Archive for June, 2018

Library Lust

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A little bland for me but the bones are there.  It just needs a little bit of personality – it’s too perfectly done right now.

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Library Lust

via Stribling and Associates

via Stribling and Associates

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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.

Welcome Home by Stuart McLean – Oh, Stuart McLean.  I miss you so.  McLean was a Canadian journalist and broadcaster whose early career was spent traveling the country and doing slice-of-life interviews with the people he met.  This is a collection of his pieces from that period, focused on small towns.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu – I heard about this thanks to NPR. It feels like summer here this week so a book about summer camp seems just right.

Achtung Baby by Sara Zaske – I am so desperate for any books about Germany – especially outsider’s perspectives of Germany – that I have resorted to reading parenting books.  Despite having no children.

What did you pick up this week?

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository, an online book retailer with free international shipping.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  

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I love fairy tales and I love A.A. Milne.  When you put them together, I’m a happy woman.  And thankfully Milne used fairy tales – or at least fairy-tale-esque settings – in a number of his writings.  I’d already encountered this happy combination in his early novel, Once on a Time, in his one-act play, Portrait of a Gentleman in Slippers, and in his uproariously funny play, The Ugly Duckling, so I was delighted to find it again in The Ivory Door, a play from 1928. 

We begin with King Hilary and his son, young Prince Perivale, in the throne room having a friendly chat about life.  Perivale is eight- or nine-years old and starting to make sense of the world and his place in it.  His father, however, is making things a bit difficult by throwing in his king-ly perspective:

PERIVALE. […] Kings are the wisest men, aren’t they?

HILARY .It is commonly said so.

PERIVALE. And the handsomest, and the best swordsmen, and the cleverest painters, and the greatest generals, and – and everything.

HILARY. It is well that the people should think so.

PERIVALE. Shall I be when I grow up?

HILARY. So it will be said.

PERIVALE. But shan’t I be?

HILARY. It is almost too much to expect of one man, Perivale.

PERIVALE. Even if he is the King?

HILARY. The more so if he be the King.

And here we have our theme, ladies and gentleman: the gap between perception and reality, what people desire to be true and what is actually so.  It’s hard on a king to try and live up to romantic expectations and legends, as Perivale will discover.

But he will not discover it quite yet.  For now, he moves on to questioning his father about the mysterious ivory door in the throne room.  He’s been told it leads to hell or at the very least that to enter it means certain death.  And his father, wise as he might be (for all kings are wise), cannot tell him differently.  He can only tell him that what lies on the other side is unknown but the kings who have passed through the door have never been seen again.  It’s a legend that looms large in their kingdom – the Ivory Door that leads to certain death – and for Perivale the need to know the truth is intense.  But the key is lost so the door – and what lies on the other side – remains a mystery.

Years pass, good King Hilary dies, and Perivale becomes king.  But he has never lost his inquisitive nature and now he finally has the key to the Ivory Door.  And on the eve of his wedding, he decides he cannot live with the uncertainty any longer.  So he opens the door and goes through.

The legend of the Ivory Door, as one of the characters says, “…is our own; something which joins us together.  We talk of it often.  We tell each other stories.  We could not lose it.”  So when Perivale emerges unscathed and alive, having discovered the door merely leads to a passage that ends outside the palace walls, it is deemed impossible.  Perivale must be an impostor or some wicked soul switched in hell with the true, good King Perivale.  The arrival of his fiancée, Princess Lilia, only complicates matters.  After all, everyone in the kingdom knows their great secret: that the two met while in disguise as peasants and fell in love only to then discover one another’s true identities.  It is always thus for kings and princesses.  Except Perivale and Lilia had never set eyes on one another and the lack of recognition only serves to further condemn Perivale.  He may look like their king but King Perivale passed through the Ivory Door and therefore gone forever.  It is inconceivable, despite all the evidence, that Perivale could have lived.

On the Milne spectrum of silliness, The Ivory Door should be classed on the more serious side.  It has its moments of levity thanks to Milne’s typically snappy dialogue but is primarily a cautionary tale.  Perivale’s people had lived for generations with the legend of the Ivory Door.  It formed part of their identity.  And, as Perivale says, “when I came safely through the Door, I was telling each one of my people that he was a fool and a coward.  A fool to believe, a coward to fear.”  It is never safe to be the person who makes other feels like fools and cowards.  Only bad things can come from that.    

