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via House and Garden UK

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

It’s holiday time for me!  Which means…not a lot under our current circumstances, other than a very welcome mental break from work.  I am having a lovely vacation from my computer (hence the brevity of this post), taking lots of long walks in the beautiful summer-like weather, and, as always, reading.  There are worse ways to spend a week!

Library Loot

What did you pick up this week?

Though the independent woman wasn’t yet a norm in 1936, there were certainly more of them than ever before and so the success that year of Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis should be no surprise.  Written for “extra women” everywhere – but primarily appropriate for New Yorkers, or widows and stenographers across America longing to think of themselves as cosmopolitan New Yorkers – Hillis confidently guides her flock towards achieving enjoyable, fulfilling lives.  It is easy to be swept away by her energy and conviction and there are worse people to be led by – the better part of a century later her advice is still largely applicable and deeply sensible.

Hillis knew her audience: some were young women excitedly starting careers and still anticipating romantic resolutions but many were older, tired, sometimes widowed or divorced, and unsettled in a society that took it for granted that a woman needed a man to have a “full” life.  Hillis is frank about this.  Yes, you will be an inconvenience to your married friends without a man.  Yes, you may not be wanted at dinner parties or bridge games without a partner.  You are inconvenient but, in this, you are not special:

It is a good idea, first of all, to get over the notion (if you have it) that your particular situation is a little bit worse than anyone else’s.  This point of view has been experienced by every individual the world over at one time or another, except perhaps those who will experience it next year.

This is what I love most about Hillis: she is funny and practical but most of all she is frank. 

Hillis tries to make her readers see the opportunities they have.  They can live graciously without having to be at another’s beck and call!  They can have true independence, to do what they like when they like it!  They can devote themselves to their passions – and Hillis is a great believer in having these – without inconveniencing anyone else!  They can nurture interesting groups of friends, be part of the social whirlwind, and retire to perfect peace when they want it at home.  There are joys to living alone, you just need to be intelligent enough to see them and it is this core message that remains absolutely true today: whatever your circumstances, it is up to you to turn them into something you like:

You can live alone gaily, graciously, ostentatiously, dully, stolidly.  Or you can just exist in sullen loneliness, feeling sorry for yourself and arousing no feeling whatever in anybody else.

Across twelve short chapters, Hillis guides her readers through all they need to know about living alone in style and, most entertainingly, illustrates each chapter with case studies of women who have either excelled or failed miserably.  She addresses how to create a beautiful home on a budget, how to stock a liquor cabinet, how to make friends (this chapter remains particularly valuable), how to spend your leisure time (another timeless section), how to make your home a place you want to spend time in, and, very frankly, how to handle the question of men.  Hillis does not assume all her readers will live as nuns and she provides practical, sisterly advice for their consideration:

Certainly, affairs should not even be thought of before you are thirty.  Once you have reached this age, if you will not hurt any third person and can take all that you will have to take – take it silently, with dignity, with a little humour, and without any weeping or wailing or gnashing of teeth – perhaps the experience will be worth it to you.

The sad truth is that whatever you decide, you’ll think you regret it.  You’ll hate the shabby end of romance, and you’ll detest missing it altogether.

If she is determinedly realistic in her musings on sex, she saves her romanticising for the vision of how women should conduct themselves while alone:

…a glass of sherry and an extra special dinner charmingly served on a night when you’re tired and all alone; bath salts in your tub and toilet-water afterward; a new and spicy book when you’re spending an evening in bed; a trim little cotton frock that flatters you on an odd morning when you decide to be violently domestic.  The notion that it ‘doesn’t matter because nobody sees you,’ with the dull meals and dispirited clothes that follow in its wake, has done more damage than all the floods of springtime.

Anyone who can sustain this has my congratulations.  I violated many, many, many of Hillis’ dictates when I lived alone and I am sure my morale would have been much higher if I’d followed them – but then my circumstances felt far removed from the case studies she references.  I was neither living in a charmingly decorated studio apartment nor, in my more generous surroundings, did I have a helpful maid or daily cleaner to come in, whisk away the mess, and serve me tea in bed.  Clearly there were oversights and I shall do better next time. 

Despite her belief in pampering yourself, Hillis is extremely practical on the question of money – she has endless suggestions for cheap entertainments in NYC, ideas for ways to meet people, and never, ever believes that money is the solution.  Money cannot buy you taste or happiness and it is far more fun, she assures us, to live well on what you have than to try to project a level of wealth your paycheque can’t support.  Wit, ingenuity and energy are the answer to living well, not a chequebook.  Hillis had so much good advice to share on this topic that her next book – Bubbly on Your Budget – was devoted to it and should not be missed.

