Thursday, December 31, 2009

Books of the Year 2009: Fiction

It was much more difficult choosing favourite fiction for 2009 than choosing nonfiction, plays, or short fiction. I suppose this is partly because I've read more fiction, or that I'm much less likely to read a novel I don't really like than a play or something short I don't like. Really, it was the last book on my list of three that gave me trouble, the other two were rather automatic. What I think distinguishes these books is that they're the ones I wrote the longest posts about. I had a lot to say about them, lots of ideas and impressions, and some very incoherent emotional or subconscious reactions to them, which I attempted to work through by writing. I read all of these books since September, which makes me wonder if they're on the list just because I remember them better. But I'm sure about the first two. I knew when I read them they'd be on the list.

There's little more I can say about these books than I said the first time around, since they're so dependent on impression and they are bigger than anything I could say in a paragraph. So I'll just leave you with the links to the original posts, and the urging that you read these books.

The Children's Book, by A.S. Byatt. I'm so glad I own this now. All three of these books are in my possession, which strikes me as fitting for my favourites. Original post here.

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. Original post here.

Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple. I think it may be a given that if I read a Persephone book it goes on this list. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was on my list last year. Original post here.

And Happy Hogmanay! (This is me indulging in my joy in amusing Scottish holidays.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Books of the Year 2009: Nonfiction, Short Fiction, and Plays

I read 4 books of nonfiction this year, but my favourite is clear. I read 18 plays, mostly for school. Four of my reads I consider short fiction. I'm kind of arbitrarily deciding how many favourites I get in each section, it's just how many seem to fit there--one nonfiction, two short fiction, three plays.

The Mitford Girls, by Mary S. Lovell, would definitely be in the running for most enjoyable book in any category this year. It is 529 pages but I absolutely sped through it. I forget how much I love biographies, but this was biography at its best, giving both a picture of its subjects' personalties and a clear view of their place in history. I found it completely fascinating. Original post here.

Short Fiction
The Lady in the Van, by Alan Bennett, doesn't quite count as fiction at all, because it's a true story and is mostly made up of Alan Bennett's diary entries about Miss Shepherd, the woman who lived in her van on the author's door step for 20 years. Despite its truth, though, I'm including it here because it is a story, and isn't comprehensive the way nonfiction would be. It was one of those stories that induced compulsive reading aloud, and I loved it. Original post here.

The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, is kind of a given for good short fiction. It's one of those books that is an experience to read, because it's so evocative and intuitive. I'm sorry I never really wrote a post about it; I would have liked to revisit my initial reactions. But I know it was good.

It feels somehow like cheating to include The Real Inspector Hound, by Tom Stoppard, since I didn't just read it, I produced it and costumed it and assistant stage managed it. But all that aside, it is a good play. It's one you sort of have to read more than once to get the full meaning out of, because it has so many layers. It's very good fun, and I can't resist theatre about theatre.

The Zoo Story, by Edward Albee, is a short, contained play. What I liked was the language, something about the two characters' expressions, the way it rolled. I don't know that I would have expected this to be the one play out of the thirteen from my comparative literature class that I liked best, or even that it absolutely is the best, but it's one I know I'll remember.

What can I say about Shakespeare's King Richard III? It always feels odd somehow to put a Shakespeare play on a list like this. But I suppose there's some Shakespeare I wouldn't put on this list, so putting Richard III here works. I thought he was a fascinating character, historically accurate or not, and this play does have some really great lines.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The loot

This seems to have been the Christmas of books. I got eight books as presents, and bought four others in the days before Christmas. I'd better get reading.I bought three of these at Goodwill, and one in a lovely little bookshop in Pike Place Market. The only other Barbara Pym I've read was Some Tame Gazelle. Civil to Strangers is her last novel and various shorter works. Mary Wesley is the author of The Camomile Lawn, which I read in February. I've never read any Umberto Eco, but I had a feeling he'd have interesting things to say about literature; this book is a collection of his essays. And I've never read Penelope Lively, but thought I ought to.Most of these books came from my father, who dearly loves to buy me books (and he's good at it, too). I read Bill Bryson's book The Mother Tongue last summer, so I know whatever he says about Shakespeare will be pretty fascinating. Bardisms sounds entertaining, mostly as reference or novelty; it seems to be separated into sections like "Shakespeare on Fathers," "Shakespeare on Parties," and so on. I know there's a story about why my father decided I needed to read Parnassus on Wheels, by Christopher Morley, but I can't remember it. My mum got me that copy of Pride and Prejudice (which makes my total copies up to three if you count the collected works) purely because it's so beautiful; it's leather-bound. And The Children's Book, which I'm sure you remember me reading, because it's one of those books that I just want to own. Now I get to go back and replace all the post-its I had to take out of the library copy. The book below it, which you probably can't read the title of, is Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques. I do need to do some more sewing, maybe that will help get me into the mood. Victorian Visitors sounds quite fascinating. It's non-fiction, and I have a feeling it's going to be the kind of non-fiction I find utterly absorbing. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, on the bottom, is apparently about the Salem witch trials, alternating stories between modern day and the 17th century.

