Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Put Out More Flags

Somehow I feel like I've read a lot of Evelyn Waugh's novels. I read Vile Bodies in 2008, and Brideshead Revisited last September. Brideshead went onto my list of favourites. When I read a review of Put Out More Flags at Stuck in a Book last year, I vaguely added it to my list of books to read. Then my father randomly happened to buy it for me last week, so I have now read it.
Put Out More Flags is sort of an odd cross between Vile Bodies and Brideshead, in terms of style. Flags is funny, but less absurd and random than Vile Bodies, it deals with World War II, like Brideshead, and it seems to pay more attention to the language, like Brideshead. I liked it better than Vile Bodies, but not so well as Brideshead.

Put Out More Flags is the story of the Phoney War, the period in 1939-40 after Britain declared war but before anything much had happened. It's a period ripe for the kind of absurdity Waugh loves to tell--people evacuating cities for the bombing that was still months away, everyone joining some military or government branch and then not quite having anything useful to do there. The main character is theoretically Basil Seal, though like in Vile Bodies, many other characters appear. Most of the other characters are more sympathetic than Basil Seal. I especially liked the sections about his sister, Barbara, living in a large house in the country where she is the district billeting officer, finding homes for the evacuees, which, though well-meant, results in a lot of irritated people. I also rather liked the parts about the men who feel the need to join the army, but who really look sort of middle-aged and silly there.

The book begins by being funny, but as it progresses and we get closer and closer to real war, it gets increasingly dark. The end reminded me of another book I've read, but I can't for the life of me figure out which one. Oh, wait. It was Vile Bodies. It's interesting how Waugh keeps starting out intending to be funny, and ends being dark and depressing. This was probably inevitable with Put Out More Flags, though. He wrote it in 1942, still smack in the middle of the war. Waugh's great gift continues to be his ability to appreciate the absurdity of human endeavour, even during dark times. It's rather a useful gift, and one that I, as someone who thoroughly enjoys human absurdities, am glad to read the fruits of.

The title perhaps explains this book best. There's a war, but there's nothing much anyone can do about it yet. All that's left is to look like you're doing something--evacuate, practice silly-looking military manoeuvres, speculate about the future, and Put Out More Flags.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What you go looking for

My relationship with Jane Austen is an ever evolving thing. I'm not someone who grew up being told about the wonders of Jane Austen. I was 14 when I first tried to read Pride and Prejudice, and I expected not to like it, so I didn't, and quit after 120 pages. Not very long after that I saw the 2005 film adaptation, and loved it. The second time I tried to read Pride and Prejudice I expected to love it, so I did. The next Jane Austen I read was Sense and Sensibility, which I finished but was unenthusiastic about. Pride and Prejudice is a relatively conventional, modern romantic comedy in terms of plot. Sense and Sensibility is not that kind of story--but I expected it to be, and was therefore unsatisfied with it. As I read more and more of Jane Austen's work, and read about other people's reactions to it, I formed a theory.

Step into the world of Jane Austen expecting to love her novels, but don't expect to love them in the same way you expect to enjoy a good romantic comedy film. She's a very clever writer, stylistically, but you sometimes have to pay close attention to appreciate this, and the more you read Jane Austen the better adapted you are to notice. She also writes about relationships very well, but you have to pay as much--if not more--attention to the friendships and sibling relationships as to the romantic leads. Notice that the cover of this edition of Pride and Prejudice has two sisters on it. I wrote my 12-page senior paper in high school about my belief that Jane Austen was more interested in sibling and sibling-like relationships than romantic ones, and that the romantic relationships she wants us to root for are the ones that are based more on a quiet, familial love than on anything very passionate. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth's relationships with her sisters are always important, and seeing Darcy's love for his sister does a lot to endear him to her. Knowing this now, I am much better able to love Jane Austen. I read Mansfield Park last, and in some ways it's the least like a modern romantic comedy. Had I read it sooner, I doubt I would have liked it, but I loved it because I knew what to look for in it. Jane Austen is often marketed as romantic comedy, but the best parts of her novels are not always the romantic parts, and if you go looking for the romance and fail to find it in a satisfactory form, you'll be disappointed.

