Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for July, 2011

I just got back from a whirlwind 48 hours in Victoria on Vancouver Island.  I took lots of photos and definitely intend to do a more detailed post (possibly several – there were many photos taken) about my wonderful trip soon but for now here’s a bit of teaser.

On Friday, we took one of these:

Past scenery like this:

Before arriving here:

Where much enjoyment was had walking around downtown Victoria and through neighbourhoods and parks with views like this:

Until this morning, when we ventured further afield and visited here:

Where many photos, like this one, of flowers were devotedly snapped:

Before we boarded another ferry to return home on another pleasant voyage on another perfect day:

Read Full Post »

Library Lust

credit: unknown

An attic library!  There’s something very cosy, very romantic about attic rooms, tucked away up under the eaves.  My children’s books always seemed to have characters with attic clubhouses or hideaways and I was desperately jealous, my own home being attic-less.  And though I may have outgrown my childhood need for a clubhouse, this room is very much my fantasy of an adult attic refuge.

Read Full Post »

Friday Potpourri

I’ve been having a delightful time reading through Lauren Willig’s old posts from the now defunct AccessRomance’s All A-Blog.  Written between 2006 and 2010, they were recently added to Willig’s own website and I’m loving them.  If you only read one of them, let it be Where, oh where did my Gothics go!  The post are all bookish in one way or another, with some focusing on Willig’s writing, some on her reading.  Willig is the only author whose (frequently updated, always entertaining) blog/news feed I follow and, I have to say, I think I find her even more interesting than I do her characters.  And it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s always talking about and recommending other books! 

Be sure to check out Christopher Morely’s essay ‘On Visiting Bookshops’, which Simon T posted on Thursday.  It’s absolutely wonderful.  Here’s my favourite passage from it:

There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love, and like that colossal adventure it is an experience of great social import. Even as the tranced swain, the booklover yearns to tell others of his bliss. He writes letters about it, adds it to the postscript of all manner of communications, intrudes it into telephone messages, and insists on his friends writing down the title of the find. Like the simple-hearted betrothed, once certain of his conquest, ‘I want you to love her, too!’ It is a jealous passion also. He feels a little indignant if he finds that anyone else has discovered the book also. He sees an enthusiastic review – very likely in The New Republic – and says, with great scorn, ‘I read the book three months ago.’ There are even some perversions of passion by which a booklover loses much of his affection for his pet if he sees it too highly commended by some rival critic.

Finally, I found the most marvellous summer reading list from the Financial Times.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the best list produced by anyone this summer, with dozens of titles, all organized by category (including, excitingly, a fiction in translation section).  The only thing it’s missing is gardening books, which, if you have sections devoted to pop music and film, seems a sad omission.

Read Full Post »

I adored Essex County by Jeff Lemire.  Honestly, that is not something I ever anticipated being able to say about a graphic novel but here you have it.  Set in the rural Southwestern Ontario farming community of Essex County, the book is a compilation of three inter-connected volumes, dealing with the personal stories of three of its residents.  They are not cheerful stories but they are beautifully, if somberly, told.    

Volume 1, Tales from the Farm, centers on young Lester Papineau.  Lester, sent to live with his Uncle Ken on the farm after his mother’s death from cancer, spends most of his time escaping into his super hero fantasies and reading (and attempting to draw his own) comic books.  The awkwardness between Lester and Ken is both sad and very realistic, neither one comfortable with the other, both still grieving for Claire, Lester’s mother, but unwilling or unable to share their pain with the other.  Their silent meals around the dining room table broke my heart.  The story follows Lester’s friendship with Jimmy, a former hockey player who, after a severe head injury, now works at the local gas station where Lester buys his comic books.  Jimmy spends time with Lester and encourages his artistic efforts and imaginative play.  But when Ken finds out about their friendship, Lester realises there is something he does not know about his family’s history with Jimmy.         

