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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Sharlene has the Mr Linky this week.

Why the Germans Do it Better by John Kampfner – This was on a number of “Best of 2020” lists and it’s taken me a year to finally get my hands on it so I’m very excited.  The comparison of the title is to the UK – not the entire world – and while the reasons seems clear and plentiful to an outside observer I can’t wait to read about them in detail.

Bellwether by Connie Willis – The consequence of revisiting Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust books is that I inevitably end up with more books to read.  To be fair, this has been recommended so often and by so many people that Pearl can’t take all the credit for making me want to read it.  I’ve had mixed experiences with Willis – after reading only To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, and All Clear, I was ready to write her off.  But then I read the superlatively good Doomsday Book and laughed all the way through Crosstalk so am keeping an open mind.

100 Poems to Break Your Heart by Edward Hirsch – My father chats regularly with his elder sister and mentioned recently that her reading project for this winter is to read poetry.  Feeling inspired, I thought I’d add some more to my own reading diet.

What did you pick up this week?

photo credit Paul Massey (via House and Garden UK)

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

It’s been an awful last few days here in BC, where torrential rains have caused flooding and washouts that have forced thousands to evacuate their communities and shut down major transportation routes.  Living in Vancouver, I am happily safe and the only inconvenience I’ve experienced has been a few hours without power but it’s still been upsetting for everyone.

At least there are always books to depend on.  I have all these intriguing books below to read but, to be perfectly honest, I’m currently curled up with Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin because I love it and know it will make me happy (for the forth or fifth time) and can also be found flipping through Nancy Pearl’s Booklust books for the gazillionth time since I find the act of list-making (as in, “ooo, I need to add these few hundred more books to my TBR list”) soothing.

Bookworm by Patricia Craig – someone somewhere mentioned Barbara Fitzgerald recently, which led me to Somerville Press.  I’m intrigued by Fitzgerald and will likely get to her one day but was immediately distracted by this memoir of childhood reading.

River Kings by Cat Jarman – so excited to read this “brilliant and unusually wide-ranging new history of the Vikings” (according to the Financial Times).

One of Them by Musa Okwonga – Woven throughout this deeply personal and unflinching memoir of Musa’s five years at Eton in the 1990s is a present-day narrative which engages with much wider questions about pressing social and political issues: privilege, the distribution of wealth, the rise of the far right in the UK, systemic racism, the ‘boys’ club’ of government and the power of the few to control the fate of the many

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid – I’m dipping back into fantasy and the Tor review of this has me intrigued.

Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Is grief really what I what to read about right now?  When Adichie is the writer, yes is obviously the only answer.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles – I loved Towles’ last book, A Gentleman in Moscow, so was excited to quickly get ahold of this new release about a young man looking forward to making a new life with his young brother after being released from a juvenile work farm – and the two runaways from the farm who upset his plans.  It is extraordinarily readable – I read it Sunday afternoon – but didn’t move me in any way.

How Did Lubitsch Do It? by Joseph McBride – for a change, a little bit of cinematic history about one of my favourite directors.

Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry Thomas – the 6th book in Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series is here!

Sway with Me by Syed M. Masood – I was far too silent when I read Masood’s first two books – the YA novel More Than Just a Pretty Face and the adult novel The Bad Muslim Discount – earlier this year but I loved them both.  And the best time to discover a new favourite author is just before they have a new book come out, in this case a YA novel about matchmaking, dancing, family and love.  Very excited to start reading!

What did you pick up this week?

credit: Mieke ten Have (via Desire to Inspire)

design credit: Vanrenen GW Designs (via Desire to Inspire)

design credit: Vanrenen GW Designs (via Desire to Inspire)

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik – For once I was reading something suitably spooky on Halloween!  I saw this recommended a while back by Nancy Pearl and am always willing to try anything she loves.  It’s the first in a new trilogy (book two came out recently) about magical students fighting to survive their monster-infested school.

