No, these were noises which belonged to the winter pleasures; her spirits rose under their influence. — Jane Austen, Persuasion
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February 19, 2019

Henry on my walk to work



      'Now there is one place where perhaps it would be indelicate to take a Mississipian,' Verena said, after this episode. 'I mean the great place that towers among the others -- that big building with the beautiful pinnacles, which you see from every point.' But Basil Ransom had heard of the great Memorial Hal:  he knew what memories it enshrined, and the worst that he should have to suffer there; and the ornate, overtopping structure, which was the finest piece of architecture he had ever seen, had moreover solicited his enlarged curiosity for the last half-hour. He thought there was rather too much brick about it, but it was buttressed, cloistered, turreted, dedicated, superscribed, as he had never seen anything; though it didn't look old, it looked significant; it covered a large area, and it sprang majestic into the winter air. ... As he approached it with Verena she suddenly stopped, to decline responsibility. 'Now mind, if you don't like what's inside, it isn't my fault.
     He looked at her an instant, smiling. 'Is there anything against Mississippi?'
     'Well, no, I don't think she is mentioned. But there is great praise of our young men in the war.'
     'It says they were brave, I suppose.'
     'Yes, it says so in Latin.'
     'Well, so they were -- I know something about that,' Basil Ransom said. 'I must be brave enough to face them -- it isn't the first time.' And they went up the low steps and passed into the tall doors.
      ... Ransom and his companion wandered from one part of the building to another, and stayed their steps at several impressive points; but they lingered longest in the presence of the white, ranged tablets, each of which, in its proud, sad cleanness, is inscribed with the name of a student-soldier. The effect of the place is singularly noble and solemn, and it is impossible to feel it without a lifting of the heart. ... Most of them were young, all were in their prime, and all of them had fallen ... For Ransom, these things were not a challenge, nor a taunt; they touched him with respect... He was capable of being a generous foeman, and he forgot, now the whole question of sides and parties; the simple emotion of the old fighting-time came back to him, and the monument around him seemed an embodiment of that memory; it arched over friends as well as enemies, the victims of defeat as well as the sons of triumph.
      'It is very beautiful -- but I think it is very dreadful!' This remark, from Verena, called him back to the present. 'It's a real sin to put up such a building, just to glorify a lot of bloodshed. If it wasn't so majestic, I would have it pulled down.'
from The Bostonians, by Henry James

{A footnote in the edition I've been reading reminded me that Memorial Hall was built in the 1870s 'as a memorial to Harvard students and graduates who fought on the Union side in the Civil War; those Harvard men who fought and died for the South (60 or so out of a total of 200 dead) were not included.'}


February 10, 2019

Henry in the neighborhood


'Olive will be down in about 10 minutes; she told me to tell you that. About ten; that is exactly like Olive. Neither five nor fifteen, and yet not ten exactly, but either nine or eleven. She didn't tell me to say she was glad to see you, because she doesn't know whether she is or not, and she wouldn't for the world expose herself to telling a fib. She is very honest, is Olive Chancellor; she is full of rectitude. Nobody tells fibs in Boston; I don't know what to make of them all. Well, I am very glad to see you, at any rate.'


When he told her that if she would take him as he was he should be very happy to dine with her, she excused herself a minute and went to give an order in the dining-room. The young man, left alone, looked about the parlour -- the two parlours which, in their prolonged, adjacent narrowness, formed evidently one apartment -- and wandered to the windows at the back, where there was a view of the water; Miss Chancellor having the good fortune to dwell on that side of Charles Street toward which, in the rear, the afternoon sun slants redly, from an horizon indented at empty intervals with wooden spires, the masts of lonely boats, the chimneys of dirty 'works,' over a brackish expanse of anomalous character, which is too big for a river and too small for a bay.  The view seemed to him very picturesque, though in the gathered dusk little was left of it save a cold yellow streak in the west, a gleam of brown water, and the reflection of the lights that had begun to show themselves in a row of houses, impressive to Ransom in their extreme modernness, which overlooked the same lagoon from a long embankment on the left, constructed of stones roughly piled. He thought this prospect, from a city-house, almost romantic ...

Afterwards, when his cousin had come back and they had gone down to dinner together, where he sat facing her at a little table decorated in the middle with flowers, a position from which he had another view, through a window where the curtain remained undrawn by her direction (she called his attention to this -- it was for his benefit), of the dusky, empty river, spotted with points of light -- at this period, I say, it was very easy for him to remark to himself that nothing would induce him to make love to such a type as that. Several months later, in New York, in conversation with Mrs. Luna, ... he alluded by chance to this repast, to the way her sister had placed him at table, and to the remark with which she had pointed out the advantage of his seat. 
     'That's what they call in Boston being very 'thoughtful,' Mrs. Luna said, 'giving you the Back Bay (don't you hate the name?) to look at, and then taking credit for it.'

from The Bostonians, by Henry James (1886)

February 3, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019: Working on my list



I'm late getting started, but I'm signing on for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge this year (thank you to Karen for organizing it and JoAnn for leading me to it). I'm not sure whether I'll read 6 or 9 books (probably not 12), or which book I'll read for which category, but I've started making a list (and making the list is a big part of the fun, don't you think?)

