his role as Auden audibly farts. He looks at the stage manager and says "That was Auden farting, not me."

The set was wonderfully cluttered and English, right down to the fire exits and the acting was generally very good. Since most of you aren't local, I won't go into too much detail about the actors. Ted van Griethuysen played the actor playing Auden and was fantastic. However, Paxton Whitehead who was also fantastic as the actor who was playing Britten is someone you have all seen before. That is if you have watched popular US sitcoms or films over the past 20 years. On those sitcoms (Friends, Frasier, Mad About You, etc.) he is generally forced to play stereotypical caricatures of the British gent, but here he was able to be a much more normal version of the same.

Ted van Griethuysen and Paxton Whitehead. Photograph by Scott Suchman
With all of its quiet references to various aspects of English life, music, literature, drama, and pop culture, I do wonder how much of it was picked up by the rest of the audience. If you don't know 20th century British classical music, do you really get the discussions of Britten's music or the references to Walton and Tippett? And if you haven't been so lucky to attend the bunker-like National Theatre in London would you pick up on the references to the Lyttelton, Cottesloe, or Olivier? I wanted to ask for a show of hands to see how many people knew what RADA is. But in the end, as much as I loved these references, I am not sure they mattered given how well the audience enjoyed the show. That is, except for the guy next to me who began checking his watch about 30 seconds into the first act and didn't let up until it was all over.

Seeing something this enjoyable makes me think I need to get back into the habit of art.

12 October 2011

I am glad I am not a publicist

Debi Mazar who played the
foul mouthed publicist on Entourage
(and who has nothing to do with this post).
I got the following email today from an author's publicist:
With Halloween approaching, I wanted to let you know about Irish author, broadcaster and literary historian [Author's Name] Kindle Single, [Book Title]. The Birth of Dracula, in which he deconstructs the myth of the modern vampire by revealing the relationship between blood, sex and everlasting life and by revisiting the 19th century birth of Dracula at the hands of his countryman, Bram Stoker.

From his eye-witness account of a castle that inspired Stoker, to his re-telling of myths from the Bible, to the gothic Victorians, to the modern screen, [Author] weaves a visceral and compelling thesis, contending that the vampire story has been a part of the human narrative from the time stories were first shared.

Please consider covering [Title] on your blog. I'd, of course, be happy to offer you a free download, which can be read with the Kindle app on many e-readers, smart phones and your desk- or laptop with the Amazon Cloud Reader. 
I know they send out mass emailings hoping someone will bite (no pun intended) but this one is so off base it is laughable.

1. Vampires bore me.

2. I read very little non-fiction.

3. I don't use an e-reader.

4. Only once in my life have I accepted a review copy (by the wonderful Maggie O'Farrell).

Do you think this counts as me covering this book on my blog?

09 October 2011

The Great British Bake Off

Oh Rob.
Many of you across the pond have been watching the Great British Bake Off. Thanks to my good friend Ron who forwarded me YouTube links to the first episode of the new season I have finally been able to see what all the fuss is about.

First, I love to bake and second I love good food TV. Not the baloney Gordon Ramsay screaming kind, but the kind that shows talented people being talented in the kitchen. I love the GBBO, but as much as I love to bake, I have zero interest in being in such a competition.

The show is co-hosted by Sue Perkins who is one of the funniest women on the planet. I would love to hang out with her. 

Sue Perkins (right) and some other woman.
But really, even if the show were boring watching the dishy Rob bake is worth the price of admission. One thing these pictures don't convey is just how pretty his eyes are. They are kind of a light brown--rather luminescent, and well, more than a little dreamy.  [Update: Now that I have watched another episode his eyes look a little green, maybe they are hazel. Either way...sigh.]

08 October 2011

Bits and Bobs

Do you have an ear for Austen?
My dad recently read his very first Austen (Pride and Prejudice) and Bronte (Jane Eyre). He enjoyed his experience (and has moved on to The Tenants of Wildfell Hall) but he had a question for me: "Did they really talk that way?"  My first thought was "of course they did". But then I began to wonder if that was truly the case. Obviously I understand that verbal communication during the eras of Austen and Bronte would have sounded much different then our own today. But was it indeed as formal and convoluted as depicted in the works of the authors of those eras? I guess my real question is: Was there anything about the conventions of novel writing at the time that would have had authors writing narrative in a more formal style than the way they would have spoken in daily life? Thoughts anyone?

My reading life
It has been a while since I finished a book which would suggested that I am not reading much these days. The truth of the matter is that I have many things in progress and one of these days there will be an avalanche of books finished in close succession. (Lessing, Shute, du Maurier, Sarton and more all hovering near completion.)

Update on e-books
I have said many times that e-books are not the thing for me. Of course that was before I tried them. I decided to take my very expensive Scrabble machine (also known as an iPad) and try out an e-book. Not willing to pay for a test model I downloaded some free Trollope. It took me about 30 seconds to reach a verdict. No, e-books are still not for me. Blech. Fooey. Not interested. Glad you all like them, but I will die reading from dead trees. But speaking of trees...they are a renewable resource that can be managed responsibly and books are essentially biodegradable. E-books on the other hand are a pile of non-renewable metals and petroleum-based materials that are not only not biodegradable, but leave a pretty toxic trail at all points of their life cycle. Not to mention the fact that even in broad daylight one is using electricity to read a book. Think about that. "My book is powered by coal..." Of course I own the iPad (not to mention a computer and TV and TiVo and on and on) so my environmental footprint is no smaller than all of you reading e-books. So I guess it all gets back to my love for the look, feel, and smell of paper.

