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

January 31, 2015

In January, I also read...

  • The Two Mrs Abbotts, by D.E. Stevenson, her third book about Miss Buncle.  The first book was so wonderful;  I thought the second one lost some {a lot} of that sparkle, then this one brought some of it back.
  • A Killing of Angels, by Kate Rhodes.  This series, featuring Dr. Alice Quentin, is so well written, and this second book was only disappointing because I knew who the murderer was, if only by process of elimination. :)  I am looking forward to the third book, which will be out here soon.
  • Abbattoir Blues, by Peter Robinson.  With a title like this, you can't expect a cosy mystery, can you?  This wasn't among my favorite book in the series -- a little too gritty of a crime, not enough about the series characters maybe as well, but I always look forward to his books, and this brought me to my first county for Reading England 2015.
  • The Serpent Pool, by Martin Edwards.  I read the fourth book in this series, featuring historian Daniel Kind and cold case detective Hannah Scarlett, first, so now I've caught up with the earlier story ... and I could count this as a county except that since I read so many mysteries it would feel like cheating. 
  • Frederica, by Georgette Heyer.  It's always a treat to have one of her regency romances on my Ipod!
  • The Soul of Discretion, by Susan Hill.  Simon Serrailler goes undercover to try to expose a child pornography ring, there's what really feels like a gratuitous story line about his cold, distant father, and then ... I almost don't want to say anything more, except that there could be {almost has to be} a very different story emerging in the next book.
  • Jane Austen and Food, by Maggie Lane.  It would have been almost impossible for me to resist borrowing this from the library, just because of its title, but then when it was offered as a bargain book for my Kindle ...  I've actually been dipping into this on and off for months, mostly when whatever else I was reading had paled a little or I just needed some comfort reading.  What I took away was that Jane Austen didn't write very much about food, so that every mention of it in her books was significant.  
  • The Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant.  This just came out, so I was surprised to get the audiobook on reserve so quickly.  Soon after her 85th birthday, Addie Baum, the daughter of Jewish immigrants who settle in Boston's North End, tells her granddaughter about her life and her family's in the early years of the 20th century.  There's a lot of color and detail about Boston and Brookline, which I loved. This was a perfect book to listen to.

{This lovely painting is La table devant la fenêtre, by Henri Le Sidaner, found on Pinterest.}

January 27, 2015

The domestic manners of Mr. Trollope

Did you have a chance to watch the Masterpiece special on 'The Manners of Downton Abbey'?  {If not, you might be able to see it online here.} I finally watched it last night, and I especially like the parts about the dinners, and how the table was set {Carson, with his measuring stick} and how the footmen were trained to lean forward, synchronized, when they were passing the dishes {or not... remember Alfred and the Dowager Duchess?}

Anyway...reading more of my biography this morning, cosy and warm in the blizzard, I learned a little bit more about the origins of all this...

Like his Doctor Thorne, Anthony consumed huge and numerous cups of tea, and hated the dainty cups he was passed at tea-parties, and then having to balance the cup and sandwich-plate in his hand. Anthony also loathed the new system of dining 'a la Russe,' which had become smart by the time he and Rose came back to England [in 1860]. It meant that dishes were offered or handed individually to each guest by servants, instead of each course of several dishes being placed on the table for everyone to help himself, the host carving the joints. He hated 'that handing round, unless if be of a subsidiary thimbleful of the best cognac when the business of the social intercourse has been dinner' (Framley Parsonage},'Handing round' had become a 'vulgar and an intolerable nuisance' for people like himself, 'second-class gentry,' who did not have a standing army of servants. It meant that he didn't get his potatoes until his mutton was eaten, or had gone cold, and that the wine did not come around often enough. ...
      Readers of Anthony's novels may easily infer what he liked to eat and how he liked to eat it. ... When it came to the food, Anthony's priority as that there should be enough. 'Such a woman one can thoroughly despise, and even hate,' he wrote of wealthy, parsimonious Mrs. Mason of Groby Park in Orley Farm -- who served up for herself, her husband, their three daughters and the attorney Mr. Dockwrath a lunch consisting of three 'scraps' of chicken and three 'morsels' of boiled ham, 'black-looking and very suspicious to the eye.' His approval of Johnny Eames's uncle Mr. Toogood in The Last Chronicle of Barset is equally tangible:  'Mr. Toogood did not give dinner-parties, always begging those whom he asked to enjoy his hospitality, to take pot luck, and telling young men whom he could treat with familiarity, -- such as his nephew -- that if they wanted to be regaled a la Russe they must not come to number 73, Tavistock Square.'

from Anthony Trollope, by Victoria Glendinning


January 26, 2015

A writer whose books I love, speaking so eloquently about a disease I hate

I couldn't quite make the video link work, but it's here:
Louise Penny speaks out about life after her husband's dementia diagnosis

Moving, thoughtful and so, so true.  