Volume 2, Ghost Stories, made me cry more often than I like to admit.  All three volumes are sad to varying extents but I found this one the most powerful.  Lou Lebeuf is living in his memories, remembering his happy childhood and then the split that tore him and his brother apart, as deafness and dementia set in and he is moved from his farm house to a nursing home.  I loved the image of the two brothers skating on the river together as boys, leaning into one another, the affection and camaraderie of it.  And both boys achieve that great dream of all boys who grow up playing hockey on rural ponds and lakes: they move to the city and get to play professionally.  And they get to do it together.  But then there is a betrayal between the brothers, one that cannot be overcome, and while Vince returns toEssexCountyLou stays in the city, though he hates it and longs for the farm.  The isolating images of the middle-aged Lou, going deaf and driving streetcars in Toronto when he wants nothing more than to be back on the farm with a brother he can’t even bring himself to talk to, were gut wrenching. 

Finally, volume 3, The Country Nurse, is devoted to Anne Quenneville and her grandmother Margaret. The story follows Anne as she flits about the county in her capacity as a nurse, visiting and caring for others, all the time struggling with her own family situation, while Margaret, more than a hundred years old and living in the nursing home, remembers the circumstances that first brought her to Essex County ninety years before.  This is as close to cheery as Essex County gets, as the indefatigable Anne encounters the characters from the earlier volumes and we see how their stories are resolved.

The art is wonderful and used to powerful effect, especially in capturing the stillness and emptiness of the rural community.  The panels without text, generally used in sequence, were a wonderful way to evoke the mood of a moment – whether it be Uncle Ken sitting alone at the dinner table or the elderly Lou wandering alone and confusing down to the river.  There are many flashbacks and Lemire does a particularly impressive job of making characters both recognizable and realistic at all ages.  His drawings of elderly characters were especially excellent. 

More than anything, I was impressed by Lemire’s skill in capturing such a true-to-life portrait of rural life.  The stories and experiences of the characters seemed very real, just the kind of things I might encounter or at least hear about if I went back to the rural Southwestern Ontario farming community where my own family is from (the farmers are all like Uncle Ken and my great aunt was a nurse like Anne and visits the elderly and afflicted even more often now that she is retired).  There was no suspension of disbelief here.  Each depressing detail, each tragedy, each family rift felt very human and very genuine.

If all graphic novels were this thoughtful, well-plotted, and emotionally honest, I’d certainly read more.

Read Full Post »

As much as I enjoyed Making Avonlea, a volume of essays about Lucy Maud Montgomery and popular culture, it left me longing for a deeper discussion of Montgomery’s writing.  As far as I’m concerned, there can never be too much discussion of her books, too much time devoted to thinking about the characters, the settings, the allusions…what bliss!  So, primed from reading Making Avonlea, I picked up The Fragrance of Sweet-Grass: L.M. Montgomery’s Heroines and the Pursuit of Romance by Elizabeth Rollins Epperly, a “full length critical study of all L.M. Montgomery’s fiction.”  Epperly considers all of the novels, devoting significant time to the Anne and Emily books, examining the romantic traditions (in poetry, in nature, in the male-female relationship, etc) at play in each and considering each heroine’s personal journey to find herself:

For each of Montgomery’s heroines a recognition of her own distinctive voice is a crucial step to self-awareness; talking back is sometimes a measure of self-confidence or self-worth; love of place is a way of celebrating the centred, whole personality.  For Montgomery’s heroines ‘home’ includes an awareness of the centred self; ‘home’ is an attitude as well as a place.  Through ingenious – and perhaps often necessarily unconscious – subversions of the various systems and codes around them, Montgomery’s heroines learn to hold their own in a culture that will give them a very limited framework in which to live respectably and comfortably.  Not a single one of Montgomery’s heroines loses respectability.

