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Archive for January, 2015

Library Lust

credit: House & Home (photo: Rob Fiocca)

credit: House & Home (photo: Rob Fiocca)

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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 2Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby – I’ve never really ‘clicked’ with Hornby but his columns about his reading are the closest I have ever come to really liking him (that said, I still have high hopes for Funny Girl).  I got some good recommendations from More Baths, Less Talking and hope to finish this collection with many more.

Elizabeth Gaskell: A Portrait in Letters – I’ve been meaning to read this ever since I read Jenny Uglow’s excellent Gaskell biography and discovered what an excellent letter-writer she was.

I Was A Stranger by John Hackett – very much looking forward to this memoir (reprinted by Slightly Foxed not that long ago)

Library Loot 1These three I’ve sampled before but never finished. Can’t wait to get to the end of them this time!

The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan

The House by the Dvina by Eugenie Fraser

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

What did you pick up this week?

 

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The Window of the Poet by Pyotr Konchalovsky

The Window of the Poet by Pyotr Konchalovsky

It is Margery Sharp day today, hosted by Jane in honour of the 110th anniversary of Sharp’s birth, and though I haven’t read anything recently by Sharp, I thought it would be a good time to share my thoughts on the two of her books that I have read before: Cluny Brown and The Eye of Love.  Neither book turned me into in a great fan, but I nonetheless look forward to reading everyone else’s reviews today.

Since I haven’t been reading Sharp this weekend, I’ve kept busy with other authors.  My plans for a hermit-like Saturday devoted to reading didn’t quite work out, but I picked up my inter-library hold on Katherine’s Marriage by D.E. Stevenson yesterday and am half-heartedly slogging my way through it.  It’s been a while since I read anything by DES and I’d forgotten how mind-numbingly dull her bad books are.  There is a reason I didn’t pick this up back in 2012, when I read the bulk of her other books.  It is a sequel to Katherine Wentworth and, if anything, might be even worse than that book.  I’ll keep reading for a bit to see if it improves at all but hopes are not high.

Here's Looking at YouI did finish Here’s Looking at You by Mhairi McFarlane on Saturday.  It’s a funny, light novel and I love McFarlane’s style but, most importantly, it is one of those books which had surprising overlaps with a number of my current interests.  I love this kind of serendipity.  The main female character, Anna, is a history lecturer at UCL (yay!  a heroine with a real job!), who specialises in the Byzantine Empire.  She and James, the male lead, are brought together when they work together on a exhibit for the British Museum about Empress Theodora.  Since I started reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium (which I didn’t finish back in the autumn but have now picked up again), I have been fascinated with all things Byzantine so this was a delightful coincidence.  But it did not end there: when Anna’s sister decides to get married in Italy, they go to their father’s home town of Barga.  I’m in the midst of planning a trip to Italy for this October and Barga, which I’d never heard of until a few months ago, is firmly on the list of places I want to visit on a day trip from nearby Lucca, where we will be staying.  I would have still enjoyed this book without these references but I enjoyed it so much more with them.

LeftoversSpeaking of chick-lit, I also finished Leftovers by Stella Newman this week.  This was one of my NetGalley reads and it was a good light distraction for a very busy work week.  Susie, the heroine, is thirty-six, single, and desperately counting the days until she will get her promotion and – with the accompanying bonus – be able to quit.  She’s still trying to get over her ex-boyfriend but there seem to be no end of men willing to replace him – if Susie were interested.  But this is not really a book about finding love.  It is about getting your life together, going after the things you want, and being happy.  Oh, and it is also about food.  Loving descriptions of numerous pasta dishes had me whipping up spaghetti carbonara (Nigella Lawson’s excellent recipe from How to Eat) the night I finished this.  The thing that irked me a bit (other than the seemingly endless supply of men who are interested in Susie) – and I wasn’t able to articulate this until I read Here’s Looking at You and felt the contrast – is Susie’s attitude towards her career.  I have more sympathy for books about women whose romantic lives are chaotic or lacklustre than for ones where the heroine is underemployed or just plain unhappy at work.  Susie works for an advertising company, with people she dislikes and clients that she absolutely hates.  But rather than try to find a role at another firm, she slogs on miserably (despite the urgings of her friends and family).  She even talks about how much she loves advertising – and then goes out and does something completely different at the book’s end.  Not an entirely satisfying read but still enjoyable in its way.  Enough so that I’ve now got Newman’s earlier novel, Pear Shaped, on my Kobo.

Now, off to make the most of my Sunday!

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Library Lust

Credit: Architectural Digest

Credit: Architectural Digest

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Weekend Planning

A Street at Night in Wet Weather by Edward Steel Harper II

A Street at Night in Wet Weather by Edward Steel Harper II

And so, gasping with relief, we come to the weekend.  After a whirlwind week at work, I am delighted with the weather forecast which promises rain, rain, and a little more rain to top it all off.  I want to curl up with a stack of books somewhere and, counter to the social activities of the past few weekends, ignore all other humans.  At least for Saturday.  I might miss them by Sunday, but Saturday as a hermit sounds rather nice.  Especially since I saw that my inter-library hold on a D.E. Stevenson book I haven’t read has just come in.  This is clearly a sign that the universe supports my weekend plans.

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Library Lust

credit: Architectural Digest (designer: Thomas Jayne)

credit: Architectural Digest (designer: Thomas Jayne)

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Mansfield ParkI was struck with the sudden desire late Wednesday night to pick up Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.  Among Austen’s works, it is the one I am the least familiar with.  I have read it only two or three times and never with any particular sense of joy.  Yet suddenly I felt that I must try it again, that this time I might finally unlock its charms.