So my to-read stack has just about doubled in size, but what the hell. I'm looking forward to it all.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Friday Ephemera #21

Merry Christmas! You get three photos for the occasion, all of which I took.Downtown Seattle, with the carousel and the star on the top of Macy's.Molasses cookies I made Monday (these being the second batch where the dough worked and I didn't burn them to the point of completely unchewability).A bit of my tree. This gives you a very inaccurate representation of what my Christmas tree is actually like, because we have an enormous collection of very random Christmas ornaments (think glass pickle, glass corn cob, Peruvian llama...), and they all go on the tree no matter how well they all really fit.

I hope everyone enjoys their Christmas (or their Friday), and gets exactly what they want out of it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas books

Happy Christmas Eve! There are certain books I always read at Christmas time. All children's picture books, most of which I've been reading since before I can remember. Reading them every year adds to the festivity of the holiday; it gets me in the mood for Christmas just as much as the tree or the lights do. So I thought I'd take you through a tour of these books.Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is actually the only one of these books that wasn't a part of my childhood. I got it for Christmas a couple of years ago, though I'd read it before, and it is a lovely thing to look through during the holiday.
This is my favourite of the two versions of The Nutcracker I have. It has beautiful illustrations and it tells the full story (everything about the quest for the hard nut). It very much achieves the compellingly sinister, which is what I like in retellings of this story.
This is my other version, which is much more toned down for kids than the other one. I've never liked it as well, but the story's good no matter what form it's in.
It's a Little Golden Book! I absolutely loved this one when I was very very small, and then forgot about it for several years and finally, last year, made my mother dig it out of the basement. The story is exactly what it says on the tin, and for some reason it always particularly appealed to me.I got this one for Christmas (from my grandmother, I think) when I was younger. All my family are cat people, so it's particularly appropriate.This one might be my favourite. It's written and illustrated by Jan Brett, and set (I believe) in Sweden, where two funny little trolls are envious of a family's Christmas and want it for themselves. I always loved it because I've got a good chunk of Swedish in me, and the girl in the book has the same orange Swedish carved wooden horse that I have. And the illustrations are wonderful. It's just good.

There are other Christmas books I have and read almost yearly, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Night Before Christmas (which I could recite from memory at the age of three because I made my parents read it to me so many times), but this is a good cross section, and these books have always been really important to me.

This, by the way, is my 200th post.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I've never done a reading challenge, though there are lots to choose from floating around the internet, and sometimes they appeal to me, but there's one I'm actually thinking about doing in 2010. The Bibliophilic Books Challenge involves reading three, six, or twelve books about books and reading, fiction or not, during 2010. I absolutely love reading bookish books, so I imagine it will be entirely possible to complete this challenge. I'll aim for the lowest level, reading only three books, but if I read more so much the better.

The only book I have specifically in mind is Howards End is on the Landing, by Susan Hill. I'm sure everyone's already heard about this book, but if you haven't: it's nonfiction, about the author's decision to spend a year reading only the books already in her house. Otherwise, the field's wide open; I could read any number of things. I wouldn't be surprised if I read a novel about books without even thinking to apply it to the challenge.

Has anyone read any good bookish books they'd like to recommend? I don't have any particular ideas, so I'd better start compiling a list.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Slightest Move

It's funny how a book will work for you perfectly at one time, and not at all at another. This is how Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple, has been for me. I got it for Christmas last year and read about 150 pages of it, and I don't remember what else I was reading or doing at the time but I got distracted and stopped. It just wasn't capturing my attention, and I was skeptical of all the blurbs about it calling it "unputdownable". I was, in fact, afraid all my high expectations of Persephone Books were going to be disappointed so soon.

It's a good thing I didn't decide that was the case for sure, since it would have been premature and very sad. I started the book Monday and finished it Wednesday, which for a 413 page book and my recent reading habits is a bit amazing. It was unputdownable; I now believe everything good anybody's ever said about it. Sometimes I had to force myself to put it down and do other things, because it was overwhelming.

As the story goes, the North family, father Avery, his wife Ellen, their children Hugh and Anne, live comfortably in a house in the country in the early 1950s. Ellen keeps house and gardens, Avery takes the train back and forth to London where he is a publisher, Hugh is doing his compulsory military service, and Anne, at 15, rides her beloved horse Roma when she is home from school for the holidays. It's all very lovely and idyllic. When Avery's mother, old Mrs. North, engages a French girl called Louise to come and keep her company, however, things begin to go wrong. Louise is rather a masterpiece of a character. She compares herself to Madame Bovary, and understands and really likes Madame Bovary. It is, in a way, possible to admire her, because she knows what she wants and how to get it, and she takes pleasure in things, in her artfulness about clothing and about manipulating people. But she also hates things the rest of the characters love, doesn't understand why provincial, simple, artless life is appealing, and expects everyone else to grasp that her way of life is better. She just doesn't care about other people's feelings. She has absolutely no sympathy.

