'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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May 18, 2017

Town, country


{Spoiler alert! -- but I know I'll have forgotten, long before we get there. :) }
Reading Trollope's two great series of novels, one set largely in town, the other in the country, it is manifest that the folks of the Barsetshire chronicles are less hard, old and calculating than those we meet in London, in the company of the Pallisers. ...  SirAlured Wharton may be a baronet, but one 'not pretending to the luxury of a season in London, for which his modest three or four thousand a year did not suffice.' Trollope adds, 'Once a year, he came up to London for a week, to see his lawyers, and get measured for a coat, and go to the dentist.' Why venture into the city more? In The Prime Minister, every fashionable street is populated by those whose very names are meant to suggest their venality and dissolution:  Sir Damask and Lady Monogram, Mr/ Hartlepod, Lord Mongrober, the Marguise of Mount Fidgett. ('Now the late Marquis had been, as was the custom with the Fichy Fidgett, a man of pleasures. If the truth may be spoken openly, it should be admitted that he had been a man of sin.') These are manifestly not nice people, and predictably, when his daughter is enmeshed in an unacceptable love affair, the upright Mr. Wharton's first thought is that he 'must take her away from London.'  A reader knows at the finale of the novel that Emily Wharton is finally safe because she will spend the rest of her life with the good folks of Herefordshire, of whom her first husband, sophisticated and dishonest, had been so dismissive.
from Imagined London, by Anna Quindlen

I just finished Imagined London, after 1) being reminded about it by Darlene; (2) borrowing it from the library, in hardcover; (3) borrowing it from the library, for my Kindle, because the hardcover was due back before I read it; (4) deciding that I wanted a copy for my very own, in hardcover if possible, and ... sigh, hangs head ... (5) going on Amazon to look for it.


{Although it would have been more suprising if I hadn't bought it.} In any event, it was wonderful, and worth the wait, and has given me a list of books to look forward to. JoAnn and I have only gotten to the first Palliser novel (The Prime Minister is the fifth), but we (and you, if you'd like) will be starting again soon, next month we think. 


Imagined London:  a tour of the world's greatest fictional city, by Anna Qindlen
National Geographic, 2004
Borrowed from the library, and so on


May 15, 2017

There Is No Good Card for This



I don't have a lot of patience with self-help books, usually -- and I might not admit it if I read one -- but this one drew me in after I heard this interview with the authors on NPR.  One of them is a breast cancer survivor who started a new line of non-traditional greeting cards (like this one) ...


...all of which are making me smile right now. :)  Her co-author runs empathy workshops (and offers ideas about exercises you can do, yourself or with friends).

The general idea is that none of us are very good at saying the right thing, and there are very simple things we can do -- like listening more than talking, or waiting (I liked this one!) a full three seconds before responding to something a friend in difficulty has said.  What I liked about this book, most, is that it's down-to-earth and very reassuring -- and it has resonance both for people who are trying to offer comfort and for people who might be needing it. Aren't we all, sometimes, both?

I ended up listening to the audiobook, because that's how it came in first from the library -- it's not very long, and this was a great way to read it; the narrator, XE Sands, has  the perfect style for it -- but apparently it has lovely visuals (as you  might guess from its origins) so I'm going in search of the print version.  



There is no good card for this:  what to say and do when life is scary, awful, and unfair to people you love, by Kelsey Crowe, Ph.D. and Emily McDowell
Harper Collins, print and audiobook, 2017
Borrowed from the library



May 3, 2017

Murder on the Serpentine



This is the 32nd (!) book in Anne Perry's series about Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, and I always look forward to them.  I think it was this series that got me started with enjoying mysteries with historical settings. The relationship between Thomas and Charlotte has always been heartwarming, and there are very thoughtful musings about the morality of what has happened and the methods that Thomas (especially in his murky new role as Commander of Special Branch) and Charlotte use to solve the crime.  For me, there was an added pleasure in this book: as has happened before, Thomas is working directly, and secretly, for Queen Victoria, who has summoned him to Buckingham Palace after Sir John Halberd, one of her friends and advisors is founded drowned in the Serpentine, a usually peaceful waterway that runs through Hyde Park.

The moral questions in this book focus on secrets.  Halberd had been investigating Alan Kendrick, a new friend and adviser to the Prince of Wales, and the Queen, who knows that she is at the end of her reign, is concerned about his influence over the son who will succeed her.  When she asks Pitt to continue the investigation, he is also drawn in to how Halberd died, and the implications for Kendrick's wife, who is known to have been the Prince's mistress, and thought to be Halberd's.  The suspects keep secrets, and use them against their opponents.  For their part, Thomas and Charlotte fear that Victor Narraway, Pitt's mentor who is now married to their beloved Aunt Vespasia, has played a part in what has happened.  Narraway has also given Pitt some secret files on men in high places, and Pitt struggles with the need to use what is in them to stop not only the crimes that follow but the very real possibility of a second Boer war.

In some ways, this was a little bit of a quieter book than some have been, as Thomas struggles with keeping secrets, and using them, and Charlotte worries about losing her ability to contribute to his work. But I liked that thoughtfulness, and as always enjoyed the time I spent in their (very) late-Victorian world.  (I've read that this is the 'last' book in the series, but that Anne Perry will be creating a new one that begins about ten years later.  There's a change in the Pitts' lives at the end of the book, and the idea of re-launching a series like this, with some new characters along with the old, is very appealing.)

