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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.

My library e-holds are coming in shockingly fast these days.  I feel like I check my hold position, discovered I’m tenth in line and the anticipated wait is 17 weeks, and the next morning I get a notification that the book is available.  It’s been delightful in many cases but a bit of a challenge to manage.  I am adoring the new feature that allows me to postpone a book when it becomes available without losing my position in the queue.  It’s a genius innovation by Overdrive and is making my borrowing life far less stressful.

Here’s what’s arrived this week:

Missed Translations by Sopan Deb (Book Depository)

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott (Book Depository)

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler (Book Depository)

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener (Book Depository)

The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward (Book Depository)

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore (Book Depository)

What are you reading this week?

credit: Alison Kist Interiors

I am slowly starting to regain my reading rhythm (watch now, I may have just cursed myself) but the good news is that even when we’re struggling to read we have alternatives.  There are so many great podcasts out there now to help keep us entertained and remind us of how many equally devoted fellow readers are in the world.  The only problem is that there are so many podcasts and so many episodes – where do you start?

For fun, I’ve put together a list of my favourite episodes from my five favourite literary podcasts:

Backlisted: Georgette Heyer – Venetia
I have a fraught relationship with Backlisted (too much laughing over their own cleverness and too little focus on the actual books) but some of the earlier episodes are excellent.  The episode where they discover the joys of Georgette Heyer is, to me, clearly the best of the bunch.  There is nothing like the enthusiasm of someone who has just discovered a new and wonderful author.

Honourable Mention: R.F. Delderfield – To Serve Them All My Days – I grew up loving Delderfield but no one outside my family had any idea who he was.  Hearing Jenny Colgan enthuse over him made up for all the lonely years of reading.

You’re Booked: Sarra Manning
A podcast where the host goes around to snoop in other people’s bookshelves?  Brilliant.  Here Daisy stops by Sarra Manning’s flat and explores her wonderfully eclectic tastes.

Honourable Mention: Sophie Kinsella – I’ve not read much by Kinsella but she sounds delightful and I would happily steal most of her books.

Sentimental Garbage: A Countess Below Stairs
There is not enough love in the world for Eva Ibbotson so whenever someone wants to pay attention to her I am delighted, particularly when it comes in the form of rambling, sighing, besotted enthusiasm.

Honourable Mentions – a tie: Circle of Friends (Irish people getting emotional about the ultimate Irish comfort read) and Less (which I finally read and now understand all the love for).

The Slightly Foxed Podcast: Well-Cultivated Words
The Slightly Foxed podcast has been perfection since the very first episode.  The conversation is as intelligent, informed, and varied as their wonderful quarterly and they always find excellent guests.  My favourite episode so far was devoted to garden writing and it taught me an important lesson: don’t try to write down every book they mention that you want to read.  You won’t be able to keep up!  Thankfully they are all mentioned in the show notes.

Honourable Mention: Leaving That Place Called Home – an episode devoted entirely to travel writing?  Yes please.

Tea or Books: Titles: Fancy or Simple? and Hercule Poirot vs Miss Marple
I love Simon and Rachel and listening to their rambling conversations is almost as good as being part of one in real life.  This early episode where they struggle to pick a favourite between Poirot and Miss Marple is a favourite.

Honourable Mention: Internet vs Bookshop and Mr Pim Passes By vs Four Day’s Wonder – spreading the word about the excellence of A.A. Milne!

Do you have any favourite podcasts, bookish or otherwise?

photo credit: Michael Sinclair

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’ve been spending as much time as possible outside lately.  Whenever I’ve not been working, I’ve been walking in the woods by my house, strolling under the cherry trees in my neighbourhood, or working in the garden.  It’s been wonderful but hasn’t left much time for reading.

Unsurprisingly, when I do sit down to read I’m feeling drawn to books about nature to match the rest of my leisure activities.  There are three garden-focused books I’m keen to track down (Rootbound, The Five Minute Garden, and Where the Hornbeam Grows) and, with no library reopening in sight, have acted uncharacteristically and ordered a couple of them.  Needs must!

In my massive pre-lockdown library sweep, I did manage to pick up a couple of things that suit my current mood.  Here they are:

Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler (Book Depository)

The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane (Book Depository)

My Natural History by Liz Primeau (Book Depository)

What are you reading this week?

For me, the 1920 Club this week has been a chance to discover some of the few works of A.A. Milne that I hadn’t already read.  I started the week with The Stepmother, a slight one-act play, flipped through the articles featured in If I May, and have now finished the week with the best of the bunch: The Romantic Age, a three-act comedy.