Epperly won me over quite early on when, in her discussion of Anne of Avonlea, she complains “Anne sounds like a romantic guiding spirit rather than a flesh-and-blood adolescent” and that there is no character development over the course of the novel.  Yes!  I find it difficult to reread Anne of Avonlea for just that reason.  For the most part, it presents Anne as a dreamy, condescending bore (though there are flashes of the funny, normal girl every so often).  Thankfully, that dreary girl disappears by the time Anne of the Island begins.  Again, Epperly perfectly describes what it is that makes the university-aged Anne so appealing by the time the third novel begins:

Anne’s voice in this novel seldom lapses into the dreamy sentimentality of Anne of Avonlea; instead, this Anne shows herself sometimes sarcastic, sometimes ironic, sometimes outraged, embarrassed, or downright angry.  She can stoop to sparring with Mrs Harmon Andrews; she can write sentimental trash; she can mistake infatuation for love; she can get depressed and fell alienated from home and spiritual kinship.  Even if the genre Montgomery chose (domestic romance) and the audience for which she wrote predetermined that the novel would be preoccupied with marriage and fully exploring the right man rather than finding the individual self, Anne Shirley is frequently here a believable and fairly independent person. (p. 57)

Grown up Anne is, as we all know, far less interesting than young Anne but Epperly’s comments about the later books are quite fascinating, particularly her thoughts on the romantic, sea-based imagery used in Anne’s House of Dreams and the impact of Montgomery’s attitude towards the war on the strong moral tone of Rainbow Valley (published in 1919).  The focus of the later Anne novels shifts to just about any woman other than Anne, a decision that Epperly unfortunately doesn’t truly delve into.  The last book Montgomery wrote in the series, Anne of Ingleside (published in 1939) is the only one where Anne Blythe really feels like a person rather than a paragon of womanhood.  Until then, she is (as Epperly notes when discussing Rainbow Valley):

…only a reminder of her earlier self.  She is not a real person.  She speaks to defend the manse children and to remind us of their similarities with her, bust she is no longer an active individual.  This Anne is a dreamy woman (maybe the Anne of Anne of Avonlea grown up?) in whom everyone wants to confide – Faith, Mr Meredith, her own sons and daughters, Miss Cornelia.  We take everyone’s word for it that Anne is alive and well, for she seems most often to have just left.

(Side note: What I wouldn’t have given for a deeper analysis of Miss Cornelia!)

The analysis of all the books was interesting but I was particularly impressed with Epperly’s take on the Emily novels, looking at the numerous literary influences on both the character and the story (most obviously, Jane Eyre, ‘Aurora Leigh’, The Story of an African Farm) and dissecting the many romantic conventions presented in the character of Dean Priest (who, fond as I am of him, I had never thought about in quite this level of detail).  I will never prefer the Emily books to the admittedly paler, more temperate Anne books, but I appreciate them more now, even Emily’s irritatingly over-the-top psychic spells that drove me wild with frustration as a child.  

I am intrigued by the number of readers who complain that Anne disappointed them by choosing a family rather than a career, unlike Emily who pursued her passion at the expense of her happiness for many years.  It seems a strange argument, given how casually both Anne and the narrator always treated her attempts at writing.  The Anne books were always about family, abut feeling loved and accepted, but there is none of that safety or cosiness about the far more autobiographical Emily novels.  Emily is passionate and driven, loving her writing far more than any man she ever crossed paths with.  The great tension comes from Emily’s relationship with Dean Priest, who wants Emily the woman, not Emily the writer:

…Emily’s real threat and temptation as woman and artist come from the needy, sexually powerful, consummate art critic, Dean Priest.  In Montgomery’s happy-ending series, the struggles with Dean eventually bring out Emily’s powers as woman and writer and actually enable her to free herself from his stifling romanticism, but her escape is narrow and she turns from one man to another.  Teddy may seem a pale rival for Dean, but at least with him Emily is free to pursue her own work.  Teddy, who becomes a famous painter, accepts Emily as his equal without questions – and that, Montgomery’s story slyly encourages us to see, is fairy tale. (p. 147)

Emily, despite her eventual marriage, is the most autonomous of Montgomery’s heroines and when she does marry it is once she has achieved success as a writer, has made her own way for more than a decade, and it is to another artist who can understand that he will always come second (and is so terrifically boring that he probably doesn’t even mind):

