31 August 2014

How do books end up in your house?

I tweeted this morning that during the five days that Simon Savidge (@SavidgeReads) stayed with me here in Washington, DC, thirty-one books managed to find their way into my apartment. Borrowed, bought, given, and free, I somehow managed to acquire thirty-one books in five days. Sue Parmett (@SueParmet) wanted a list of the titles. That is just the kind of pesky question I would ask and it seemed liked a great topic for a blog post.

So here are the many ways that these 31 books found their way in.

In the lounge of the enormous apartment building we are currently living in there is a nice little lending library. When we walked by it one night, Simon and I went in and had a look. We ended up taking six books back to my apartment. Three of those were Simon's picks. I am not sure how he thought he would read three books in fewer than five days, but who am I to judge.  And I guess the nice thing about these six, is I can return them any time I want and they cost nothing.

I picked up The Bookseller by Mark Pryor because of the title and because Susan in TX (@readinginTX)  had mentioned the Hugo Marsten books recently. I'm 58 pages in and liking it. The Ambler I picked up because I can't get enough of him these days. The Carlos Ruiz Zafon was recommended by Simon. We will see how that turns out. The other three were Simon's picks. He read a bit of the one of the Vargas titles and found it wasn't to his taste.
Not surprisingly Simon and I spent a bit of time in a book store or two. Since he was worried about space in his luggage, he ended up buying next to nothing. I, on the other hand went a little bonkers, partially due to his urging. I was glad for the peer pressure as I have been trying to inject more contemporary novels into my reading.

Our first stop was the fantastic independent bookstore in my neighborhood (and the best one in the city), Politics & Prose. Two problems with this visit. 1) Too many people at Booktopia in Asheville has hyped it up to Simon so he was expecting something more than just a good indie store. 2) There was an employee who was downright and too audibly rude to a customer on the phone. Granted, it sounded like a really annoying, probably even someone with dementia, kind of customer, but it was really off putting. But, it didn't stop me from picking up a few things.

The top one is a about a Frenchwoman living in a small town working in a fabric shop when she wins the lottery. Plus the colorful cover was quite alluring. The Kerry Hudson book was a Simon, you must own this, pick. It has a hilarious, curse-filled opening line. The Lerner I bought because I am trying to learn Spanish and am looking for lit that has Spanish speaking settings. The Carol Shields is one of her earliest (maybe her first?), and to my mind one of her best. And it is perfect for those of us who like a literary romp. Largely overlooked, it is now back in print thanks to Open Road Media. The Koch sounds very interesting and was also a Simon, I've heard lots of good things about this one, kind of book.
The fantastic Capitol Hill Books, where you swear some of the book stacks are structural and holding up the Victorian townhouse. This place is chock full of reading copies, but frankly I think their prices are a bit high for such battered up stock. Linda W (@GrnArrowFanGirl) Tweeted that she thought she would go a little bonkers in this store because of everything there is to look at. I totally agree with her and when we first got there I kind of plopped on the floor and just stared at what was in front of me. It worked pretty well, that is how I found the three Monica Dickens you can see below.

I never pass up an Ambler I haven't read. Monica Dickens has never steered me wrong. I loved Jenn Ashworth's A Kind of Intimacy so when Simon pointed this one out, I had to have it. The Chesnutt was published in 1900 and is about a light-skin African-American couple who decide to live as whites. The bottom one with part of the spine missing can be seen below.

No idea about this novel or the author, but with a cover like this, I couldn't pass it up.
One of the things I have been keeping my eye out for is books by people of color for Aarti's A More Diverse Universe reading week beginning on September 14th. I was ready to read a third Adichie for the year--and I am still planning on doing that--but I thought I should mix it up with some other titles. I managed to pick up three or four books that will fit the bill and that I think I can get to in time. In addition to the Chesnutt listed above, I also bought a couple at Busboys and Poets bookstore/café, and then picked up a free book, shown further down the page, that will fit the bill.

These are all from Busboys and Poets. The Gay and the Singh are for A More Diverse Universe. The top book is a Simon-encouraged choice about a young gay man in South Africa.

Simon brought be two gift books from England that he has talked about on The Readers. One book that he won in a Yankee Swap at Booktopia in Asheville. And then a little New York guide that he didn't mean to leave behind.

Can you believe Simon got me to read Gone Girl? I can't. It was kind of clever and interesting but I have some reservations about it that I can't quite put my finger on.

I've written before about the little libraries that have popped up in my neighborhood which are always a good source for free books, but I also found some at a café and in a box sitting on the street near Dupont Circle.

This one I picked up for free at Baked and Wired in Georgetown. They had a take one, leave one shelf. It is a graphic novel that I wouldn't have probably picked up but Simon kind of foisted it on me. Then I thought it might be good for A More Diverse Universe.

I've never read any DLS and this was in one of the Little Libraries in my 'hood, as was the E.H.Young, and I never pass up a Virago I don't have. The bottom three were all taken from a box of free books in front of a brownstone near Dupont Circle. Alice James was Henry James' sister. Again, I never pass up a Virago. And the bottom one appears to be a Portuguese version of Under the Tuscan Sun.

