Thursday, October 29, 2009

Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys

45. Henrietta's War
News from the Home Front
by Joyce Dennys
fiction, written in the 1940s;
compiled in book form, 1985
finished, 10/7/09

There's a kind of women's humor that seems to me to be particularly British. I first discovered it when I read Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield. Then I saw it again in two more modern authors: Helen Fielding in Bridget Jones's Diary; and in Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series. I can't believe I lived so many of my years not even knowing it existed. It makes you wonder about fate and life and how much is out there we might like that we have never even come across.

Now I add Joyce Dennys to that list. I just loved her 'voice' - that wry, quiet humor. This epistolary novel is a collection of letters written by Henrietta to Robert her 'Childhood's Friend.' She shares tales of home life during the Second World War, in mostly light and cheery tones. She says,

if I write of everyday things, it is only because I know that they are what you would rather hear about.

I'm sure many women on the home front wrote just such letters to friends, boyfriends, and husbands during this, and every, war. Surrounded by horror, who would not want to read a story like this:

Our biggest excitement this week, however, was provided by the Simpkinses. On Wednesday night Colonel Simpkins woke up and heard a commotion going on in his chicken-run. Convinced it was nothing less than a descending parachutist, he rushed out in his pyjamas and found an enormous badger which had got into the hen-house through the nesting-box and was busy trying to dig its way out through the wooden floor.

There have been a lot of hen casualties here lately, and Colonel Simpkins says he was almost as excited as he would have been if he had found Hitler in the hen-house.

On a tour of a neighboring garden:

Charles and I wandered round in a depressed way, wondering how we could ever have dared to call the jungle which surrounds our house a garden.

And another letter begins,

My Dear Robert,
I have got a croaking sort of cold and am having a day in bed.
This, as you know, is a tremendous treat.

Though she writes of domestic life, that life has changed much because of the war, and Henrietta doesn't falter when it comes to mentioning rationing, evacuees, sirens, and blackouts. Yet, even these circumstances are described with some humor, and that wonderful British coping attitude. She tells Robert about her doctor husband Charles:

But Charles is one of those people who like what is called good, simple English fare, which means two nice lamb cutlets, followed by kidneys on toast, and in case the news has not reached you on your far-flung battle-line, Robert, I may as well tell you that kidneys, though not actually rationed, are more precious than rubies these days. Though he is far too noble to grumble, he does look a little wistfully at the unlikely-looking dishes which are put before him.
'What's this, Henrietta?'
'Well, dear, it's a tiny teeny little bit of mutton mixed up with some spaghetti and tomatoes.'
'I see.'

I was lucky to be one of several winners of Henrietta's War in Elaine's drawing. These are her words:

Bloomsbury are considering reprinting the second book, Henrietta Sees it Through and this would be simply marvellous, but they are a publisher not a philanthropic society and much though they might wish to do this, it all depends on the reception/sales of Henrietta's War. Therefore, I now declare I am A Woman on a Mission to make sure that this gorgeous book reaches a wider audience and that sales increase. Anything this blogger can do she will....

She warned us that if our names were drawn:

There are conditions attached to this, however and they are as follows:

if you win you must read immediately and fall in love with on the spot [I did!]
if you have a blog you must write review and rave straight away [a little late, but here it is]
if you do not have a blog please email all your friends, family, neighbours et al and tell them how wonderful it is
if you are in the habit of reviewing for Amazon then please do so [I'm not in this habit]
If you are not, then start immediately with Henrietta's War [have to say no to this one]
Write to the Bloomsbury Group and tell them how wonderful this book is and please reprint the second
[I fully intend to]
And if you don't want to do any of the above, then there is no hope for you at all..
Yes I know, I am going over the top but this is just a super duper book, witty, beguiling, funny and full of razor sharp wit and pathos and I want everyone to love it as much as me so you will just have to put up with my bullying.