Dewey's Readathon coming up
The annual Dewey's 24-hour Readathon is coming up on 10/22 (I think) and I am not sure if I am going to participate. I kind of enjoyed myself last year, but there was something about it that felt a bit like a weekend killer. I don't mind devoting a weekend to reading but I really don't like trying to stay awake to cleave to the 24-hour format. I have never really liked staying up beyond about 1:30. I feel like it just turns the next day all topsy turvy. Plus I think the need to go online every few hours to blog about my progress is too disruptive to the cosiness of reading. Perhaps most importantly for me,  I only really enjoy extended periods of reading if I have a book that has me so enthralled I can't put it down. I obviously read a lot of books but I tend to do it in short bursts and in stolen moments (commuting, before bed, etc.) And unless I have one of those page-turners, which even among wonderful books are pretty scarce, I just won't enjoy hours and hours of reading over a specific period. So I think the short answer is that I am going to allow myself the opportunity for lots of reading on the readathon weekend but I am not going to  force it. If it happens it happens. (And I will go to bed at a normal time, and watch TV, and surf the web, and hang out with John and Lucy...)

02 October 2011

Bad Teacher Delays Daphne Discovery By 24 Years

As many of you may know, Simon of Savidge Reads and Polly of Novel Insights are hosting Discovering Daphne this month. When they first announced it many, many months ago, I wasn't really thinking too much about participating. For some reason I have had a bias against Daphne du Maurier for as long as I can remember. I have never read anything she has ever written so I wasn't quite sure where the bias came from.

But then I remembered an incident in high school. In the spring of my senior year I had a class on European literature. It was supposed to have been an advanced placement class but what happened in class that trimester couldn't really have been called much more than advanced loafing and advanced lameness. At first it seemed like it was going to be a great class. The  class was a little smaller than most and most of the students in the class were friends of mine or were at least fun and friendly. And most importantly, given the supposedly advanced nature of the class, there weren't any bullies in class--at least not the kind that made picking on me their life's work.

I was also kind of excited because the teacher had always been billed as one that students just love. And at first she did seem like a lot of fun. But it didn't take long for the lameness to kick in. First off, she didn't have much of a syllabus for the course, and what little outline she did share with us was fairly quickly abandoned in favor of a general aimless drift in her teaching methods and subject matter. There was a literature anthology for class and there were days when, in lieu of doing any real teaching, she would sit in front of the class and page through the anthology until she found something that caught her eye and then she would read a sentence or two and then move on. This was all interspersed with lots of chit-chat and stories that had nothing to do with anything.

Now don't get me wrong, in the final months of high school, I didn't care too much that she was being totally lazy and not teaching us a thing. But then there was a bit of a situation. We had been waiting to get back a graded assignment for some time. She kept telling us we would get it back tomorrow, and then the next day, and then the next week etc. Well, we only had one other large assignment that was going to count for the majority of our grade and feedback on the earlier assignment seemed pretty crucial in knowing how to move forward. So one day, after many, many delays in returning our graded assignments she delayed yet again. So I chimed in: "How do you expect us to be responsible to keep deadlines when you aren't responsible to us?" (I still remember the exact words to this day.) So how did she respond? She burst out crying (somewhat of a put on in my opinion) and gives us a big sob story about how she is going through a divorce.

So half the class, taken in by the sob story, look at me like I am evil. Like I had been the one who had said something out of bounds and inappropriate. But being roughly the age now that the teacher was then I still don't have much sympathy for her. I can't imagine a grown adult thinking it appropriate to burst out with such a story in a classroom full of 16 and 17 year olds. And I have a hard time believing that she had no family, friends, or co-workers in whom she could have confided and let off emotional steam related to the divorce. But why did I expect much from a teacher whose popularity was high among jocks, cheerleaders, and legions of underachievers who thought she was such a great teacher that she was our graduation commencement speaker?

What does any of this have to do with Daphne du Maurier? Well, that very same teacher went on and on about how much she loved du Maurier (pronounced "do more-year"). So you can imagine that I didn't feel much of an urge to discover what this lame teacher thought was so great.

But now. 24 years later, I know so many readers whose taste in fiction I trust who also love du Maurier. So maybe it is time to give Daphne a try.  About 40 pages into Hungry Hill I am beginning to think that my lame teacher may have been right about at least one thing.

01 October 2011

Book Review: Miss Buncle Married by DE Stevenson (and a Persephone winner)

You must remember how I frothed over how much I loved Miss Buncle's Book. I liked it so much I can't believe I had the patience to wait for the second Buncle book to be shipped to me from Persephone in England.

So after all the anticipation what did I think?  I totally enjoyed it but, like many of you told me, it didn't live up to the brilliance of the first. There was something so fresh and enjoyable about MBB that it isn't too surprising that MBM couldn't be as fresh because of the sheer fact that Stevenson uses the same central character. MBB was a real comic tour de France (as I like to say) while MBM was pretty much just amusing and sweet.

Perhaps it was because MBM wasn't as strong that I was able to see what Simon mentioned in his comment to my MBB review. Stevenson's writing isn't all that good.  Not only does she trade in cliche but there is something kind of clumsy about her prose. I lost count of how many times Miss Buncle's husband used "his smiling voice". If I didn't love the Miss Buncle brand as much as I do, I would have thrown the book across the room for such a crime.

These grievances aside, I would still recommend Miss Buncle Married for those who have read Miss Buncle's Book.  But if you only plan on one Buncle, read the first.

And the winner of the Persephone giveaway is..,


Please send me an email with your address and I will pop A Fortnight in September in the mail for you.