Here's where I've gotten to so far, list-wise...


  1. A 19th-century classic:  Miss Mackenzie, by Anthony Trollope
  2. A 20th-century classic:  Delta Wedding, by Eudora Welty
  3. A classic by a female author:  Scenes from Clerical Life, by George Eliot
  4. A classic in translation:  something French, TBD
  5. A classic comedy:  Love and Friendship, by Jane Austen
  6. A classic tragedy:  Daisy Miller, by Henry James
  7. A very long classic: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  8. A classic novella:  something by Edith Wharton, TBD
  9. A classic from the Americas:  Washington Square, by Henry James
  10. A classic from a place you've lived:  The Bostonians, by Henry James
  11. A classic play:  TBD

I know there's a lot of Henrys, but I've been wanting to read or re-read two of them for a long time, and some of the others have been on my wish list for a while as well. This isn't a definite list anyway, but it's one I'm really looking forward to.


January 27, 2019

In January, I was reading ...



2018
The word detective:  searching for the meaning of it all
at the Oxford English Dictionary,
by John Simpson

2017
Bewildering cares,
by Winifred Peck

2016
The nutmeg tree,
by Margery Sharp

2015
Lise Lillywhite,
by Margery Sharp

2014
The house of mirth,
by Edith Wharton

2013
Serving Victoria:  life in the royal household,
by Kate Hubbard

2012
Charles Dickens: a life,
by Claire Tomalin

2011
Bury your dead, 
by Louise Penny

2010
Sargent's daughters:  the biography of a painting,
by Erica Hirshler

2009
Case histories,
by Kate Atkinson

2008
Northanger Abbey,
by Jane Austen
(for the first time!)


I thought it might be fun to look through my reading journals, and share, for a while, a possibly somewhat random list of  a book that stands out for me in my monthly lists.  I've loved it when other people have done something like this. And if nothing else, it will fun for me to look back.:)

January 21, 2019

A biography with something new...




I've promised myself to try this year to read more of the books that I've bought but left long unread, and decided to start with this one.  I haven't read any of Fanny Burney's novels (though I want to, now. ... have you?), but I became interested in her when I read, somewhere, that she spent several years as a lady of the bedchamber to Queen Charlotte (the wife of George III). She's a very interesting, complex, unexpected person, who seems to have done a lot of rewriting of her own life, and her family's, and finding a biography written  by Claire Harman made reading about her even more appealing. In addition to her life at the court, it was fun to read about her meetings with Germaine de Stael, and the how she delighted and inspired Jane Austen. (One of my favorite things about reading biographies is coming across these connections.)

But I found something else that was fun, at the end of the book, something I've never come across in a biography before:  a list of the words (or usages) -- six pages of them -- that were added to the Oxford English Dictionary when they were found in her writings. Some of them are commonplace now, and others aren't ...
  • acquaintance {as a verb, as in 'Mrs. Milner ... has sent me, lately, a message to desire that we should acquaintance,' from her published journals}
  • break down {'...we had not proceeded thirty yards ... for the coach broke down!', in Evelina}
  • dizzying {'You waft me from extreme to extreme,with a rapidity absolutely dizzying,'in Camilla}
  • elbow {'Clermont, now elbowing himself into a crowd of gentlemen,' in Camilla}
  • far from it {'No, indeed! far from it!', in Camilla}
  • plain sailing {'... the rest would become plain-sailing, in Camilla}
  • unjulyish {'I am very glad the Weather was so good. It was particularly kind of it, for I am sure it has been very unjulyish since.' From her journals.}
  • unrobustify {'I have been able to seeher but twice!  --the roads are so indifferent, & we are both so unrobustified as yet.' Same.}

There was also a passage in the book about how her writing changed as she grew older, noting some other words she invented that didn't get in the O.E.D.  I couldn't find it to share with you, unfortunately, because they're even better.


Fanny Burney, by Claire Harman
Alfred A. Knopf, 2000
From my bookshelves





January 14, 2019

Books with food



I write novels and I cook dinner, and some days the edges blur. Like me, my characters know their way around a kitchen, and like my family, they are good eaters. Increasingly, my plots thicken in restaurants, as waiters hover, and increasingly readers ask, 'What's with the food in your books?'
      My answer is, doesn't everybody characterize people by what they eat? Isn't it another descriptive tool, like a story's furniture or its clothes? ...
      Characters have to eat, don't they? Mine simply do it while you're watching. They make reservations, study menus, talk and cook, talk and eat, refill their wineglasses, linger over decaf. I'm at peace with this predilection because I find that every interaction with the stove, refrigerator, plate and fork provides an opportunity to mine the telling detail, to make abstract notions complex in a way I hope is a kind of shorthand.
from I Can't Complain:  (All too) personal essays, by Elinor Lipman