In her late teens, Melisande Knowle longs for the romance of knights and ballads, for a world of courtly love and grand gestures.  Instead, she is plagued by all the trappings of middle-class comfort and a family – two parents and her visiting cousin Jane – who can’t see why tennis games, dance parties, and perfectly nice young men from the stock exchange to partner with at both are to be sneered at rather than enjoyed.  This is made particularly clear to Bobby, a young man lamentably employed on the stock exchange, who is visiting for the weekend and deeply infatuated with Melisande, when he attempts to propose:

MELISANDE: Oh, Bobby, everything’s wrong.  The man to whom I give myself must be not only my lover, but my true knight, my hero, my prince.  He must perform deeds of derring-do to win my love.  Oh, how can you perform deeds of derring-do in a stupid little suit like that!

Poor Bobby.

The Knowles casually lament their daughter’s romantic flights without taking them too seriously.  For Mrs Knowles, an invalid not overburdened with brains, part of the problem comes back to her daughter’s name.  She thought her husband had suggested Millicent, a perfectly nice sort of name, the kind that belongs to a nice, helpful sort of daughter.  To discover her baby was saddled with the outlandish Melisande was quite a shock – one which, years later, Mrs Knowle still hasn’t entirely recovered from.  To protect her daughter from the absurdity of her name, the family calls her Sandy.  As you’d expect, the young lady herself finds this disgusting but her mother has very strong reasons for doing so:

MRS KNOWLE: Well, it never seems to be quite respectable, not for a nicely-brought-up young girl in a Christian house.  It makes me think of the sort of person who meets a strange young man to whom she has never been introduced, and talks to him in a forest with her hair coming down.  They find her afterwards floating in a pool.  Not at all the thing one wants for ones daughter.

JANE: Oh, but how thrilling it sounds!

MRS KNOWLE: Well, I think you are safer with “Jane,” dear.  Your mother knew what she was about.  And if I can save my only child from floating in a pool by calling her Sandy, I certainly think it is my duty to do so.

Contemptuous of the romances she’s heard tell of in real life, Melisande dreams of something more dramatic for herself.

And she gets it.  Into her life comes Gervase Mallory.  Romantically named, romantically handsome, and, at the time, romantically dressed in blue and gold on his way to a costume ball.  It is a shock of attraction for them both and when they meet again they find they both can weave a beautiful fantasy of their love.

But in the third act – the best of all – it all unravels.  Melisande, confronted with the idea of Gervase the man rather than the fantasy, of a man who when not dressed in blue and gold instead wears a loud golfing suit, who when not frolicking in glades with her is so unromantic as to work on the stock exchange, promptly convinces herself that he is not worth loving.

Gervase, however, while happy to spin a romantic tale, is rather more practical than the object of his affections.  After his first glimpse of Melisande he’d encountered a peddler in the woods, Master Susan, and had a conveniently timed conversation about the benefits of a friendly marriage:

SUSAN: When you are married, every adventure becomes two adventures.  You have your adventure, and then you go back to your wife and have your adventure again.  Perhaps it is a better adventure the second time.  You can say the things which you didn’t quite say the first time, and do the things which you didn’t quite do.

Susan is also helpful in reminding Gervase that looks are not the only thing that matter in the long term:

GERVASE: Do you believe in love at first sight, Master Susan?

SUSAN: Why not?  If it’s the woman you love at first sight, not only her face.

Thanks to this encounter (and just being altogether more sensible than his beloved), Gervase arrives for the reunion with his feet on the ground and his heart already given away.  Melisande, not even remotely prepared to believe the real world could have any acceptable romance to offer her, is horrified and the entire scene is delightful.  There are so many Milne plays I wish I could see performed and this has moved high up on that list.

Lighthearted and fun throughout, the play also doesn’t neglect its minor characters.  Bobby, realising he’s had a lucky escape from Melisande, quickly transfers his attentions to her pretty cousin Jane, which is all very satisfying.  Mrs Knowle flutters about – a kind but featherbrained sort-of-person – while Mr Knowle shows up every so often to be surprisingly funny.  They are a kinder, fonder version of the Bennets:

MR KNOWLE: […] We have a visitor coming, a nice young fellow who takes an interest in prints.

MRS KNOWLE: I’ve heard nothing of this, Henry.

MR KNOWLE: No, my dear, that’s why I’m telling you now.

MRS KNOWLE: A young man?

