29 September 2011
1. Self-Help books. Need some perspective on life? Read a novel.
2. Anything "written" by a politician that wasn't actually written by said politician. If you can't articulate your point of view on your own you don't deserve to have your name on a book. (I accept ghost writers for other types of books like gossipy celebrity autobiographies. Their stories must be told!)
3. Books about websites or iPad apps. As in, The Best iPad Apps or Travel Resources on the Web or other such dated-before-the-ink-dries kind of book.
4. Tuesdays or any other day with Morrie and anything with Chicken Soup in the title.
5. A memoir by anyone under 60. (Unless you have lots of gossipy, snarky things I need to know.)
What would you add to the list?
27 September 2011
Recently I stumbled across the BBC show "Outnumbered". Most of you in the UK probably know what I am talking about, but for those who have never seen this brilliantly cast comedy, "Outnumbered" is based on the lives of three precocious children and their haggard parents. And it is hilarious. I like the middle to later episodes where the children are slightly older, but I haven't seen an episode that I haven't liked.
Karen's take on Gordon Ramsay and Nigella Lawson
Ben and Karen frustrate a man of the cloth
Colonoscopies and 9/11
Karen takes on door-to-door sales
24 September 2011
When I posted recently about ordering more Persephones, a few of you were dying to know which titles made the cut. The odd thing is when I sit down with the catalog(ue) I take great pains to figure out which ones I want. But there is so much to choose from, so many I want, and so much variety, that I tend to forget why I ordered particular titles. I will do my best to annotate the list.
No. 6 - The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski
I enjoyed Little Boy Lost and I already own To Bed with Grand Music and even a non-Persephone edition of her novel The Village. But more than anything I was influenced by Miranda a former-blogger who was part of the group I met last November in London. She mentioned this title and I was surprised to hear "chaise-longue" pronounced correctly. I had never looked that closely at the title and always thought it was spelled like most Americans would pronounce it: "chaise-lounge". At that moment I was fascinated but also relieved that I hadn't said the title first and embarassed myself. So now I will have to see what the book is all about.
No. 13 - Consequences by E.M. Delafield
I have only read two of Delafield's Provincial Lady diaries so I am interested to see what she is like with a more straightforward narrative.
No. 18 - Every Eye by Isobel English
I got this one because it received high praise from Muriel Spark and I would love to read a Persephone with a Sparkian sensibility.
No. 34 - Minnie's Room by Mollie Panter-Downes
I loved Panter-Downes wartime stories in Good Evening Mrs. Craven so I thought her peacetime stories deserved equal time.
No. 41 - Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge
"Deals with domesticity without being in the least bit cozy". Doctor's wife, rural Oxfordshire...what's not to love.
No. 44 - Tea with Mr. Rochester by Frances Towers
This collection of stories recieves so much critical praise in the Persephone catalogue that I couldn't pass it up.
No. 46 - Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
This one has been on my maybe list for both of my previous Persephone buying binges. Such a great premise: Miss Ranskill is swept overboard on a cruise and lives on a desert island for three years before being returned to England in 1943. An England deep in World War II.
No. 48 - The Casino by Margaret Bonham
1940s short stories with a dark sense of humor.
No. 53 - Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Rachel Ferguson
Reputed to be the Queen Mum's favorite book (when she wasn't watching Benny Hill).
No. 63 - Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan
Mother, ramshackle house outside of Oxford, three children who "take paths that are anathema to her"...Makes me glad I don't have kids to disappoint me.
No. 65 - Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson
I just realized that I bought two by Rachel Ferguson and she was the one who wrote The Brontes Went to Woolworths which I did not like much at all. But, this one sounds absolutely fascinating. It takes a look at what happens to single ladies, "distressed gentlefolk", governersses and such, after they become too old to work. For those of us who read so many novels about pre-war women trying to make do, this one seems like a must read.
No. 91 - Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
I just finished Miss Buncle's Book and loved it to pieces so I had to have the sequel.
And now for the giveaway...
For those of you in the U.S. who would like a free copy of A Fortnight in September, all you have to do is read my review of the book and give me the one reason (from the review) that makes you want to read this book. (Don't worry, there is no right answer.) And be sure and let me know if you are a Persephone virgin, I will enter your name twice in the random draw.
