31 December 2011

Shelf Esteem No. 8

Don't worry, I haven't run out of fabulous images of overstuffed bookshelves and cozy home libraries. I realize that posting such an anemic "library" might make some of you think that I am scraping the bottom of the barrel for Shelf Esteem content. Not so.   

Cozy factor: Despite having many of the trappings of cozy, the overall effect is not very cozy.

The Shelves: They are quite odd. They don't seem to be one thing or the other. The unit looks built-in, yet it is of a size that makes one wonder why they bothered. It seems like a lot of effort, money, and thought went into making this, but the overall effect is rather cheap looking and not very pleasantly scaled. Plus it seems like overkill for the small amount of storage it provides.

The Books: I will let you decide. Three picture books on golf. Michener, Le Carre, McMurtry, Iriving, Crichton, Grisham, Dan Brown...

Is this person a reader? Yes, but really...in this case who cares?

The book I would read if I had to pick one: I think I would try one of the Le Carre. I think I would enjoy these despite having some problems getting into one of his books in the past.

What gives Thomas? Why are you wasting our time with this one? Simple, the John Currin painting above the shelves. I love the surreal (or perhaps it is super- or hyper-real) quality of his work. I mentioned it once before when I commented on the Persephone cover of Mariana by Monica Dickens. His works sell in the $500,000 range. Can you imagine having an art budget that big? We saw a major exhibit of his work a few years ago, but I forget where. His work is fascinating. And it has been so long since I did a Sunday Painting. So here are few more for your perusal.

Bits and Bobs (now with extra sand)


Reading on the beach in Hawaii
When I lived in Hawaii in the mid-1990s my beach reading of choice was the The New Yorker. Not only did it keep me in touch with what was happening in the real world (the world wide web was nascent to say the least), but it is the perfect format for beach reading. All of the articles are printed on contiguous pages so there is no flipping to the back of the magazine to continue an article. It sounds like a small thing, but it really makes it so much easier to read on a beach with all the sand and sunscreen that can muck up the pages. We are headed to Hawaii this winter (haven't been back there since 2001) and I need to come up with my reading pile. Since the trip is during the TBR Dare I could only pick from the pile I wrote about earlier which thankfully wasn't a problem. I made sure I included enough used paperbacks in that pile so that I wouldn't mind if the books got a little trashed on the beach.  I think I am going to take along According to Mark by Penelope Lively, one of the two Elinor Lipman novels in my pile, Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry and either Armadale by Wilkie Collins or Dickens' Little Dorritt.  That will definitely cover me for quantity and I hope also for variety. After all there is about 10 hours of flying time each direction as well.

Apologies to Salman Rushdie
In my post a few days ago about my TBR Dare pile for the first three months of 2012 I made a snarky comment about Salman Rushdie. For some reason I have had it in my head that Rushdie's writing is not for me and that getting through Midnight's Children was going to be like taking bitter medicine. Why did I think this? On what information did I base this prejudice? Thursday night before bed, feeling up to a challenge--and starting my TBR Dare early--I picked up Midnight's Children. I soon found myself interested enough to force myself to stay awake until I read the first chapter. The next morning I couldn't wait to get to the bus stop so I could resume my reading. And now I am 46 pages in and I can't believe what an enjoyable and interesting read it is turning out to be. This is a perfect example of why the TBR Dare is so great. I don't think I would have picked this up anytime soon, and now I am reading something really great. Now, hopefully it was Naipaul not Rushdie who made those ridiculous comments about woman writers...

If you have nothing to read on
the subway, sleeping seems like
a better option than just staring.
Photo from Asleep on the Subway
People staring into space
I couldn't help noticing yesterday morning how many people just sit on the Metro and stare into space. Granted, many are listening to iPods which no doubt helps to pass the time. But how can someone take a precious half hour of the day (or more) and not read or knit or write out a grocery list or sleep. I do sometimes just to stare into space, but not very often, and many of these people look like habitual stare-ers. Maybe they are plotting their entrance into the Republican primaries.