And here is Elaine's review. Because she included some of the delightful illustrations, I'll let you go over there and see them, rather than post them here.

I love this book. It has quickly joined the list of my all-time favorite books. I shall read it again and again as time goes by. Oh, it is wonderful.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TV or not TV

Here's the thing. I have a huge, heavy television that is a few years old. The screen is about 21 inches wide and 17 inches high. It sticks out in the back about 21 inches. I am trying to decide whether to hold onto a perfectly fine TV, or get a new one.

I would like a compact (but same size screen) television. But I know nothing about all the 'new' words surrounding televisions. When our satellite dish was installed, the fellow said it is all set for HD, should we decide to get it, whatever it is.

So, I am turning to my dear blogging friends for advice. You may leave a comment here or click on 'view my complete profile' on the sidebar for my email address.

What should I get?
What is HD and do all TVs have it now, or is it a choice? If it is a choice, should I get it?
What is plasma? Should I get this?
What about an LED (are these the right initials?) screen?
Are all TVs now HD, plasma, and LED or are these all separate options?

I have heard of television screens where you have to sit in a certain place in the room or the view is distorted. What do you know about that? Is it true?

Are larger screen televisions blurry?

I'd like to get a screen about the same size as we have now. Will that work with all the new TVs or do I have to get a bigger screen for a better view?

And do I have to hang it on the wall or do they come with platforms, sort of like my computer monitor?

Needless to say, cost is a consideration. And my only local shopping option is Walmart.

I will greatly appreciate any advice you have to offer as I think about entering this new television age.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Today's picture/forthcoming

Forthcoming book reports

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith

44. The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday - fifth in the Isabel Dalhousie series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction, 2008
finished, 9/27/09

When I read an Isabel Dalhousie book, I am in Edinburgh. I walk the streets with her, I go into shops, I spend time in her wonderful house, and mostly I think. And mostly, that is what Isabel does. A blogging friend told me she felt the pacing was slow, and I wrote her back and said:

'It is SLOW. If you don't like slow, you probably won't care for the series. She walks around, she thinks, she works, she thinks, she gets involved with people, she thinks.' For me this is just perfect. I've never come across a character I could identify with as I do Isabel. I think all the time. I wonder, I ponder. My brain hardly ever stops. I try to get things right. Isabel works really hard to do the right thing, to say the right thing. Here is an example of Isabel thinking about two words many of us leave or receive on a voicemail or text or email most every day:

To say on the telephone, Love you, as she heard people doing, was dangerous, or so Isabel thought, because it made the extraordinary ordinary, and possibly meaningless. ... It was significant that it had already been shortened, and the I had been dropped. What did that mean? That people were too busy to say I love you, or too embarrassed by the subjectivity of the full expression?

Although I've sometimes read these books described as a 'detective' series, I don't see them that way. In each book, there is at least one problem Isabel must deal with. In this book she is asked for help by a woman whose husband has been accused of something which has made him so ashamed that he never leaves the house. An ongoing subject is the philosophical review publication she edits, the Review of Applied Ethics. This involves more thinking about important ideas, as well as deciding which articles are worthy of publication.

The books should be read in order since life changes for Isabel, which is why I am purposely not talking too much about it. If I were just beginning the series, I wouldn't want to know what was going on in book five. All I will say is that I find these books magical, fascinating, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally meaningful. There is serious thought, and there is quiet humor. The characters are mainly kindly souls going about their lives in this wonderful city of Edinburgh.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In which we meet Hercule Poirot

For this month's Agatha Christie blog carnival, I thought I'd quote passages from The Mysterious Affair at Styles (published in 1920), in which Hercule Poirot makes his first appearance in the world of literature.

The book also introduces Arthur Hastings who will go on to work with Mr. Poirot. The very first mention of Poirot comes when Hastings is saying he would like to be a detective someday.