23 September 2011
Oddly enough, when I had my first scone with cream and jam on my first trip to England in 1989 I didn't really like it. When I bought it, I assumed (wrongly) that the cream would be sweet like American whipped cream or the kind of cream you might find in a filled doughnut. So when I bit into it, I was somewhat startled and disappointed by the taste. (In retrospect I think this particular scone--bought in a cafeteria like cafe at the Bull Ring Centre in Birmingham may have had too much cream on it, overwhelming the sweetness of the jam.) Not having enjoyed that scone experience, I didn't bother to try it again for the rest of my six weeks in England.
On the flight back to the U.S. they served a mass produced, cellophane-wrapped little scone already pre-jammed and creamed. Being someone who worries I am never going to get enough to eat on trans-Atlantic flights, I tend to eat everything I am given. So I popped that scone in my mouth despite my previous bad experience. Much to my surprise it was amazingly good. It was like the clouds parted from my palate and I finally understood what a scone with jam and cream was all about. As I looked around the cabin of the plane hoping someone might hand theirs over for me to eat, I began to think of the fact that I could have been eating scones everyday for six weeks. Oh the humanity! What a lost opportunity.
How exciting then to see jars of Devon Double Cream for sale in a grocery store in Minnesota a year or two later. It wasn't even a high-end, or speciality grocer. It was just your normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill grocery store. Being able to find the cream in the US meant that I didn't have to wait around for trips to England to satisfy my craving for a cream tea. Since that first siting I have noticed the inroads that The Devon Cream Company has made in the U.S. market as it began showing up in more and more places.
This summer I was astonished at the number of places I saw it for sale. I've tried to make sense of its apparent ubiquity. Here in DC, I reasoned, there are lots of foreign nationals from all reaches of the once vast British Empire. Perhaps they are the ones buying all the double cream. After all, an Anglophile baker like myself only buys it maybe twice a year. But then on our road trip up to Maine this summer, it seems like I saw it everywhere we went--even in rather small retail outlets that have a limited selection of products. I even found it on the island of Islesboro with its tiny (albeit somewhat gourmet) grocery store. (Even more interesting is the fact that I totally took it for granted that I would be able to find it while we were in Maine. Even though I measured out the dry ingredients for scones at home and took the mix along with me to Maine, I just assumed that I would be able to find double cream and that I didn't need to buy it in DC ahead of time.
As I rejoiced in being able to find the product so easily while travelling this summer, I couldn't help but wonder who in the US is buying this stuff other than me, and what are they using it for? Are there really that many Americans baking scones**? Or maybe it has a really long shelf-life*** and low turnover so its ubiquity doesn't necessarily mean that tons of units are being sold.
Perhaps I shouldn't even be asking why. I should just be thankful that it is.
* Clotted cream is 55% milk fat, whereas double cream is 48%. (Either one is gorgeous on a scone.)
** Americans baking scones frighten me a little. To me a scone is a rather plain affair. I usually make mine with dried currants (never raisins). They are meant to be tasty vehicles for jam and cream. They are not meant to be the star of the show. No giant triangles laden with blueberries or chocolate or other nonsense for me.
*** I just found out on The Devon Cream Company's website that the product does indeed have a long shelf-life of twelve months. UPDATE: It is specially vacuum-packed so its unopened shelf life is 12 months. Once opened the decay process begins like with any cream.
[9/24 Update: I just discovered a blog actually called My Life in Scones]
20 September 2011
It is easy to see why Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is considered a modern classic. Told from the point of view of a largely silent Native American who is assumed to be deaf and dumb, the novel chronicles a mental hospital in the late 1950s when a new patient arrives in Nurse Mildred Ratched's ward. Randle Patrick McMurphy arrives from a penitentiary work-farm ostensibly because he is mentally disturbed. The reader is left to wonder if he really is. It is suggested that he is pretending to get out of the hard work of the penitentiary and sees the hospital as a more pleasant alternative. For me one of the more poignant moments in the book is when McMurphy realizes that many of his fellow ward-mates are actually there voluntarily and could be discharged fairly easily and more or less at their own discretion. McMurphy on the other hand has been committed by the state of Oregon and is at the mercy of the hospital staff to decide whether he is sane or not. After learning this, McMurphy realizes that his disruptive behavior on the ward could relegate him to a lifetime in an insane asylum that would extend well beyond the terms of his criminal sentence.
McMurphy's disruptive behavior is not entirely self-serving, he does manage to bring new life and perhaps even hope to some of the other patients. In the end though, his attempts to do so have consequences not entirely unforeseen. Although the book is based partly on Kesey's experience in a Veteran's Administration hospital, it is hard to know how realistic the staff's intentionally sadistic behavior is. The Nurse Ratched character and the conditions on her ward epitomize much of what our society believes happened in state hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s. You would have to live under a rock to not know that emotional, physical, and sexual abuses have been uncovered in all kinds of institutional settings, but Nurse Ratched's attitude and modus operandi suggests something more systemic than real life abuse cases would support. Interestingly enough I will have some opportunity to look into these issues as my work over the next few months includes taking oral histories of people who lived and worked in a large government run mental facility.
Bottom line: read the book, skip the movie.
18 September 2011
Number 252: Be a submariner.
I spent three and half claustrophobic, seasick hours watching the film "Das Boot" last night. Although it depicts the mission of a Nazi u-boat during World War II, I am sure things weren't much better on U.S. submarines. When watching World War II flicks I have often wondered what would have happened if I had every been drafted into the Navy. Does one "get over" seasickness? Would I have spent my tour of duty barfing my way across the world, or would they have shipped me off to be cannon fodder in the Army?
14 September 2011
|CJF Tunnicliffe from Green Tide by Richard Church|
I was drawn to Helen Ashton's Bricks and Mortar by the engraving used in Persephone catalog(ue). Part of me was hoping the book was illustrated but alas, it is not. No matter, Bricks and Mortar stands on its own merit. Not exactly a great novel. I found more than a few things in the narrative that seemed a little amateurish, even to untrained eye. Some of the plotting was a little too pat for me. Just count the corpses by the end of this book and you get my drift.
The story focuses on the young archtitect Martin Lovell who falls in love with his soon to be wife Letty Stapleford in a pension in Rome. They have two kids, the outgoing, clever daugther Stacy and the clever, effete (and seemingly gay) son Aubrey. Letty hates Stacy but loves Aubrey. Martin loves Stacy and is bored by Aubrey. Those that survive get old and live happily ever after.
I make light of the plot because it was rather clumsy, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this novel. For the most part I cared about the characters and I really appreciated the architect's office setting and the bits of architectural description sprinkled throughout the book. I have worked with architects for about 15 years now (and always wanted to be one growing up) and am familiar with the general milieu, and I have to say that I don't think an architect would cringe reading this book. You know, like a musician or a nun cringes watching "Sister Act". The architecture bits were particularly fascinating to me because they chronicle the seep of modern design into architecture in pre-WWII England from a first hand perspective of 1932. That is, without the benefit of hindsight.
Overall not a brilliant book, but I would still recommend it with these reservations.
12 September 2011
11 September 2011
For a couple of years I have been pronouncing Ms Cooper's given name "Lettuce". Then last weekend a friend suggested it might be "Le-teece". What say you all? Anyone have a Lettice in the family? Even if my friend is right, I think I will still call her Lettuce.
Anyhoo, enough about salad greens. The New House is the story of thirty-something Rhoda Powell and her widowed mother who are about to downsize from the large family house to a smaller, more middle class dwelling to conserve their limited financial resources. The whole action of the book takes place over the course of just one day--moving day--with the narrative split into three sections, Morning, Afternoon, and Evening.
Although the surface action is all about the move, we learn so much more about all the characters through both their current thoughts and their memories of the past. Our heroine Rhoda is in a bit of a rut, one that threatens to last the rest of her life. Having not yet married or gone into any career, everyone, including Rhoda herself, assumes that she will continue to live quietly and take care of her mother. But things start to rattle around in Rhoda's mind and we begin to see a glimmer of hope that Rhoda may rebel against her fate.
Today, she thought is like a crack in my life. Things are coming up through the crack and if I don't look at them, perhaps I shall never see them again. Ordinary life in the new house will begin tomorrow and grow over the crack and seal it up.Thankfully Rhoda's sister Delia stirs the pot a bit and it looks like Rhoda may break free. Or does she? As I said the action takes place over the course of a single day. One hopes for her future, but one also knows that the book is going to end before they all go to sleep that night. Will anything out of the ordinary happen or will Rhoda retreat to safety?
In the process we also learn about her mother and brother and aunt and others, each with their own dramas playing out over the course of the day. Her Aunt Ellen (her mother's sister I think) is one of the more interesting characters to me. Never having married and having devoted her own youth to taking care of her mother, Aunt Ellen lives a lonely life in a boarding house. She finds much joy in the moving activities which give her the opportunity to be useful. She contrasts the bustle of a real house with her own boarding house existence and yearns to be able to keep house again. To not have everything taken care of by a landlady. This is something that never really occurred to me before. Not only does a boarding house/retirement home existence engender loneliness, but it also enforces a kind of domestic straight jacket on residents. Some people may indeed like that. leaving the work up to someone else, but I think I would be like Aunt Ellen and actually miss keeping house.