The Only Gaijin in the Village by Iain Maloney – I’m looking forward to this memoir about life as an outsider in rural Japan.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth – This is a bit of a cheat as I’ve had it out from the library for almost two weeks now.  And I’ll probably continue to have it out for a long, long time (renewals are wonderful things) given that it is 1,400 pages.  I’m thoroughly enjoying it but pacing myself.

What did you pick up this week?

When Dean Street Press reprinted eight of Molly Clavering’s books earlier this year, I was so overwhelmed with excitement that I barely knew where to start.   My only experience with Clavering had been Near Neighbours, reissued by Greyladies a few years ago, and I’d enjoyed it enough to want more.  Overwhelmed by choice, I chose Dear Hugo for my reintroduction to Clavering.  When, after all, have I ever been able to resist an epistolary novel?

Published in 1955, the story begins a few years earlier, in June 1951 when Sara Monteith moves to a village in the Scottish borders.  Sara’s fiancé, Ivo, had come from Ravenskirk and even years after his death in the war she remains faithful to his memory, though she is reticent for her new neighbours to know about that relationship.  It is to Ivo’s brother Hugo in Africa that Sara writes, with frank assessments of her new neighbours, humorous glimpses of her life – particularly enlivened after taking on the guardianship of a young cousin – and the occasional moments of grief for the man she has lost.

The correspondence between Hugo and Sara feels extremely well-established by the time we enter it as she is entirely frank in her letters to him.  Her frustrations with her new neighbours are clearly voiced and delightfully entertaining.  As in any village novel, Ravenskirk is peopled by a distinctive group of personalities, though Atty, Sara’s young ward, does tend to dominate the letters when he is home from school.  I thoroughly enjoyed Sara’s reports on Atty’s doings and sayings and her adjustment – as a single woman of around forty – to life with a lively boy underfoot.  Comparing notes with a neighbour and marvelling over Atty’s permanent dirtiness, she receives helpful (and timeless) motherly advice:

‘I don’t want to disillusion you, but they don’t really wash when they lock themselves into the bathroom for ages.  I think they fall into a kind of mystic trance or something, and running water helps them.  It’s the only way once can explain it.’

If Clavering had kept the focus on domestic doings, I could have left the book entirely happy and unconflicted.  But…she doesn’t.  Of course there needs to be an element of romance and there are in fact several men who appear as likely mates.  But romance is so entirely besides the point that they serve as frustrating red herrings rather than enjoyable plot points.

It is the conclusion to one of these romantic intrigues that Sara addresses in her last letter to Hugo and that left me frustrated rather than delighted by the book.  After being remarkably light-handed in her dealings with neighbours, Sara suddenly decides it is up to her to arrange the lives of her friends and tell them what is best for them, despite what they may think and want.  After only two years of village life, she has gone from amused observer to spinster busybody and it feels wrong for this charming character to act in such an awkward way.  Personally, I am all for arranging the lives of others but the circumstances here feel forced – as though Clavering wanted an ending that would surprise the readers more than she wanted to leave them satisfied.  In the end, she doesn’t achieve either effect – a poor end to an otherwise enjoyable book.

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts – I have waited a long time for this (since pre-Covid times) and, after seeing it praised by so many readers since then, am more eager than ever to read this blend of history and travelogue.

Along the Amber Route by C.J. Schueler – Speaking of blending history and travel, Schueler follows the amber route from St Petersburg to Venice and considers thousands of years of trade.

The Lost Letter by Mimi Matthews – Matthews, who writes historical romances, is fast becoming a favourite comfort read author for me.  She has such a good sense of the era and her characters are far more sensible and logical (like, Susanna Kearsley level of sensible, my gold standard) than you find in most historical novels.

What did you pick up this week?

Travel is one of my chief pleasures.  I am single, financially independent, and can mangle several languages well enough to be understood.  The world is my oyster.  Except when it’s not.