It does not begin well.  Austen, whose masterful opening lines for Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, and Emma can be readily quoted by even non-rabid fans, was frankly slacking off when she commenced Mansfield Park with a rambling compound sentence on the history of the Bertram family.  It is an immediate reminder for readers that this is her least sprightly, least optimistic novel.  Even Persuasion has more energy and hope in its pages.  Yes, structurally it is beautifully, thoughtfully crafted and has a cast of well-developed characters second only to Emma, but, like Fanny herself, only after a long acquaintance do you come to recognize the book’s virtues and love it.  First, you must make it through the opening pages, at least to Fanny’s arrival at Mansfield Park.

Well, I have done that now so, trusting that the worst is behind me, look forward to reading on.  But, a bit shamefully, I must admit that I am more excited to renew my acquaintance with the charming Crawford siblings than with Fanny or Edmund.

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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 1

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham – I had no issues whatsoever with Dunham when I started reading this.  Now, I find her wildly irritating and just want her to get a grip.  So…not my favourite book of the year.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – really looking forward to this.

Bubbly on Your Budget by Marjorie Hillis – delightful and practical tips

Library Loot 2

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow by Sophia Loren – I do love a good celebrity memoir and, based on the first thirty or so pages that I’ve read, this one is going to be great fun.

Letters from Italy by Karel Čapek – a quick collection of travel letters, in the same vein as Letters from England – just not quite as good.  (I couldn’t find an English-language cover so yay for pretty Czech one!)

Amore by Roger Friedland – Part memoir, part cultural exploration, Amore follows an American father as he and his teenage daughters journey into the heart of Rome, into the way Romans love and what they have to teach about its erosion in America.

What did you pick up this week?

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10927454When Lisa reviewed Live Alone and Like It last week I was stirred to action.  After years of having it on my TBR list, now was finally the right time to read it.  Not so, thought my library.  They have helpfully misplaced their one and only copy so, being an adaptable sort, I modified my ambitions and turned to Marjorie Hillis’ other helpful guide, Bubbly on Your Budget (originally Orchids on Your Budget).

Published in 1937, a year after her successful guidebook for women living on their own, Bubbly on Your Budget is full of advice on how to live nicely on limited means.  The general assumption is that the reader is a working woman, perhaps married, perhaps single, who is keen to live within her means but to still enjoy life’s little comforts – a pleasant home, attractive clothes, an active social life, and, if she is very reckless with her money, perhaps even a husband.  Hillis’s advice is sensible and actionable – both then and now – and, more importantly, she is not afraid of blunt statements.  Since I love bluntness, this book was utterly delightful to me.

Examples of such inspired frankness include Hillis addressing all those women who mope around offices, dreaming of domestic bliss:

There are also the women who go to offices in a martyr-like frame of mind, cherishing the belief that they would be knockouts in the role of devoted wives and loving mothers.  Perhaps they would, and then again, perhaps they wouldn’t.  If you’re martyr-like in one role, you’re pretty apt to be martyr-like in another.

And the consideration of what factors must be considered when a couple is trying to decide if they can afford to get by on just one salary:

Can we, or can we not, afford to marry – on the man’s salary or the man’s plus the woman’s? – This is a subject of chronic debate as violent as the seething over the Supreme Court issue, and half the debaters get the wrong answer.  They do their computing on a purely dollar-and-cent basis and don’t stop to figure out what they want out of marriage anyway and whether it’s all in the budget.  If your picture of being a wife is pretty luxurious, that’s an item you’d better put down right after Rent and Food, and then see whether you can cut down somewhere else.  If the man’s idea of romance is built round a chic figure with glamorous clothes and lily white hands, you’d better be pretty sure that one of you can pay for them.

The hallmark of a good advice book is that it does not date.  While some of the essential wardrobe items Hillis mentions may no longer be necessary (chic hats and decorative carnations sadly having little place in a 21st Century closet), the bulk of her recommendations can be just as easily applied today as eighty years ago.  Hillis is particularly useful when it comes to how to approach marriage on a budget.  Husbands, she warns her readers, cannot be relied upon to produce funds.  In fact, the most charming and delightful men might need to be supported themselves:

It is a regrettable, but undeniable, fact that the most delightful people are seldom big money-makers.  A few may have inherited large incomes, but they generally lose them or spend them.  Getting rich is apt to be a twenty-four –hour-a-day job and not always worth the trouble.  It leaves little time for the arts and graces, without a few of which most people are pretty trying.  This has always been admitted in high-minded moments (like church and first meetings with mothers-in-law).

And will he mind you supporting him or at least working side-by-side?  Not at all (if he is a practical man):

He may be full of chivalrous notions about pouring riches into your lap, during the honeymoon, but he knows too that they are part of a fairy-story out of the past.  Men have always expected women to work for them, and modern ones have next to no trouble in transposing the workroom from home to office.  The trouble comes when you outdo them in success, especially in their own field; but if you’re smart enough for that, you’ll probably know how to meet the problem.

That’s a useful reminder to women from any decade!

Hillis illustrates her points with case studies at the end of each chapter, giving examples of how well Miss or Mrs So-And-So has adapted to a life of thrift (or, in cautionary tales, has not).  These can be fun but they are a bit too neat – you don’t actually believe any of them are real people.  In the body of the text, Hillis is much more aware of the conflicts women feel between what they want, what they can afford, and what they actually end up doing.

All in all, a charming, funny, and deeply sensible book.

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Library Lust

credit: Architectural Digest (designer: Sally Sirkin Lewis)

credit: Architectural Digest (designer: Sally Sirkin Lewis)

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