Reading Dickens is the dickens
The effervescent Amanda at the Fig and Thistle is hosting a Dickens challenge during January as a lead up to the old man's 200th birthday on February 7th. My experience with Dickens hasn't been all that fantastic. I had to read Hard Times in college and I kind of enjoyed it. But I have also gotten stuck (repeatedly) in both the Tale of Two Cities and Bleak House. Loved the TV version of the latter, but honestly how many times can I be expected to read about Jarndyce and Jarndyce before allowing my eyes to glaze over. Prior to finding out about Amanda's challenge, I thought it might be time to give Dickens another try and put Little Dorrit in my TBR Dare pile. I think I am going to shoot for having it read by February 7th so I can post a review that day. No doubt my review will be crucial to the global success or failure of Dickens' work.

Will Henry Green get the green light?
Stu over at Winstonsdad's Blog is hosting Henry Green Week beginning January 23rd. I don't know anything about Green and hadn't really thought about participating until Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book mentioned it. What finally tipped me over the edge was Simon saying: "... c'mon, if you all did it for Anita Brookner, you can definitely do it for Henry Green." And I thought, "He's right, I should give it a go..." Well I did. I checked one out from the library and we didn't get along. At all. There might be some Henry Green in my future, but not in time for the 23rd.

29 December 2011

Howards End Stream of Consciousness (with Zombies?)

It annoys me that Susan Hill used the popularity of this novel--or more likely the Merchant-Ivory film--to sell her second-rate collection of uninsightful, egotistical, blog-like musings on the contents of her giant brain. I know there are two unequal but clearly divided camps about Hill's Howards End is on the Landing and I forgive you if you fall into the much larger "liked it" camp.

This may be a picture of the
West Bank Parking Ramp
at the U of MN.
Having gotten that off of my chest, I will now embark upon an uninsightful, egotistical, blog-like musing on my second reading of Howards End. I first read Forster's Tour de France (sic) in the spring of my sophomore year in college. I was working as a parking garage cashier at the University of Minnesota (in Minnesota we call multilevel parking garages "parking ramps"--a phrase my east coast grad school roommate at Cornell beat out of me). It was a great job. I got to sit in a heated booth each evening where I would study, read, talk on the phone, write letters (yes, we wrote letters in 1989), and plan (in great detail) my first trip to England. Occasionally there would be a rush of cars needing to pay as they exited, but still lots and lots of free time. It occurs to me now that I may have cheated the University of Minnesota and the taxpayers of my natal state out of a chunk of change. Not for studying on the job--that was allowed--but because I regularly filled in my time sheet incorrectly (and inadvertantly). You see my hours were supposed to be from about 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm each weekday but the other cashier--a full-time, non-student employee--told me each night around 9:00 pm that I could go. Although he was my onsite supervisor (he looked a bit like a short, tubby version of the then unknown Unabomber) my hours were set by the central parking office. So when I filled out my time card I always put down six hours instead of five because those were the hours I was scheduled to work. I can honestly say that it never occurred to me that rather than reflect the schedule, my time card should reflect actual hours worked. Oops.

Anyhoo, after re-reading Howards End I realize how appropriate it was that I first read it while I worked in the aforementioned parking structure. I was the modern day equivalent of Leonard Bast, striving to better myself and overcome socio-economic destiny through the moral uplift of great literature. It worked far better in my case, if for no other reason than I didn't die after being assaulted by Emma Thompson, err I mean Margaret Schlegel's stepson.

Class barriers really suck and Forster (to my mind) always does wonderfully trying to break them down. Which of his books doesn't include themes of breaking free of societal conventions?

The shuffle feature on an iPod can really surprise. I am now listening to the bell peal of St. Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. Of course this begs the question why I have an album of The Church Bells of England on my iPod. But if you have to ask that question, you aren't quite the Cardigan Mafioso/a I thought you were. And now the iPod is on to John Legend. The other day I asked my John who he thought should write and record a song about our dog Lucy called "Honeybear" (my mother's appellation for the lovable Lucy). I gave him the choice of Ben Folds, John Legend, or Diana Krall. And then I don't think I gave him a chance to answer as I talked about how good John Legend's version would be.

As I have mentioned countless times before, my introduction to the world of Forster was the Merchant-Ivory version of A Room With a View--which has been universally acknowledged* as the best film ever made. I shudder to think how old I might have been when I discovered Forster if it wasn't for that film.  And besides telling interesting stories, Forster has a knack for describing the human condition.