It’s been over two years now since I was last overseas and while it has been VERY exciting to get to travel a little more this year, I’m still sticking close to home and following government advice to avoid non-essential foreign travel.  I have yet to find any essential excuses.

This leaves me with plenty of beautiful places to still explore but there is only so much pleasure to be got from trees and mountains and ocean.  This is where books come in.

Armchair travel is one of the finest forms of travel.  It is accessible and affordable, requires little planning and leaves you with no jet lag.  Ideal really at any time but especially during Covid.

And one of the chief pleasures of armchair travel is that it lets you travel through time – an experience no airline or cruise ship can match.

I travelled back in time recently via Travels by Jan Morris, a collection of essays published in 1976, making this an ideal choice for this week’s 1976 Club.  Morris was by then already a well-established travel writer and this was her first book following the very personal Conundrum (now available as a Slightly Foxed edition), a memoir of her transition from James Morris to Jan Morris.  While Morris’ personality is a vital part of these essays, her gender is not – something that was probably reassuring to her conservative readers who weren’t quite yet done processing their feelings about the change.

The opening essay – “The Best Travelled Man in the World: the example of Ibn Batuta” – was to me the best one in the collection.  In considering the 14th century traveller, Morris captures the romance and adventure that call all travellers – and all readers of travel writing.  We all long to see something that is truly new but none of us will ever experience it the way Ibn Batuta did.  On a similar biographical bent there is “A Profitable Exile”, about nabobs who went to India to gain fortunes and ill-health.

“Through My Guide-Books” is also a delight, as Morris walks us through her collection of guidebooks and picks out some timeless advice:

The heyday of the guide-book was the nineteenth century, when steam had made travel relatively easy, but the average tourist was still an educated person, able to appreciate Murray’s donnish quirks or Baedeker’s obscurer allusions to the principles of Gothic fenestration.  There are felicities, of course, to be found both in earlier and in later examples.  My favourite guide-book chapter, on the whole, is Chapter XII of Horrebow’s Iceland (1758), which is entitled “Concerning Owls in Iceland”, and which consists in its entirety of one phrase: “There are no owls of any kind in the whole island.”  The guide-book advice I most admire is given by E.M. Forster in his Alexandria (1922) – “The best way to see it is to wander aimlessly about” – while one could hardly improve the opening to Chapter IV of Mrs. R.L. Devonshire’s Rambles in Cairo (1931): “Of all the medieval rulers of Egypt, Saladin alone enjoys the privilege of being remembered by Western readers.”

The specific portraits of places – Dublin, Bath, Edinburgh, Washington, DC, Singapore, and Hong Kong – were less successful for me, though the Asian destinations were clearly written about with more engagement and enthusiasm.  The piece about Hong Kong is quite long and, having just put down Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera to read this, the colonial mindset felt a bit jarring.  It is absolutely what one should expect of Morris (indeed, Sanghera refers to Morris’ Pax Brittanica history of the British Empire in Empireland) but there are comments about the British rulers and the obedient Chinese residents that sit uncomfortably when reading today.

And then there is “On the Confederation Trail”, about Morris’ experience taking the train from Toronto to Calgary.  The entire essay reads like a pat on the head – kind but dismissive, which is a pretty accurate synopsis of how Canada was treated circa 1976.  Morris doesn’t show any particular admiration for Canada – not the way she delights in the bustle and energy of Hong Kong, for example – but can admit it has its good points:

The twentieth century, Canadians had been told, would be Canada’s, but they did not interpret this prophecy in any bombastic sense.  They would be rich, but they would be good.  They would be American in vivacity and inventiveness, but British in style and conscience.

It’s hard to be Canada: people are always saying nice things about you, just never with much enthusiasm.

I feel that aging, like most things in life, is best approached with preparation.  Lots and lots of preparation.  That may mean exercise and skin care regimes, visioning and bucket lists, but it also means reading about those who have gone before to arm yourself with knowledge of what to expect.

Judging by How Did I Get to Be Forty…& Other Atrocities by Judith Viorst, I should be prepared for an intense volume of neuroses to set in over the next five years. 