Their ‘late’ joining is not merely a sap to romantic convention, however, nor a denial of feminist principles, nor a pandering to audience taste. Montgomery does not let Teddy and Emily wed in their first youth perhaps because both still have so much to learn about their respective gifts.  Through their separation Montgomery shows how a strong woman can live without conventional (or unconventional) romance if she once recognizes the power of her inner voice…With so many years of sorrow and loneliness behind her, Emily’s eventual marriage to Teddy is a relief rather than a positive joy.  A more conventional book and story would not have risked so much. Montgomery has her way with the story and thus makes her points about the writer and the woman.  (p. 190)

The other novels are dealt with quickly and in no great detail, which suited me perfectly.  When I recently reread The Blue Castle, one of Montgomery’s adult novels, I was quite enjoying it up until Valancy married Barney and she lost all of the sharpness that had made her interesting.  It is always gratifying to find people who agree with you so I was very pleased with Epperly’s remarks on the book:

As a person Valancy ceases to be really interesting once she is married to Barney – she becomes his other self and an almost mute appreciation of the enchanted world of Mistawis.  She sheds every spark of bitterness or anger or piercing irony that made her initial break from her clan both entertaining and meaningful.

Epperly also had some very interesting thoughts on A Tangled Web, Montgomery’s other adult novel, which I’d almost forgotten about.  Doesn’t she make it sound intriguing, as she compliments Montgomery’s balanced approached to her male and female characters and their romantic entanglements?

There is no single heroine in A Tangled Web, though the novel does focus on females, as do all Montgomery’s novels.  But the focus here is different from the focus in Montgomery’s other stories in that the men and women really do seem to play equal parts in the fabrication, destruction, and reconstruction of romance.  We may see through the eyes of Donna and Gay and Margaret and Jocelyn, but we also see clearly what Peter and Roger and Penny and Hugh think.  Everyone suffers; everyone changes; everyone gives up some secret dream or delusion and then recovers something of it.  For the first time, perhaps because it was an adult novel, but more probably because it came later in her career, Montgomery tries to show women and men as similarly deluded and self-deluding and as equally entangled in a great pattern of events over which they have, paradoxically, both ultimate and little control.

I do wish the focus of the book had been expanded to touch on Montgomery’s supporting characters and their interpretations of romance.  Part of Anne’s development is learning to recognize the romantic possibilities of the world around her, reality over idealised fantasy, but her best friend Diana realises far sooner than Anne that real love is worth sacrificing romantic dreams for, choosing dependable Fred not as a compromise, not out of a lack of imagination or hope but because she has matured enough to know that love can come in many forms (and faces).  And let us not forget the fascinating Ilse!  Emily’s best friend (though the strength of Emily’s attachments to others can and should be questioned at all times) is magnificently inconsiderate and is nothing if not bold in her romantic maneuverings.

And then there’s Phil Gordon, Anne’s magnificent Redmond friend.  Rich, spoiled, brilliant and utterly immune to the idea of romance (she is thoughtfully pondering the merits of the equally dull Alec and Alonzo when we meet her, neither of whom she feels the least love for), Phil ends up making the most unconventional match, marrying Jonas Blake, a poor, homely, serious young minister – outwardly Phil’s exact opposite.  But Phil is determined to have him, once she realises what she wants, and her practical, purposeful side earns her her man.  Other women have to learn to see the romance in their everyday lives as preferable to their fairy tale imaginings.  Phil just has to embrace the mere fact that romance exists and is achievable for her.  Once she realises that, she determinedly hangs on.  Phil is not blinded by visions of what love should look like and so is the character quickest to spot it in real life.  Of course, I shall also always adore Phil because she is Gilbert’s greatest ally in his campaign for Anne.  I secretly suspect that, even without the happy conclusion of Anne of the Island that sees Anne and Gilbert engaged, I would love it best of all the series simply because it introduced me to Phil. 

I had great fun reading this, nodding my head alongside most of Epperly’s arguments, disagreeing with others, and generally being fascinated by the analysis of things I had certainly never picked up on as young, uncritical reader.  The discussion of the influence of poetry and Victorian romantic sentiment in the Anne books was most intriguing.  The modern feminist viewpoint is very clear and a concern with each character’s claiming of their ‘voice’, the evolution of their distinct, adult, female self, runs throughout the book.  On the other hand, I was bored to tears by most of the discussions of the romance of place and the importance of landscape imagery.  All in all, it was a very interesting, very readable, very thorough analysis of all Montgomery’s novels.