I spent almost the entire second half of the book (which I read in one day) feeling like crying, which surprised me; this kind of story doesn't usually make me cry. But I think I must have discovered one of the few stories that does have this effect. It's stories where the characters could be happy, they could fix what's gone wrong, but they are stubborn or proud or both, they make assumptions about what other people want, and they just don't communicate. They let it go because they assume that's what other people want them to do. When of course it never is. While this story was painful to me, it was very, very satisfying. The characters are so real, and their desires (even Louise's, usually), are understandable.
"If we could be seen thinking, we would show blown bright one moment, dark the next, like embers; subject to every passing word and thought of our own and other people's, mostly other people's." (pg. 181)
It is in this that Dorothy Whipple understands her characters, and that we understand them (even when we want to grab them and shake sense into them). This is a good book, one that I put down after the last page and had to recover from. I went to bed and laid there thinking about how much I wanted to fix things for the characters, and about the ending, which works and provides hope without being exactly happily ever after. It's the sort of book that's left me at a loss for my next reading choice, because how do you follow it? It's not a large story, it's not very out of the ordinary, it's making tea late at night and cleaning out a house, dead-heading the flowers in the garden and mailing a letter, but that's what makes it so good.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Ephemera #20

I don't know where I got this. I was going through my (very extensive) folders full of historical costume images, and found this. I've got no memory of saving it. The file name is "manet", so maybe we can attribute it to Édouard Manet, but I don't know for sure. That is French, I think, though it's rather impossible to read.

I'm now officially on winter break, so it's time to do some reading!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Happy Birthday to Jane Austen! Today, she is 234 years old.


I'm nearing the end! All I have left to do in my classes is take two finals tomorrow. And study for them today, but that's not a big deal. Yesterday, I turned in my final essay for Comparative Lit, so now I'm thinking about all the plays I read for that class this quarter.
The Good Person of Sichuan by Bertolt Brecht, Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, The Emperor Jones by Eugene O'neill, The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder, The Lesson by Eugene Ionesco, The Balcony by Jean Genet, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, Happy Days by Samuel Beckett, The Caretaker by Harold Pinter, Offending the Audience by Peter Handke, Biography: A Game by Max Frisch, and Indians! by Arthur Kopit.

Thirteen plays in ten weeks. My favourites, I think, were The Skin of Our Teeth, The Zoo Story, Offending the Audience, and Biography: A Game. I can't quite say what sets these apart. They're not all the most experimental or all the least, they're not all from the same country or language. Two American, one Austrian, one Swiss. I think they all just had certain qualities, whether of story or language, that I liked. The Skin of Our Teeth is cheerfully absurd, I liked something about the language in The Zoo Story, Offending the Audience just rolled so nicely, and Biography had a fascinating premise (the main character gets to go back and re-do his life like it's all a rehearsal for a play he's trying to perfect).

All these plays, though, are worth reading. Some of them wouldn't have struck me as experimental if I hadn't been told they were, but they all are. Something we spent a lot of discussion on in class was the theatrical illusion, and how it is broken or maintained in these plays. It's something to think about, if you ever read or see any of them.

I'm so glad I took this class. I started it out thinking myself extremely knowledgeable about theatre, just by loving it and having done a few plays, but there's a lot I don't know and a lot of plays I haven't read or seen, and the class taught me to push at the boundaries of what theatre is and what I expect from it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Past Imperfect

So, I'm sick, which is extraordinarily terrible timing as it's finals week and I missed my German final because of it, but it does mean that I got to read most of Past Imperfect this weekend, and managed to finish it.

My impressions of the book are somewhat muddled. It's odd reading a book by someone who I associate with a completely different world. The author, Julian Fellowes, is an actor, and for some reason it changes my experience of the book that I know what its author looks like, not just from the photo in the back of the book but in movement.

The premise of the book is that its narrator gets a letter from a man called Damian Baxter, whom he was friends with forty years ago, during the London Season of 1968, and now hates. Damian is now dying, and wants the narrator to undertake a search for Damian's illegitimate child (now grown up), who might belong to any one of five women they both knew during that year. The incident at a dinner party in Portugal which caused the animosity between these characters is not revealed until very near the end of the book, so you're always wondering vaguely what it was.