Paul Cadmus' homage to Forster.
 Was Mrs. Wilcox one of the unsatisfactory people -- there are many of them -- who dangle intimacy and then withdraw it? They evoke our interests and affections, and keep the life of the spirit dawdling around them. Then they withdraw. When physical passion is involved, there is a definite name for such behaviour--flirting--and if carried far enough it is punishable by law. But no law--not public opinion even--punishes those who coquette with friendship, though the dull ache that they inflict, the sense of misdirected effort and exhaustion, may be as intolerable.
I have known many people like that. Therapy has led me to wonder if my sometimes insufferable behavior (hopefully mostly in my past) might not be the reason for some people to behave this way towards me. But I have a feeling it isn't all my fault. It is hard for me to think that the Vanessa Redgrave version of Mrs. Wilcox would be that way, but the scene in the film (and book) where she leaves Margaret behind at the train station and goes off with Mr. Wilcox and Evie has always depressed me. I know that feeling so well. Lots of excitement to do something fun with a friend only to have circumstances intervene and the friend ditch you for something else...always stings a bit, even if the reason for said ditchment (pronounced ala francaise) is legitimate.

Forster Monument behind
St. Nicholas Church
in Stevenage, England.
I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this book 23 years after I first read it. I pondered what I might have thought and felt when I read it the first time (I don't remember). And I really enjoyed thinking about how it differed from the film version. Unlike most other film adaptations, the Merchant-Ivory film stands up to the book. The film is certainly faithful to the spirit of the book and the instances where it differs in letter were really quite brilliant changes that not only make the film work well, but also reinforce Forster's intent. I wonder if he would agree. I once opined somewhere in the blogosphere that I would love to meet Forster and show him all "his" films.

If you haven't read Forster, you should. If you are chicken, try Where Angels Fear to Tread, if you feel a little more committed try A Room With A View, if you long for something a little queer try Maurice, and if you really want the full force of Forsters literary brilliance go for Howards End. (I know some esteemed blogger tried hard to like Forster and finally managed with Howards End--no names...)  Or if you are hopelessly unable to pick up a Forster novel watch the Merchant-Ivory versions (and only the Merchant-Ivory versions) of A Room With A ViewHowards End, and Maurice (in that order). And if you don't like the books or the films...can't. talk. now. mind. melting...

This is what came up when I did a Google image search for "west bank parking ramp university of minnesota"
It is an image from a story in the Minnesota Daily about a Zombie Pub Crawl.
Could this be Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham-Carter) the Zombie?

In the Library Perfume

Christopher Brosius is a genius.

Back in November we heard a story on NPR about Christopher Brosius, a perfumier in Brooklyn with a shop called CB I Hate Perfume, who makes a scent called "In the Library". According to Brosius in that interview "In the Library" smells just like a library. Being the perceptive gent he is, John took mental note, and lo and behold "In the Library" was under the tree this Christmas.

Let me say I quite like "In the Library", but I wasn't so sure it smelled much like a library. Based on the radio interview I was expecting something quite literal. When I first smelled it I thought it was rather powdery. After I wore it for a while, not only did I find that I liked it in general, but it does kind of remind one of a library. I can't quite explain it, but there is something about it that is libraryish. Albeit one with lots of Moroccan leather bindings.

When ordering "In the Library" John noticed they had one called "A Room With A View". Again being the perceptive gent that he is John got me a small vial of "A Room With A View" as well. Redolent of violets and the Tuscan earth, it takes its cue from the scene in the book where George Emerson first kisses Lucy Honeychurch in a  field of violets outside of Florence. The violets are absent in the film version but if you have seen the wonderful Merchant Ivory film, you know exactly which scene I refer to. And let me tell you the scent version of "A Room With A View" is a revelation. Yes it smells like violets, but it also has an earthy and grassy quality that makes it so much nicer and more complex than any violet perfume you have ever smelled before.

Alan Cumming
John also got me "The 2nd Alan Cumming" which was created for the perfumier's friend actor Alan Cumming. Proceeds from this one go to charity. It is masculine, just a touch funky, and really, really good.