This isn't meant to be so specifically about Jane Austen, but my experience with her writing is a good way to illustrate my point. We often think of our reactions to books as being solely about the book. You read a book and because it wasn't very good or in some way not to your taste, you dislike it. Really, the ultimate verdict about whether you enjoyed a book is the product of a relationship between you and the book. It's affected not only by who you are, but by your actual interaction with the book as you read it, your assumptions about the book's content and style, why you chose to read the book, how long it takes you to read the book, who recommended it to you, and so on. This is probably why, stereotypically at least, no one enjoys books they have to read for school--when you're obliged to read it, you automatically go into it with the feeling that you would rather be doing something else. This is probably also why it's often easier to enjoy a popular novel than a classic. No one told you you ought to read it, you have no guilt associated with not reading it, and you don't feel a need to slog through it just to say you did.

My expectations of other books have influenced my liking for them as well. I started reading Virginia Woolf's novel Jacob's Room knowing nothing about it. It's a very plotless novel. Though it follows Jacob's life, it does so mostly through pretty impressions, in a rather oblique way. I didn't know to expect this, so I kept looking for a plot, and found the book frustrating. Once I googled it and read a bit about it, I knew what I should be looking for, and I started to enjoy the book. I often have problems reading books that I regard as being very American, or that sound that way from the blurb on the cover. For some reason I expect not to like these books--To Kill a Mockingbird is a good example--though they're good books and once I start reading I know I would probably get into it. With such books, if I don't read the blurb or know much about the story, I have a much easier time liking it.

All this leads me to wonder about my relationship to books. Surely if you know what you're looking for, you have a better time seeing what's really there. I've heard people who don't like Jane Austen say they feel like they're missing something, like there's something there they aren't seeing. So if you read a book knowing what you're looking to find in it, are you seeing the book more clearly? Or do you see a book most clearly if you know nothing about it but what is within its pages? What if two people love Jane Austen, but see and love very different things in her books? Are classic books, which everyone reads with certain expectations, classic because they are more complicated and therefore must be read more carefully, with expectations in mind? Is it easier to pick up any old novel you've never heard of before, read it, and like it? Perhaps our assumptions about certain books decreases our chance of liking them, or even reading them in the first place. Maybe this is why so-called great literature is taught in schools. Sometimes we need to be taught how to read a certain book, and the chances of this are higher if that book is one we have preconceived notions about, as is frequently the case with classics.

And it's just occurred to me--reading book blogs probably lowers the number of books you read without any expectations.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Library: An Unquiet History

I heard about Matthew Battles's Library: An Unquiet History from Buried in Print, who read it for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge (for which it is also my fourth book). Somehow the book struck me enough to immediately go and order it from the library. It thus arrived, and I have now read it.

My first three books about books this year were stories (the Christopher Morley books and 84, Charing Cross Road), so it's a nice change to read a nonfiction book about books. Every single time, I forget how much I love this kind of nonfiction. Matthew Battles divides his story of libraries into more or less chronological chapters, beginning in ancient times, ending with the Internet. Apart from this chronological framework, each chapter has certain themes, such as book burning, library controversy, public libraries, and the destruction of books. The whole book is tied together by its constant questioning of what a library is, what people throughout history have believed to be the ideal form of the library, and what kinds of collections, intended as such or not, can functionally be called libraries.

Library sometimes feels disjointed, and I believe parts of it were previously published separately. It comes across as everything Battles wants to say about libraries (he's a librarian at Harvard), collected into one place, whether it entirely belongs there or not. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it's all very interesting, but the book could have used a little more editing. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Battles writes well--sometimes a little fancifully, but this is never dry nonfiction. As the book's subtitle suggests, the story of the library is really very dramatic, full of wars, burnings, bombings, political and social prejudice, and literary controversy. Despite this, one suspects that in the wrong hands, a book about libraries could still come out very quiet and dull. Matthew Battles's are not the wrong hands. There are stories here of the impressive lengths to which people will go to read, and to prevent people from reading, and it's all very often surprisingly moving. Books and libraries are powerful, and Battles clearly understands this and has managed to transmit it. Helpfully, he obviously loves libraries and is well read on the subject.