There's nothing too unusual about the plot, but the book is written in a very odd style. I'm not sure I've ever quite read anything like it. For one thing, the narrator is never given a name, which always made me wonder how much he was Julian Fellowes. I couldn't help picturing them as one and the same in terms of appearance, and you just know if they made a movie that's who would play him. The book has a definite air of memoir, which adds to this comparison. It also takes place in, almost, three different times. There is the present in which the story is being written down, the present in which the search for the child is happening, and the background to this search, which happened forty years previously. There's a slightly excessive amount of nostalgia for the past, and also an excessive amount of marveling that once upon a time they really went through all these rituals of the Season, and marveling over the past in general. Some phrases are overused in the book, especially variants of "as we know" which usually go on to tell things I don't know, being both American and much too young. It's a superfluous phrase anyway, whenever it's used, with things like "as we know, they always served salmon mousse at these dinners."

I never managed to care very much what had happened in Portugal to make Damian and the narrator hate each other. Curiously, it didn't even occur to me until more than halfway through the book to wonder which woman was the mother of Damian's child. The book never quite managed to be suspenseful, and there was no sense of urgency about the search, even though it was urgent. And when we did hear the story of Portugal, it both lived up to expectations and failed them.

Over all, I feel like in many ways the book did not achieve what it was attempting. It's title can be applied to it purely as relates to the writing--it's definitely imperfect. I think the author could use some more practice writing novels, frankly; there are a lot of things wrong with the plotting and the writing, a lot of misplaced commas--it could have used a better editor. However, if it did not achieve its intended effect, it did achieve something else. The mood and style of the book is extremely unusual and very interesting, and it does give a pretty good picture of the last vestiges of the London Season. It was worth reading, and though I considered giving up on it a couple of times, it really did hold my attention.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Books of a Year 2009 - The Second Rank

I'm waiting on posting my actual books of the year, because I want to do a lot of reading over the break and I don't know whether I'll read something that merits a place on the list. I do have a list in the making, though, and in that process I've come up with another list, of books that have faded from my memory a little (which is why they're not on the best books list), but which I wanted to remind myself of because I did like them very much.

On Borrowed Wings, by Chandra Prasad, was the story of a girl who dresses as her brother to go to Yale in 1936. I'd forgotten this, but from my post about it in August, it dealt very interestingly with questions of gender.

Marking Time was the sequel to The Light Years, by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Both books were quite excellent, but I especially liked how Marking Time expanded on what we already knew about the characters and made them all even more interesting. It was, also, a well-done view of World War II. I originally posted about it here. I need to get around to reading the rest of this series.

Nameless, by Sam Starbuck, is very near and dear to me, being one of the 2,500 the dedication mentions. As I said in my original post, it was originally published online, giving readers the opportunity to critique and improve it. It is a very self-contained, lovely story. I need to reread it some time.

The Story of a Marriage
, by Andrew Sean Greer, cropped up by chance in February (which was a very long time ago, it seems). According to my review of it, it was very good at evoking images, of San Francisco especially, and associations, and I found it slotting very nicely into my own life and thoughts at the time I read it.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, was one I got for my birthday with no previous knowledge of it. It's translated from French, and conveyed very interestingly both French and Japanese ways of looking at the world. All the characters were quite interesting, too. My original post was here.

Looking back on what I read this year, I find there are definite trends. All of these books have somewhat of a mood in common. And Marking Time was World War II, On Borrowed Wings pre-war, and The Story of a Marriage post-war. I've read a lot of other books set in that era this year, too.

I wonder what sorts of trends I'll see in my reading next year.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Ephemera #19

Did anyone ever read the children's books My Father's Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland, by Ruth Stiles Gannett? These were some of my favourite books when I was small, and I barely remember them now (must revisit) but for some reason they came to mind the other day and I looked them up on Wikipedia. This search provided the information that they made a Japanese anime out of the story. I was rather horrified at the thought, but judging by this image, it looks rather cute.

I'm turning in my term paper this morning! (Its writing explains my absence over the last week.)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Ephemera #18

I've had this one for ages, and always, for some reason, skipped over it. Thought it fitting for the first Friday of December, though. It strikes me as not quite Narnia and not quite England, which is kind of pleasant to think about. Narnia's a bit Christmassy, in the way both have an element of nostalgia associated with them.

I'm getting a new (functional!) camera next week, so maybe I'll start posting some photos I've taken myself.

I don't know where I got the image.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More links

I hereby head into hibernation mode. Next week is the last week of classes, the week after that is finals, so I have to read one last play, read a couple of articles about Ovid, read some of Ovid himself, do some German homework, write a twelve page term paper and a five page essay. Let's hope I do not completely lose sanity in the process!

That was a long-winded way to say I'll be a bit out of the loop for a little while. In the meantime, have some fun links!

Laundry Room Libraries.