Also in the package was a spray that supposedly keeps the bugs away. Being winter I can't test that out right now, but it sure smells good. It reminds me of the early days of Aveda when they were doing a lot of personal aromas (or as they called them PureFumes).

CB I Hate Perfume has many other scents that sound absolutely fascinating. And based on what I have smelled so far they must be good. How about one called "At the Beach 1966" which has Coppertone as one of its base notes?!

The thing that is so wonderful about Brosius' work is that his scents tell a story, but the result is beautiful and beguiling rather than gimicky. In a world full of really bad, synthetic smelling scents, CB I Hate Perfume is like an olfactory oasis.

26 December 2011

Making the TBR Double Dare a little harder

No doubt many of you read about the TBR Double Dare over at Ready When You Are, C.B. And I am sure more than a few of you participated last year or plan to participate this year. I had a great time last year and plan to take the dare again this year. Essentially you can only read books in your "to be read" (TBR) pile/shelf/stack/room between midnight December 31st and April 1st. For those of us with a TBR pile in the mid-three digits, this doesn't seem like much of a difficulty--although it is amazing how boring one's TBR pile can become when one can't look elsewhere for reading material.

Anyhoo, last year I made it a little harder for myself by limiting myself the to the books that I had in my nightstand. And despite the fact that I cracked with less than a week to go last year, I thought it was a really great exercise. I finally picked up and read some books that had been languishing for quite some time and some of them turned out to be real gems.

This year I decided to similarly limit myself to a small fraction of my TBR pile. Unlike last year, however, I don't have any books in my nightstand this year. So I decided to go spelunking in my library to come up with a TBR pile that would last me for three months. This makes for a much more interesting stack of books for the dare this time round. I chose a wide variety of books to cover every possible mood, but I did also include some volumes that might be more like work than pleasure just to stay true to the spirit of the dare.

So do you think 60 will be a big enough pile for 3 months? More than enough I am sure, but did I choose the right 60? Will I make it all the way to April 1st this year?

The My Porch TBR Double Dare Universe
These are the books I am limiting myself to between now and April 1st.

The Publisher Pile
I made sure I had a good range of Viragos, Persephones, and NYRB Classics. All have been the subject of special blogger run reading weeks or months in which I have taken part. The Persephones are kind of the candy of this crowd with the NYRB Classics being the vegetables--delicious and satisfying, but ultimately still vegetables. The Viragos are somewhere in between.

The Modern Library Top 100 Pile
I have been making my way through the Modern Library's Top 100 novels of the 20th century pile for about 15 years now. So far I have polished off 62 of them but I am getting down to authors I don't necessarily relish. I am looking forward to the Bennett, and am ambivalent about the Graves and the Lowry, but the rest are pure medicine except for the Rushdie which I fear will be worse tasting than medicine. The ultimate coup would be to finish all of these by April 1st. (Hmm, a dare within a dare...sounds tempting)

The Neglected Hardcover Pile
I have a fair number of older hardcovers that I have picked up over the years while combing used bookstores but I seem to forget their un-read status much more than I do with paperbacks. So here I rescue a pile of them from their slumber. Some favorite authors here like Shute, Lewis, Drabble, Hemingway, and Sarton, as well as some newbies to me. Most in this pile would also fit in the The Take The Next Step Pile.

The Take The Next Step Pile
These are all authors I have read and enjoyed. In most cases I took the earliest of their books that I have on my shelves. Armadale is the Collins that most people seem to love most so I had to pick that one. And the Trollope is the next one in the Palliser Series.

The "Out damn spot" Pile
Nothing to do with Shakespeare, but these are books that I may end up loving but for some reason never seem to be in the mood to read. Thus, like a bad stain, they never seem to go away. I have only ever read one Dickens (Hard Times) so I thought it was time to really give him a whirl. The opening of the Mitford has always rubbed me the wrong way. A little too irreverent about killing Germans. I assume once I get past that I will end up liking it. Plus a "hilarious" one by Baindbridge about a young Hitler. That will require some suspension of disbelief. The Picano is a queer one that I have never been able to break into. The MFK Fisher is so short but I have tried repeatedly with no success.

