Archive for August, 2015

Library Lust


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Mr Tileny

I think what I love most about Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Letters (which I will eventually – probably – discuss at length) are the glimpses they give into her wonderfully imaginative, unconfined mind.  She bounces from topic to topic with absolute grace and indulges in delightful flights of whimsy.  Getting a letter from her must have been like receiving a present.  Speaking of presents…

One of the topics she returns to again and again are the characters created by Jane Austen.  She loved Austen’s novels (she even wrote a book about them) and was as comfortable with Austen’s characters as with her own friends and family.  So comfortable, in fact, that she knew just how they behaved in their post-novel lives – and how they compared to her own real-life acquaintances, as she explained in a letter to her friend George Plank:

…you have the nicest hand with a parcel.  I can’t think of anyone to match you in parcelling except perhaps Henry Tilney, to whom I attribute all the graces.  Mr Knightley’s parcels would never come undone, true; but think of all the paper & string involved.  Elinor had to do up all Edward’s; Edward required a good deal of buttoning and unbuttoning, though she enjoyed his dependence on her: the butler did all Marianne’s & Colonel Brandon’s.  Mr Darcy did exactly three parcels a year, for Lizzy’s birthday, for New Year’s day, & for their wedding anniversary.  The product was excellent, but he took hours to achieve it.  And locked the library door.  (7 April 1961)

Isn’t that just delightful?

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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

Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson – a lovely, inspiring little book of letters from the Pulitzer Prize winning biologist.

My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz – I really, really did not like Lebovitz’s memoir of moving to Paris, finding him arrogant, bizarrely unobservant, and altogether too interested in sweets.  But for some reason I still picked up this cookbook and, more shockingly, read it straight through.  And it’s excellent.  Well-written anecdotes, appetizing recipes, and a wonderful variety of foods – all the things that were missing from his memoir.

Great Gardens of Italy by Monty Don and Derry Moore – I leave for Italy in just one month and, even though I don’t anticipate any garden touring on my holiday, this is just the thing to help get me in the mood.

What did you pick up this week?


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IMG_20150824_211833 (3)I’m in the middle of Man Overboard by Monica Dickens and, rather to my surprise, enjoying it.  I have very mixed feelings about Dickens.  Some of her books I’ve loved (Mariana, The Happy Prisoner) while others I have considered a complete waste of paper and reading time (The Winds of Heaven and, to some extent, One Pair of Hands).  These experiences have been enough to scare me off reading her other books for fear of what I should find.  But it hasn’t stopped me from accumulating her books.  Just this year I’ve picked up lovely hard cover editions of Man Overboard and The Heart of London.  And now, with a courageous leap, I’m even reading one of them!

Man Overboard is the story of Ben Francis, a widowed naval officer of no particular distinction who finds himself released from the Navy with no particular aptitude or interest for any line of work.  I’m only half-way through right now but have been impressed by Dickens’ effortless handling of the male point of view (something that she did brilliantly in The Happy Prisoner, too) and her fantastic minor characters.  Chief among these is Amy, Ben’s ten year old daughter, whose ever-changing personality is tiresome for her father but entertaining for this reader at least.

We first meet her in the role of a meek, obedient milksop:

Amy, who was never the same child for more than few weeks at a time, was having one of her old-fashioned periods, when she called Ben Father, and was rather stiff and formal with him.  Since it made her more docile too, in a beaten down Victorian sort of way, it was one of her easiest disguises to cope with; but it made her rather dull, and the lunch, which was a celebration of her tenth birthday, was not being very gay.

A few weeks later, she is a boisterous, jolly-hockey-sticks sort of schoolgirl:

Amy came noisily into the room in a thick blue school overcoat with the collar turned up.  She had been playing in a hockey match.  She was in the fourth eleven, and she was very sporting at the moment, because she was in love with a girl called Fiona Maclaren, who was captain of the first eleven.  She wore her long bronze hair in tight pigtails and affected a slightly rolling walk.

And then, naturally enough, there are then moments where she can’t quite decide what kind of character is called for:

She had been keyed up to play the part of the tight-lipped hero’s daughter, or the fisherman’s child, waiting at the cottage window with her eyes glued on the storm-tossed sea.