The whole pile


18 August 2014

The danger of waiting too long


Six Days of the Condor by James Grady
Loved, loved, loved, loved this CIA novel. Earlier this ear I watched the 1975 film Three Days of the Condor starring Robert Redford and loved it. When I saw the book Six Days of the Condor at a charity shop for $1, I thought it might be fun to compare. What I didn't expect was to be totally drawn into the book. I loved every minute of it. Couldn't put it down. This is the kind of spy thriller I like. Fits well into my recent fascination with Eric Ambler. I am going to have to see if I find Grady's other books as interesting.

Now that I have finished the book (in record time) I need to go back and watch the film again. I know for sure there are a few things that are different. I think the film may have taken place in New York. The book takes place in DC and is full of familiar locations without seeming name-droppy.

The Good House by Ann Leary
I've seen some lukewarm reviews for this book since it was published in 2012. I liked it way more than lukewarm. Story of a real estate agent in a small community on the Massachusetts coast. I almost thought I wasn't going to like the book. Her life is kind of unravelling. Business isn't doing so well, she had been to rehab but was backsliding. As I do, I wanted her to be getting her crap together and being successful. But I am glad I got over that because I really enjoy the story, the characters, the setting. It felt a bit like Marge Piercy meets Claire Messud.

Oh dear. I may have waited too long to write about some of these books. And I rarely keep notes. You know what that means? Bullet point reviews.

According to Mark by Penelope Lively
  • Biographer Mark gets involved with granddaughter of the (dead) subject of his latest project.
  • He's married already.
  • I love a Lively and I found I loved this Lively more than usual.
  • There were moments when I felt the book was very much akin with Barbara Pym's novels.

Hotel of the Saints by Ursula Hegi
  • A collection of short stories that was much better than my bad memory would have you believe. (I think.)
  • I liked the various settings (Europe, Mexico, the United States)
  • One or two stories were quite moving.

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
  • Given to me by Frances at Nonsuch Book.
  • Down on their luck but genteel family in 1912 England waits for house guests arrive for the weekend.
  • Then some other guests arrive.
  • I found the book pretty enjoyable, but I think it would have been more effective without the metaphysical aspect. (Big surprise for me, I know.)
  • I'm interested to read the other Sadie Jones novel Frances gave me.
Scarred by Monica Dickens
  • A Monica Dickens published in the 1990s thankfully feels a little old fashioned.
  • About a brilliant and caring plastic surgeon who is stalked by an unbalanced patient.
  • The patness of the story line has a bit of a Nevil Shute or DE Stevenson quality to it. But the tragic bits don't.

13 August 2014

Picture of the Week

I don't actually do a "Picture of the Week" feature, but I couldn't resist when I came across this photo. It shows a sadly decaying house in Detroit made over into to something fabulous by Tyree Guyton. The picture is taken from a great feature on best places for creative types in their 20s and 30s to live that aren't NYC and LA. As with all lists I don't agree with everything but it does make me want to be in my 20s and creative...

07 August 2014

A few moments in time

Bucks County, Pennsylvania (more pictures below)

We have been unlucky in the fact that our temporary apartment building is undergoing countless  different loud construction projects. Rather ironic that the place we are renting while our own home is under renovation should be almost uninhabitable during work hours. There have been moments when I have been at the end of my rope and have uselessly screamed at the top of my lungs for the noise to stop. My temporary insanity is known only to myself because the noise is so loud no one can hear me scream.

We have been extremely lucky in the fact that we have good friends who have a lovely farm house in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Lucy gets to run around, chase cats, stare at bunnies, and chickens and horses. John gets to talk gardening and sit by the pool with a glass of cold rosé. I get to chat, and eat and read. And believe it or not, I get to help mow the lawn. I love to mow lawn. We play bocce, watch birds, try to figure out the species of all the trees.


This summer has been wonderfully mild. I've lost count of the number of nights, and even many days, that we have been able to turn off the air conditioning and open the windows. For DC in the summer this is unusual indeed. Even as the temperature has climbed occasionally into the 90s and the humidity ticked up a bit, we have yet to have a typical DC summer day. The kind that leave you sweating like a pig at 7:00 AM on your walk to the Metro.

On these cool evenings, with lovely breezes making Lucy's last walk of the night feel like a childhood summer idyll, it is hard not to feel a bit cozy. As I contemplated what to read on one of these nights, I trundled down the hall to the closet that is serving as my main book storage while we are displaced from our home. When I opened the doors it was like the smell of a hundred used bookstores had been concentrated into that 4' x 4' space. If it wasn't for the rather precarious stacks of books I would have crawled inside with a blanket and pillow and taken a little snooze.

A blurry picture of one of my temporary book closets.


One of the books I am reading at the moment is Gladys Taber's My Own Cape Cod. It's been a few summers since we have been to Maine, and while I know that Massachusetts and Maine are not the same place, there are enough similarities that I'm letting the two places mix in my mind. Published in 1971, the memoir of Taber's life on the Cape reminds me a bit of some of May Sarton's journals. The book is arranged by season. I've gotten through spring and started summer. I love the way the book chronicles every day life and shows how the year unfolds through flora and fauna and weather. I've often wanted to keep that kind of journal. Taber seems a little obsessed with Vietnam and the arms race, but those are only minor, if frequent blips in the otherwise cozy and look at a seemingly simpler, quieter, less plugged-in time.

Lucy wants to help me mow the paddock.

Bocce ball