25 April 2015


The blog, not the person. I will no longer be writing My Porch. I'm done. It's over.


All my content and your comments and all the goodness that was My Porch has moved to...

18 April 2015

This ugliness was not intentional!

4/19/15 UPDATE: Less ugly now, but the columns aren't set up right. But it is going to stay as is until something totally new happens.  

I was attempting to see what other blogger themes I might want when I accidentally chose "apply" not knowing that it meant "irreversibly change". So now I can't get back my ugly, but not half as ugly as this blog theme.

Still pondering what to do.

(I like talking this big/loud)

12 April 2015

Library mayhem

In early March Frances of Nonsuch Book and I went to Baltimore to visit a book "store" where all the books are free. She wrote about it here, so I won't say too much more. What I am going to show you today is how that excursion threw my already full library into turmoil.

In very short order I began finding books that I knew would be coming home with me.

In the first 60 seconds of looking I came across two great finds. 

The result was a big old pile of books. 23 of them and all were free. But this meant I was going to have to find room in my already full library.

The chaos that ensued was I started to organize. Lucy occasionally gave advice and instruction.

I love that Nonsuch Book (no relation to Frances) publishes great forgotten literature. But they make them too squat and wide. They don't feel real good in the hand and they take up too much shelf space.

Then came the issue of how to organize memoirs, bios, and letters. I didn't have the guts to intershelve them with fiction by the subject as some on Twitter suggested. I ended up Creating a bio/memoir/letters section. That way I could accommodate the few non-literary subjects in my collection (e.g., Mahler and Rorem).

I've got a lot of Mitford. And this picture is even missing one volume.

Because of my recently discovered love of Eric Ambler (note the first picture at top) a friend suggested I might enjoy Helen MacInnes. I haven't read her yet, but I wasn't about to pass up all of these on the chance that I will like her.

So far, I have read The Masters in an old Penguin edition and the edition of The Affair shown here. After I found out that Snow's work falls in a couple different series, I made a conscious decision not to learn more about them. Otherwise I would feel the need to start at the beginning and read them in order. 

I've read the first of the Ottley books which is included in this Virago omnibus. Plus I couldn't pass up the cover. The Magnificent Spinster is one of my all time favorites and I already own this edition so I will be having a give away in the near future. Music in the Hills is totally rare her in the US and impossible to find unless you want to pay big bucks. I paid moderately big buck for the same version of Gerald and Elizabeth so this one will part of a give away as well. And the Ambler I have already talked about. 

08 April 2015

Bonus Post: Mapping London

Thinglass / Shutterstock.com
For those of you unlikely to read or enjoy the review of The Misalliance that I just posted (scroll down) I thought I would throw in this bonus post.

You may recall that I decided to keep track of all the London place names that come up in Anita Brookner's fiction. Her novels are full of London. Not in an overly conspicuous way, but it leaves you no doubt that Brookner is a creature of the city.

Having now finished re-reading six of Brookner's 24 novels (and working on number seven at the moment), my Gazetteer of Brookner's London is starting to take shape. I can't wait to see the list when I've finished re-reading all 24. Part of me wants to do this with every book I read that takes place in London but that would be just short of madness.

At some point I will invest the time and/or money into having a map made. But for now it is a list. I know there are London geeks out there who will enjoy looking at it even if you haven't read Brookner.

Anita Brookner's The Misalliance

I know Brookner is an acquired taste and many will find any number of faults with her content and style, but good God I love her work. She is like Barbara Pym without a sense of humor. I'm up to number six in my chronological re-read of all of Brookner's 24 novels. Here is my attempt to 'review' it. 

You will also find it crossposted over at the International Anita Brookner Day blog.

Just about every relationship in The Misalliance (or A Misalliance in the UK) could be considered a misalliance.

After being left by her husband of twenty years Blanche spends her days wandering the National Gallery and her solitary evenings with a bottle of wine. She spends a fair amount of time in musing on the reasons why her husband left her and the type of woman he left her for, but I never got the feeling that that was the point of this novel. In many ways Blanche seems rather complacent about her husband's departure, as if it had been her own fault for not being the right kind of woman. That in itself is tragic given that she devoted her married life to becoming the kind of public and private companion that her husband Bertie seemed to want.

While volunteering at the local hospital one day Blanche is drawn to Sally Beamish, a young mother who is there trying to get help for her three-year old daughter Elinor/Nellie who is mute. Blanche is immediately taken with the child, seeing her as a patient, old soul putting up with a flighty mother and an absent father. Indeed she sees Nellie as a kindred spirit and she moves to offer assistance to Sally whose life is a bit of a self-imposed mess. Her husband Paul is off being a factotum for a wealthy American family who have oddly decided to only pay him in one lump sum at the end of an extended trip. By the end of that trip, however, Paul is essentially accused of embezzling funds and is unlikely to get the pay coming to him. This situation never amounts to anything with legal implications but Blanche is coerced into intervening on Paul's behalf --a man she has never even seen before.

Throughout all of this Blanche's ex-husband Bertie continues to drop in most evenings ostensibly to see how Blanche is doing. This struck me as Bertie wanting to have it both ways. Why give up the comforts of a trusted, supportive ex-spouse just because you have moved on to a younger, more dynamic wife? Although Blanche looks forward to these meetings and retains an emotional attachment to Bertie, I never got the feeling that they were necessary to her well-being. If anything I felt they might be keeping her from moving forward. Also part of the story is Patrick, a suitor in the days prior to Bertie with whom she has remained friends over the years. She asks for his advice on how to best help Sally and Nellie  and he ends up falling in love with the much younger Sally. Nothing ever comes of it, Sally uses Patrick for support in the same way she uses Blanche, but it is enough for Blanche to see Patrick for what he really is.

