Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Ephemera #28

By Kelly McKernan. I don't quite know what it is, but I like it. Her other art can be found here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I had a long afternoon to spend yesterday, so in addition to starting Dorothy Sayers' Unnatural Death, I read a couple of articles I figured I'd link.

The first one is from the New York Times Magazine, entitled "How Christian Were the Founders?". It discusses changing views of how the founders of the US viewed religion and its place in government, how this should be represented in textbooks, and how the Texas school board influences education in the rest of the country.

The second one is probably more in my usual line, from the New Yorker: "But Enough About Me", which discusses the development of the memoir, how it relates to fiction and truth, and what memoir tells us about ourselves.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Sensible Life

It's always lovely to finish a book you've been reading for ages. It's not that it's long or dense, that the book hasn't kept my interest, or even that I haven't had time, just that I've been distracted. Reading novels has taken a back seat to reading other things, mostly online. Actually, I've been wanting to read A Sensible Life, which is the second Mary Wesley book I've encountered. Or, perhaps more accurately, I've been wanting to want to read it. And this weekend I've finally had the time.

I first discovered Mary Wesley when I saw the miniseries adaptation of The Camomile Lawn, and subsequently read (and wrote about) the novel. It's interesting to compare the two. Both span about 40 years, and have main (or semi-main, in Camomile Lawn) female characters who are 10 years old when the story begins. Both books also follow a cast of characters who were all together once, long ago, as they grow up and go their separate ways. Mary Wesley's books could thus perhaps be called formulaic (the endings are extremely similar, too), but although themes and certain situations recur, the stories, the shape of the cast, and the mood differ enough to make them thoroughly worth reading.

A Sensible Life begins in France in 1926, where English families go on holiday with their children, thinking it good for them to get some sea air and learn some French. Flora Trevelyan is 10 years old, shy, with distant, inattentive parents. This holiday is her first encounter with real families and with love. She falls in love with three boys: Hubert and Cosmo, 15-year-old English schoolboy friends, and Felix, 21-year-old Dutchman. It is the people met on this holiday who step in and out of the rest of the book, getting older and living mostly happy, mostly sensible lives. Cosmo's sister Mabs and her friend Tashie, his parents Milly and Angus, Flora's parents, the Russian immigrant dressmaker Irena, and others.

What shapes this book, and The Camomile Lawn, too, is that it's the events of adolescence that are the brightest, clearest, and most lasting. Everything that happens later springs from or revolves around things that happened on that holiday in France, or during a holiday at Cosmo's house, Coppermalt, five years later. And it takes a long time for things to change, for the relationships Flora begins at 10 years old to pan out in one way or another. Some things take four decades.

It's probably because of the focus on youth that these books are so very bluntly sexual; people have and talk about sex in proportion to how much a part of life it actually is, unlike many books, especially those about this time period (but this was written in 1990). The writing is lovely; some blunt, irrelevant statements somehow sum up entire scenes. Like this one--it may not work out of context, but it's a bit funny nonetheless. They're talking about having lusted after Botticelli's Venus when they were fifteen or so.
Hubert said, "Rubbish," and lay back, stretching his legs towards the fire. For a while neither spoke. Hubert's glass rested empty on his chest; Cosmo let his drop to the floor. Presently, rallying thought from far away, he said: "It wasn't a cockleshell the Venus was standing in, it was a scallop."

Hubert said, "Of course, how silly of me. It was a scallop."
So this was a lovely, satisfying, very real and imperfect book. I'm glad it didn't suffer from my slow reading of it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Happy Valentine's Day, Singles Awareness Day, Day Before Presidents' Day, and/or Sunday! I haven't got any sort of exciting plans for the day; I'm just sitting here reading love stories in my pajamas, which looks and sounds a little pathetic, but is, I suppose, my own quiet way of celebrating. Have some poetry.
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Ephemera #27

Yes, those are books. Mike Stilkey is the creator of this. Art painted on the spines of stacked up books. There's something wonderful about this in that all those books are individually full of words and knowledge, but this brings them together into one whole. You could make puzzles like that. Paint it, take it apart, and try to put it back together. You can see more examples of this bizarre and lovely art here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Ephemera #26

A photo of my own taking, for a change. My collection of Chiquita banana stickers, which lately have been a rather amusing set of faces. And at the bottom you can see the books next on my plate after I finish A Sensible Life--No Fond Return of Love (Barbara Pym), Unnatural Death (Dorothy Sayers), and The Post-Office Girl (Stefan Zweig).

Monday, February 1, 2010

Couth Buzzard: Version Two

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about Couth Buzzard, the bookshop in my neighbourhood that was going out of business. It was a place I'd spent my childhood in, dusty, with stacks and boxes of books all over the floor; they had a canary when I was little. I was sad to see them go.

However, not that long ago a sign went up in the empty store front just around the corner from my house. Yes, Couth Buzzard is back. Not only back, but back and better than ever. Though not as charmingly haphazard and dusty as it used to be, it's better organized and the selection is better. They've got better lighting, and a little cafe sort of thing, replacing, I suppose, the bakery that used to be a couple doors down from the old location. Wednesday night is an open mic, Thursday is game night. You can walk buy at any time of the day and see people in there, now; it's cheerful and comfortable. And, a plus for me, they're honoring the old credit accounts, still in the same old binder on rather faded yellow paper.

I wasn't really intending to buy anything when I went in, but I did find another Barbara Pym novel (one I've been looking for specifically, though I don't remember why), No Fond Return of Love. And I got it for less than two dollars, too (that with my credit, which pays for half). So I'm thoroughly pleased with this turn of events, and so glad to see one of my favourite bookstores back in business.


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