Near the end of the book, Battles discusses how the Internet fits into the story of the library. He says, "The digital objects of today are the incunabula of a not-too-distant tomorrow..." (pg 212). Thanks to Sam Starbuck we have a word for such digital incunabula--extribulum, which you can (and totally should) read about here. I get rather a lot of glee out of connecting other things to Sam Starbucks' work, so it was lovely to see this in Library. It's fascinating to me to consider the relationship between books and the Internet, and it's always good to see writers treating this subject well, since it's so often written about with a certain amount of histrionic the-world-of-books-as-we-know-it-is-ending/the-internet-is-making-us-stupider sentiment. Plus, I like to think my blog is an extribulum.

So, I thought this book was fun, informative, and intelligent, and I very much recommend it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Ephemera #42

Sometimes I like going to Pike Place Market and sitting in Post Alley, where you can easily pretend you're in Europe.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

It is possible I've developed a minor obsession with Helene Hanff. After I reread 84, Charing Cross Road I went and read her Wikipedia article, and discovered she'd written other books. One of them is The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which is her diary from her eventual trip to London. I immediately went and ordered it from the library (it's glorious to have the free time to do that with such abandon), and since nobody else seems to know it exists or have any interest in it, it showed up right away.

I got the book home from the library at approximately 6:45 p.m., and read it more or less straight through to 10 o'clock. It's not very long--137 pages--but I didn't mean to do that. I'm already in the middle of three other books, for goodness' sake. But there's something addictive about Helene Hanff's writing.

I think I like her because she's so like me about some things. England, mostly. I'd have slightly different destinations in mind, but I'd be just as undissapointable as she is about the London she's dreamed of seeing. Hopefully I'll make it there sooner in life than she did. Throughout the book, she is sort of cheerfully awed by finding the England of English literature, and cheerfully bemused by all the attention she gets as a result of 84, Charing Cross Road, and she sets it all down in hilarious turns of phrase. She tells the most hilarious stories, too. This is another of those books I am unable to keep from reading aloud. Here's one:
She had a hell of a time in Bloomsbury. The one-way streets here set drivers crazy, you have to go five blocks out of your way to find a street going in the right direction. And she was NOT going to drop me across Shaftsbury Avenue on the wrong corner of Great Russell Street, she would NOT drop me round the corner on Bloomsbury Street, the hotel entrance was on Great Russell and she was By God going to drop me in front of the door. And after zigzagging north and south for half an hour she triumphantly did it and accepted my congratulations graciously. (pg. 59)
If you loved 84, Charing Cross Road, you'll probably enjoy this. Since it's all Ms. Hanff's writing and no letters from the English, there's less of an English voice, but there's a lot of great stories and a lot of peeks at the real world it's often hard to see behind 84. I loved it, and I've just gone and ordered yet another of her books from the library.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Poetic results of my adventures through the dust

I've been slowly cleaning my room, more extensively than I've ever cleaned before. I've got scary amounts of papers stacked up, from as far back as elementary school. I was going through a folder full of papers from 7th grade, and found a poem photocopied from a book, with a title--"Red Brocade"--but no author listed. I had to google it to find out who wrote it, but somehow I think this poem has been lurking in my brain since I first read it, though I have no memory of reading it, or any idea why we were reading it.
The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be such good friends
you don’t care.

Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine Nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

- Naomi Shihab Nye

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Haunted Bookshop

After finishing Christopher Morley's Parnassus on Wheels, I emailed my father to get him to find me the sequel, The Haunted Bookshop, in the matching edition. He very promptly did so, and I have now read it.