Bad things for Perivale, yes, but good things for the reader.  I really enjoyed this (as I always enjoy Milne) and loved that it was of a more serious bent than some of his other plays of the era.  I love a good comedy of errors about bigamy but a change is nice.

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Library Lust

Sarah Perry’s Home Library (via Twitter – March 29 2018)

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Sometimes I Buy Books

For someone who reads a lot, I don’t have much of an interest in acquiring books.  The library is my friend, as is all my hard-earned money.  And when I do buy books they are usually ones I’ve already read (thanks to the library) and know I want to reread.

But every so often there are books that are so interesting or so obscure that my scruples are overcome and they are added to my shelves unread.  Oh the wild and crazy risks that I take!  On the assumption that everyone enjoys a “books bought” post (yes?), I thought I’d share a few of these recent acquisitions.

Among them are: two stellar books about books, three out-of-print mid-century light romances, a WWII memoir, a middlebrow clergy-themed novel, and two romantic comedies from Muslim Canadian authors.

Here they are:

Packing My Library by Alberto Manguel – I shared a quote from this back in April and there are a dozen more I know would resonate with all of you.  Manguel’s musings are always worth reading.

Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck – the only one of these I’ve actually reviewed!  My copy is headed for the give away pile but I’m still happy to have read this pleasant if not particularly well-executed story of a vicar’s wife during wartime.

A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell – I’ve been meaning to read this wartime memoir since Scott first raved about it back in 2013.  Now, delightfully, he has brought it back into print.

Ten Way Street, Murder While You Work, and Pirouette by Susan Scarlett – I never read Noel Streatfeild’s books as a child but I’m finally discovering her as an adult.  She wrote a number of light romances for adults (under the Susan Scarlett pseudonym), all of which were reissued by Greyladies but are now difficult to find, and I am slowly gathering them all.

The Arrangement by Sonya Lalli – this hasn’t even been released in Canada yet (it’s coming out here early next year as The Matchmaker’s List) but I couldn’t wait.  I am a sucker for rom coms about arranged marriages and the excitement over such a story not just existing but being written by a Canadian and set in Canada (big, big, big deal – when did you last read a rom com set in Canada?) was too much for me.

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin – this came out today.  I had my library hold placed and was planning to wait.  But there’s a bookstore in my office building.  And it was raining during my lunch break.  And once I started reading the first pages I couldn’t let it go (see above re my love of Canadian-set rom coms featuring arranged marriages).  So now my library hold is cancelled and I am a proud owner of this Pride and Prejudice-inspired tale.

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan – Perfect.  So, so, so perfect.  I will write about this at length but for now rest assured that it is going to feature on my “Best Books of 2018” list.

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository, an online book retailer with free international shipping.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  

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Library Lust

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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.

Fascism by Madeleine Albright – so, so excited to read this “examination of Fascism in the twentieth century and how its legacy shapes today’s world.”  Albright’s perspective is shaped by both her professional experiences as an American politician and diplomat, and her personal experiences of growing up in exile after her homeland was overrun by fascists (which you can read more about in Prague Winter).

Tasting Georgia by Carla Capalbo – cookbooks about the Caucasus seem to be popular right now and I am not complaining.

The Visitors by Mary McMinnies – Barb’s enthusiasm for this had me placing a library hold even before I finished reading her review.  

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell – more happy Nordic people!  I do have to say, everyone I know who has moved to Denmark is remarkably delighted to be there so there must be something to it.

The Road to Lichfield by Penelope Lively – Always eager to read more by Lively.

Sophia of Silicon Valley by Anna Yen – spotted this while killing a lunch hour in the bookstore attached to my office building (I know, dangerous) and was intrigued by the premise – a woman’s perspective of the boys club atmosphere of Silicon Valley – but not enough to buy it.  Library to the rescue!

What did you pick up this week?

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Library Lust

credit: Anne Massie (via House and Garden)

I usually run away from paneled libraries but I love the informality of this one and the large windows flooding the room with light.