Chameleon Man

Works within Works. This is a discussion of smaller literary works within bigger ones, where the small ones have become better known than their parent. Kind of speaks to how easily things can take on a life of their own.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sad news, loveliness to counteract

I mentioned just the other day that I was thinking of reading Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood, didn't I? Well, now I really feel like I ought to read it soon, as he passed away on Sunday. More information here, but he was only 61. I read part of Mythago Wood years ago, and I read another of his books, Celtika, though I think at the time I didn't know it was the same author. He wrote fantasy very firmly based in myth, and with darker edges with feet firmly planted in the dirt, not very comfortable books, but good. I'm looking forward to reading more of his books, and sad to hear he's gone.

Sad news first, nice things second, here's a couple of pretty and cheerful links to cheer you up.

London (and Windsor) Alphabet.

Phone box becomes mini-library.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Children's Book

The Children's Book is one of those books that you read as an experience. It's not the sort of book that you read simply to have read; you read and it does interesting things to your mind, it gives you certain desires and changes the way you think in that moment. It made me want to create art and gave me the feeling that I had to do it right then, reading that passage, and not go on reading. I couldn't listen to any music with words when reading this. It's the only book (barring poetry), that I've every found this the case with. It just doesn't fit, there's too much nature in the book, it's too wild, for anything but instrumental music. So I went with film soundtracks, particularly Amelie. I should, really, have been listening to Wagner, but I'm not much of a fan.

The book is 675 pages long. It begins in 1895 and ends in 1919. It delves into pottery, the Fabian Society, German puppetry, socialism, the women's suffrage movement, children's fiction, fairy tales, museums, sex, art, war poetry. There are many central characters, but no one really develops into the main character. I kept expecting someone to; the blurb on the front flap makes it sound like Olive Wellwood is the main character, but she isn't. Family, and the intricate inner workings and secrets of families, are central to this book. We have the Wellwoods of Todefright, their rather fitting house--Olive and Humphrey, their children Tom, Dorothy, Phyllis, Hedda, Florian, Robin, and Harry, Olive's sister Violet. The Wellwoods of Portman square, Humphrey's brother Basil, his wife Katharina, their children Charles and Griselda. The family of Purchase House, famous potter Benedict Fludd, his wife Seraphita, his children Geraint, Imogen, and Pomona, his apprentice Phillip Warren and Phillip's sister Elsie. Major Prosper Cain, Special Keepr of Precious Metals in the South Kensington Museum, and his children Julian and Florence. The Stern family in Munich. There are certainly others who flit along the periphery and are sometimes more important to the story than some of these people, but they are far too many to name.

I've been giving some thought to the book's title. This is in no way a book meant for children. It is split into four parts, Beginnings, The Golden Age, The Silver Age, and The Age of Lead, which in some ways I take to mean the growing up of children. The younger generation are all children when the book begins, no one, I think, older than fifteen, but all of them have grown up by the end. What does this say about adulthood? These ages also correspond to the illusions of comfort and perfection and truth some of the characters hold, and how these illusions fade and are broken, but I think the association with growing up is more important. The book says more than once that the best literature of the turn of the century was literature intended for children. J.M. Barrie, Beatrix Potter, E. Nesbit. The book also ends with the (now grown up) children, their parents faded into the background.

Of the 24 years the book covers, some are more in focus than others. The years in between are skated over in a historical context. The wider movements of history are related, events in the lives of historical personages are told. Events in the main, fictional characters lives during these years are mostly told only if they become a part of historical events.

This book is so full of bright ideas, bright both in the sense of intelligence and originality, and in the sense of colour and vividness. Bright images, too, and sometimes darker ones. This is the first (non-school) book I've ever post-it noted to such a degree as I did, for passages I simply liked the sound of, those I thought were clever, and those that made me think or that expressed something I've tried and failed to express for myself.
He sat down on the pebbles, which were warm, and ate the bread and cheese and apple he had brought. He though he must take a stone back with him. It is an ancient instinct to take a stone away from a stony place, to look at it, to give it a form and a life that connect the human being to the mass of inhuman stones. (152)
I've always thought that about stony places, and always liked beaches full of rocks better than sandy ones.
If you knew how somebody's mind worked, did it mean you liked them? (419)
I've thought that, too. Or at least, thought about knowing how people's minds work a lot.

That image, by the way, is the Gloucester Candlestick, which lives in the Victoria and Albert Museum (newly built during the time of The Children's Book). It sort of begins the book.