For all it is a sequel, The Haunted Bookshop is very different from its predecessor. Parnassus was written from the point of view of Helen, which made it a much more charming book, because she was such an ordinary woman, but open-minded towards having such an unusual adventure. The Haunted Bookshop, on the other hand, is not narrated by any character. Helen and Roger have now opened up a bookshop in Brooklyn, and Mr. Chapman, a very rich friend of Roger's, has sent his daughter, Titania, to work in the bookshop in order to reverse the ill effects of a finishing school. Also on the scene is Aubrey Gilbert, a young advertiser who first enters the Haunted Bookshop with a mind to managing Roger's advertising. Roger, of course, doesn't believe in any advertising he has to pay for.

Aubrey and Titania rather take over the show from Helen and Roger. This book has as many adventures as Parnassus, but they are of a rather darker, less whimsical nature. Whereas Parnassus shows a world before World War I, The Haunted Bookshop is set just after the war, and this has a very noticeable effect on the tone and content of the book. That's not to say there is not still whimsy in this story, and Roger Mifflin is still preaching the love of books, but there is a wider view of the world here. The less comic nature of this book probably has something to do with the fact that the travelling Parnassus wagon itself does not appear here, as it was so inherently comic.

This book is wonderful, but not quite as lovable as Parnassus on Wheels. Still, it's well worth the read, especially to get a further view of such wonderful characters as Roger Mifflin and Helen.

Another nod to the Bibliophilic Books Challenge, for which this is my third book, meaning I've completed the first level of the challenge, Bookworm. Since I've already started another book that qualifies, I guess I'm aiming for the next level up, which entails six books.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice!

(My next door neighbour's newly acquired baby pygmy goats.)

Today is the longest day of the year, the first day of summer. Though the weather lately has looked more like February than June, hopefully we'll start getting a bit of summer now. The middle of June is never very sunny anyway. Have some summery (or not so summery, but fun) links for the occasion.

A Mango Sorbet recipe.

USB Typewriter (I posted this earlier by accident--if you're reading on Google Reader you probably saw this, if you're reading straight off the blog you probably didn't).

Baby sloth video.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

84, Charing Cross Road

Happy Father's Day!

While I was eating breakfast yesterday morning my father came home from the library, and said he'd bought me a book (not from the library, of course, but there's a bookshop in between). He bought me a book the day before, too, and at this point every time he says he's bought me a book I say, "Oh, dear." Both books were thoroughly welcome, though. Evelyn Waugh's Put Out More Flags, which I've been vaguely meaning to read, and Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road, which I've already read, but really ought to own.

And then I sat down and read it again. It's only 97 pages, but it took a while and I didn't mean to and I was supposed to be showering and getting on with the day. It was, however, thoroughly enjoyable.

I tend to think of 84, Charing Cross Road as a novel, as fiction, but of course it isn't. It's a collection of letters between Helene Hanff, a writer living in New York with a taste for out of print books which can't be found affordably any where in New York, and Frank Doel, employee of the Marks and Co. Bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road, London, where Helene's desired books can be bought. Also making appearance are other employees of the bookshop, Frank Doel's wife, and his next door neighbour. The correspondence spans twenty years, beginning in 1949. Helene sends packages of food to the shop during the post-war rationing, they sometimes send her Christmas presents, and she often berates them for failing to find the books she wants in a timely fashion. The letters are bookish, warm, and lovely, Helene's entertainingly blunt as she tries to force Frank out of his stubborn polite Englishness. Ultimately, the story these letters tell is a mild, everyday sort of tragedy, of the sort one's childish instinctive sense of fairness gets woken up for. Despite that, it's still an enormously comforting book, one that makes you wistful for something you never experienced. It's so perfect it's hard to remember it's not fiction.

Another book to count for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge, as well, which I didn't think of until just now. I seem to be reading them all at once (I read Parnassus on Wheels not realizing that counted, too).

