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

April 25, 2015

The Dream Lover

Our library {though I guess most would} adds books to their online catalog, and let us reserve them, months before they're published, so by the time a book arrives I've sometimes, even often, forgotten why I wanted to read it.  It was a nice surprise, then :) to remember that this one is historical fiction about George Sand. (Also, I've read Elizabeth Berg's fiction before, though not recently, and remember liking it, so that would have been part of it.}

What I know about George Sand comes mostly from Impromptu, and a visit to the Musée de la Vie Romantique in Paris {in a neighboring house where she attended salons}, and reading about motor trips Edith and Henry {we call them Edith and Henry} took to Nohant, her house in the country. The Dream Lover, told in the first person  by Sand,  reads almost like a memoir, describing her childhood, her volatile relationships with her grandmother, her mother and her daughter, her unhappy marriage and her unusual separation from her husband, her life in Nohant and in Paris, her writing, her passionate but not very lasting relationships with men and women, and her search, always, for love {or, really a lover who does not seem to exist}.  As the book begins, the chapters alternate between her adulthood and her childhood, until they converge, I thought that was unusual and creative.}

This is the kind of historical fiction that works for me, filled with lush descriptions of rooms, and houses, and clothes, that drew me into the settings and the scenes that Berg was depicting. I liked what she said in her afterword about writing this book:

      When I began doing research for this book, I was struck by the number of inconsistencies I found about the life of George Sand, ... Amid the many biographies I read I found disagreements about the date of her birth, when events occurred, how and why and when — and even if — she said or did or felt certain things, and when and where her books were written. ... Even things in her autobiography are suspect:  about certain facts she presented in Histoire de Ma Vie (Story of My Life) regarding her grandmother's first marriage, one biographer wrote that there was not a word of truth in it.
      Such discrepancies are the bane of the nonfiction writer and bliss for the novelist; they left me free to pick and choose among the delicious 'facts' of Sand's life in order to imagine a story...
I enjoyed reading this book very much. The thing that I would say made me enjoy the book more at the beginning, and found a little wearing at the end, was that we see everything, and everyone else, through George Sand's eyes and in her imagined voice.  As she's painted here, she is unconventional, and yearning, and unrequited, and dramatic, and the center of her universe, and in the end, a little hard to take. {Especially at the end, the very end.}

April 24, 2015

Happy bicentennial, Mr. Trollope

How could this loud, obstreperous man be the Anthony Trollope who wrote with such extraordinary insight into the hearts of men, and even more extraordinary, of women?
from Anthony Trollope, by Victoria Glendinning

I didn't know until yesterday that today (April 24)  is the actual 200th anniversary of his birth. If only I could, I'd stay home from work and read Barchester Towers, cover to cover, all over again. :)

April 22, 2015

My top ten...I think...

I couldn't resist, could I, after seeing Bellezza's list before I left work and then thinking about mine all the way home. All-time favorite authors.  That's hard {I''m already regretting three more}, and that's as it should be.

But, in alphabetical order...

Jane Austen

Laurie Colwin

Deborah  Crombie

Elizabeth Gaskell

Henry James

Louise Penny

Barbara Pym

Angela Thirkell

Edith Wharton

Virginia Woolf

Some I've read, and re-read, and will re-read again, others whose newest book is always something to look forward to (and there has to be a series mystery writer, or two, in my list, wouldn't you think?) and one who I've read shamefully little of, but  so much about, and that's a balance I want to shift.

Thank you, B, and all of you, for bookish moments like this one.

April 19, 2015

Reading, if not blogging...

Just dropping in, after realizing that I haven't really been here for two weeks {except to see what you've been writing about, via my sidebar...:) } But I have been reading, which has been nice!

I finished Barchester Towers last weekend, loved, loved loved it, and felt a little bereft at leaving those characters behind. {I know some of them will reappear in later books, though.}  I want to write something interesting about it, but I just haven't figured out what.

As sometimes happens, the books I put on reserve at the library over months, all seemed to come at the same time, and I have more of them than I can possibly read in the next 2-3 weeks.  It will be fun to try, though!

