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

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November 15, 2020

' delectable that it cannot be missed'

There is something almost outlandishly generous about the act of offering away the best of something — we humans are so innately selfish — rather than keeping it for yourself. And it was always like that with her:  whoever has the good fortune of sitting at her side at a meal will be offered something from her plate — but only if it’s so delectable that it cannot be missed. She would allow herself only a piece of the second best peach, the subpar pear, the plum that needed another day, so that her company might taste the very best fruit. It was like that with everything, really:  the perfect morsel of lobster claw that slid from its pincer shell. Anything that took effort, that might be messy but whose taste was a reward — she would do the dirty work and turning to me, give it away. … These were delights harvested or prepared especially for me. There was a knowingness in it, though, as if she were saying, ‘I’ve been here before. I’ve sipped the ambrosia. It’s tour turn now.’ I do wonder whether this is typical of motherhood or of the love that attends that role. I can’t yet venture an opinion, but I suspect the impulse is more driving in my mom’s case than in most. 

from Always Home:  a daughter's recipes and stories
by Fanny Singer

I just started this lovely book, which just arrived from the library, for my Kindle, months after I put it on reserve.  (All things to be grateful for.) Fanny Singer's mother is Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse, nnd her book is filled with food (of course) and love,

The painting is Still Life (Table with Bowl of Fruit), by Pierre Bonnard

October 11, 2020

The Age of Innocence (1920-2020)



     Edith Wharton set aside the manuscript of A Son at the Front next to that of The Glimpses of the Moon, and after an interval came up with the scenario of still another novel. It bore the working title 'Old New York' and the scene was laid in 1875. The two main characters, Langdon Archer and Clementine Olenska, are both unhappily married. Falling in love, they 'go off secretly,' Edith explained, 'and meet in Florida where they spend a few mad weeks' before Langdon returns to his pretty, conventional wife in New York, and Clementine to an existence, separated from her brutish husband, in Paris.
from Edith Wharton:  A biography, by R.W.B. Lewis
Happily, it became so much more than this, although I wish she had kept the 'Clementine.' :) 

It was hard for me to believe this, but I first read The Age of Innocence 40(!) years ago, in Professor Lewis' seminar on fiction set in New York.  It may not be the first book by Edith Wharton that I read, but it's probably the one that drew me to her. {I'm not sure; I may have read Ethan Frome in high school; I know I've read it and didn't like it very much. I should try it again.}  I'm also not sure how many I've reread The Age of Innocence since then, maybe two or three.

This is its 100th anniversary, and I made big plans early this year to read it in installments, and re-read this biography or another one, to set it in context, and so on, but here it is October, and a few things this year have gotten in the way of this and most other plans. :) But I'm glad it's still timely. The novel was published in serial form from July to October, and then in book form shortly thereafter. The biography will have to wait till this winter, but I have a read-listen version of the novel set up and enjoyed the first two chapters this morning. 

My first observations:  it's set at an earlier than I remembered, about 50 years before it was written, at a time when Wharton was about 13 years old; so she wasn't writing about the world she experienced as an adult, but looking backward.  

She writes delightful zingers ... 
To come to the Opera in a Brown coupe was almost as honourable a way of arriving as in one's own carriage, and departing by the same means had the immense advantage of enabling one ... to scramble into the first Brown conveyance in the line, instead of waiting till the cold-and-gin congested nose of one's own coachman gleamed under the portico of the Academy. It was one of the livery-stableman's most masterly intuitions that Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it. 
... and Newland Archer, who {despite Daniel Day-Lewis} never seemed admirable in the end, comes across as self-absorbed right way. 