I hereby count 84, Charing Cross Road among the books you must read. I intend to start foisting it upon unsuspecting friends as soon as possible.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Ephemera #41

The Artist's Garden at V├ętheuil, Claude Monet, 1880. Image from Wikimedia Commons. I'm wishing summer looked like this right now.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The great, the glorious...

Oxford English Dictionary. I've always wanted it. I've read books about it. I've looked longingly at the website. And now, finally, I have it. It's the Shorter OED, but that doesn't matter--it's got all the words current since 1700, which ought to be good enough for me.I'll confess to being an enormous dictionary geek. It's so easy to look something up and get distracted and learn all sorts of things you never thought you needed to know. The OED is especially fun because it has all the illustrative quotations for words, from all sorts of strange places. You can make a game of finding authors you know.Books about the OED:

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages
by Ammon Shea (he had the long version)

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Librarian win

--->Librarians do Gaga.<--- You must watch this video, because it is full of awesome. Happy Saturday!

Friday, June 11, 2010

New look

You'll notice everything looks a little different. I've been rather unsatisfied with the layout for ages, and Blogger just updated its templates, so I went for something new. I think it's better, but either way I have no idea how to change it back. I hope it looks all right!

Friday Ephemera #40

Van Gogh again. Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, 1888. Once more to the Vincent Van Gogh Gallery. I may be in a Van Gogh phase. I want to paint things (I do not want to cut off my ear). And now I have time, since I am officially moving home for the summer today!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Parnassus on Wheels

Parnassus on Wheels is really one of those perfect little books that you never expected to read. I got it last Christmas, and have been enjoying the look of it on my shelf, where it has sat since, unread. It's a lovely little 1955 hardcover, illustrated by Douglas Gorsline, and smelling pleasantly of Old Book. The story, by Christopher Morley, was first published in 1917, and is pretty much perfect.

Parnassus is Roger Mifflin's travelling bookshop, pulled by Peg the horse, with Bock the dog along for the ride. Mifflin, often called the Professor, is a funny, wise little man who travels through New England preaching a love of books and selling them. The story is narrated by Helen McGill, a middle-aged spinster, who meets the Professor one morning and decides to buy Parnassus and take up the bookselling life herself. Adventures ensue, naturally, of the sort one expects to find by the side of the road, fisticuffs and weather and so on. All of it, meanwhile, backed by a love of books and a need to hit the road once in a while, and see the world from a different angle. This is what Helen McGill does, and it changes her life thoroughly for the better.

This is a short book, only 160 pages, which didn't take me very long to read. This is sort of a perfect length, as it leaves you wanting more, but also knowing that more would make it a less perfect story. It's also a book that plays to almost everything I want out of a story--bookishness, domesticity, adventure, love. Parnassus on Wheels is one of those books which I am profoundly glad to have read.

Also, it occurs to me now that this qualifies for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge, which I signed up for back in December.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Counting the pages

I feel like I pay too much attention to how long a book is. I'm always flipping to the end to check the page count, and I always like to know how far away the end of the chapter is. I like to know how much I've read since I sat down and how much I have left to read. I'm sure I didn't use to do this. I do it far more with books I have to read for school.

Lately, I think I've gotten too used to class reading, and started to approach all books that way. I love reading until I can't sit still any more, and with a good book that can be a long time. But I never do that with books I have to read, and until recently it had been a while since I'd done that at all. I wonder if I could read school books that way? It would be an interesting experiment.

Does anyone else pay too much attention to the page numbers?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Foray into Chekhov

I don't read many short stories. I generally like them, but oddly they seem to take more work than novels. You have to consciously sit down to a short story when you want to read one, whereas you can always have a novel on the go and pick it up at any time, anywhere. Recently I've started up a new DailyLit book, though, Classic Shorts: Eight Stories for Summer, which I'm getting in my email three days a week. I've now finished the first story, which was "A Doctor's Visit", by Anton Chekhov. It was written in 1898, and is apparently also called "A Case History" or "A Medical Case" (so Wikipedia informs me). I've never read any other Chekhov, and this is an interesting introduction.

The daughter of a factory owner is ill, and the doctor is called to a factory just outside Moscow to see to her. Her illness, of course, is more mental than physical, a matter of her circumstances. But the story seems to have no real resolution. "A Doctor's Visit" is really all this story is, there and back. It is a passing meeting in different lives. A connection is made, perhaps, but it is not a connection that one expects to come to anything, and it may or may not do any good. But there is some simple beauty in the meeting, even in the factory and the uneducated, ordinary workers.

I've noticed before that I don't tend to enjoy reading stories set in Russia. I enjoyed this, though, so I think it's not the country but the cold. I don't like reading about cold climates in their cold seasons. This story is set in the spring, though, and I think that's what made the difference. An odd preference in my reading. I just like colour and brightness too much.

I may have to devote some time this summer to reading short stories. I'm looking forward to the rest in this collection.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Princess Bride

The film version of The Princess Bride feels like a huge cultural institution to me, despite the fact that I've only seen it about one and a half times. Everybody knows, "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Somehow the book is a bit less of an institution. Possibly this is because, at least for me, the movie is more satisfying.

The book operates on an oddly contrived pretense, that William Goldman is abridging a much longer work by a fellow named Simon Morgenstern, who comes from the country of Florin, in which the book is set, which of course does not exist. This has me thinking back to all my experimental theatre last fall, when I spent a lot of time considering the layers involved in stories. The movie, of course, opens with a sick kid in bed whose grandfather reads him the story, and once in a while they show up again when the kid objects to some part of the story. In the book, this sick kid in bed is in the past, being William Goldman, first introduced to the story in this way, and coming back years later to do the abridgment. His asides are often about the dull parts of the novel he has supposedly cut out, and he's created an entire story about his wife Helen and his son Jason, and trying to get Jason to read the book, and about legal troubles with S. Morgenstern's estate. It's an unusual storytelling device, and somewhat distracting, but it's often entertaining. It also allows Goldman to blame plot difficulties and unpleasant moments on S. Morgenstern. The ending of the book is a little sudden, and not very conclusive, and Goldman blames that on Morgenstern.

I've had the book for years, for unknown reasons, and I sort of wish I'd read it sooner. I did try, I just thought Buttercup was the stupidest name for a heroine ever, and couldn't get past that. I had very strong opinions about names and words in my younger days, I guess. I sort of still do; Buttercup just stopped bothering me. Anyway, it's a book thoroughly worth reading, since it is a "classic tale of true love and high adventure", and everyone can use more of that in their life.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Summer reading

I have a lot of plans for the summer. It's been a while since I've been able to make enough time to read as much as I'd like to, so that's definitely something I'll have to do. After reading dense political theory treatises and articles about education all quarter I'm reading for some fun, easy reading. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane put me into a bit of a fantasy kick, so now I'm reading The Princess Bride, and after that I'll have to find something similarly fun and fictional. It may be a while before I read anything very serious.

I do have some serious reading plans for the summer in general, though. I have over three months without school, but there's still some education I want to do. I did like reading political theory, however dense, and I'd like to read some more philosophical and theoretical books. Possibly other works by some of the people I read for that class (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, J.S. Mill, Marx, and Peter Singer). If anybody knows of a good into to philosophy type book that isn't too textbookish, please do recommend it.

I've also got a lot of nonfiction lying around that I'd like to read. I started Virginia Woolf's letters ages and ages ago, and I'd like to get back to that; I also have Charlotte Bronte's letters. I want to finish Victorian Visitors, read the chapters we skipped over in class of a couple of books, and finish The Odyssey (that's not nonfiction, but it's going in the same class of not being a relaxing lazy book). I've probably got loads of other nonfiction to read as well.

Apart from all that, I want to make art. I want to sew, I want to bake, I want to write, I want to do craft projects. I am thoroughly excited for summer.

