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Archive for July, 2014

Library Lust

via Lonny

via Lonny

I wish the chairs had slightly higher backs but, aside from that, this is Perfection.

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Switzerland for BeginnersIn just over a month, I will be back in Switzerland.  I’m only going to Europe for two weeks this year – fair enough after last year’s month-long vacation – but am spending the bulk of that in Switzerland and, more specifically, in the mountains.

I remember looking for books about Switzerland before I visited for the first time in 2012.  Aside from Heidi and travel guides, pickings were slim.  But I did hear about a book called, perfectly, Switzerland for Beginners by George Mikes.  I wasn’t able to track it down then but, thanks to the wonders of the inter-library loan system, I got my hands on it earlier this year and had fun giggling my way through this all too brief book.

Mikes, Hungarian by birth but English by choice, had a successful career writing humourous guides to various countries, observing the ways of the English, French, Germans, etc for the edification of befuddled outsiders.  An early Bill Bryson, if you will.  His books are much quoted, especially his How to Be an Alien, which seeks to explain the English to foreigners: who hasn’t heard (and laughed at) “Continental people have sex lives; the English have hot water bottles”?  But, until now, I had never read even one of his books.  Switzerland for Beginners was the perfect place to start.

The Swiss are not a race that excite much interest from the rest of the world.  They are not sexy or dangerous, they are not cruel or fascinating.  They are adorably, endearingly boring.  This is perhaps why there are so few books about them.  A few years ago, I read The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner, a chronicle of the author’s travels to the happiest places on earth.  One of the happy places he visited was Switzerland, where the steady predictability of life was at the root of the population’s general happiness: “happiness,” Weiner concluded, “is boring.”  I kept thinking about that as I read this book.  Mikes’ book was published in 1962 and Weiner’s in 2007 but their observations are consistent.

Mikes has fun with his book.  His writings are based on his entirely subjective observations and the real charm of the book comes from how much of his personality is injected into it.  It is very much about how he feels , what he thinks, and how he experiences the country:

Whenever I go to Switzerland in the winter, my chief problem is how to avoid winter sports.  It is not an easy task.  Dangers lurk in every corner.  In November or so, the whole country is transformed into one vast – well, not so terribly vast – ski-run, and few of your kind and hospitable Swiss friends seem able to grasp that your main purpose in life is not to run down a mountain slope at fifty miles an hour as if you were a sixty-horse-power motor-car with faulty breaks.

He does not pretend any scientific approach to his observations.  Instead, he is just a man dropped into a foreign society, observing it with all the attendant prejudices (some put on for comedic effect) of the foreigner.  And one can’t argue with the amusing results:

The Swiss, indeed, are hard-working people and this devotion to work is one of their most repulsive virtues.  Altogether, it is the virtues of the Swiss which I find a bit hard to bear.  Coming from England, I regard work as some sort of nuisance you must pretend to be engaged in between cups of tea.  But the Swiss take work seriously: start early, finish late, and are even proud of it.  They are paid for it handsomely – more handsomely than the English – and their old-fashioned idea is that they ought to play fair.  The employer is not simply the chap you organize strikes against: he must pay, to be sure, and pay a lot, but he must also receive value for his money.  This attitude is, of course, quite outmoded in the second half of the twentieth century.

Oh Switzerland, I miss you.

Oh Switzerland, I miss you.

Mikes speaks fondly of the Swiss: of their deeply ingrained but benignly-expressed regional prejudices, of their devotion to hospitality, of their careful money habits and insistence on quality…in short, of all the wonderfully undramatic things that make the Swiss so endearing.  And, as a bonus, there is a final, perfect essay – one that proved, to the author’s delight, to be controversial for a brief period after its publication – about the too-often neglected principality of Liechtenstein.  The book is all too brief – not even a hundred pages with illustrations included – but there is something to amuse on every one of those pages.  And I certainly feel more prepared for my trip back next month!

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SNB-logo-small-e1393871908245It has been a hectic last couple of weeks so I haven’t until now had a chance to sit down and go through the new issue of Shiny New Books.  And what an excellent issue it is, full of an amazing variety of excellent reviews and interesting bookish articles.

I am also delighted by the issue because it marks my first – but hopefully not last – involvement with SNB.  I reviewed three newly reissued Angela Thirkell novels and one of Christopher Milne’s memoirs, The Path Through the Trees.  Two of my passions as a book blogger are introducing other readers to Angela Thirkell and discussing anything A.A. Milne related, so I’m tickled that this is how I was able to launch myself on SNB readers!

If you haven’t yet had a chance to sift through the new issue, do check it out!  You could start by looking at a few of the reviews that caught my eye:

A.A. Milne: His Life by Ann Thwaite

Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances Trollope

Women of the World by Helen McCarthy

An Island Odyssey  by Hamish Haswell Smith

The Disinherited by Robert Sackville-West

Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy

Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato

 

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Library Lust

Have a little extra cash lying around? Longing for a country home of your own? Then look no further than this stunning Hampshire home, which includes 8 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, and 6 reception rooms. It is stupidly large and I suspect absurdly expensive but it is oh so lovely inside.

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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

Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl – after years of planning to read Reichl’s memoirs, I finally picked one up and loved it completely.  The sequel to Tender at the Bone, this follows Reichl through her thirties as she establishes her career as a restaurant critic and faces a variety of personal milestones.

Images and Shadows by Iris Origo – one of the local television channels was reairing “Monty Don’s Italian Gardens” recently, a programme I adore, and, rewatching the episode on Tuscany, I was reminded of how much I want to visit La Foce.  In lieu of doing that (no trips to Italy for me this year, sadly), I thought I’d read about the woman behind the famous garden’s creation: Iris Origo.  I haven’t yet read Origo’s more famous memoir, War in Val D’Orcia, but look forward to read that too, eventually.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – I’m still on hold for Rowell’s new book, Landlines, so, having enjoyed both Fangirl and Attachments, thought it was time to try this, the most universally-praised of her books.

Written in My Own Heart's Blood

But, let’s not kid ourselves, as good as the three books above sound, my interest in reading them was nothing – nothing! – compared to the euphoria I felt when I found Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon on my library’s Fast Reads shelf.  A Fast Read means you only get the book for one week rather than three.  Since it’s never taken me even half that long to read any of Gabaldon’s “Outlander” books, I snatched it off the shelf and ran home to start reading.   Not surprisingly, I finished the next day and oh, it was good.  So good that I am now kicking myself for having rushed through it.  As usual, reading the most recent book in the series has made me want to go back and reread the earlier volumes…which is exactly what I’m now doing.  The TV adaptation of the books begins later this summer so there is still lots of time to read the books first…or, if you read at a sane speed, at least the first one or two!  And if you want to know why you should read the books, read “My ‘Outlander’ Thing” .

 What did you pick up this week?

 

 

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Library Lust

Photo Credit: Lisa Romerein (Country Living)

Photo Credit: Lisa Romerein (Country Living)

It is cruelly, unusually hot for Vancouver this week (and next week, accordingly to the weather forecast) and I wish I had a daybed like this one to collapse on to at the end of the day, with books close to hand, as I dream of cooler climes.

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.

Just the linky for now. Hopefully I’ll have time to post my own loot later this week. Until then, let’s hear what you picked up!

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