As with my previous experience of A.S. Byatt, in Possession, The Children's Book does not end as you expect it to, but this does not mean it ends unsatisfyingly. You don't have any expectation of its ending, so there's really no way to be disappointed. I felt there were some ends left loose, but that this was intentional, that it was lifelike, that the characters who were not touched on had simply faded into the background, had had their time and been left behind by the movement of the world. That's what you get from this book. It is infused with a sense of the movement of the world. Sometimes it reads like a (good) history book, and I'm sure it must have needed as much research as one, but like the best history books it also tells a story. And maybe that's what is wonderful about A.S. Byatt. She is writing the history book about characters and events that never happened--it is not a novel, though it lurks (looms, really) on the fiction shelves. It was, for sheer depth and breadth, and extremely satisfying experience.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Adventures in German

Without quite realizing it was happening, I seem to have acquired a preoccupation with the German language, German (and Austrian) literature, and German culture. This isn't something I quite expected to happen, but it's certainly interesting. I'm about a third German heritage-wise, but in my childhood of going through various periods of being obsessed with various cultures, it was the other two-thirds I was obsessed with (Irish and Swedish).

I'm learning the language, first of all. That was a mild accident. I couldn't get into French 201, so I picked another language. I happened to be dating a boy who spoke German, so I'd heard him speak it enough to know I'd find it an interesting language, and was predisposed to learn it anyway (remember when I discovered the word "fremdsprachenfeinheitseifersucht"?), so that was the language I picked.

And then in my comparative literature class, three of the plays we've read (or are reading) were originally written in German (by Bertolt Brecht, Peter Handke, and Max Frisch). So we've talked a lot about 20th century German and Austrian theatre, Brecht's tradition of epic theatre, and so on. I really liked Peter Handke's play-that-isn't-a-play, Offending the Audience (or better translated Public Insult, I'm told); I liked the rhythm of it. I neither really liked nor disliked the Brecht (The Good Person of Sichuan), but found it interesting. I read some essays of his on theatre, also. And the Max Frisch play, Biography: A Game, I haven't finished yet. I need to have it read by tomorrow, though. The little bit I've read is looking pretty fascinating; I think I'm going to enjoy reading it.

And now reading The Children's Book (I finally finished it last night! Will talk about it very soon), German fairytales and puppet theatre come into play. There are so many fascinating things explored in that book, and this is definitely one of the things that most stands out to me. Some of the characters visit turn-of-the-century Munich (München, if you like), which is a pretty interesting episode in the book.

Seeing Lebensraum (six times, all told) and working on it was another encounter with German history.

I don't know that I have any particular conclusions about this turn in my studies, but it's definitely adding a certain flavour to everything, to my reading and thinking. I feel a realm of study open up which I hadn't quite touched before, and it feels a bit like beginning on the path into the maze. I find it so fascinating how one's reading flows in patterns like this. One thing leads to another and you realize you're suddenly an expert (not that I am) on a particular topic or kind of literature.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On the Table: Books

Still plodding along in The Children's Book. Not that it's at all an unpleasant sort of plodding, but it is a book one has to read deliberately, and it is very long. But I do have a lot of other exciting books I'm looking forwards to.

First up is Past Imperfect, by Julian Fellowes. I know the fellow, of course, because he's an actor, notably in Monarch of the Glen. I can see him being a good writer, though, and the subject of the book sounds intriguing. The narrator is contacted by his old friend Damian, from whom he has been estranged for 40 years, asking for help. The narrator then revisits the summer of 1968, when the friends became estranged, in order to help Damian, and the book sounds particularly interesting to me because it takes place in the side-by-side and occasionally meeting worlds of the upper class, debutantes and such, and the "Swinging Sixties."

Also tempting is The Lodger Shakespeare, by Charles Nicholl. I originally talked about it here, so you might remember it.

I also have Selected Letters of Charlotte Brontë (the Oxford University Press edition). I love reading letters, but I don't tend to get through them all at once so I'll probably read this bit by bit. The Brontës are always fascinating, and I'm sure Charlotte's letters will offer an interesting look into her life.

Ages and ages ago, I read Jo Walton's Farthing, and started Ha'penny, and then school started and I got distracted by all sorts of other things. I'd love to get back to Ha'penny.

Last, Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock. I read some of this years and years ago, but I'm sure I was too young for it. The Children's Book brought it back to mind, and it's been on the to-read pile for a while, so hopefully I can get around to it soon.

So all that ought to last me at least until Christmas, at which point I will probably acquire more books that need to be read. Something from Persephone will have to be read at some point fairly soon, and I'm feeling a Jane Austen reread coming on.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Ephemera #17

I've been talking about theatre a lot lately, so I figured I'd go for an image of a theatre this week. This is the St. George Theatre in Staten Island, New York. It first opened in 1929.

Image found here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you're all enjoying your turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin pie! Or, if you're poor souls in other countries who don't get two days off, I hope you're enjoying your Thursday. I know I'm going to try and spend the day reading.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On the Table: Plays

There are three plays I want to see in the month of December. I don't know if I'll make it to all of them, but I would like to. Theater Schmeater is doing At Home at the Zoo, by Edward Albee. This play began as The Zoo Story, a one act, but Albee later wrote a sort of prequel to it, and then mandated that they always be performed together as a full-length play. I read The Zoo Story for my comparative literature class, and it was one of my favourites, so I'd be pretty interested in seeing it performed.

The Bathhouse Theatre is putting on its yearly production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I've never seen it though it seems they've been doing it for nine years, so it might be fun to finally see it. And I know some of the actors from Lebensraum.

The one I'm most excited for, however, is Seattle Repertory Theatre's production of Equivocation. I say it's the Rep's, but actually it's traveled from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I don't know if much has changed in the production since it was performed there, but I was told (by someone whose opinion on theatre I trust a great deal) that I absolutely had to see it. So I shall see it. It's about Shakespeare, apparently, and contains overtones of King Lear and Macbeth, and you know how I love picking out references like that.

So expect to hear more about these. And also expect to hear about what's next in terms of reading, too, since the quarter's coming to its end and I'll have more time to read soon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Plays in Retrospect

Oh, I do love good theatre.

I wasn't terribly impressed by Emma. It was staged very well (kinda sorta in the round), impressive tech-wise, and had an extremely satisfactory ending (in a romantic way), but it was just much too silly. It became well apparent how that happened when I read the director's note in the program, in which he said Emma is basically a soap opera. Harriet Smith was horrible (screechy, giggly, and made up far more unattractive than the actress actually is or than Harriet should be), which I felt was the director's fault and not the actress's. Mr. Weston was goofy, Mr. Elton was far too Mr. Collins-ish. Jane Fairfax just wasn't quite right, Miss Bates wasn't talkative enough, Mr. Woodhouse wasn't feeble enough (he danced at the ball), though he was pretty good at being worried about things. Emma didn't come across as being as intelligent as she ought to be (and I thought she was too short, but that's not her fault), and I didn't really see her falling in love, but she didn't bother me except when I looked deeper. Mr. Knightley I liked. All the women had lovely costumes; most of the men's coats were just bad but the rest of their costumes were all right. So it wasn't a satisfactory Emma at all, but it was very satisfactory theatre and terribly romantic. I left the theatre wanting to go home and reread Emma, but I don't have time to start another book so I watched the last episode of the latest Emma miniseries instead.

I didn't really mean to say so much about Emma, but then I was possessed by a need to be thorough, so there you are. It was Durang7 I came to talk about. Seven one-act plays by Christopher Durang, all absolutely hilarious, all full of references to other plays, theatre history, and general history. Six actors, all of them really fabulous actors. It was great. I spent the majority of the play laughing uproariously, partly because of all the references to plays I've read for school this quarter (Happy Days, The Balcony, Medea), mostly because it was just so good and so funny.

This was the last weekend for both these plays, so I'm just teasing you here talking about them. Keep an eye out for Christopher Durang, though. He's another one that makes you want to read everything he references, which for me is always exciting.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Two plays

I'm having a weekend of theatre, it seems. Which I suppose I did last week too, but I was just seeing the same play three times and running the lights twice, so it was a weekend of theatre in a very different way. I'm not sure I really saw the play at all, since Friday night I could only see about half the stage from where I was squished on a stool, half under a really low ceiling with a vent blowing down my neck, and Saturday I was too busy trying not to screw anything up too badly, turn on lights when they weren't supposed to be on and turn them off when they were.

This weekend, however, I get to actually see the plays. Today I'm going to see Emma, put on by Book-It Repertory Theatre, adapted from Jane Austen by Rachel Atkins. I'm going with my best friend who is just back from college in Oregon, because Emma is our Thing, and we get to have crumpets and tea for lunch first, so it's all very exciting.

Tomorrow I'm seeing Durang7 at Stone Soup Theatre, seven one-act plays by Christopher Durang, which is directed by Maureen Hawkins, who I am extremely fond of as she directed all the plays I did in high school. According to the website the plays lampoon Euripides, Shakespeare, Noel Coward, Beckett, Williams and O’Neill, of which I have read all but one (Noel Coward), so in the way that recognizing references always makes me a bit gleeful, this ought to be lots of fun.

So that's what I've got in the works for my weekend, apart from writing a very short essay on Happy Days by Samuel Beckett and hopefully reading more of The Children's Book.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Great Britain Postage Paid

Getting mail is always exciting (unless it's just ads, of course). Getting mail all the way from London is even more exciting.I bet that little logo looks rather familiar to some people. A while back I filled out the form on the Persephone Books website to receive their catalogue and biannually. I'd rather forgotten about it, but I came home on Friday to find it waiting for me. Already open. Silly father, opening my mail (I suppose he wanted to know what I'd ordered all the way from London).

