31 March 2013

Last day of the TBR Double Dog Dare

Today is the last day of the TBR Double Dog Dare hosted by CB James. For the past three months I have limited myself to reading only those books that were already in my possession (on my To Be Read pile) at midnight on December 31, 2012.

  • Despite buying quite a few books during the Dare, I didn't really have any issues sticking to the challenge. That doesn't mean, however, that I am not glad it is almost over. I may have held up well over the past three months, but enough is enough. Can't wait to be a free range reader again.
  • Last year just to make it more challenging, I limited myself to the sixty or so books that were in my nightstand. This year I decided to try and focus on those books still remaining on my Century of Books list. I made some really good progess on that front. I now only have twenty-four books on that list to go.
  • This year I managed to finish thirty-one books during the dare compared to last year's sixteen.
  • The thing I like most about this challenge is that it always manages to surprise me. I always end up discovering some real gems in my TBR pile.
  • Because I was focusing on my Century of Books list this year, I read fewer books that had been sitting on my shelf for years and years. Most of them had been chosen and purchased only last year when I filled out my ACOB list.

Top three books read during the Dare:
1. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
2. Martin Eden by Jack London
3. Peter Camenzind by Hermann Hesse

I have a theory as to why there are no women in my top three--something that is quite unusual for me. When I was creating my list of 100 books for the Century of Books challenge I was using various "best of" lists and online resources for books published in certain years. Nor surprisingly those resources, because they focus on the supposed "greats" or best sellers are short of works by women. If the books of Persephone and Virago had been listed by year, I might have had more women on my list. I did include some from those publishers, but they were limited to those I already owned and could easily check out the year they were published.  I also decided not to include any of the three Barbara Pym books I re-read during the Dare. Those could have easily filled the top spots.

Bottom three books read during the Dare:
28. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm
29. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
30. The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

In order to come up with the bottom three I asked myself which books would I be least likely to want to read again. In the right mood I could see myself re-reading Zuleika Dobson, but  only in comparison to the two that I liked even less. Although I ultimately found Catch-22 tedious, I can appreciate its merits and would prefer it to the tedium of the Childers.

Other books I have finished recently (in one sentence)

Crampton Hodnet, Jane and Prudence, and A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym
Loved re-reading these three gems in preparation for the Barbara Pym Society Conference.

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman
I am beginning to think that Lipman's wonderful The Inn at Lake Devine does not make up for the rest of her rather boring, albeit kind of fun, novels.

Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm
Way too whimsical tale of a pretty woman who casts a spell over the undergradates at Oxford.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Although still impressed with Atwood's skill at drawing me in and recognizing the merits of this book, I was glad when this re-read was over.

Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather
Cather can do no wrong and this tale of slavery and family in the hills of western Virginia is a delight to read.

Love in a  Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
I far preferred The Pursuit of Love, the prequel to this one.

Clayhanger by Arnold Bennett
In the right mood I could appreciate the mini-series like quality of this tale of the life in the pottery towns of northern England.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
Parts of this book I found extremely moving and other parts extremely clever, but over all I felt like Atkinson tried to throw in everything and the kitchen sink.

Penrod by Booth Tarkington
I tend to like Tarkington but this episodic tale was like a cross between the Lil' Rascals, Dennis the Menace and Leave it to Beaver.

It is a little disappointing how few of these books I actually enjoyed. I must be in a bit of a funk. Several of them I know I would have enjoyed more if I had been in a different mood.

27 March 2013

Weekend ennui

I was a little bored this weekend yet couldn't be enticed to do much of anything. I did get a lot of reading done, but something was missing. At one point I realized what the problem was and said to John "I miss my Pym friends". It was so much fun being around 99 other like minded readers. An interesting conversation could be had with anyone in the room. And everyone was so friendly.

And on top of all the great Pym time, my weekend in Boston was chock-a-block with other fun stuff. Perhaps the most fun of all was meeting, for the very first time, a pen pal I have had for 28 years. We started writing in high school, kept that up for about seven years, lost touch at some point, and were "reunited" by Facebook a year or two ago. But through all of that we had never actually met. We used to talk on the phone in college when one of us could afford the long distance charges. But other than that, we were friends who had never met--at least until now. It was a lot of fun catching up with him and there was, at least from my perspective,  not an awkward moment. We both had a lot of blanks to fill in, but it wasn't by any means just a walk down memory lane. We had plenty of things to chat about. As I am not much a fan of Dickens we didn't talk about his current read (Nicholas Nickleby, I think), but I did give him a copy of Some Tame Gazelle. I felt it only proper to proselytize about Barbara Pym.