MR KNOWLE: Yes.

MRS KNOWLE: Nice-looking?

MR KNOWLE: Yes.

MRS KNOWLE: Rich?

MR KNOWLE: I forgot to ask him, Mary.  However, we can remedy that omission as soon as he arrives.

MRS KNOWLE: It’s a very unfortunate day for him to have chosen.  Here’s Sandy lost, and I’m not fit to be seen, and – Jane, your hair wants tidying –

MR KNOWLE: He is not coming to see your or Sandy or Jane, my dear; he is coming to see me.  Fortunately, I am looking very beautiful this afternoon.

All ends well, of course, proving that romance can survive in the modern age – just not quite as Melisande had envisioned it. (Thank goodness.)

Not to content to simply debut multiple new plays in 1920 (not to mention welcome a son who would eventually gain immortally as Christopher Robin), A.A. Milne also put forth If I May, a collection of typically light pieces he’d written for various publications.  Milne published multiple volumes like this over his career and while, for my part, I think the collections of his writing for Punch (The Day’s Play, The Holiday Round, Once a Week, and The Sunny Side) are the best, this book still holds some charm.

Milne bounces from subject to subject with whimsy that was typical of both his style and the era.  He contemplates the glory of his grand garden (several small beds and containers), the romances that can be divined from the game of chess with its courtly players and countless intrigues, and struggles with awkward social engagements.  For the most part, they are light pieces and some of them go so far as to be charming – not enough of them, though, to make this a really good book.  It’s still an entertaining one to pass time with but, with one exception, I don’t think any of the pieces are memorable.

As with anything by Milne, there were eminently quotable passages.  Here are a few of my favourites:

Given our current housebound state and the consciousness of the household projects needing attention, who cannot relate to this:

In the castle of which I am honorary baron we are in the middle of an orgy of “getting things done.”[…]

I have a method in these matters.  When I observe that something wants doing, I say casually to the baroness, “We ought to do something about that fireplace,” or whatever it is.  I say it with the air of a man who knows exactly what to do, and would do it himself if he were not so infernally busy.  The correct answer to this is, “Yes, I’ll go and see about it today.”  Sometimes the baroness tries to put it on to me by saying, “We ought to do something about the cistern,” but she has not quite got the casual tone necessary, and I have no difficulty in replying (with the air of a man who, etc.), “Yes, we ought.”

Right now we are luckily spared the need to go to awkward dinner parties but I certainly haven’t forgotten this feeling:

I am as fond of going out to dinner as anyone else is, but there is a moment, just before I begin to array myself for it, when I wish that it were on some other evening.  If the telephone bell rings, I say, “Thank Heavens, Mrs Parkinson-Jones has died suddenly.  I mean, how sad,” and, looking as solemn as I can, I pick up the receiver.

And if I hadn’t already loved Milne, I would have become a convert at this clear-sighted description (even a hundred years latter) of a certain – and very common – type of interaction between the sexes:

…it is only the very young girl at her first dinner-party whom it is difficult to entertain.  At her second dinner-party, and thereafter, she knows the whole art of being amusing.  All she has to do is to listen; all we men have to do is to tell her about ourselves.  Indeed, sometimes I think that it is just as well to begin at once.  Let us be quite frank about it, and get to work as soon as we are introduced.

“How do you do.  Lovely day it has been, hasn’t it?  It was on just such a day as this, thirty-five years ago, that I was born in the secluded village of Puddlecome of humble but honest parents.  Nestling among the western hills…”

And so on.  Ending, at the dessert, with the thousand we earned that morning.

It is light, frothy entertainment and all very well-suited to our current situation – it gives you a smile and demands absolutely nothing of your brain in the process.  Turns out that the post-war need for levity is exactly right for 2020.

But there was one piece that I think I will remember, amidst the froth.  It is the final essay, in which Milne, now in his late-thirties, is examining a desk he’d purchased when he first moved to London as an aspiring young writer.  Unlocking it, he finds in the cubby holes old notes and letters in response to his early submissions for publication and reflects on how far he has come since then:

There were letters from editors; editors whom I know well now, but who in those distant days addressed me as “Sir,” and were mine faithfully.  They regretted that they could not use the present contribution, but hoped that I would continue to write.  I continued to write.  Trusting that I would persevere, they were mine very truly.   I persevered.  Now they are mine ever.  From what a long way off those letters have come.  “Dear Sir,” the Great Man wrote to me, and overawed I locked the precious letter up.  Yesterday I smacked him on the back.