 

Read Full Post »

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Marg and myself 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!

Marg has the Mr Linky this week!

Bit of a hodge-podge today though I’m delighted by the even split between fiction and non-fiction (this almost never happens). 

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner
I have absolutely no memory of where I heard about this book.  Clearly, it was a trust-worthy source since I immediately placed a hold without bothering to learn anything about the plot of the novel.  Now that I know it’s a love story set inNew York’s Russian émigré community, I am quite excited to read it. 

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Place in the World by Eric Weiner
I really feel like this might have been mentioned in one of Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust books which I read so recently but, if so, I didn’t make a note of it.  I’ve been eyeing this for ages.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
I’ve read and enjoyed three of Patchett’s books (Bel Canto, Run, and Truth & Beauty) so as soon as this turned up on order in my library catalogue I placed a hold.  Thank goodness I did so then because it’s received so much press since publication that the hold queue is now depressingly long.

 

A Devil’s Chaplain by Richard Dawkins
Picked up while browsing in the science section (after such success with my last find there, Naming Nature).  A collection of essays rather than a book with a focused argument, I’m hoping this might be the most palatable way to approach Dawkins. 

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell
When is Thirkell ever a bad idea?

Imagined London by Anna Quindlen
I read this book years ago but have absolutely no memory of it now.  However, I’ll be in Londonthis September and thought it might be fun to reread it before I go.  I’d been looking at it in the stacks for a few weeks but Eva’s mention of it in her loot last week is what actually motivated me check it out.

Read Full Post »

I adored Naming Nature: the Clash between Instinct and Science by Carol Kaesuk Yoon.  I had no idea I could get so excited about any science book, never mind one about the seemingly dry field of taxonomy!  Yoon, a science writer for the New York Times, explains concepts clearly and engagingly, with detailed examples to illustrate her points that allow even the less scientifically inclined readers (that would be me) to comprehend her arguments.  If all popular science books – which I usually find overly simplified or insultingly condescending – were written with Yoon’s energy and skill, I would not be half so terrified of them.

Yoon is completely captivating as she details the history of taxonomy (the field of scientific classification), showing not only how each stage was developed, was accepted and what the benefits or pitfalls were, but also at pointing out and illustrating how human the need to classify the world around us is, how tribes around the world and all through history have done so and how, if we lose this ability, adrift we become, unable to identify organic matter from inorganic, food from foe.  She also questions whether the modern methods of classification, ordering organisms by common ancestors based on DNA rather than any observable features, is further distancing man from nature when, historically, taxonomy was the favoured obsession of intellectual amateurs.

Central to the book is the concept of the umwelt, defined by Yoon as “the perceived world, the world sensed by an animal, a view idiosyncratic to each species, fueled by its particular sensory and cognitive powers and limited by its defects.”  People (and, it has been shown, even some animals) all over the world consciously and unconsciously order the organisms that surround them, all by their own method.  We create order out of chaos, necessary meaning that helps us to survive:

The umwelt is what allows us to make our way, confidently, sensibly, and happily, in the world every day.  The umwelt and the order we see in it are what allow us to function.  Without the power to recognize – to see, order, and name life – we simply would not know how to live in our world and understand it.