And inside this nice white package (my address all written out, looks like a fountain pen, first name semi-illegible, the 8 in my zip code all smudgey, and with "Printed Papers" stamped on it from somewhere in the maze of the post) we have several exciting things. First, a bookmark, for The Casino by Margaret Bonham, the excerpt of which sounds extremely intriguing. Then there's a "We are very pleased to be sending you..." letter, which talks about their latest books and how to buy them. (You're reading this, by the way, in the order I came to each item. Just so's you know.) Then the The Persephone Catalogue, No. 10. It's the most lovely catalogue I've ever seen. Information about all 86 books (oh dear, and I've only read one and a half), pictures of and blurbs about all the endpapers (which, if you didn't know, are images of fabric from the era of the book), some of them have images of manuscript pages or other relevant illustrations. I'm looking so looking forward to reading through this, though I'm sure it's going to make me want all these books desperately.

Lastly I uncovered the biannually, but first let me mention the order form. The paragraph about the cost is the most convoluted thing I've ever read, but it's also sort of whimsical. It's certainly far from buying books on Amazon. "Please send books No:___ at a cost of £10 for each of the 86 grey Originals or £9 for each Classic or £27 for three, + £2 p&p per book within the UK eg one book including UK postage is £12 (but £11 for one Classic), two books are £24 (but £22 for two Classics or £23 for one Classic and one Original, or any three books are £33."

The biannually talks about their three newest books, has some blurbs from various readers, reviewers, and bloggers (many of whom I read, so it's funny to see them in here) about some of their books, very short summaries about all 86 books, a short story by Dorothy Whipple, and a lot of nice illustrations.

So this was definitely much more exciting than the sorts of catalogues you usually get in the mail, and I can't wait to have time to read it (not looking likely in the very near future, it's nearly the end of the quarter and work is building up). Not to mention, time to read all these books. And of course now I've foolishly started looking through the UW library website to see which they have or could interlibrary loan, having realized that now I have access to it it's the perfect way to get British books I couldn't get otherwise. Oh, it's all so tempting.

Friday Ephemera #16

Oh right, it's Friday. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, then...Having clicked through several pages of pumpkin pies on Google images, I'm now really looking forward to next week and the prospect of pumpkin pie. Or maybe pumpkin cheesecake. I did have pumpkin pancakes for breakfast this morning (breakfast on occasion turns out to be one of the few perks of dorm food), but they didn't taste all that pumpkiny. Have I said the word "pumpkin" enough times yet?

It seems I've been pretty busy this week, though I'm not sure what with exactly. I can only tell because I've done hardly any reading that wasn't for class and I'm way behind on my blog-reading. I did come home today to find something exciting in the mail, but you'll have to wait to hear about that until Monday. Have a good weekend!

Turkeyish pumpkin pie found here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Apart from Victorian poetry, The Children's Book is also making me want to draw. I was sitting in a study/lounge room downstairs reading the book, and I kept having visions of giant (probably too ambitious for my abilities) pencil drawings, and being completely distracted from the book by the compulsive urge to go start drawing them.

Combine this with the urges I'm having to sew, make jewellery, make Ukrainian eggs, decorate for Christmas, and bake things, none of which I'm really able to do in a dorm room, I'm getting very distracted both from schoolwork and from my other reading.

I'm still quite wrapped up in The Children's Book, despite this. It's a book that needs to be savoured, and I am duly savouring it, but this is a problem given that it's due back at the library next Tuesday, and can't be renewed. I may have to just let it go overdue (sorry, waiting people), and hope I have time to finish it over the Thanksgiving break.

There's something special about a book that inspires you to other things. This book both to read poetry and to create things, for me. Tam Lin, of course, is my classic poetry and Shakespeare inspiration. I love reading poetry, so it's always nice to have this boost, and I never have the urge to draw unless something in particular inspires me to it. There's also an element wherein this allows you to draw out the experience of reading the inspiration book. You have to pause and indulge your inspiration, even if you want to keep reading.

I don't know if I can think of any other books I've read that particularly inspire me to things (though I'm sure there are some that make me want to write). What books have this effect on you?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Maids heard the goblins cry:

Congratulations those who guessed! The illustration was from "Goblin Market," by Christina Rossetti.

A.S. Byatt's books always seems to inspire me to read Victorian poetry. The Children's Book is no different, and this time the poetry in question is "Goblin Market." I'm fairly sure the book mentions it and that's why I thought of it, but I might have done anyway. It's one I always meant to read. And it fits very nicely with themes in The Children's Book, with much of the mood.
Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
"Come buy, come buy."
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
"Come buy, come buy," was still their cry.
I've always loved depictions of a sinister kind of Fairyland, or Elfland. They're so thoroughly rooted in mythology and history, and like the fruits of Elfland, "Plump unpecked cherries-- Melons and raspberries, Bloom-down-cheeked peaches," colourful and enticing and thoroughly dangerous.

You can read the entire poem here.


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