In all these reincarnations, she feels more like a real child than the last hundred or so I’ve encountered in any book.  I’m looking forward to reading on and seeing how many more personalities she assumes before we reach the end.

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angela thirkellExciting news for Angela Thirkell fans: it looks like Virago is releasing more Thirkell titles next year!  According to the Amazon website, the chosen ones are:

Before Lunch
Cheerfulness Breaks In
Northbridge Rectory
Growing Up
Marling Hall

Admittedly, Before Lunch and Northbridge Rectory are two of my least favourite Thirkells (I abandoned a reread of Northbridge Rectory earlier this summer, fed up by its pedantic preoccupation with slang and poor pronunciation), but the other three are favourites and Thirkell releases are always good news!

These books move us into the war years so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the other wartime books aren’t far behind.  A Virago edition of The Headmistress would make me levitate with happiness.


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Library Lust

photo credit: Simon Upton

photo credit: Simon Upton

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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

Uprooted by Naomi Novik – after months of anticipation, it finally came!  Can’t wait to get started on this (and am rather shocked that I haven’t yet, to be honest).

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport – a few years back Rappaport wrote an absolutely marvellous book about Queen Victoria’s reaction to Prince Albert’s death and it more than convinced me that I should try anything she writes.

John A by Richard Gwyn – I spent four years in Kingston, aka the town where every second building is required to have a plaque in honour of Sir John A. MacDonald (the first Prime Minister of Canada).  Anywhere he lived or worked or drank has a plaque.  Want to know where his sister lived?  There’s a plaque for that, too.  There are also, inevitably, statues.  These plaques led to Sir John A burnout quickly so, when it came out while I was still living in Kingston, I was not particularly eager to read this much praised biography of MacDonald’s early years.  Now, having had a few years to recover, my former fondness for Sir John A has returned and I’m looking forward to reading this.

What did you pick up this week?


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Recent Arrivals


Taking the scenic route on my book-buying expedition

I have added a lot of books to my library this year. Well, “a lot” by my standards. (I think my year’s entire haul is about equal to one day of book shopping for Simon).  And now, with books teetering on every available surface (space on the shelves having run out long ago), I remember why I usually curb the instinct to buy.  But oh it feels good.

Here’s what’s come in lately:


First, three books arrived from Greyladies (two of them complimentary – a delightful surprise):

The Road to the Harbour by Susan Pleydell

Mrs. Frensham Describes a Circle by Richmal Crompton

Near Neighbours by Molly Clavering

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to head over to Vancouver Island for the day, partly to see stunning Butchart Gardens at the height of summer, partly to go shopping at Russell Books in downtown Victoria:


The sunken garden at Butchart


The beautiful provincial legislature in Victoria

At Russell Books, I picked up as many titles as I could carry (that A.A. Milne biography is heavy, as I discovered on the ensuing bus/ferry/bus/train/bus rides to get home) and left many more behind:

Victoria Books - Bought

The books I bought

Victoria Books - Not Bought

The books I left behind

Finally, this weekend, cheerfully ignoring the fact that the teetering piles of books in my office will crush me to death in event of an earthquake and really don’t need to be built up any further, I picked up two more new books:

Packing Up

I loved Diplomatic Baggage, Keenan’s first memoir, and have been itching to read this

Vienna Melody

A chunky saga about a Viennese family that seems very promising from what I’ve read so far

I should probably swear off book buying for the rest of the year. Or maybe just have good clear out of my existing shelves…

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Library Lust


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photo credit: Henry Grant (via here)

photo credit: Henry Grant (via here)

Dear Paul,

We were so very glad to get your cable with the news of your daughter.  I hope she will be very, very happy; and I hope she will be without fear.  I am quite sure that to be fearless is the first requisite for a woman; everything else that is good will grow naturally out of that, as a tree has leaves and fruit and grows tall and full provided its roots have a good hold of the ground.  Bring her up to be fearless and unintimidated by frowns, hints, and conventions, and then she will be full of mercy and grace and generosity.  It is fear that turns women sour, sly, and harsh to their neighbours.  It was Shakespeare’s Constance who said she was ‘a woman, naturally born to fears.’  Not naturally, I think; but hereditary; and so to be guarded against fear before all else.  (4 February 1949)

from The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner

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