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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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. :)

June 5, 2020

Only connect: Anne Glenconner and Pamela Wyndham

It was a treat to wake up on the Friday morning before the long Memorial Day weekend to an email telling me that a ebook I had on hold -- that I hadn't expected to get for months -- was available.

Anne Glenconner was a maid of honor at Queen Elizabeth's coronation, and later a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret.  As it turns out, I enjoyed the book very much in parts, but on the whole not as much as I had hoped to.

{Anne is third from the left.}

However ... with all of the biographies and memoirs and letters that I read, I always love it when one person's life connects with another's, someone else who I've read about, or want to {'reading' the bibliography at the end of a book is one of my favorite things, almost as much as poring over a family tree}.

Here, Lady Glenconner is writing about her husband, Colin Tennant ...
Eccentricity ran in the family:  there were stories of bacon rashers being used as bookmarks, of the rooftops at Glen being climbed at night, and of horses being ridden into the house. Colin's paternal grandmother, Pamela, was one of the Wyndham sisters immortalized in John Singer Sargent's painting 'The Three Graces,' which now hangs in the Metroplitan Museum of Art in New York. ... all of Colin's relations had a palpable charm and would use it seduce a room effortlessly. And, like Pamela Wyndham, they all behaved liked spoiled children. It was a trait that defied age. Apparently, Pamela Wyndham would turn around from the table in stubborn silence if she felt she wasn't being paid enough attention -- Colin used to tell people that she was known to lie down and bite the carpet when lost in a rage. She had dressed her child, Stephen Tennant, Colin's uncle, as a girl throughout his early childhood because she had wanted a daughter instead of a son.

{Pamela is in the center.}

Those Wild Wyndhams, Claudia Renton's book about the Wyndham sisters,  was in my pile of unread books so of course that's where I went next. {I was so happy that I owned it and didn't have to wait for the library to re-open...} I love John Singer Sargent's paintings {I've been to the Met several times, but I'm not sure if I've seen this painting there.}  The book opens with a description of the painting of the portrait, which was commissioned by their father, so I was drawn in immediately, and later we learn how it was sold off to the Met by their spendthrift nephew. But in between, I've spent the last two weeks with these women and their families, and I'm going to miss them.

Anne Glenconner, Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown
Hachette Books, 2020
E-book, borrowed from the library

Claudia Renton, Those Wild Wyndhams:  three sisters at the heart of power
William Collins, 2014
From my shelves

April 18, 2020

[Reading about] Jane Austen

... and as for the true lovers ... every quotation from Jane Austen is as good as the complete volume, because it instantly calls up the magic of the atmosphere, the scene, the characters, the details, the flow of life which led up to the incident or the remark, the whole world of Emma or the whole word of Persuasion; nor do they have to apply themselves, these lovers, to the task of meticulously reading every line of quotation; they will know it; the eye will pick up a word, seize half a paragraph, remember the rest, set it instantly in the place as it was meant ... smile swiftly, agree, perhaps; or make a note that they presently they are going to quarrel with me as I do not know in the least what I am talking about ... and then let the eye fly on again. For lovers of Jane, walking in their own garden,  will know that bean-row over there, half in slanted sunshine, half in shadow, without sitting down to count the beans.

Claire was right — I loved this book, on its own merits but at least in part because it has lifted me out of my recent reading slump.  Of course, I am now longing to re-read all six novels, but I might start with Sense and Sensibility, if only because this book mentioned two things that happen in it that I don't remember at all. :)

Talking of Jane Austen, by Sheila Kaye-Smith and G.B. Stern
First published in 1943

Borrowed from the college library

April 14, 2020


      In Jane Austen's world I can feel at home and be as much alive as in my own. ... I meet there people who are no mere characters in fiction, but sensible companions, and their thoughts and feelings are in close alliance with what I personally think and feel.
      To enter that world is to visit a congenial set of friends, and I still find that in their company I lose my own cares, much as I lost them on my first visit, thirty years ago. Jane Austen is the perfect novelist of escape ... She does not transport one into fantasy but simply into another, less urgent set of facts. She tells no fairy-tale which  might send us back dazzled and reeling to our contacts with normal life, but diverts us from our preoccupation with another set of problems no less real than our own. ...
from Talking of Jane Austen, by Sheila Kaye-Smith
 and G.B. Stern (1943)

I remember that several of our blogging friends have read this, and its sequel, and liked it — were you one of them? — and I remembered this morning that it was in the stack of books from the college library that I don't have to return quite yet.  That's my day made. :)

{The painting is by Janet Hill.}

January 12, 2020


Happy new year!  Before I start watching Sanditon tonight, I wanted to be sure to read (or, actually, re-read) Sanditon, because I was curious about what the TV version would go forward with our Jane's unfinished story.   There's so heartbreakingly little of her book (I just read that she was writing it when she was already ill, in the six months before she died), but it was very moving because what she did write seems so joyous.  Maybe that's because it's set in a sunny seaside resort, or because so many of the characters (except, possibly, Charlotte Heyward, our heroine, and Clara Brereton, the poor relation who is companion to wealthy Lady Denham), are a little larger than life:  Mr. Parker, Sanditon's promoter; his invalid siblings, his flashy brother, Sydney {was he going to be Willoughby/Wickham, or Darcy?  hard to tell}, twice-married Lady Denham (who seems like a more humorous version of Austen's other rich, controlling old ladies).  All the fragment does is to introduce the characters and set the stage for whatever was going to happen to them, but there seem to be endless possibilities in what to do with it, and I like to think that Austen would have taken some possibly snarky delight in that. 

 At the library, I found a continuation 'by another {unidentified} lady' that was written in 1975. I've read this before too, but it was a long time ago, but it would be fun to compare the two versions.  Nothing can compare with the real thing, but we have more Jane, and there's nothing sad about that.

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