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Today marks the start of a Mini Persephone Readathon, hosted by the ever-enthusiastic Jessie, and I’m delighted to be taking part.  It’s just until Sunday – hence its “mini” status – so I thought I’d get started right away.

First published in 1946, To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski was published while the war was still fresh in everyone’s minds.  And that memory is important because already routines were beginning to be re-established and conventions once again adhered to, things that had briefly loosened during the topsy-turvy war years and provided undreamt-of freedom for so many.  Sometimes that freedom was productive – as for the men and women whose wartime experiences gave them careers their education or gender never prepared them for – and sometimes it was merely license to misbehave.  And wartime misbehaviour is Laski’s focus.

We meet Deborah Robertson just as her husband, Graham, is about to depart for Cairo.  Married for several years and parents to a young son, they are both upset at the idea of parting, trying to reassure one another of the strength of their passion.  Passion, rather than affection, is certainly the correct word and the shallowness of their relationship is made clear as Graham reassures his wife that he will “be missing you every hour of every day, thinking how bloody attractive you are.”  This is not a marriage of two minds, safe to say.

Before he leaves, Graham idiotically explains to his wife that the affairs he will have out East will only be with women he does not respect and so won’t mean anything and asks her to promise the same for her own affairs.  Deborah, claiming the moral high ground, asserts that she will be comforted by her love for him, will spend her time caring for their son, and will remain completely unchanged by their separation.

Subtlety is not Laski’s strong point (to be fair, she never attempts it) so, unsurprisingly, the rest of the book is about how unfaithful Deborah is and how much she changes.

Bored with her son and country life, Deborah soon seizes the chance to move to London on her own (leaving her son in the loving and much more capable hands of the housekeeper).  And even before she completes her move, she has her first affair.  It is a meaningless thing, done more out of a sense of inevitability than anything, but it sets her on a path that she soon finds impossible to give up.  Her attempts to abstain make her sour and petulant so, she decides, why not have fun.  To be twenty-four, beautiful and free in wartime London is a heady thing indeed.

One man leads to another, then another, and so on.  At first she can pretend love is involved but she soon realises that is not it.  Her relationships have nothing to do with her feelings about the men, except perhaps for what they can give her – beginning with nice meals out, stockings, perfume, small things.  But as she learns her new craft, her ambitions grow.  She looks at her friend Madeleine, far more used to this lifestyle than Deborah and able to attract what Deborah thinks of as “grown-ups”, and “longed to graduate into a class genuinely competitive with her, and yet had no notion of what qualities she lacked that consistently prevented her from doing so.”

Deborah figures out those qualities – with the not altogether willing assistance of a Frenchman whom she has poached from Madeleine – and from there her career as a tart is assured.  The men she sleeps with are barely people to her, only stepping stones on her path of self-improvement.  Her moral qualms disappear alarmingly quickly; it is much nicer to have a new bag or hat or piece of jewellery than anxieties.  And why shouldn’t she be happy rather than anxious or ashamed?  As she says:

“I know it’s better to be happy than unhappy, and not only for me but for my baby as well.  I like this sort of life, in fact, I love it, and seeing as how I’m hurting no one and doing myself quite a lot of good, I rather think I’ll carry on with it.  I’ve come to the conclusion that conventional morals were invented by a lot of unattractive bitches to make themselves feel good.”

Laski is extremely popular with Persephone readers and one of their best represented authors – they have reprinted five of her books now: Little Boy Lost, The Village, The Victorian Chaise-Longue, To Bed with Grand Music, and Tory Heaven.  And I can completely understand why.  She epitomizes the middle brow, writing about seemingly-serious topics in a titillating way with basic, extremely readable prose (Little Boy Lost is particularly difficult to put down).  Would I consider this a significant psychological portrait of a woman experiencing a moral crisis amidst a chaotic, collapsing social structure?  Hardly.  But, despite lacking nuance or depth, it is great fun.  Laski knew what people wanted: a bit of excitement and a touch of the taboo to keep them glued to the pages, confidently smug that they could never be as morally inept as Deborah.  It’s true but that is a very, very low bar to clear.

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository, an online book retailer with free international shipping.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). 

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