August 30, 2020



      She's neither bitter nor boisterous about her people; instead, she has irony, tenderness, clear vision, and most of all, a gorgeous sense of their absurdity, which is never really exaggerated into more than life-size. ,,, She does not have to distort or magnify what they're like;  she just recognizes them, delights in them herself, and then creates them for our benefit...So there they are, her characters, concentrated for our benefit into a small circle of time and space, deliciously giving themselves away not only in action but by the smallest working of their motives and preoccupations; absolutely unaware, of course, that anyone is catching them out in it.  It's mo crime to be a lover of Jane Austen; but if you aren't, you can't understand why we find her so restful, because you're much too inclined to translate 'restful' into 'soporific'; if we just wanted an author who would send us nicely to sleep , we should not go to Jane Austen; she's restful from exactly the opposite reason:  we're alert all the time when we're reading and re-reading and re-re-reading Jane, otherwise we might miss something, some tiny exquisite detail, an almost imperceptible movement in the mind of one of her characters. ... the air of Bath is relaxing, but the air of Jane Austen isn't; she's pungent, she's bracing, you're breathing good air while you read Jane, and so you feel well.

from More reading about Jane Austen
by Sheila Kaye-Snith and G.B. Stern

I realized last night that I actually have to return this book to the college library in ten days, and wouldn't be able to take it out again for a while. I hope all our little problems are this nice. ) 

August 16, 2020

Only connect: Miss Pemberton and Ms. Kaye-Smith

"I must congratulate you on your excellent war cookery, Miss Pemberton," said Mr. Villars. 'This would make Mrs. Chapman jealous, Verena."

"Indeed it would," said Mrs. Villars. knowing full well the measure of her excellent cook's contempt for anyone's cooking but her own. "May I guess what's in it, Miss Pemberton? I have found rice and mushroom and little bits of bacon and tomato, I think, and I suspect paprika."

Miss Pemberton smiled grimly.

"'And I would have said that the rice was cooked in veal stock, bit I know Fletcher's had no veal this wek, nor had Bones," said Mrs. Turner.

"Stock from a rabbit," said Mrs Pemberton less grinly. ...

"There is something else," said Mrs. Turner, "but I can't quite spot it. You ought to write a cookery book, Miss Pemberton." ...

(same dinner party, several pages later)

"Excuse me one moment, Downing," said Mr. Holden. "The word Virelais somehow reminded me of it. Oatmeal! I know it would come to me."

His hearers looked at him with stupor, but Miss Pemberton, whose mind was very acute, allowed her face to relax into an expression not remotely connected with approval.

"You are right, Mr. Holden," she said. "I thickened the stock with it."

"By Jove! I knew there was something," said Mr. Holden. "Look here, Miss Pemberton, you simply must do a cookery book for us. I know Coates would jump at it. May I put it up to him and get him to write to you? If you can do it as a series of articles with a literary flavour and some good quotations, we could get them into a high-class women's magazine first, and then publish it in book form. Will you consider it?"

"It depends what you offer," said Miss Pemberton. "We will talk about it later. Will you go on, Harold?"

It was just a coincidence {or possibly the realization that in our gradual, sort-of, step-skipping return to normal, I have library books that I'll actually have to return soon :)} that I read these two books one almost after the other, but to go from Miss Pemberton's fictional cookery book to Ms. Kaye-Smith's real one was delightful no matter how it came about.  

Over the last few months I've found myself doing as much comfort-rereading as new reading, and this has included picking up again with reading Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire novels in order, starting over again because it was more fun than figuring out where I had left off.:) I went almost right from Cheerfulness Breaks In to Northbridge Rectory because of the unforgivable way that Thirkell ended the former {with Lydia Keith, (finally!) newly married to Noel Merton, receiving a telegram} and even though overall I enjoyed Cheerfulness more, I relished every scene with proud, hen-pecking, affectionate, cranky Miss Pemberton in it.

Early in the war I realized that I ought to learn to cook. ... I remembered the upheavals caused by the last war in my mother's home and I did not want to be caught unprepared by any later stages of this.

      Cooking was my main anxiety, partly because I had no experience of it -- whereas I had done my fair if clumsy share of sweeping, dusting,  and bedmaking -- and partly because I knew that for ordinary housework I had a reservoir of local talent to draw from, whereas the local cooks had inspired me only with dread of their tender mercies.