There is also a fair amount of socialist sentiment sprinkled here and there and the general juxtaposition of the pre-WWI class system with the realities of modern (1936) Britain. Those bits stuck out a bit, but they were short enough to never feel like a political tract.
I am not going to tell you how it ends, but I will tell you that I enjoyed reading it quite a lot. It doesn't rise to the top of my favorite list, but it is very solidly in the middle, upper-half of my Persephone reads so far. It was a book that I enjoyed taking a little slowly, and I miss it now that I am done with it.
10 September 2011
I know that not all of you can remember the 1980s....
Fleur Fisher recently posted The Dream Academy's 1985 music video for "Life in a Northern Town". This was one of my favorites in high school and it brought back a flood of memories. The song always made me melancholy--but that good kind of teen angst melancholy that was fun to wallow around in from time to time. Regardless of what the words of the song actually mean to convey, for me it was about getting out of a small town where I wasn't exactly popular and getting to a big city. And I was crazy for anything English yet couldn't imagine actually getting to England one day.
I wouldn't want to relive those years, but sometimes I do wish I could go back and change a few things knowing what I know now. But I guess that would change the present, and I have no desire to do that.
So grab your leg warmers and enjoy a good laugh at my expense.
|1984 (15 years old)|
My last crush on a girl was the girl in the pink dress.
The girl serving the punch was my best pal.
This was one of he photo proofs for my senior picture.
This picture was taken less four hours after a late night in Minneapolis
with my first boyfriend - and a college boy at that.
Last day of high school.
My hair grew for about another 8 months before I got it cut off.
And yes, those are Girbaud jeans.
Much to my surprise, just four years after The Dream Academy song
I managed a trip to the UK. Here I am on a train from B'ham to Glasgow.
06 September 2011
|Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy|
Recently John and I watched a wonderful documentary on Christopher Isherwood and his 30+ year relationship with Don Bachardy--who was 30 years his junior. A seemingly implausible May-December relationship that is not only fascinating but often touching. Imagine being 18 and tooling around with a famous author who knows the likes Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, W.H. Auden, Somerset Maugham, E.M. Forster. If you have any interest in Isherwood or are interested in a love story about a fascinating, artistic couple, this is one to rent.
Seen on the Subway
I haven't done a Seen on the Subway post recently. I just haven't been paying much attention. I did, however, see a woman on the bus reading a Tove Janssen book in what appeared to be its original language. That was not quite as rare and surprising as the giant dreadlocked man (about 6'5") in surgical scrubs unabashedly reading a bodice-ripping romance novel.
After finishing Miss Buncle's Book I had decided I needed to place another Persephone order. But before I got a chance to do so, Persephone sent out an email offering a free copy of A Fortnight in September if you buy three or more books. Plus their prices are going up soon. So I ordered twelve more titles--including the next Buncle book. I already have a copy of Fortnight so I will have to come up with some kind of give away for my free copy.
The Man Booger Prize
I wish I had a dime for ever shortlist post I will see in the coming weeks.
Legos are expensive
I recently broke down and bought a couple of Lego sets. I hadn't played with them for decades and decided it would fun to do so again. Stupid me didn't look at the prices until I bought them. Sheesh. It was fun putting them together, but holy moly they cost a lot.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Art of the Novella challenge in August, but I am on an extended hangover from all that sturm und drang. I am on my third Persephone title in a row. I think when I finish this one I might be ready for something else. I should probably go to the opposite extreme and finish the second 600 pages of The Count of Monte Cristo which have been languishing since we got back from Maine.
04 September 2011
I bought this book as part of my original Persephone order in 2009 but for some reason I have been avoiding it. I think it I was reserving it for a rainy day, but I think I was also worried that I may not like it as much as everyone else and I would be let down.
Miss Buncle's Book is the story of Barbara Buncle who writes a novel in the hopes of making some money. Never having written a book, and having, as she notes frequently, no imagination, Miss Buncle largely transcribes the daily lives of the folks she knows in her small village of Silverstream. The second part of the novel (entitled Disturber of the Peace) is where reality is left behind as Miss Buncle takes her very real characters into uncharted waters. It doesn't take long after publication for Disturber of the Peace to become a bestseller that sets the real village of Silverstream on its ear. And then some of the fictional parts of Miss Buncle's book start to come true.