I finished the first of them this morning: Hissing Cousins: The Untold Story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, by Timothy Dwyer and Marc Peyser.  I've read several books about Eleanor Roosevelt and/or her marriage to FDR, and watching the Ken Burns film told me a lot that I didn't know (or didn't remember) about her and about other the members of the Roosevelt family. It was a lot of fun to read about Alice Roosevelt Longworth {Teddy Roosevelt's irrepressible daughter}, but the 'untold story' aspect of this book, and the sometimes snarky editorial asides didn't work all that well for me. {And this might be petty, or might be because I wasn't enjoying this book as much as I had hoped to, but there was a factual mistake early in the book -- a house set near the wrong river -- that niggled at me. :) }

And here are the others...

{Have you read any of them, or are you planning to?} I haven't decided which one to pick up next, and which one I might save for the bus (Emma, probably}. It's turning out to be a nicer weekend than it was supposed to be, but I'm looking forward to more reading today, and it will be cold and rainy tomorrow on my day off, which is wonderful. {For me, anyway.  It's Patriots Day, and I have promised myself that while I have a front-row see to the Marathon — it passes right in front of my windows about half a mile from the finish line — I will enjoy that privilege to the fullest.  I hope it's OK for the runners, though — better than heat, at least, right?}

And one more... I meant to read The Enchanted April, in April, last April, after realizing that I loved the movie but had never read the book.  I've just started listening to it, but with the JoAnn-inspired, very addictive listening-reading set up on my Kindle.

I hope you're having a great weekend, with a great book or two...

April 5, 2015

Oh, dear...

“You’ll see it’s exactly like her novels. Everyone here is from their pages,” Laura Shapiro said, when I told her that this was my first time at the Barbara Pym Society’s annual North American conference. It was a Friday night in the middle of March and we were standing with sixty or so other Pym fans in the wood-panelled hall of the Episcopalian Church of the Advent in Boston. On the tables where we would shortly eat dinner were milk bottles full of tulips and daffodils. “I’m so glad we’re not having Pymian food,” I heard a professor of literature say, alluding perhaps to the solitary meals — a boiled egg or half a tin of baked beans — often eaten by her heroines. A woman at my table was telling her companion that her father, a clergyman in New York, retired in 1959. Before the evening was out, I would have three separate conversations about Anthony Trollope. This is Pym’s world:genteel, literary, largely female, located somewhere between academia and the church.
—  from “ Barbara Pym and the New Spinster,” by Hannah Rosefield, in The New Yorker

With many thanks to Fleur for sharing this, I just couldn't resist saving it for posterity. :)

{The illustration is by Vivienne Strauss, found here.}

April 4, 2015

A Dangerous Place

At the end of Leaving Everything Most Loved, the last Maisie Dobbs novel — which I remember especially liking — we knew {whether we really liked the idea, or not} that Maisie's life, as a psychologist and private investigator in 1930s London, was going to take a different and unknown direction. As this eleventh book in the series opens, we're told what has happened, bit by bit, in letters and flashbacks. {I always hesitate to give away any details about a book that you might not have read yet.} Enough to say that in the first chapters, we learn that time has passed; Maisie has traveled to India, and back home again, made a momentous decision, and found the need to return to India to restore herself. When her stepmother writes to her, urging her to come home because her elderly father misses her, Maisie leaves Darjeeling, only to find that she can't yet bear to go home; she leaves the ship in Gibraltar, the 'dangerous place' which has become a important garrison town and staging ground for fighters in the Spanish civil war.

Soon after she arrives {all of this is still in flashbacks} she stumbles upon the body of Sebastian Babayoff, a member of Gibraltar's tightly knit community of Sephardic Jews, who is making his living as a photographer. The police have written the murder off as the work of one of the many impoverished refugees streaming into Gibraltar, but Maisie, being Maisie, is drawn into investigating. She also notices that she is being watched, probably at the request of influential friends who are worried about her, or the British government agents she has encountered in the past, or both.

 I think I would agree with my friend that this book is not the place to start reading this series ... it's a place to find out what has happened to Maisie, if you are already immersed, and to serve as a bridge to what might happen next. It's filled with great historical details and setting, and interesting characters. But it's a little sad, and the glimpses of a happier, less serious Maisie are a little bit of a tease. {It's also possible that no book will do, if you also have Barchester Towers next to your reading chair. :) } Though I enjoyed reading it, it's a book to shake off and wait for the next one.