Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse

Good Night, Mr. WodehouseGood Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So good! The story spans 60 years, but doesn't feel like a saga. Instead, it is intimate and warm with characters you love and a few that you loathe, reminiscent of the small town community that Nell Stillman lives in.
She was a home girl, warmed by the glow of lamplight, a stove boiling water for tea. To sit in the rocker and read Jane Austen or Hardy, to play checkers with Hilly--these entertainments spoke of her unsophistication, and she did not mind. To be unsophisticated was no crime if you weren't narrow, and she hoped that her reading kept her from that. Through novels you glimpsed the grim night that could eventually overtake the intolerant. (109)

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Spark Joy

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying UpSpark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondō

konmari
Verb. To konmari, to follow the process outlined in the book "The Magical Art of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo.

Nothing is more necessary in the bleak mid-winter than a little dose of joy. What better time to clean out the cobwebs than when you are stuck inside? Spring cleaning has always seemed odd to me. That's when I rush outside and don't give a hoot what my house is like anymore. But in winter, I'm face to face with all my stuff and it can get depressing.

Enter Marie Kondo. She's a tidying guru and much talked about in the media these days. People either love her system or hate it. Interestingly, many of the people who hate it are professional organizers who prefer to sell people complicated systems and more stuff to organize your stuff. When will Westerners learn? This market-driven promise of happiness will only end in tears. Get off the product treadmill and channel your inner upbeat-yet-ruthless tidier!

My favorite thing about Ms. Kondo is that she doesn't insist that her way is the only way. Imagine! In a New York Times article from July 2016:
Kondo does not feel threatened by different philosophies of organization. “I think his method is pretty great too,” she told me later. She leaves room for something that people don’t often give her credit for: that the KonMari method might not be your speed. “I think it’s good to have different types of organizing methods,” she continued, “because my method might not spark joy with some people, but his method might.”
She's confident enough in herself to leave room for others.

A few months ago, I KonMaried my clothes with the help of my daughter, who is ruthlessly unsentimental. I think she might grow up to be a KonMari consultant, if that's still a thing in five more years. Every morning when I open my closet, I am greeted by my favorites. I smile and tackle the day.

My next step is tidying my books.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Shepherd's Life

The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient LandscapeThe Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A shepherd in the Lake District of England started tweeting about his daily life when he got a smart phone several years ago. Now he has thousands of followers and has published two books about his life. This book is divided into seasons appropriate for a shepherd's seasonal life. While Rebanks refuses to play along with stereotype of the romantic lonely shepherd, a la Wordsworth, he does share moments of beauty as well as the cruel realities that he encounters on the farm and in the surrounding mountains.

"...the combination of wind and deep snow is a killer... If you've ever seen ewes lying dead behind walls after the snow has cleared, or seen lambs lying dead where they were born, you will never love snow so innocently again."

The author's time at Oxford (how he ends up there is a great story!) was quite funny, and the least expected part of the story for me.

“He asked what I made of the other students, so I told him. They were OK, but they were all very similar; they struggled to have different opinions because they’d never failed at anything or been nobodies, and they thought they would always win. But this isn’t most people’s experience of life. He asked me what could be done about it. I told him the answer was to send them all out for a year to do some dead-end job like working in a chicken-processing plant or spreading muck with a tractor. It would do more good than a gap year in Peru. He laughed and thought this tremendously witty. It wasn’t meant to be funny.”

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

I'm for....Bath

In September 2013 my mom, my daughter, and I went on a Jane Austen Tour of England. We visited a number of Austen sites, finishing our tour in Bath for the annual Jane Austen Festival. My daughter convinced us to dress up in Regency clothes to be part of the Promenade. It turned out to be such fun! I also had the opportunity to see a friend from university, who not only agreed to meet me in Bath, but to subject herself to our costuming madness!

Here are a few highlights from Bath:


A typical street near the Pump Room.


Pulteney Bridge, across the River Avon, completed in 1774.


The gallery overlooking the Roman baths.


The view of Bath Abbey from the gallery, photographed by my friend from university.


This is me in my Austen-happy-place.


The underground source for the baths. The rocks are covered in minerals from the spring water.


Our day of sartorial splendour: Promenade time.


And finally, our reward: afternoon tea and coffee with Bath buns (a sweet roll with crushed sugar on top).

Monday, September 5, 2016

Keep Three Books Going

Charlotte Mason CompanionCharlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The habit of grown-ups reading "living" books and retaining the power to digest them will be lost if we refuse to give a little time to Mother Culture. A wise woman--an admired mother and wife--when asked how, with her weak physical health and many demands upon her time, she managed to read so much, said, "Besides my Bible, I always keep three books going that are just for me--a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for." That is the secret: always have something "going" to grow by. (pg 346)

This idea has gotten a little out of hand lately. My currently reading pile includes:

Can You Forgive Her? (Palliser novels, #1)Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

Six Books of EuclidSix Books of Euclid by Euclid

How to Teach Your Children ShakespeareHow to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig






A History Of The English Speaking Peoples, Volume 2: The New WorldA History Of The English Speaking Peoples, Volume 2: The New World by Winston S. Churchill

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent ReadingHow to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler

Cabinet of Curiosities: Collecting and Understanding the Wonders of the Natural WorldCabinet of Curiosities: Collecting and Understanding the Wonders of the Natural World by Gordon Grice

Westward Ho! ot The Voyages and Adventures of Sir Amyas Leigh, KnightWestward Ho! ot The Voyages and Adventures of Sir Amyas Leigh, Knight by Charles Kingsley

Northanger Abbey: An Annotated EditionNorthanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm re-reading this for a book discussion group.


By my calculations, there are three stiff books with the rest being either novels or very light reading. Not surprisingly, the stiff books are taking me much longer to get through. That's probably because "I always take up the one I feel fit for."

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Can You Forgive Her?

Can You Forgive Her? (Palliser novels, #1)Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

"But, nevertheless, he desired something more than money. The triumph of being preferred to John Grey,--of having John Grey sent altogether adrift, in order that his old love might be recovered, would have been too costly a luxury for him to seek, had he not in seeking it been able to combine prudence with the luxury...It was on a calculation of the combined advantage he made his second offer to his cousin."


So, cousins are getting engaged, but that was just fine in those days. I had nearly come to accept George Vavasor, even though I knew he was marrying Alice for her money. Alice knew it too, so who was I to judge? But than he wanted her to speak words of love and act all maidenly and blushing, so that his triumph could be complete. What an ass! I knew I liked John Grey better for some reason. Grey visits Alice after she writes him a Dear John I'm Marrying George letter. He quickly realizes that not only does Alice not love George, she actually dreads marrying him and that is the real reason she's waiting a year before she'll agree to get married. She's hoping that in a year she will be able to repress her shuddering whenever George enters the room. Why she agreed to marry George is a bit of mystery, even to Alice. But this book is not called Can You Understand Her?

'Alice,' he [Grey] said, speaking still very slowly, 'nothing has ever yet been done which need to a certainty separate you and me. I am a persistent man, and I do not give up all hope. A year is a long time. As you say yourself, I do not as yet quite understand you. But Alice, -- and I think that the position in which we stood a few months since justifies me in saying so without offense, -- I love you now as well as ever, and should things change for you, I cannot tell you with how much joy and eagerness I should take you back to my bosom. My heart is yours now as it has been since I knew you.'

And I know John Grey is the solid, dependable type that ladies are supposed to despise, but I swooned a little bit when I read that. Solid, dependable men are, and have always been, vastly underrated.

I have been reading this 830-page Victorian novel in installments. It was originally published in serial format, four chapters at a time. I'm nearly half way through and it is getting harder to stop after four chapters each month. I don't know if I have the self-discipline to continue this reading plan. But, even if I abandon it, the plan will have served its purpose in helping me tackle a book I would never have started otherwise. I like to think of Victorian readers eagerly waiting for the next installment of Can You Forgive Her? or Great Expectations much as I look forward to the next episode of Mr. Robot. I'm old enough to prefer a weekly series to binge-watching an entire season in one weekend. Or maybe it is just nostalgia for the pleasures of anticipation that seem to be rare these days?

The Victorian Serial Novels website is where I found the serial schedule for this novel. It's a gem!

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

The New World, Part I

A History Of The English Speaking Peoples, Volume 2: The New WorldA History Of The English Speaking Peoples, Volume 2: The New World by Winston S. Churchill

I've finished Book IV "Renaissance and Reformation" and am now starting Book V "The Civil War." These are some of my Goodreads updates from the past few months.

05/26 page 11 3.0% "But now the spices of the East were traveling by sea to the European market at Antwerp. The whole course of trade was shifted and revolutionized. The overland route languished; the primacy of the Italian cities was eclipsed by North-West Europe; and the future lay not in the Mediterranean, but on the shores of the Atlantic..."

05/26 page 11 3.0% "Inflation of a magnitude not seen again until 20C: due to influx of silver from America"

05/26 page 12 3.0% "The German family Fugger took over from the Medici family, with the shift from Italy to Northern Europe"

06/26 page 44 13.0% "Henry VIII versus the Pope: Boss-Battle extraordinaire!"

06/26 page 45 13.0% "The shadow of Papal wrath hung over England."

06/26 page 48 14.0% "Henry "King and Sovereign, recognising no superior in earth but only God, and not subject to the laws of any earthly creature" VIII. That's what I call a Title."

07/14 page 79 23.0% "Here were the citizens, the peasants, the whole mass of living beings who composed the nation, ordered in the name of Edward VI to march along one path to salvation, and under Queen Mary to march back again in the opposite direction; and all who would not move to the first order or turn about on the second must prove their convictions, if necessary, at the gibbet or the stake."

07/14 page 85 25.0% "But Elizabeth knew her rival. She knew that Mary was incapable of separating her emotions from her politics. The Queen of Scots lacked the vigilant self-control which Elizabeth had learnt in the bitter years of childhood. (Keeping your head on your shoulders will teach you to be vigilant)"

07/14 page 91 27.0% "Queen Mary had burnt some 300 Protestant martyrs in the last three years of her reign. In the last 30 years of Elizabeth's reign about the same number of Catholics were executed for treason." So, Elizabeth was 10X more patient than Mary Tudor?

07/31 page 103 30.0% "In the year following the Armada the first three books were published of Spenser's Faerie Queene, in which Elizabeth is hymned as Gloriana."

07/31 page 107 31.0% "Warning to the young Earl of Essex: 'Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days.'"

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