This book was sheer delight. I loved the story and I loved the cast of characters. The villains were villainous without being over the top and the many sympathetic characters were so wonderfully drawn the book literally had me smiling while I read it.
Often I fantasize about books I like being filmed. But I must say, I don't want Miss Buncle's Book put on a screen large or small. I found the book so perfectly enjoyable and the characters so wonderful that I have no desire to see someone try and dramatize it. Granted I would watch the results if they did, but I really don't want anything to compete with what I remember from my read.
In the land of My Porch hyperbole I have been known to wax rhapsodic about many a book, and in particular about many a Persephone. But Miss Buncle's Book climbs right to the very top of my list of favorite Persephone titles. There are still a few titles jostling with Miss Buncle for supremacy (more serious affairs like Crompton's Family Roundabout and Whipple's many wonders) but Buncle has a levity that just can't be beat.
And the best part is there are 39 other novels by DE Stevenson for me to find and explore.
If you own this one and haven't yet read it (Darlene I am looking at you), it is time to take it off the shelf and get to it.
01 September 2011
With 19 completed novellas out of the 42 that make up Melville House Publishing's The Art of the Novella series, I officially surpassed the level of "mesmermized" (15 books) but came up just short of "obsessed" (21 books). I thought for sure I was going to get to 21 but yesterday worked out differently than planned.
Overall I had a very good time and I am glad Frances dared me into shooting for all 42. I read lots of authors I may not have gotten around to otherwise. I have to agree with some that the selection seems little on the sexist side. Lots of lusty old Russians and central Europeans don't necessarily have gender equality on their minds.
Melville House makes a very nice book. Good design, nice paper, pleasant typography, etc. I do have to note that I spotted typos in at least five of the 17 that I read but nothing to make me less than enthusiastic about what Melville has put forward. As I read I kept thinking I should keep track of them and email the publishers but alas, I did not.
So to recap the month for me I decided to rank the seventeen books that I read. Using the verdict that I supplied with each "review" I give you my list in ascending order, from least favorite to most favorite.
19. Mathilda by Mary Shelley: Hated it for so many reasons. Go read Frankenstein instead, fewer monsters in that one.
18. The Man Who Would be King by Rudyard Kipling: I can appreciate this for what it is, but I didn't enjoy it for one moment. I don't see much Kipling in my future unless it comes in cake form.
17. The Horla by Guy de Maupassant: I was intrigued by the very real seeming descriptions of the descent into madness.
16. A Sleep and a Forgetting by William Dean Howells: I didn't like this one very much because it was unhelpfully opaque.
15. (tie) The Dialogue of the Dogs by Miguel de Cervantes: While it didn't knock my socks off, this novella included many interesting stories with moral messages that never got preachy.
15. (tie) Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson: I enjoyed reading this adventure tale, but upon reflection I think it could have been more interesting if Rasselas had gotten his...um...hands a little dirty.
13. The Duel by Giacomo Casanova: I quite liked this story when I read it, but it seems to be more than a little forgettable.
12. The Duel by Heinrich von Kleist: I was fascinated by this one because of its depiction of a duel being "indicative of God's judgement."
11. Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville: While I quite enjoyed reading Bartleby this time round, I am not sure I am any wiser for the experience.
10. The Devil by Leo Tolstoy: I liked it for its storyteller-ish quality.
9. The Duel by Anton Chekov: I enjoyed this one for the cringe-worthy jam that Laevsky and his mistress find themselves in. Kind of enjoyed their misery because it wasn't mine.
8. Adolphe by Benjamin Constant: I liked it because it kept me in suspense as to how such a mind-f*** would end.
7. May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Didn't want to put it down. Almost missed my train stop.
6. The Touchstone by Edith Wharton: Wharton is always worth reading.
5. Tales of Belkin by Alexander Pushkin: I liked this one because it contained five well-plotted, often touching, short stories.
4. Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist: Despite the sad ending and the violence (which I don't condone), I loved how this book expressed Kohlhaas' rage.
3. A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert: I found Félicité's simple heart and her simple life to be intensely moving and really enjoyed this one.
2. Lady Susan by Jane Austen: A total pleasure.
1. The Dead by James Joyce: Much to my surprise I really liked this novella. Up to this point I had sworn off James Joyce. I think The Dead has me reconsidering that.
Two things surprise me about this list. One, that I liked James Joyce. And two, that the Flaubert made it into such a high spot. It is one that I like better and better the more I think of it. There were others that were more enjoyable to read, but A Simple Heart has stuck with me.