      I first discovered this recipe before I was married,in a long ago Gourmet magazine. I ripped it out and took it with me for a week with my parents and assorted relatives in a rented house at Scarborough Beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island. There, in the hot, outdated 1970s-era Formica-linoleum-avocado green kitchen, I made loads of tomato pies, maybe even dozens. The recipe got splattered with tomato guts and mayonnaise -- yes, there's mayonnaise, too, but only a third of a cup -- the words smearing in spots. But it didn't matter, because by the end of the week I had made so many tomato pies, I knew the recipe by heart. The first layer of biscuit crust is covered with sliced fresh tomatoes, then sprinkled with chopped basil ad topped with shredded cheddar cheese. A mixture of mayonnaise and lemon juice is then poured over the filling, which is covered with the second crust and baked until it's browned and bubbly. The smells of that pie on a hot summer day make you feel dizzy, so intoxicating are they.
      No one in my family knew just how important that tomato pie was to me. Not just because it used the freshest ingredients at their prime deliciousness. Not just because eating tomato pie is something akin to reaching nirvana. Not just because eating tomato pie made me popular and made me look incredibly talented. No, this tomato pie was important to me because it wasn't just anybody's recipe, it was Laurie Colwin's recipe.
from Kitchen Yarns:  notes on life, love and food, by Ann Hood

I've had this post sitting in draft since New Year's, and right now the nicest thing I could do for you is to stop trying to write something about these two books and just recommend with all my heart that you read both of them.

One of them is by a writer whose books I always read and almost always love, and reading her essays made me even fonder of her.  They're not all about food (one chapter is) -- they touch on her family, and what it's like to be a writer and an ordinary person, or have one of her novels turned into a movie, and heartbreakingly, her long marriage and her husband's early death from a rare form of dementia. The best part of reading this book was to read it as an audiobook narrated by the author, and I'm very grateful to JoAnn for telling us about it.

The other is by an author I've certainly heard of but have never read.  I confess that I was drawn to it by its pretty cover and its foodiness, but I'm glad I was. The chapters (with a recipe or two in each) move from growing up in a tight-knit family in Rhode Island to love affairs and several marriages (with a final happy one), to raising her family, to becoming a writer, and even when she's writing about something that made her unhappy there's a sense that she's someone who will get through it. The chapter about Laurie Colwin's tomato pie is also a chapter about Colwin's books, and how when Hood was an aspiring young writer, Colwin may have smiled at her for a moment at a book reading.  It was completely captivating.  I loved Hood's description of Colwin as 'a kind of Manhattan Jane Austen,' and I'm definitely going to make the tomato pie next summer and read this chapter again. :)


I Can't Complain:  (All too) personal essays, by Elinor Lipman
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2013
Audiobook, read by the author, borrowed from the library

Kitchen Yarns:  notes on life, love and food,  by Ann Hood
W.W. Norton and Company, 2018
Borrowed from the library

December 30, 2018

Looking backwards...


Hmmm... overall, I think I read less this year than I wanted to, and almost all of the books that stood out for me came toward the end of the year. But all in all, it was another wonderful year of reading, and especially of reading about reading, with all of you.  So thank you, and all the best in the new year!

These were my favorite books this year (in the order I read them) ...


Dorothy Whipple
{March}

This was a good year for Persephones! {and a special note of thanks to Jane, for her Birthday Book of Underappreciated Lady Authors, and many other pleasures during the year}


Diana Tutton
{June}

'This book was funny, and lovely, and wise, and I'm sure it will always rank among my favorite Persephones (as will its endpaper...).'


Queen Mary
James Pope-Hennessy
{October}

I'm not sure how this book ended up on my radar, but I'm oh-so-glad it did... more proof that a great biography (and a great biographer) transcends any lack of interest in the subject. :) And my enjoyment of reading this long, detailed and completely engaging book was increased by finding this one, which was a behind-the-scenes look at the writing of the biography.  How wonderful is that?




Susan Orlean
{October}

'...heartbreaking, fascinating and very very hard to put down.'  Probably the most memorable and meaningful book I read this year.


How the Light Gets In
Louise Penny
{November}

I love this series...I buy the books as soon as they come out, and then save them to read as a treat, which means (joy of joys) that I'm several books behind. This one was especially good.


What She Ate:  Six Remarkable Women and the Food that
Tells Their Stories
Laura Shapiro
{December}

I just finished listening to this yesterday {another book that I was foolishly  'saving'}, and it has already sent me in search of books about Dorothy Wordsworth and caused a craving to re-read all of Barbara Pym as soon as possible.


And I couldn't possibly end the year without a thank you and a big hug for JoAnn.  She and I have now read/listened to twelve, yes TWELVE, Trollopes together -- the Barchesters and the Pallisers. It seems we both liked the Barchester Chronicles more than the Palliser novels {though they had their moments!}, and the last one we read, The Duke's Children, ended (and now that I think of it, began} in a way that left us a little bereft, I feel so lucky to have found this author and the most wonderful reading companion.



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