From Carl Linnaeus in the 18th Century with his creation of the framework for taxonomy to modern-day Cladists, the eager inheritors ofDarwin’s evolutionary taxonomy now armed with DNA technology, Yoon writes entertainingly and quite passionately on the brilliant scientists who have shaped this field.  More than anything, I came away with the impression of just how muddled the particular science is.  I romanticize the era of the amateur naturalist as much as anyone – and why not?  They were pretty dashing and both the adventurous and the plodding were able to make important scientific contributions, regardless of their lack of training – but it is amazing to me how imprecise the science of classification was.  It is still not terribly well-ordered (so Yoon leads me to believe and so my biologist brother confirms) even with DNA information but when it was based entirely on observation and instinct?  My god, the chaos has completely banished any fantasies I might once have had of scientific precision.  Here, as Yoon describes them, were some of the challenges faced by taxonomists:

The original dilemma of taxonomists was this: when confronted with a variety of living things, say a group of birds or plants or grasshoppers, one is immediately confronted with a wide array of similarities and differences.  How to know which of the variety of similarities and differences are the ones to pay attention to when sorting organisms into species, genera, and so on?  It had long been known that not all similarities and differences between species are of equal usefulness in determining the natural order.  So taxonomists had forever counted on their sense and the vision it provided of a natural order to tell them which mattered and which did not.

Darwin’s theory of evolution did absolutely nothing to ease the process:

As soon as a person sees life through an evolutionist’s eyes, as soon as they see all that confounded variation, all that incipient evolutionary change, their view of the species changes as well.  It is not merely mutable; it is ever-changing.  What we see at any moment, we realise, is just a snapshot in time, a moment in the great flux of the long life of its lineage, on its way to diverging into new species.  It’s a triumph when this happens, for you have gained great evolutionary insight.  They only problem is now you will have absolutely no idea how to order the living world.  You will have no idea how to decide what constitutes or doesn’t constitute a species.  You won’t have a clue as to how to decide where one variety, one species ends and another begins.

I love creating order (remember those posts discussing the ordering of my bookshelves and the logic behind that?  The umwelt in action, my friends) and so when Yoon took a bit of a side trip in her history of taxonomy to discuss the unwelt, focusing particularly on young children and people with brain trauma, I was almost giddy.  The entire chapter was fascinating, but especially Yoon’s examples of children and their compulsive need obsessively classify and order.  Think, for instance, of the almost compulsory dinosaur phase:

Isn’t it a little strange that these small people are so obsessed with learning the taxonomy of long dead giant reptiles?  In these wonderful and too short-lived phases, we see the unwelt quite openly at work as children go in search of a hierarchy perceived – the natural order among dinosaurs.  As anyone who has seen a child in the throes of dino-obsession knows, it’s not a blanket concern with all things dinosaur.  Children in a dinosaur phase are not necessarily that interested in, say, fictional stories featuring dinosaur protagonists.  They are fixated instead on studying dinosaur’s forms, behaviours, and names with an eye toward ordering them, toward learning how to recognize particular species and genera of dinosaurs.

So cool.

And then we came to either the very bright or very dark days, depending on your perspective, of DNA breakthroughs and the end of fish (I am not going to explain this – read the book!).  Molecular biologists studying DNA were suddenly able to determine the evolutionary history of a species.  They could “actually track the twists and turns, the branchings of the evolutionary tree, the true genealogy of life.”  This work is exciting and revolutionary but at the same time it reveals truths that aren’t consistent with our observation-based vision of the world.  A scientist sitting in a lab, with tiny almost-empty vials of DNA material can tell us more about a species, about its ancestors and history, than we’ve learned in hundreds of years of observing it.  This is work that can only be done by the professionals in their labs.  It is the ultimate evolutionary biology, it’s far more precise than the completely arbitrary styles of taxonomy that came before, but it has nothing to do with observing the natural world and there is no scope for amateurs (unless they happen to have their own DNA labs):

Nearly the last tie to the days of Linnaeus, to the child naturalist wandering in the woods sensing the natural order, had been cut.  The truth of a simple human vision could no longer compete with what scientists had to offer – the truth of a series of coloured lines in a glowing gel.  How absurd this would all have seemed to Linnaeus: that to uncover the truth of the ordering of life, one need not know anything about animals or plants, anything of what swam or breathed or flew, of what sprouted or flowered, anything about the living world at all.  One need only know about molecules, about DNA.  Even taxonomy – the science of ordering life – was moving away from life itself.  Scientists had taken the last step toward a commitment to thoroughly modern science – not intuition of what the order seems to be, but to what the science of the previously invisible would reveal as the new, scientific natural order.