      Besides, though I had not actually practiced the art, I was deeply interested in it and had a passable knowledge of its theory. Ever since I became a housekeeper in my own right I had been careful to engage good cooks and had enjoyed planning meals, trying new ideas, introducing new recipes and new kinds of things to eat. I could not bear the thought of being left in inexpert hands or floundering helplessly by myself through a painful system of trial and error.

I had borrowed Kitchen Fugue from the college library {that's the one that's actually due soon} because after reading Talking of Jane Austen I went looking for more that she had written. In it, she describes learning to cook, in middle age, under war time restrictions, after growing up with servants and having never done so before -- with recipes, and menus, along with childhood memories, gardening, keeping rabbits,  living with cats, her own "literary flavour and some good quotations," and other non-cooking tangents. In her book, Miss P., who lives in genteel poverty, would probably not have described cooking as a creative outlet, though doing it well may have secretly been one for her.  I enjoyed Kitchen Fugue; still, I'm left with a longing now to read Miss Pemberton's book. 

Northbridge Rectory, by Angela Thirkell
Virago Books, originally published in 1941
Read on my Kindle

Kitchen Fugue, by Sheila Kaye-Smith
Harper and Brothers Publishers (1945)
Borrowed from the college library

June 28, 2020

Read while safe at home

In terms of treasures lost, damage done, and deaths inflicted, the raid was the worst of the war. ,,, It left some 12,000 people without homes, among them the novelist Rose Macaulay, who returned to her flat on Sunday morning to learn that it had been destroyed by fire, along with everything she had accumulated in the course of her lifetime, including letters from her terminally ill lover, a novel in progress, all her clothes, and all her books. It was the loss of the books that she grieved above all. 'I kept thinking of one thing I loved after another with a fresh stab,' she wrote to a friend. 'I wish I could go abroad and stay there, then I shouldn't miss my things so much, but it can't be. I love my books so much, and can never replace them.' Among the loss was a collection of volumes published in the 17th century ... She also lost her collection of rare Baedekers, 'and anyhow, travel is over, like one's books and the rest of civilization.'  But the single loss that cost her the greatest sorrow was her Oxford English Dictionary. As she probed the ruins of her home, she found a charred page from the Hs. She also exhumed a page from her edition of the famed 17th-century diary kept by Samuel Pepys. She made an inventory of the books, at least those she could remember. It was, she wrote in a later essay, 'the saddest list...perhaps one should not make it.'

from The Splendid and the Vile:  a saga of Churchill, family and defiance
during the Blitz
, by Erik Larson 

There was much more that was horrible, and that I didn't know, in this book, but I found myself listening to this particular passage several times. {If only audiobooks had footnotes, but since we have Google, I only have to wait until November. } She would have been my age {or a year or so younger}when this happened. I've never read Rose Macaulay, although I first heard of her decades ago in the Common Reader catalog {I know Frances remembers it ... does anyone else?}. I will now.

June 18, 2020

Ooh la la!

... and it's the 10th anniversary! Thanks, Tamara! This will be especially lovely (and welcome) this year.

June 10, 2020

Words for this spring


      Yet, even in the most dismal, disappointing year, there are days rare and precious, coming in ones and twos, days that are to be seized at once and relished in every detail, stored away like a preserve, to light us through the succeeding dreariness. There is no time to turn over in bed and  say 'tomorrow' and sleep again, this early morning of a fine spring day will never return. Besides ... it may be glorious, day in, day out, from dawn until breakfast time, and then the clouds will thicken and the rain returns, just as, at the end of those dark afternoons, there is often sunshine and a clear blue sky, a calm bright end to a blustery day.
from The Magic Apple Tree:  a country year, by Susan Hill 

The audiobook of this lovely book, which I first read decades ago, has been my bedtime listening for the last week or so, and is almost perfect in that role. especially this year, except that I keep turning over in bed to rewind it and listen to a bit of it, like this one, again. :)

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