The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own. -- Adam Gopnik

September 14, 2014

Sunday, dinner


      'They've come back!' she exclaimed, and at once she felt much more annoyed with them than relieved. Then she wondered, had it happened? She would go down and they would tell her -- but no. They could not tell her anything, with all these people about. So she must go down and begin dinner and wait. ...
      But she stopped. There was a smell of burning. Could they have let the Bouef en Daube overboil? she wondered, pray heaven not! when the great clangour of the gong announced solemnly, authoritatively, that all those scattered about it, in attics, in bedrooms, on little perches of their own, reading, writing, putting the last smooth to their hair, or fastening dresses, must leave all that, and the little odds and ends on their washing-tables and dressing tables, and the novels on the bed-tables, and the diaries which were so private, and assemble in the dining-room for dinner.
from To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
I remember it now, from my first reading, the dinner party, and the Boeuf en Daube. This meal, this one  long, wonderful scene, goes on for 41 pages in my old college paperback, and that makes sense, because I had also forgotten that the first part of the book takes place in one day. It's a special dinner, because the cook has made her special dish, and William Bankes, the proper, fussy widower who Mrs. Ramsay wants for Lily Briscoe, has consented to stay for dinner, and Paul Rayley has confided in her that he is going to propose to Minta Doyle.

But as I've been saying, I'd forgotten everything that Virginia Woolf did to paint in her setting, and all of her characters, and the things that are in their heads, and how lyrical and beautiful the writing is. When I got to the end of Part I on Friday, I found myself wanting to stop, and breathe, make sure I hadn't missed anything, because I was rushing forward a little to get to the next sentence.

What are you doing today?  So far, I'm cooking and puttering around, but I'm going to curl up with cups of tea and a book later. If it's this one, I'm still not sure if I'm going to begin where I left off, or go back and read through this scene again. How often do I find myself wanting to re-read a book before I've even finished?

I hope your Sunday reading is as promising!

{The painting is by Pierre Bonnard, found on Pinterest.}

September 8, 2014

Anticipation: Delicious edition

October is going to be incredible!

September 7, 2014

Portrait of a marriage

      Always, Mrs. Ramsay felt, one helped oneself out of solitude by laying hold of some little odd or end, some sound, some sight. She listened, but it was all very still; cricket was over; the children were in their baths; there was only the sound of the sea. She stopped knitting; she held the long reddish-brown stocking dangling in her hands a moment. She saw the light again. ... but for all that, she thought, watching it with fascination, hypnotised ... she had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it slivered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea, and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough!  It is enough!
      He turned and saw her. Ah! She was lovely, lovelier now than ever he thought. But he could not speak to her. He could not interrupt her. He wanted urgently to speak to her now that James was gone and she was alone at last.  But he resolved, no; he would not interrupt her. She was aloof from him now in her beauty, in her sadness. He would let her be, and he passed her without a word, though it hurt him that she should look so distant, and he could not reach her, he could do nothing to help her. And again he would have passed her without a word had she not, at that very moment, given him of her own free will what she knew he would never ask, and called to him, and taken the green shawl off the picture frame, and gone to him. For he wished, she knew, to protect her.

from To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

Oh, this book! This lovely, lovely book.


September 6, 2014

Literary London

"Each character has been plotted in the corners of the city they most liked to roam or chose to call home (sometimes on Her Majesty’s Pleasure)."

I found this gem by chance after reading Cornflower Books' wonderful note about Mary Stewart. {Click here if you want to really see it.}