Murder on the Serpentine is being published this month.  Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for the treat of being able to read it a little early. :)


April 25, 2017

Persephone no. 88: Still Missing



      In her inner life, there were two things she had rules about. One was If Only. If Only I had walked with him that morning. If Only he'd left a minute earlier, or later. If Only I'd called him back for his jacket. ... She could bear to imagine almost any of the possible fates that Alex had met. She could not bear It Might Not Have Happened.
      The other thing was imagining how he would come back, if ever. At first she had thought the phone would ring, one of the tens of thousands of calls, but each one maybe the one.  She would pick up the phone and there would be his voice. 'Hello...Mommy?' Perhaps she still believed that, for a millisecond, each time the phone rang, even now. Perhaps she would for the rest of her life. ... But the phone rang so often, and dreams replayed too many times lose their power to move. ...
      But there were still ways it would happen. She allowed herself to develop one one at a time and she allowed herself to think of it only in the hour before sleep, when she turned out the light. For instance:  someone would see an an old picture in an article at the hairdresser's and recognize the little 'grandchild' of the couple down the block. Or:  someone from the neighborhood would pass a schoolyard one day and see a little boy playing alone. They would see the face on the poster, although his hair would be dyed and his missing tooth grown in, and they would recognize him anyway, because no one, no one,could mistake that brilliant smile. They would call the police or they would call her -- or they would simply drive up Fremont Street to her door one day and ring the bell. ...

It might be that I read it so very long ago, or that I wasn't a Bostonian then, or that the movie (which I remember better) was set in New York, but I didn't realize until recently that this novel is set in Boston.  Not only in Boston, but just a few streets away from where I live. Of course, me being me, that made me long to read it again, with the extra treat of finding the Persephone edition.

The plot that umderpins the story is simple:  Alex Selky, a bright, happy, earnestly responsible almost-seven-year-old, has begged his mother Susan, a professor of literature at Harvard, to let him walk to school by himself. Every morning, she watches him walk to the corner, turn and wave, and turn out of sight for the last two blocks -- until one day in May, when he doesn't come home after school.  Lieutenant Al Minetti, a father of seven, leads the police investigation that follows, there's intense media attention, and friends and neighbors join the hunt and paper all of Boston with posters of the missing child.  In the crisis, Susan is also reunited with her unfaithful husband Graham, who can't be found immediately when Alex disappears because he is cheating on his new girlfriend.

But for most of the novel, the focus is on 'still,' because despite Minetti's concern, and Susan's perseverance, Alex has disappeared without a trace (that was the movie's title, now that I remember), and the novel turns its attention to what happens in the months that follow.  There are a few false leads, and an unexpected twist, but mostly, there is quiet day-to-day despair that makes the novel a little hard to bear but perfectly captures what would happen:  some friends drop away, others emerge, the police investigation quiets down, and Susan and Graham waver between hope and knowing that Alex is most likely lost to them.

Still Missing is definitely a novel of its day, but it is also beautifully written, and even though I remembered all along how it would end, I still found it very moving to reach that moment.


Still Missing, by Beth Gutcheon
Persephone Books, 2010 (originally published in 1981)
Borrowed from the Boston Athenaeum


April 21, 2017

Anticipation, 'culinary biography' edition



{July}

I'm so excited about this one.  I greatly enjoyed reading and listening to her short biography of Julia Child, two of the six remarkable women are Eleanor Roosevelt and Barbara Pym, and ... 'culinary biography.'  Oh, yes please.



April 20, 2017

Walking, writing




When she was much older, [Virginia Woolf] would create her heroine Mrs. Dalloway (who 'dallies along the way' ...) who is, perhaps, the greatest flaneuse of twentieth-century literature. These are the very first words Mrs. Dalloway speaks in the novel:  'I love walking in London,' said Mrs. Dalloway. 'Really, it's better than walking in the country.' For Woolf to be able to walk in the city by herself was a hitherto unimaginable kind of freedom, and while the move [to Bloomsbury] helped her become a professional writer, it was her walks that gave her something to write about. ... As she walked through the city, she would rewrite scenes in her mind; the life she saw around her seemed 'an immense opaque block of material to be conveyed by me into its equivalent of language.' Wondering about the people she saw pushed her forward in her literary project -- how to represent 'life itself' on the page. And to do this, she turned again and again to the city that was 'the passion of [her] life.' The noise of the streets was a kind of language, she thought, one that she would stop occasionally and listen to, and try to capture. ... The jungle and shuffle of London is the heartbeat of life itself.
from Flaneuse: women walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo,
  Venice and London
, by Lauren Elkin


Flaneuse: women walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London,
by Lauren Elkin
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Borrowed from the Boston Public Library


April 19, 2017

'I walk because, sometimes, it's like reading ...'




... You're privy to these lives and conversations that have nothing to do with yours, but you can eavesdrop on them. Sometimes it's overcrowded; sometimes, the voices are too loud. But there is always companionship. You are not alone.

from Flaneuse: women walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo,
  Venice and London
, by Lauren Elkin

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