January 25, 2015

Lise Lillywhite, for Margery Sharp Day

      He exerted himself to talk entertainingly. He gave a really witty description of a Cairene dinner party.  He also described the pyramids by moonlight. But he spoke of nothing that really concerned him, being accustomed -- unfairly, but so run the cross-currents of family life -- always to exclude Susanna from the inner ring of confidence that embraced both Luke and Kate. With Luke, his older brother, the tie of blood over-rode all else; as for Kate, Martin both loved and respected her -- and perceived in her a fineness of judgment that influenced Luke's. Between them, he always felt, taking their opinion on any matter of conduct, he could hardly go wrong; and had sometimes toyed with the idea of sending Chloe down to Somerset, to see what Kate made of her. At the moment, however, he wanted to know what they made of Aunt Amelia and Lise; and so had to wait for the customary stroll through the dark garden, after dinner, after the lights in the house were all upstairs.
. . .
      'Will you tell me plainly,' said Martin, 'and though I realize they've settled down splendidly, whether they're in any sense a nuisance to you?'
      'Good God, no,' said Luke. The bucket in his hand clanked as he halted; the pigs had been fed by Gerald Beer; the hens had been fed by Susanna; Luke, at ten 'clock at night still had something in a bucket he was going to carry somewhere. ... 'They pull their weight, so to speak. Lise helps Kate in the house, and never minds being dull. Personally, I'm sorry we can't provide more amusement for her, but she doesn't seem to care. Aunt Amelia's cooking you've tasted for yourself, and she doesn't complain either. ... Personally,' concluded Luke, 'I call her a thoroughly jolly old girl' and strode off, the bucket clanking.
      Martin waited until he was out of sight, and then turned to his sister-in-law. They had reached the sundial-plot; Kate, with a remembered gesture, pulled a sprig of lavender and rubbed the budding stems between her fingers.
      'And what do you call her?' asked Martin.
      Kate hesitated.
      'I'm not sure ... I like them both, Martin, At least -- Lise is exquisite, of course.'
      'Yes,' said Martin. 'I thought you'd see it.'
      'I feel rather as though we'd a very rare piece of china in the house, something that must be taken great care of. Not that she's in the slightest way demanding, she isn't -- in fact, she's so perfectly self-contained I never have the least idea what she's thinking. Have you?' ...
      'But is she happy?' asked Martin urgently.
      'She seems content. Did she seem to you happier in London?'
      'I don't think so,' said Martin. 'She seemed content.'
      'Of course, she's waiting,' said Kate. 'Smell this lavender, Martin. You never sent me the bushes for my birthday, but we'll have a bag or two all the same.'
      Martin sniffed at his sister-in-law's palm; for a moment, he held her hand against his cheek in a gesture of quiet affection. She has perceived Lise's quality; if she could tell him no more of Lise than he knew already, at least Lise was safe under her roof.
      'And what about Tante Amelie?' prompted Martin, changing the key of their conversation. 'What about Aunt Amelia?  Do you know what she's thinking?'
      Kate laughed.
      'I ought to, for she tells me often enough. She thinks I resemble an eighteenth-century shepherdess. She thinks Luke the true type of a country gentleman. She thinks Susanna is a wonderful influence for good. She thinks we are all marvellously kind, and our life here a veritable idyll. And she's extraordinary helpful herself, Martin; I mean really helpful. She does all sorts of odd jobs, regularly. She's making me an exquisite nightgown. But all the same, and all the time -- '
      'Out with it,' said Martin.
      'It sounds so ridiculous .. but all the time I've a feeling there's something going on underneath, that we're all involved in some sort of a plot. And yer there can't be a plot; there's nothing here to plot about. You know her better than we do, Martin.' Kate turned, as she had once before, to look searchingly into her brother-in-law's face. 'Martin,' asked Kate seriously. 'Is she good?' ...
      'I can only tell you that she's devoted to Lise,' said Martin.
      'That's good.'
      'And where Lise is concerned would be quite unscrupulous.'
      'That's forgivable. -- You mean she'd sacrifice us, or you?'
      'Without a second's hesitation.'
      'Then, if that's all,' said Kate thoughtfully, ' I think she is good; and we, if necessary, must look out for ourselves.'
I hope she won't mind my saying so, but after meeting Margaret Kennedy at a celebration that Fleur organized in her honor, I would happily go to any party that our friend was giving. :) {Thanks, Jane!} This time, today, it's Margery Sharp Day, in honor of this author's 110th birthday. Another author who is new to me, and another one who/s become an instant favorite. :)  {Though the first part isn't apparently true, I was looking in the notebook where I keep my very long lost of books read, and discovered that I had read Together and Apart years and years ago... I had written down the author as being Margaret Lyndon. :)}.