While in Boston I also went to Brattle Book Shop. Which was a lot of fun, but I actually ended up buying nothing. I should have checked my coat at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum because I was a bit hot and perhaps didn't take as much time in that amazing building as I would have otherwise. The Museum of Fine Arts was amazing and could have kept me busy all weekend. Unfortunately, two of the more interesting temporary exhibits (New Blue and White and Mario Testino Royal Portraits) not only didn't allow photography, but they had no catalogs or even any postcards.

I thought for sure that the outdoor sales floor wouldn't be open in such cold weather. I was wrong.

Have you ever been to a secondhand book shop where the books are double up on the shelf making it really hard to see what is there. At Brattle they have this double shelf system where the back row is about four inches higher than the front row making it very easy to see everything.

Sculpture over the parking lot entrance at the Museum of Fine Arts
Walking Man, 2000
Jonathan Borofsky

Beautiful Dale Chihuly scupture at MFA.

This could be called a self portrait of me. But it isn't. This is a giant cube with a similar view on each side.
Endlessly Repeating Twentieth-Century Modernism, 2007
Josiah McElheny
The colorful painting reflected in the glass is a Gerhard Richter. One of my favorite living painters.

Detail of Endlessly Repeating Twentieth-Century Modernism, 2007
Josiah McElheny

25 March 2013

What a difference a day makes

On Saturday John and the yard service guys were out cleaning things up and mulching all the beds.
He took this picture yesterday.

Today that is all covered in snow.
40 Years Ago.
Coincidentally, when John was out working on Saturday a man who lived in our house from 1954 to 1967 stopped by and then emailed us this photo from when he lived here.

I painted our red front door blue earlier this month. Since this door will be replaced next year as part of our renovation, but needed paint, we decided to experiment with a different color.
This is Farrow & Ball's Hague Blue. The surround is Wimborne White.

This door will disappear as well so I decided to give Farrow & Ball's Cooking Apple Green a try.

Looks a little different this morning.

20 March 2013

A Pymtastic Weekend

Last year when Amanda at Fig and Thistle suggested we join together to co-host a Barbara Pym reading week I took to the interwebs to look for more information about Pym. The top result Google returned was for the Barbara Pym Society of North America which in turn led me to a link for their annual conference. The thought of spending a weekend in Cambridge, Massachusetts talking about Pym was too good to pass up. Little did I know how much fun I was going to have.

The weekend started off in high style with evensong on Friday night at the Church of the Advent on Beacon Hill in Boston.  In addition to including one of my favorite hymn arrangements (Ralph Vaughan Williams's version of Old 100th "All people that on earth do dwell") the service also featured an anthem that was commissioned by the Pym Society to mark Pym's centenary. The anthem was one of Barbara's favorite hymns "God Moves In A Mysterious Way" set to music by composer Rodney Lister. The evensong service itself was more Anglo-Catholic than the typical Anglican service one usually encounters in England. Although there is some disagreement as to just how high a service Pym preferred, her characters tend to prefer an incense laden version that reminded me quite a lot of my Roman Catholic childhood.

After the service we all headed down to the church basement for dinner. On the way there, I stumbled across a sign on a door that had me kicking myself for not having a camera with me. It was something about not letting Simon the church cat outside as he was still too young. Anyone who reads or knows Simon at Stuck in a Book will understand me when I say that I took the sign as a good omen for the weekend. The food at dinner was quite delicious. Perhaps the highlight for me was finally tasting cauliflower cheese (a kind of cheesy cauliflower au gratin) that featured so memorably in Some Tame Gazelle. This cauliflower cheese was garnished with a worm made of green grapes in further homage to STG.

It was clear from this first encounter with the die hard Pym fans in attendance that the weekend was going to be lots of fun. Oh to be in a room full of like-minded readers. The papers presented over the course of the weekend where plenty academic but did not diminish the warmth and fellowship that pervaded the conference.

There is much more I could say, but I save it for Barbara Pym Reading Week which is June 1st to 8th.  Until then, here are some pictures.

The conference was held at the Barker Center at Harvard.

Hot off the presses. Ms. Cocking gave a presentation about the poetry by Pym and her friends that is sprinkled throughout Pym's papers at the Bodleian Library at Oxford. She even had wonderful readers who recited excerpts of the poetry.

I counted three knitters, a quilter, a crocheter (shown above) and an embroiderer.

There was a birthday party to celebrate Pym's centenary as well as the release of Cocking's book.