The Cure For Reader's Block Pile
These are all titles that I know to be good reads, or easy to read, or in some way enjoyable to serve as buffers for the more serious stuff elsewhere in the pile.

Finished, abandoned, postponed, and started

Photo credit: Senate House Library
University of London
A House in the Country by  Jocelyn Playfair - Finished
I finished reading this some time ago, but was a little underwhelmed and couldn't really muster the energy to review it. Parts of it were enjoyable, but overall I was bored and a little annoyed. I didn't really care for the structure of the narrative and I had a hard time caring about any of the characters.

The Vicar of Bullhampton by Anthony Trollope - Finished
You may recall my angst over finishing up the final four books in my nightstand by the end of the year. Many of you pointed out that life is too short and that I should set them aside and move on. Normally that is advice I would accept, but I really felt compelled to make an effort to finish them up. I am glad I made that effort because this Trollope was definitely worth finishing. I think I was in a bit of a slow patch in the book when I wrote that blog post, but soon after it picked up and I enjoyed the rest of it. I definitely like Trollope's vicars more than I like his MPs.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson - Abandoned
I loved Jansson's book of short stories Travelling Light. I thought they were beautiful and atmospheric. But they also had some bite to them. The Summer Book is a collection of linked autobiographical fictionalized scenes about summer. I can understand how they would be interesting and compelling and beautiful. In fact, I kept pushing on for that very reason. Intellectually I could tell that The Summer Book was all of those things. But emotionally I just didn't care. The chapters didn't have enough arc to them and I found the main character Sophie (the young Jansson?) to be a bit of a brat--and not even a clever one. Half way through, I decided I was getting nothing out this book and put it down. Probably forever.

Fairy Tales by Oscar Wilde - Abandoned
This collection of fairy tales is imaginative and brilliantly written, but I just don't think I have room in my reading life to spend any more time on it. If I had a kid I think it would be fun to read them outloud, but I wasn't getting much out of them. Time to let this one go.

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot - Postponed
I started reading this thin novella about a million times but  could never seem to focus on it. I had this trouble with another Eliot novella which I did eventually finish and find worthwhile. So this one gets set aside for now.

Howards End - E. M. Forester - Started
In the end I took the advice from some of you who suggested that I read an old favorite. I first read Howards End in college and since then I have seen the Merchant Ivory film about 5,000 times. It has been fascinating to pick this one up again after so much time and so much exposure to the film version. It is a bit like reading it for the first time. And it is still totally brillant.

25 December 2011

Yuletide Felicitations


One of the best Christmas shows of all time--Margot sends Christmas back to the store because the tree is an inch or two too short.

the whole episdoe is great, but my favorite seasonal greeting comes at the 3'55" mark...

21 December 2011

Guest Post: Christmas at My Porch

John often has great suggestions for things that I could blog about. Sometimes I take his advice. Sometimes I don't. When I don't, it is either because I am being stubborn or I am too lazy. John's work life is pretty demanding so he doesn't have as much free time as I do, but there was a time before we moved into our house when he briefly had a blog of his own. He started A Small Garden Obsession when we had about a foot of snow on the ground in December of 2009. At the time his only gardening space was a 12' x 16' terrace which he turned into a really magnificent container garden. Anyhoo, the snow melted, we went off to Thailand, then we bought a house and John had a lot less time to think about keeping up a blog.

Recently John took a bunch of photographs and gave me all kinds of ideas for blog posts. So this post and the one following, while they don't strictly count as guest posts, are inspired by his eye (and his love of Lucy).

Lucy loves a fire.

Me with bedhead.
After my post about beverages you may be wondering what is in the mug.
Hot cocoa, with a big "handcrafted" Williams-Sonoma marshmallow.

Lucy wants to wish you all Happy Holidays!

Guest Post: The 2011 Lucy Invitational

John and I both love to watch Lucy and her best friend Lucy play in our backyard. And he is aware that many of my readers love them some Lucy photos so he knew that he could indulge in a little proud puppy papa moment on My Porch.

The Contenders

Lucy's best friend Lucy


The Tug-o-war Warm-up

The Stare-down

The Race

The Post-race Cool-down