Speaking of parties, reading the first chapter or so of Lise Lillywhite is a little like being invited to a gathering,  where you don't know anyone there, or anyone they're talking about, but they all seem to be related to each other, and it might be important to figure out how that is exactly. They're all Lillywhites. Martin, Luke and Susanna are brother and sister.  Martin works in the Foreign Office and is an amiable bachelor in London;  Luke is married to Kate, and they live, with Susanna, in the family's old house in Somerset, keeping it up by running a small farm.  Visiting for the weekend, Martin reports on some news that he has come across at work:  their uncle Charles, who had been living in France, since 1900, has come back to England, with his daughter Amelie and his 17-year-old granddaughter Lise, who has been living with her grandfather and her aunt after the death of her parents.  They are fleeing from war-torn France (it's 1946), and now living in a small, run-down apartment, stuffed with someone else's dusty antiques, on an unfashionable street. Susanna and Luke aren't interested, Kate wonders whether it would be only right to invite them to live in what is really their home as well, and it's curious, gentlemanly Martin who finds himself knocking on their door and introducing himself.  Once he does. everyone gets wrapped up in each other's lives -- mostly, in  what is to become of quiet, exquisite, ethereal Lise.

I regret the passage I quoted above, a little because though it hints at the plot {which involves a plot, if you follow me}, that's not what I'd really want you to know. A lot of what we read next is very funny, some of it is sweet with an undercurrent of something a little darker, some of it is a little too drawn out, and then improbable, but it's all irresistible, at least it was for me.  I think that's because Margery Sharp is incredibly good at drawing her characters -- their appearance, how they look, how they talk, how other people see them -- and it sounds a little trite, but it's true -- bringing them to life. Ironically, Lise was the least interesting character, but everything swirls around her and the other characters become even more dimensional in how they respond to her.

Part of me wants to share lots of wonderful bits about the characters {you just have to love a book that has a telling scene involving a twinset, don't you?}, but I'd rather hope that you have a chance to read this for yourself.  Margery Sharp's books seem hard to find, except in libraries, so I'm especially grateful for my library privileges at work and the dusty books buried in the stacks that no one else seems to have checked out.  This book was truly delightful -- I wish they knew what they were missing! :)

January 24, 2015

How is this for serendipity?

From the back cover of this book, which I started last night...
As every Trollope reader knows, English cathedral towns can be hotbeds of viciousness and vice.  And so it is in Lafferton, where Susan Hill sets her thoughtful mysteries. - The New York Times Book Review

I didn't even plan this, but I love it. I've had this {the eighth Simon Serrailler mystery} on reserve at the library for months {ever since I first heard about it} but there was no sign of it ... until I went to the C.P.L. again and found it on their express shelves. Like I said, serendipity. :)

January 21, 2015

Lunch, with books

When I first moved here, all those years ago, I got into a lovely Saturday morning routine of going to the Cambridge Public Library.  OK, to be honest, I'd go to the Cambridge library, which opened at 9, because if you got there right at 9 you could get a parking spot, then I'd go to the Starbucks across the street, then I'd drive back home to the Brookline library, which opened at 10, because if you got there right at 10 you could get a parking spot. Lovely, but geeky. At the time, your library card let you use the libraries in most of the towns around your own, and I liked going to different ones.  Some had a lot of new books, some had a lot of cookbooks, one had audiobooks (on cassettes!) long before any of the others really did, etc. etc.

Over the years, they organized themselves into a network, and now you can request a book online and get whichever library's copy is available first.  It's an amazing service, but it has also meant that I've stopped going to those other libraries, and there's less of a need or a temptation to just browse. In any event, I hadn't been back to the C.P.L. in years, though I vaguely remembered that it had undergone some renovations.  When I finally figured out (a month or two ago) that it's not very far from work {I used to drive to it from another direction, so I didn't have my bearings}, I wasn't prepared for how magnificent it is now.  You used to walk in through the two arches on the left; now they're glassed in, there's a beautiful modern addition on the right, where the tiny parking lot used to be, and the old first floor, where the new books were, is filled with cookbooks. :)

The C.P.L. is only about a 10 or 15 minute walk from my office, so going there is a nice way to spend a lunch hour (I've also been trying to get myself away from my desk a little more often).  The other thing I like about this library is how they handle their new books.  Many (even most) of them are on 'express' loan for two weeks, no reserves, no renewals, which paradoxically means that I almost always find something on the shelf that I've been waiting for, or looking forward to, or never heard of, and wasn't expecting.

Last week, it was this:

It's a little coffee table book showing 200 years of book covers, from the first edition of each novel to covers for teenagers, pulpy paperbacks, bodice-rippers, books for babies (I love those!), some that sex Jane up, some that are a little bizarre, some in translation, and some that are a combination :).

I saw some editions that I recognized, some covers that made me laugh, and many that could tempt me to buy another copy of one of the novels.   If you come across this book, it's a lot of fun to look through.

In the meantime, here's to libraries, and our librarian friends!