While the case studies can tend to hilarious extremes, the core advice of Live Alone and Like It is grounded, practical and essentially timeless.  And written in Hillis’ breezy, forceful style it is irresistible.

Many thanks to Simon and Karen for organizing the 1936 Club this week and providing the perfect excuse for me to finally read this after so many years of planning to!

When I find myself in times of trouble, my remedy is slightly different than The Beatles’.  I inevitably reach for a book and, more often than not when things are too dark or stressful or scary, that book is the delightful Little G by E.M. Channon.  In the not-quite seven years I have owned a copy, I have read it at least five times and – no surprise – it was one of the first books I read during the lockdown of spring 2020.  It is no less comforting this spring, with the dual motivation of reading it for the 1936 Club and to provide comfort amidst the dire Covid third wave we are experiencing here.

John Furnival is a pre-maturely stuffy, antisocial Cambridge mathematician who is ordered by his doctor on a long country stay to recover his health, which, his doctor chides him, has suffered due to:

Too much to eat: too much port and too much tea: too much work for your head, and not enough for your body.

Because the world of 1930s academia is forgiving of the need to do work – especially by dons with private incomes – Furnival is soon installed in a cottage in the village of Challingley.  The village, from the doctor’s perspective, is ideal.  It’s hilly enough to force Furnival to discomfort on his walks, quiet but full of sociable neighbours, and the cottage offers a large garden to rest or putter in.  Furnival is less convinced, disgusted by his new neighbours’ obsessions with their gardens, tennis parties, and, most horrifyingly of all, the pretty young widow at the center of the village’s social life.  But he is firmly drawn into the social whirl and realises – slowly and to his horror – what an unattractive foil he serves against this healthy, vigorous set.  Surely he – once a champion rower and tennis player – isn’t the sweaty old man set next to the village’s quick vicar or dashing doctor?  And at only thirty-seven!

While adult society may terrify or bore him in equal measure, Furnival finds himself much more at home with the cottage’s cat – the only creature he was immediately delighted to encounter in his new surroundings – and his next-door neighbours, three children living with their terrifying Aunt Agatha.  Rather to his surprise, the children are pleasant companions and it isn’t long before the three are slipping from their yard to his, eager for his stories and spoiling.  Furnival, for the first time in years, is giving thought and attention to something other than his equations (though his versions of children’s stories are very physics-focused).  But there is yet another resident next door, the children’s aunt Grace, who is that most terrifying of things – a young woman.  Thankfully she is not so terrifying as most of her species, being rather small and quiet, but also very capable and quick-witted and rather pretty…

Over the course of his time in the village, Furnival is forced out of his almost monastic mindset and learns once again how to be human.  He relearns how to care for others and to take care of himself and questions his long-held and unquestioned visions of a solitary, scholarly future.

This sounds very sweet, which it is, but Channon is a clever, funny writer and it’s that spark of humour that makes this book so memorable.  She is more than happy to skewer Furnival, but always affectionately, and the neighbours who most concern him (the female ones) aren’t nearly as one dimensional as his initial imaginings of them.  That’s not to stay this is a novel of great characterization and depth – it decidedly is not – but it’s far better than the sentimental drivel it could have been in another writer’s hands and I love it desperately.  The only sad thing about it is how difficult it is now to find copies.  It was reissued by Greyladies Books in 2012 but it’s almost impossible to find second-hand copies.  I’m not surprised – I certainly wouldn’t give mine up!    

The 1936 Club, hosted by Simon and Karen, is taking place next week and I’m so looking forward to it. I love these reading weeks devoted to a specific year and 1936 offers particularly rich pickings. Here are some ideas if you want to participate but haven’t picked your book(s) yet:

From the archives:

Miss Elizabeth Bennet by A.A. Milne
August Folly by Angela Thirkell
Call It A Day by Dodie Smith
The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

I’m hoping to read (or, mostly, re-read) at least a few of the following:

Little G by E.M. Channon – a long-time favourite that I find myself rereading almost annually yet have never written about on the blog

Murder in Mesopotamia or Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie – 1936 was a bumper year for Christie with 3 books published but these are the two I was able to find copies of

Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis – the classic lifestyle guide for women

War with the Newts by Karel Čapek – a bit of classic sci-fi from a favourite Czech author

The New House by Lettice Cooper – a chance to read something off of my Persephone shelf!

Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson – Stevenson, like Heyer and Christie, is always a reliable choice for the club and while this isn’t among my favourites of her books it’s a good, comforting one to have to hand (and also comes off the Persephone shelf)

It Pays to Be Good by Noel Streatfeild – 1936 was the year Ballet Shoes, Streatfeild’s most famous book, came out but she also published this adult title (available from Greyladies)

What will you be reading for the 1936 Club?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

It feels properly like spring here: the cherry trees are in glorious full bloom, the daffodils are hanging on, and the early tulips are bursting into riotous colour everywhere you turn.  It’s beautiful and cheering and a helpful counterpoint to everything else – much like books.

Library Loot

The 1936 Club (hosted by Simon and Karen) is taking place next week so I’ve checked out a few books to give me even more options than what I’ve found on my own shelves: Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie, Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis, and War with the Newts by Karel Čapek.  My biggest problem with 1936 is that I’ve read most of the books that interest me- two of these three are rereads! 

The Olive Farm by Carol Drinkwater – the first of Drinkwater’s books about her olive farm in southern France.  I am always game for books about finding the good life in a warm, sunny place.

Thinking on My Feet by Kate Humble – Audrey recommended this back in January and, thanks to the inter-library loan system, I’ve now got my hands on it.  

The Gown of Glory by Agnes Sligh Turnbull – I flagged a review of this by Bree over at Another Look Book (which no longer seems to be accessible?) four years ago.  It sounds like a lovely, gentle story about a minister and his family in their small community.

Ravenna by Judith Herrin – a fascinating-sounding history of the city.  I visited Ravenna on a quiet, rainy day back in 2017 and have amazing memories of its extraordinary mosaics but only the haziest understanding (thanks mostly to the fantasy novels of Guy Gavriel Kay) of how the city became important enough to warrant such buildings and art.  I am looking forward to learning more. 

House of Glass by Hadley Freeman – Off the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography shortlist.

Eat the Buddha by Barbara Demick – Demick’s portrait of life in North Korea (in Nothing to Envy) was wonderful and here she turns her reporting skills to a small Tibetan community.

English Gardens: From the Archives of Country Life Magazine – the ultimate coffee table book in that it weighs as much as a table.  Not a fun walk home from the library with this in my bag but it looks gorgeous!

Rhapsody in Green by Charlotte Mendelson – this wonderful gardening memoir is being reissued as a paperback (out now in the UK and coming this summer in North America), which is wonderful news for those of us who love it and have been unable to track down copies.  I’ll doubtlessly buy my own copy but it’s always nice to reread at this time of year, to aid in the garden planning and dreaming.

What did you pick up this week?

credit: Kim Ronemus Interiors

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

I have been reading like a fiend lately thanks to a recent run of great books (also, obviously, lots of time.  Lots and lots and lots of time – I can only work and walk so many hours each day).  I’ve already read through half of these and look forward to starting soon on the others:

Library Loot

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting – I spotted a review of this last spring and have been patiently looking forward to this historical novel set in 1880 in a small Norwegian village.  I read it as soon as I picked it up on the weekend and it was absolutely worth the wait – I loved it and am delighted to know it’s the first book in a trilogy.

Cuttings by Christopher Lloyd – a collection of Lloyd’s gardening columns for the Guardian.  I enjoyed Dear Friend and Gardener, a volume of letters (always intended for publication) between him and Beth Chatto, and am looking forward to reading more by him.

Walking Away by Simon Armitage – I thoroughly enjoyed Walking Home, poet laureate Armitage’s account of walking the Pennine Way, and am looking forward to his subsequent experiences walking the South West Coast Path.  

War: How Conflict Shaped Us by Margaret MacMillan – the newest book from the acclaimed historian.  

Prisoners of History by Keith Lowe – speaking of new books from acclaimed historians…Subtitled “What Monuments to the Second World War Tell Us About Our History and Ourselves” this is incredibly timely given the debates going on.

Beyond Belfast by Will Ferguson – I have had this travel memoir about walking the Ulster Way and uncovering family history on my to-read-list for ages.

Dancing in the Mosque by Homeira Qaderi – An Afghan activist’s memoir of her life growing up in Afghanistan, written as a way to explain to her son why she left her country – and him – behind.  

Harlequin House by Margery Sharp – seeing so much talk of Sharp recently (following the Dean Street Press recent reissues) had me searching the inter-library loan catalogue for titles I haven’t yet read.

A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson – a surprisingly gentle tale about three very different characters – a dying old woman, a newly divorced young(ish) man, and an anxious seven-year old girl – and how their lives intersect. 

Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls – A spirited YA novel about three young women struggling for suffrage, this has been on my to-read list since Sarra Manning praised it back in 2017.  It took a few years to track down but inter-library loan came to the rescue!

And two cute rom-coms to round it all off: Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron and Love at First by Kate Clayborn

What did you pick up this week?

via @michaeldevine on Instagram

Just the right library for spring!