September 4, 2014

In September

      The jacmanna was bright violet; the wall staring white. She would not have considered it honest to tamper with the bright violet and the staring white, since she saw them like that, fashionable though it was, since Mr. Paunceforte's visit, to see everything pale, elegant, semitransparent. Then beneath the colour there was the shape. She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked; it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed ... And it was then, too, in that chill and windy way, as she began to paint, that there forced themselves upon her other things, her own inadequacy, her insignificance, keeping house for her father off the Brompton Road, and had much ado to control her impulse to fling herself (thank Heaven she had resisted so far) at Mrs. Ramsay's knee and say to her -- but what could one say to her? 'I'm in love with you?' No, that was not true. 'I'm in love with this all,' waving her hand at the hedge, at the house, at the children. It was absurd, it was impossible. So now she laid her brushes neatly in the box, side by side, and said to William Bankes:
      'It suddenly gets cold. The sun seems to give less heat,' she said, looking about her, for it was bright enough, the grass still a soft deep green, the house starred in its greenery with purple passion flowers, and rooks dropping cool cries from the high blue. But something moved, flashed, turned a silver wing in the air. It was September, after all, the middle of September, and past six in the evening. So off they strolled down the garden in the usual direction, past the tennis lawn, past the pampas grass. to that break in the thick hedge, guarded by red hot pokers like brassiers of clear burning coal, between which the blue waters of the bay looked bluer than ever.

from To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

{The painting is Woman with a Red Umbrella on the Beach, by Alfred Stevens, found here.}

September 3, 2014

In Copperfield

As Mr. Abbott turned out his light -- about 3 a.m. -- and snuggled down comfortably in bed, his mind was already busy on the blurb that should introduce this unusual book to the notice of the world. The author might have his own ideas about the blurb, of course, but Mr. Abbott decided that it must be very carefully worded so as to give no clue -- no clue whatever -- as to whether the book was a delicate satire (comparable only with the first chapter of Northanger Abbey) or merely a chronicle of events seen through the innocent eyes of a simpleton.
      It was really a satire, of course, thought Mr. Abbott, closing his eyes -- that love scene in the moonlit garden for instance, and the other one where the young bank clerk serenaded his cruel love with a mandolin, and the two sedate ladies buying riding breeches and setting off for the Far East -- and yet there was simplicity about the whole thing, a freshness like the fragrance of new mown hay.
      New mown hay, that was good, thought Mr. Abbott.  Should 'new mown hay' go into the blurb or should it be left to the reader to discover?  What fools the public were!  They were exactly like sheep ... thought Mr. Abbott sleepily ... following each other's lead, neglecting one book and buying another just because other people were buying it, although, for the life of you, you couldn't see what the one lacked and the other possessed. But this book, said Mr. Abbott to himself, this book must go -- it should be made to go.

I think I've never been so happy to have been a sheep.

So many of our reading friends read and talk about D.E. Stevenson, and it was Bellezza who let me know that Miss Buncle's Book (first published in 1934) was a free Nook book one Friday.  But I'm not new to D.E. Stevenson, just lapsed. She was (like Angela Thirkell, and Elizabeth Cadell, and probably some others) a writer with a long shelf of old books who I 'discovered,' in the days before online library catalogs, by roaming through the stacks in search of something nice to read. {" 'Nice!' exclaimed old Mrs. Carter. 'It's certainly not nice. The word is misused nowadays to a ridiculous extent. The word nice means fastidious, discreet -- was it either fastidious or discreet for two people, whose names are being bandied about the world in a third rate novel, to rush off to Paris together? I suppose they are married,' added Mrs. Carter, in a tone which implied that she had grave doubts on the subject."} I'm not sure, though, whether I ever read this one; I meant to look it up, bu then I didn't.

I remember English villages, and fastidious, discreet romances, and obstacles overcome on the path to true love, but I don't remember the books being this delightful and funny. I think Mr. Abbott is right, and that if you haven't read this you should probably discover it for yourself.  But in a nutshell, it's the story of a mousy young woman, whose dividends do not come in, leading her to write a book, under the name John Smith, about her little English village, in hopes of earning some money. As she tells her publisher, she has no imagination, and can only write about the people and life around her.

If you're one of the people who reminded me about this book, or about D.E. Stevenson, thank you! I adored it, and I'm so glad there are at least two more books in this series. If you're new to all this, I would recommend picking up this book on a lazy weekend, perhaps one that comes at the end of a not-very-satisfactory spell of reading, but before you take up your resolution to read more and deeper books, because it's perfect for times like that.