With a capacity of 100 for the conference, there was a waiting list. I am glad I registered early.

When I was looking for a place to stay I came across The College Club which has a B&B. It seemed a fitting place to stay while attending a Barbara Pym conference.

Rather than get a double room with an en suite bath, it seemed more Pymsian to get a single with a shared bath. Unfortunately, the one person I shared the bath with was not particularly considerate. But I loved my cosy little room.

14 March 2013

Weekend Checklist

1. Fly to Boston

2. Go to Brattle Book Shop (thanks to Joan K.)

I'm not sure this outdoor part of Brattle Book Shop is open in March.
3. 2-hour massage

4. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

5. Museum of Fine Arts

6. Solemn Evensong at the Church of the Advent

7. Barbara Pym Society Annual Conference (my first time attending)

8. Boston Symphony Orchestra with Olivier Latry on the organ playing Saint-Saens Third Symphony

9. Meet a penpal I have had for 28 years for the first time.

10. Test Liz Lemon's theory that all the women at the St. Patrick's Day parade are called Meagan

11. Fly home

10 March 2013

Want to go to a book sale?

Scene from the Tompkins County Friends of the Library book sale in Ithaca, NY.
(copyright Eric Stewart Photography)
Yesterday I was really in the mood to go to a book sale. Not a bookstore, but a book sale. One of those events where there are just tables and tables of books for sale. I knew there were a few coming up in the DC area but I didn't know when or even where. And then I stumbled on Book Sale Finder. I can't believe I didn't know about this website. If you live in the US or Canada, you really need to check it out. It really makes me want to gas up the car and travel around doing nothing but going to book sales. There was nothing of interest for me yesterday but I marked my calendar for a few upcoming sales. Unfortunately, there are three pretty big ones next weekend here in DC but I will be at the Barbara Pym Society conference in Boston. Oh well, when it rains it pours.

So how does it work?

First, choose your location.

Then you can browse by date and link to sales that catch your interest. I've circled the big book sale that goes on twice a year in Ithaca, New York sponsored by the Friends of the Tompkins County Library. When I lived in Ithaca for grad school I couldn't really spend much money on books so I have never really gotten to go hog wild at this mammoth sale.

 Then when you click through to the link, it gives you more details on the sale.

When you click through to the sale website you can take a look at a map of the sales floor.

Maybe JoAnn from Lakeside Musing and I need to meet up for the sale in May?

Shiny Happy Volunteers.
(Photo from the Friends of the Tompkins County Library Facebook Page)

02 March 2013

The Barbara Pym buttons are here!

When Amanda (@nerdybookgirl) and I announced back in December that we were going to host a reading week to honor the centenary of the birth of Barbara Pym, all I could think was that I hadn't made an official button/banner/badge yet. I was in the throes of finishing a really big project and Amanda was busy getting ready to have her daughter Persephone. My really big project was for work so I couldn't very well set it aside in favor of playing around with a Barbara Pym button.

When I finally decided to give it a go last week I have to admit that I was stumped for ideas. In the past I have used collages of book covers and author photos, but neither of those were really speaking to me this time. Then, as I stared at my collection of Pym's work I realized my inspiration was staring right back at me. All of the Dutton editions feature very distinctive patterns that I have always found rather Pymsian and I thouhght they would make a great background.

The reading week itself should be tons of fun. Not sure yet if we will have an official sign-up or not, but I can tell you that there will a week full of Pym-related posts, links to all of you who are taking part, giveaways, and perhaps even a contest (most Pymsian cardigan perhaps?).

I was tempted not to include the multi-color version, but then I thought some of you may want to see the orginal color schemes. So here they are are. Use them in good health!

Here are some of my past efforts. The first three I did for myself, the Virago, Daphne, and Muriel Spark buttons were done for other bloggers.

I think I need to resurrect this feature.

An early effort of mine. So bush league that I didn't crop it properly on the left so there is extra white space.

A slight variation of this is the one that was chosen by the hosts.

Rejected design.

Rejected design.
I was kind of trying to make this look like a 1950s/1960s album cover. The way Spark is posed (in her sweater set) made me think of a young woman of that era writing in her diary while she listens to the hi-fi.

Rejected design.
Going for something that suggested Sparks darker, more gothic side.

The chosen design.

Rejected design.
This one is kind of boring. With the font and the quality of the photo I was going for a New York Times feature kind of vibe. I am pretty sure that is the font they use, or close to it.

Rejected design.
I can see now this one is kind of weak. The typewriter in the photo suggested this font.