Blanche is a bit of a victim of male behavior and privilege, and although she is a bit stuck trying to make sense of it all, I kind of felt like she might be on the cusp of something. Perhaps it's a recognition that the men in her life are really rather weak and certainly not to be relied upon. Blanche's decision to leave them all behind and go off traveling for an extended, undefined period is, I suppose, at least partly out of desperation. But I couldn't help projecting my own wishes for Blanche. This was going to be the moment of her triumph. The moment when she leaves it all behind and discovers who she really is.

And then at the eleventh hour Bertie returns--and seemingly for good. Is this vindication for Blanche and the restoration of her married life? Perhaps, but rather than finding it something to celebrate, I found it no more than a threat to her ultimate happiness. A return to her life in a comfy prison. But Brookner leaves us hanging as to what happens next. My feeling is that if Blanche does take him back it won't stick.  He may not leave her again but she will realize he isn't what she wants and this is the real misalliance of the book. Not the first 20 years, not the connection with Sally and Nellie, but what happens after Bertie's return. His return may delay her self-realization, but it won't preempt it entirely.


This thought may not be worth much, but it is something I want to memorialize for my own edification. I loved the scenes where Mrs. Duff comes to Blanche's rescue despite the fact that Blanche has never shown her more than a begrudged politeness. Mrs. Duff's simple, but helpful assistance when Blanche fell ill seems like the only bit of altruism in the book. Brookner doesn't make much of it. But she must have had something in mind. I can think of a few things, but I really just mention it because I was warmed by those scenes.

04 April 2015

For the love of Pete, read this

This was not my view. I was downstairs. The interior design of this hall is an unholy mess of trying to do a renovation on a shoestring with the added constraint of having to reuse crystal ashtray like chandeliers that were a gift of Norway back in the 1970s.
I sit here contemplating how to interest you in reading this post on classical music. Experience has taught me that most of you will tune out (pun intended) soon, but that is assuming you have even made it this far. Fellow blogger Steerforth at The Age of Uncertainty once told me that his readers drop like flies whenever he does a post on music. I was even tempted to do a Facebook-type headline: “95% of you aren’t brave enough to read this post…” But I don’t want anyone thinking I approve of that kind of annoying bullshit.

My biggest problem in writing this post is that I don’t quite know what I want to say. It’s too much to try and lay out my own personal history with classical music. It’s even harder to articulate why I think any of you should care. But yet I am compelled to say something. But why?

Recently I got reacquainted with the world of live classical music. I’m always listening to recorded classical music, but it had been several years since I went to a live performance. I used to go all the time. I would get season tickets to the full orchestra season, go to two or three operas a year, organ recitals, choir concerts, you name it. But for several reasons I had been staying away in recent years. I knew that part of the reason was that I have always been underwhelmed by the Kennedy Center concert hall and to a lesser degree the National Symphony Orchestra. I was spoiled. I cut my concert going teeth on the Minnesota Orchestra and Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, both of which are light years better than anything available here in the much larger, more cosmopolitan DC metropolitan area. I also hated the way that concerts at the KC never seemed to start on time. I’d been to concerts all over the U.S. and Europe and never experienced such habitual tardiness.

With all the doom and gloom about orchestra funding and diminishing ticket sales and the general death of classical music, I also found it a little depressing to go to a concert. But I didn’t realize this until a few weeks ago when I found myself back in the concert hall. It occurred to me that that was one of the reasons I had been staying away. And how ridiculous of me. If the art form is indeed going to die, why not enjoy it while I can? For as long as the orchestra was on stage channeling 300 years of musical genius why focus on what might happen? Not to mention the fact that staying away from concerts meant that I was helping to hasten the very death I was worried about.

The catalyst that got me back in the hall came out of plans I was making for a trip back to Minnesota for the end of May. I haven’t been there in years and I haven’t been to a concert there for much longer. I’m taking advantage of the trip to hear both the Minnesota Orchestra and the equal good, but less famous St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on successive nights. This got my ticket buying juices flowing so I decided to see what the NSO was doing here in DC this spring. There was nothing that really jumped out at me but I thought it might be fun to go on a night when they were doing a bit of a mixed bag that I knew John would enjoy.

On this particular night it was four shortish works by French composer inspired by the Iberian Peninsula. The opening was the somewhat inconsequential but wholly enjoyable EspaƱa by Charbrier. We were seated pretty much front and center and the sound was enveloping and ebullient and sheer bloody marvelous. Although after about seven years in DC, conductor Christoph Eschenbach is already on his way out, I realized that night that I hadn't ever seen him conduct the NSO. I think he has really improved the orchestra…and he started promptly at 8:00. I began to wonder what I had been missing. Was this unalloyed joy I was experiencing?

The concert ended with the old warhorse, well, perhaps chestnut is a better word, Bolero by Ravel. Even if you think you don’t know this piece, you do. In fact we all know it so well that I had a bit of a music school chip on my shoulder and fully expected to just endure one more rendition of it. Essentially it is the same lilting tune repeated over and over for about 13 minutes and gradually getting louder and louder. And you know what? It was blooming brilliant. Performed well and heard live, it was just brilliant. Any residual attitude I had about being too well versed in classical music to really enjoy this crowd-pleasing bit of fluff flew away as I realized I had a fairly big smile on my face.

And speaking of smiles, I have no doubt my experience of the Ravel was heightened by the fact that the timpanist (those are ‘kettle drums’ to some of you) had a totally natural and easy going smile on his face for the whole 13 minutes. If the music hadn’t done it to me already I think his expression would have put me over the top.

Now that I have uncorked the bottle, I realize I have much more to say. But for those of you who have stuck through this to the end, I will wrap up for now. But be warned, I have at least two more musical posts up my sleeve including the story of taking John’s twenty year-old nephew to his first opera, but those will have to wait.