Yoon’s nostalgia for science rooted in the real world, accessible to all, the kind that engages professional and amateur alike with the wonders of nature, is understandable.  By leaving science to the scientists, it is too easy for us to ignore the wondrous organisms that surround us, to ignore without bothering to comprehend the staggering numbers of species that go extinct each day, week, month, hour.  But the classification work currently being done, even if it is by white-coated scientists who may never think of taking time to observe the natural world, who are perfectly happy in their labs, is exciting and important.  Like Yoon, I think it is vital that we somehow get people to engage more with their surroundings, to marvel at and value the wonders around them, but not at the price of such advances.  And certainly not when we’ve just found a consistent method – however illogical it may seem, however it may violate the umwelt and our powers of observation – of scientifically classifying anything and everything that surrounds us.

A really wonderful, exciting, intelligent book that I could not recommend more highly.

Read Full Post »

I read It’s a Don’s Life by Mary Beard, based on her ‘A Don’s Life’ blog for the TLS, back in April.  April!  I know I’m behind on writing my reviews but really, that’s rather extreme.  And it is a book I have wanted to review, having had so much fun reading it, perhaps because it was all new to me.  Beard is a professor of classics at Cambridge; I have never studied classics and know nothing about academia but am fascinated by both subjects, so, yes, pretty much the perfect book choice for me!

Perhaps because I am a blogger, I loved that the book was not so much a book based on the blog as the blog in book form.  In other instances, I have found this approach annoying and unreadable but I thought it worked surprisingly well here.  Beard’s purpose with her TLS blog is to educate rather than chronicle any kind of detailed personal narrative so the book is really just a compilation of interesting tidbits of information: thoughts on recent discoveries related to her field, discussions of academic rivalries and debates, and ponderings on blog-related controversies.  The inclusion of comments from her readers adds an interesting dimension.  There are countless volumes out there of collected newspaper columns by so-and-so but how often do such books include the letters to the editor provoked by those columns?  Seeing the generally intelligent and rather well-written responses was always interesting and more often than not highly entertaining.  The anonymity of the internet allows for some fabulously impolite remarks: one response described Beard as “a semi drunk chain smoking old female lecher more suited to running a fifties bar in Soho than gracing High Table.”  What a gloriously seedy description! 

I know nothing about classics.  Truly, nothing.  I soaked up every word completely uncritically, utterly fascinated by this topic that has been completely absent from my education.  My lack of any instruction in Latin always makes me feel hopelessly uneducated and uncultured, particularly as I’m the only person in the family whose education has this gap (my school eliminated it from the curriculum the summer before I was due to begin taking it).  I completely do not understand Latin jokes and that makes me sad.  Academia, however, I am much more used to reading about and Beard’s thoughts, on the Cambridge admissions process in particular, were very interesting.   

Overall, a very fun and informative glimpse into a world I’m completely unfamiliar with.

Read Full Post »

Saturday in the Park


I went for a lovely walk along the beach Saturday morning, basking in the sudden but very welcome appearance of the sun.  After a grey and miserable summer so far, we’re more than eager to get outside when the weather is warm and bright!

One of the best things about the path along the beach is that on one side you have this:

While on the other side you have a park (most of which, admittedly, doesn’t look quite this pastoral):

Also, there are bunnies that live in the brambles.  Ridiculously tame bunnies, it should be noted, that come in a rainbow of colours that are not frightened off by anything and so are very laid back when it comes to being photographed:

It was such a lovely way to start the weekend!  The weather is supposed to be just as nice today, though for variety’s sake I’ll think I’ll probably head into the woods for a stroll rather than down to the beach.  Ideally with my camera in hand – this good weather must be documented!

Read Full Post »

Library Lust

credit: Keith Scott Morton

If you’re going to have an absurdly large bedroom, you may as well make use of the space by installing bookshelves!  I am also very much taken with the printed fabric used on the headboard, bedskirt, and drapes, the walkout balcony and the tufted bench at the foot of the bed.  It’s such a bright, airy room that I could see wanting to read here day or night.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »