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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October 31, 2019

In October, I was reading ...

The Library Book,
by Susan Orlean
Long Live Great Bardfield,
by Tirzah Garwood

The Eustace Diamonds,
by Anthony Trollope

The Secrets of Wishtide,
by Kate Saunders

The Small House at Allington,
by Anthony Trollope

The Ladies of Lyndon,
by Margaret Kennedy

Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers,
by Alexander McCall Smith

The Ivy Tree,
by Mary Stewart

The House of the Seven Gables,
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,
by Washington Irving

Jane's Fame:  How Jane Austen Conquered the World,
by Claire Harman

A Poisoned Mind.
by Natasha Cooper

Museum:  Behind the scenes at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art
by Danny Danziger

Still Life,
by Louise Penny
{my first Armand Gamache!)

Sammy's Hill,
by Kristen Gore

Death in Holy Orders,
by P.D.James

L'Affaire and Le Divorce,
by Diane Johnson

Back then:  Two lives in 1950s New York,
by Anne Bernays and Justin Kaplan

October 29, 2019

Gertrude Stein Has Arrived

I was right...this was fun.

I think I read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas when I was in college ... if I did, all that I really remember about it was that, of course, it wasn't.  
In the summer of 1935, after nearly three decades of writing and publishing everything from three-word poems to one-thousand-page novels, American author Gertrude Stein finally achieved overnight success. The surprising vehicle for her literary stardom was an uncharacteristically lucid and readable book, one that until the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last page she had pretended was written by someone else. ... 
I definitely don't remember ever hearing the story that I've spent the last few days immersed in... that the book was incredibly popular, and that Gertrude and Alice became instantly famous, especially in America.  At the urging of some of their American friends, they undertook a seven-month tour of the U.S., returning to their homeland for the first time in decades. They arrived in New York, criss-crossed the country, traveled by airplane for the first time (and loved it); they were recognized on the street, interviewed on the radio and for newspapers (including by Walter Cronkite, when he was a freshman writing for his college paper), and they met everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Charlie Chaplin.  It's all a little hard to imagine, and delightful.

It had been, all things considered, a long time coming. Prior to The Autobiograph of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein was known primarilyto American reader for her dense, often indecipherable prose and for being an amusing, frequently quoted avatar of the modernist movement in painting and literature. Her face was well known, her writing not so much. 'It always did bother me,' she complained, 'that the American public were more interested in me than in my work.'
Gulp. I'm guilty of that. I don't have any of her books on my shelves (I know I've read something that she wrote, but I'm not sure what.)  She's definitely an author who I've enjoyed reading about, more than reading. I even made a little pilgrimage, when I went to Paris, to see where Gertrude and Alice lived, at 27, rue de Fleurus...

A book like this one doesn't help. :)  Once again,, I greatly enjoyed reading about her --  and about Alice, who's always been a little of a shadowy figure in the background.  The author writes that the Autobiography is 'lively, fast-paced, and often quite funny,' and this new book is too.

Gertrude Stein Has Arrived: The Homecoming of a Literary Legend, by Roy Morris Jr
John Hopkins University Press (2019)
Borrowed from the library 

October 25, 2019

'It was pleasant being a lion...'

      [The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas] was chosen as a main selection by the Literary Guild and was serialized in ... the Atlantic Monthly, the only book to be so honored by that august publication. Readers waited at newsstands for the next issue of the magazine to arrive the way an earlier generation of Americans had waited at seaports for the next installment of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. (Little Alice, unlike Little Nell, remained stubbornly alive.) The unexpected success of the book ... would place the real author's name before the American public in a way that three decades' worth of novels, stories, essays, poems and plays had not. ...
      Eventually, the public clamor proved impossible to resist, and Gertrude agreed to undertake a lengthy speaking tour of America, commencing in October 1934. Alice of course, would come along, ... The trip would be great fun, not merely for Gertrude and Alice, but for thousands of literally depressed Americans who would find some much-need diversion in the unpredictable antics of a pair of eccentric, accessible, uninhibited women who were apt at any given time to say or do anything. ...
      The runaway success of the Autobiography took both Gertrude and Alice by surprise. Before the book came out, Gertrude asked her partner if she thought it would be a best seller. Not sentimental enough, said the distinctly unsentimental Alice, who soon would have cause to revise her prediction.Proof of the book's popularity came regularly in cities and towns across the country, where the visiting couple was greeted like everyone's favorite maiden aunts. They fully returned the compliment, rediscovering along the way their own American identities after thirty years abroad. 'I never knew it was so beautiful,' Gertrude said of their homeland. 'I was like a bachelor who goes along fine for twenty-five years and then decides to get married. ...'

from Gertrude Stein Has Arrived:  the homecoming of a literary legend
by Roy Morris Jr. 