Viorst has been chronicling the trials of aging in verse since publishing It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty (one of my favourite Persephone titles) way back in 1968.  Now ninety, she has faithfully added a volume to mark each decade and while I look forward to the pensioner years, the trials of being forty held the dual appeal of being both a) closest to my actual age and b) published in 1976, making it perfect reading for this week’s 1976 Club.

I truly love It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty so had high hopes for this, but was left entertained but indifferent.  The galloping rhymes of the earlier volume are harder to find here, as is the humour.  The poems feel bleaker; there is no longer the sense that you can laugh off the fears and frustrations of the speaker.  The signs of aging have become unavoidable and adultery or divorce – now more potent since friends have experienced them first hand – are tragedies waiting to befall her rather than the neurotic fancies of a younger woman.

Cheerful stuff. 

But there is fun to be had!  Squandered potential is more comfortable territory and more easily mined for laughs (and relatability) in “Facing the Facts”:

I’m facing the fact that
I’ll never write Dante’s Inferno
Or paint a Picasso
Or transplant a kidney or build
An empire, nor will I ever
Run Israel or Harvard,
Appear on the cover of Time,
Star on Broadway, be killed
By a firing squad for some noble ideal,
Find the answer
To racial injustice or whether God’s dead
Or the source
Of human unhappiness,
Alter the theories of Drs.
S. Freud, C.G. Jung, or A. Einstein,
Or maybe the course
Of history,
In addition to which
I am facing the fact that
I’ll never compose Bach cantatas,
Design Saint Laurents,
Advise presidents, head U.S. Steel,
Resolve the Mideast,
Be the hostess of some major talk show,
Or cure the cold,
And although future years may reveal
Some hidden potential,
Some truly magnificent act that
I’ve yet to perform,
Or some glorious song to be sung
For which I’ll win prizes and praise,
I must still fact the fact that
They’ll never be able to say,
“And she did it so young.”

Having recently participated in a frankly mind-boggling pub conversation about diamond cuts and go-to jewelers, I also found “College Reunion” alarmingly easy to relate to, as the speaker marvels at the women she and her old school friends have turned into:

…we’ve all turned into women who know genuine in jewelry and
                Authentic in antiques and real in fur.
And the best in orthopedists for our frequently recurring
Lower back pain.

And we’ve all turned into women who take cabs instead of buses
                And watch color, not the black and white, TV,
And have lawyers, gynecologists, accountants, dermatologists,
                Podiatrists, urologists, internists, cardiologists,
                Insurance agents, travel agents, brokers, ophthalmologists,
And no ideal how we all turned into these women.

To be fair, I have always been this woman (I was very proud of my Rolodex full of business cards when I was 12) so there is little to marvel at for me.  But, to my friends’ shame, I still don’t know much about diamonds.  

The sharpest poem in the bunch (and the one with the strongest rhyming scheme – it’s so effective when used well!) is “The Good Daughter”, where the speaker tells of her dutiful cousin Elaine and Elaine’s no-good yet inexplicably preferred brother Walter:

The boys Elaine went with were all that her folks
And their gin club and swim club expected.
(The girls Walter went with her folks only prayed
That he wouldn’t come home from infected.)

Like It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty – and I imagine the subsequent volumes – How Did I Get to Be Forty… & Other Atrocities is best as a record of the era and culture that produced it.  The ideals of the 70s are on display, as the speaker longs to be “The Sensuous Woman” (“Beneath my beige knit (polyester) such cravings will smolder/That Uncle Jerome, if he heard, would pass out from the shame”), wishes she had something other than “drop-out Buddhist bisexual vegetarian Maoist children”, and begs someone to put a stop to her endless self-improvement programs (including Primal Scream Therapy and Consciousness Raising).  It’s a fun way to pass a little time (a very little – it’s an extraordinarily thin book) but hopefully not a dependable guide for me of what’s to come.