Now I just have to get through two finals and a paper.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Ephemera #39

Because you need more Van Gogh in your life. Lane with Poplars, 1885. Thanks to the Vincent Van Gogh Gallery, which is fabulous.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Picture this

Last Sunday Stuck in a Book came up with a challenge to find one image that sums up your reading tastes but doesn't have any direct association with books. I think maybe I've managed it. This is Design for a poster, by Alphonse Mucha, from 1897. I love this style of art, and I think it sums up my reading tastes in that there are definite hints of the magical in it, but it's also very calm and symmetrical. Nothing wild, but still with hints of the otherworld.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Sometimes, you read the right book at the right time. I got The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe, for Christmas, but it's been sitting on the shelf over my desk since, unread. When I finished reading The Doctor Trap I wanted to pick up something new right away, and though I'm still in the middle of Victorian Visitors, I wanted fiction. The Physick Book was the natural choice.

It tells the story of Connie, a Harvard graduate student in history, who goes to stay in her grandmother's ancient house in Marblehead, Massachusetts to clean it out in preparation for selling it. The house has no electricity and no telephone, and it's been empty for twenty years. Connie is meanwhile supposed to be figuring out a dissertation topic for her PhD. Her first night in the house, she opens a 17th century Bible and out falls an old key, with a bit of paper in it that bears the name Deliverance Dane. Deliverance proves to be one of the women accused in the Salem with trials of 1692, and the story unfolds from there.

I loved this book for much the same reasons I love Tam Lin--its elements of the academic world and hints (or more than hints) of fantasy and romance. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane has so many wonderful strands of plot, clever foreshadowing, and characters who are not quite who they seem, which are finally drawn together in a clear and interesting way. This is not literary fiction, and in fact has many qualities of a thriller, but it is well-written and well-told, and it's a very good story. Thoroughly satisfying, so much so that I read most of it in great chunks over the holiday weekend. It's a good holiday book, is what it is, and it helped remind me how much I love sitting and reading for hours on end.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Book meme

Here's a meme which as been floating around the book blogs.

What is your favourite drink while reading?
Tea if it's just after breakfast. Water or maybe lemonade any other time of day.

Do you tend to mark your books while you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I post-it note sometimes. I don't write in books, though I sometimes wish I did. I like buying used books which other people have written in.

How do you keep your place? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book open flat?
Bookmark. Periodically I always seem to come by big stacks of bookmarks from some promotional thing, so currently I'm working my way through bookmarks from the first Narnia movie, and a few left over from the stack of Lord of the Rings bookmarks I acquired when I was about twelve. If I don't have a proper bookmark to hand I use scraps of paper.

Fiction, non-fiction or both?
I love non-fiction, but always kind of forget about this in between reading it. Probably most of what I read is fiction.

Do you tend to read to the end of a chapter or can you stop anywhere?
I can stop anywhere, but I like to read to the end of a section or chapter if I can.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?
I'm pretty sure I've never flung a book. I can usually tell pretty fast if I'm not going to like it, and then I give up on it. There are too many good books to read the bad ones.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?
Only if I have a dictionary easily accessible. Usually I have a vague enough idea of what the word means to carry on without looking it up.

What are you currently reading?
I'm in the middle of Victorian Visitors, but I haven't read it in a while. Having just finished The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, I have yet to start anything else.

What is the last book you bought?
It might have been The Post-Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig. Not sure.

Do you have a favourite time/place to read?
I often sit in my bean bag chair just before bed time to read, when I'm getting all sleepy and comfortable. I don't mind much where I read, though.

Do you prefer series books or stand-alones?
I like series, but find them vaguely stressful sometimes. Mostly I read stand-alones. The only series I'm trying to work through at the moment is the Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
I recommend Tam Lin endlessly, and I seem to have recommended To Say Nothing of the Dog a lot lately.

How do you organise your books (by genre, title, author's last name, etc.)?
Erm, I sort of don't... I mean, I have a Tolkien shelf, and all the Jane Austen is in the same place, but other than that...

Background noise or silence?
At home NPR is nearly always on in the background, which I'm kind of immune to. It depends on my mood, the music, and the book, but I don't mind background noise.

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