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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.

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. 

photo credit: Stephen Kent Johnson

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.

Library Loot 2

Wanderers by Kerri Andrews – Kate wrote a wonderful review of this early in the year and I immediately suggested it as a purchase to my library.  Finally, it has arrived!

In the Kitchen – another collection of themed essays from Daunt (alongside the very enjoyable At the Pond and In the Garden)

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce – my mother just finished this and loved it so I have high hopes

Library Loot

The 1976 Club is running next week (from the 11th to the 17th) and I’m already getting started on my reading:

My Country by Pierre Berton

How Did I Get to Be Forty and Other Atrocities by Judith Viorst

Julian Grenfell by Nicholas Mosley

Travels by Jan Morris

What did you pick up this week?

credit: Architectural Digest

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 feeling properly autumnal here, with cooler weather and – after a disastrously dry summer – lots of rain.  So much rain.  In fact, more rain in one day last week than we’d usually have in an entire summer.  All of which means…even more excuses to stay inside and read!  My hiking boots were getting worn out anyways after a very active summer.

Library Loot

The Young Mrs Meigs by Elizabeth Corbett – very circuitous path to this.  Years ago, Bree at the now seemingly defunct (and tragically inaccessible) blog Another Look Book wrote about her enjoyment of Professor Preston at Home by Elizabeth Corbett.  I’ve not had luck tracking that down yet but was able to find this other popular title by Corbett about a youthful octogenarian.

Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera – Hard to avoid the press this book received when released earlier in the year.  I urged the library to buy it after reading this passage in the Financial Times review:
We got rid of our empire with little bloodshed or recrimination, so the story goes. We were not demoralised or torn apart like Spain and France after their colonial disasters. In fact, we are led to believe that the experience of empire left scarcely a mark upon our souls. This is not a nonchalance that can survive a reading of Empireland, the scorching polemic on the afterburn of empire…  

Ladies Can’t Climb Ladders by Jane Robinson – Hurrah, another women-focused social history from Robinson!  Here she turns to examine the first British women to enter professions and their experiences.

My Own Master by Adrian Bell – I have loved reading Bell’s farming memoirs (reissued by Slightly Foxed) and am intrigued by this much later memoir.  It appears to cover more of his youth, though also overlaps with the periods covered in his trilogy of earlier memoirs.

Portrait of a Scotsman by Evie Dunmore – the third and most recent entry in a historical romance series about “new” women during the Victorian era.  I’m finding this series doesn’t quite work for me (was indifferent to both the first book and this one) so will probably give up from here.

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi – a new YA release about two exes who are reunited when their siblings announce they are dating.

Park Bagger by Marlis Butchet – There have been many books over the last few years about adventures in America’s national parks so I’m delighted to see there is finally an account of visits to the Canadian parks!

A Castle in the Backyard by Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden – we have family currently galivanting around the Dordogne so to distract from my jealously, I have naturally chosen to read all about life in the Dordogne.

A Lot Like Adios by Alexis Daria – I loved romance writer Daria’s You Had Me at Hola when it was released last year and am very excited to read more by her.

What did you pick up this week?

Larry McMurtry Home (via LitHub)
design credit Forbes Rix 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.

Vacation time!  I am taking this week off and, not having any grand travel plans, I am stocked up on some great books to help pass the time.

Library Loot

Pastoral Song by James Rebanks – published as English Pastoral in the UK, Rebanks looks at the ways farming has changed and the ways it needs to change again to be more sustainable.

Battle Royal by Lucy Parker – Parker’s London Celebrities series got me through the scariest bits of my health issues at the start of summer (discovery: the time it takes to read one relates exactly to the average emergency room waiting period) and I am SO excited to read this new release, the first of a new series.  The perfect book to start my vacation with!

Bibliostyle by Nina Freudenberger and Sadie Stein – an entire book dedicated to beautiful pictures of people and their books, at home and at work.  Guaranteed to induce unhelpful amounts of envy.

Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope – I felt like a bit of Trollope and have never read this one (though I’ve loved the radio play with Hattie Morahan).  Tragically, my library has culled a lot of its Trollope collection so this had to come via inter-library loan.

MacBride of Tordarroch and No Legacy for Lindsay by Essie Summers – Speaking of inter-library loans, I’ve been making them work hard this summer to track down Essie Summers’ books.  We’re reaching the end of the (too short) list of readily available ones so the true sleuthing will begin as we head into the fall.  I may not be heading off to New Zealand for my holiday but it’s nice to escape there in Summers’ books.

What did you pick up this week?