An unexpected find at the library, started on the bus this morning. This is going to be so much fun.

October 12, 2019

The secret life of (e)books

... In 2016, Amazon banned publishers putting the table of contents at the end of the book. Only once that prohibition hit the news did ordinary readers discover that the company's Kindle Unlimited subscription service had been paying publishers in proportion to the farthest page read — perversely, creating incentives to game the system by moving the most often-read content to the very end. One the face of it, nothing is more logical:  a novel whos pages one turns convulsively until reaching the end should earn more than one whose readers drift away on page three. Yet by this measue, an encyclopedia whose users looked up a single entry on Xylography would look more thoroughly thumbed than one in which they'd consulted every single entry through Woodcuts.
from What We Talk About When We Talk About Books, by Leah Price

I'm greatly enjoying this book — it's very engaging and I recommend it — this bit had me shaking my head all the way home last night. :)

September 29, 2019

In September, I was reading ...

I'd rather be reading:  the delights and dilemmas
of the reading life
by Anne Bogel

Sleeping in the ground,
by Peter Robinson 
{DCI Banks}

At dusk:  Boston Common at Twilight,
by Erica Hirshler

The fortnight in September,
by R.C. Sheriff

To the lighthouse,
by Virginia Woolf
Miss Buncle's book,
by D.E. Stevenson

The age of innocence,
by Edith Wharton

The invisible woman:  the story of Nelly Ternan
and Charles Dickens
by Claire Tomalin

The annotated Persuasion,
by Jane Austen, annotated and edited
by David M. Shapard

A season of splendour:  the court
of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York,
by Greg King

The Bolter
by Frances Osborne

House of wits:  an intimate portrait
of the James family,
by Paul Fisher

The New Yorkers,
by Cathleen Schine

Leaving home,
by Anita Brookner

Into a Paris quartier,
by Diane Johnson

The shifting tide,
by Anne Perry
{William Monk}

Maisie Dobbs,
by Jacqueline Winspear

From hardtack to home fries: an uncommon history
of American cooks and meals,
by Barbara Haber

September 2, 2019

Another for my list ...

      Street pitch dark but very quiet, peaceful and refreshing after the underworld. Starlight night, and am meditating a reference to Mars — hope it is Mars — when Mrs. Peacock abruptly enquires if I can tell her a book to read. She has an idea — cannot say why, or whence derived — that I know something about books.
      Find myself denying it as though confronted with highly scandalous accusation, and am further confounded by finding myself unable to think of any book whatever except Grimm's Fairy Tales, which is obviously absurd.  What, I enquire in order to gain time, does Mrs. Peacock like in the way of books?
      In times such as these, she replies very apologetically indeed, she thinks a novel is practically the only thing. Not a detective novel, not a novel about politics, nor about the unemployed, nothing to do with sex, and above all not a novel about life under the Nazi regime in Germany.
      Inspiration immediately descends upon me and I tell her without hesitation to read a delightful novel called The Priory by Dorothy Whipple, which answers all requirements, and has a happy ending into the bargain.
      Mrs. Peacock says it seems too good to be true, and she can hardly believe that any modern novel is as nice as all that, but I assure her that it is and that it is many years since I have enjoyed anything so much.
      Mrs. P. thanks me again and again, I offer to help her find her bus in the Strand — leg evidently giving out altogether in a few minutes — beg her to take my arm, which she does, and I immediately lead her straight into a pile of sandbags.
   from The Provincial Lady in Wartime, by E.M. Delafield (1940)

{And thank you again and again to Nicola, for recommending this book, and the one I'm going to read right after it.} 

Henry in Charleston

Being a backwater was not all bad. When Henry James visited Charleston in the winter of 1904, he was charmed by its 'easy loveliness,' its gardens, and its 'silvery seaward outlook.' He enjoyed hot chocolate and Lady Baltimore cake, a local specialty, in a tearoom on King Street. 'Up and down and in and out, I strolled from hour to hour, but more and more under the impression of the consistency of softness.'

Henry James, The American Scene (1907), quoted in Charleston Fancy: 
Little houses & big dreams in the Holy City, by Witold Rybczynski

And, once again, I am charmed by Henry.

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