I came across a man in Belgium once, a very famous detective, and he quite inflamed me. He was a marvellous little fellow. He used to say that all good detective work was a mere matter of method. My system is based on his - though of course I have progressed rather further. He was a funny little man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever.

Soon after, Hastings runs into Poirot in the door of the post office. After pleasantries have been exchanged, Poirot says:

It is by the charity of that good Mrs. Inglethorp that I am here. ... Yes, my friend, she had kindly extended hospitality to seven of my country-people who, alas, are refugees from their native land. We Belgians will always remember her with gratitude.

Then Agatha Christie goes on to describe the great detective.

Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. [the third time he has been described as 'little' and the book has just begun] He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible, I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandyfied little man [again!] who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police. As a detective, his flair had been extraordinary, and he had achieved triumphs by unravelling some of the most baffling cases of the day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Short Story Monday/Victorian Values by H.R.F. Keating

This week's short story is an amusing and witty tale from H.R.F. Keating. The book is called In Kensington Gardens once..., and Victorian Values [written especially for the 1997 collection] is the first story in the book. It is told by the statue of Queen Victoria which is in the Gardens. She has looked upon humanity all these years since the statue was unveiled. She makes frequent comments on life and fashion in the late twentieth-century. The characters (the human ones) are a woman sitting on the bench in front of the statue, and a male pickpocket she watches a short distance away. Victoria sees a 'smile flit across her face' as the young woman watches the fruitless attempts of the young man. He is an utter failure at his work. Later in the story he sits down next to her, and Victoria knows he is going to try and steal from her. This is a purely delightful little fantasy. I found myself smiling throughout as Queen Victoria tells stories from her past, makes observations on the present, and frequently uses the 'royal we' as she refers to herself. She isn't pleased to hear someone say that a bird had made a 'streak right down her face.'

Without access to a looking-glass I had been unconscious of any such blemish, though for some considerable time past I had been just aware of a certain irregularity running down my right cheek.

The statue

The author

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set. You may go here to see other story choices this week.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Article on Melody Gardot

You may remember a couple of 'Today's cd' entries on a wonderful, wonderful singer named Melody Gardot; here and here. Well, yesterday's New York Times had just the best piece on her that I wanted to share with you.

October 15, 2009
From Death’s Door to Earning the Keys to the World


The singer-songwriter Melody Gardot comes to the Highline Ballroom Thursday. Her second album is “My One and Only Thrill.”

“Sometimes you have to be broken down to your core to get back to your essence,” the pop-jazz singer-songwriter Melody Gardot reflected. “You have accumulated a crust from the world, and it needs to be destroyed.”

For Ms. Gardot, 24, who is appearing Thursday in a sold-out show at the Highline Ballroom with three musicians, the breaking point was a near-fatal accident in 2003, when she was struck by a Jeep Cherokee making an illegal left turn while she was riding her bike in Philadelphia. She suffered multiple pelvic fractures and head injuries that left her bedridden for nearly a year. Unable to walk or to formulate words, she slowly regained her powers of language after a doctor suggested music therapy as a way to reconnect her neural pathways. While lying on her back in a body cast, she learned the guitar, and began writing songs inspired by her experience.

At the time of the accident Ms. Gardot was studying fashion and art at the Community College of Philadelphia and thought of herself as a painter first and a musician second. A classically trained pianist, she had never written songs and only dabbled in live performance, playing and singing the hits of the day in local piano bars.

Sipping tea in a Midtown Manhattan hotel last month, flanked by a cane she jokingly nicknamed Harvey Wallbanger, with a Buddha and a bell on the table beside her, Ms. Gardot mused about her phoenixlike resurgence in a soft voice tinged with wonderment. Blond and petite, wearing an elegant plum-colored dress and tinted glasses, Ms. Gardot had just arrived from Europe, where she is a big star. Her second album, “My One and Only Thrill” (Verve) has sold more than half a million copies overseas (more than 10 times its sales in the United States) and has gone Top 10 in France, Scandinavia and Japan. She has played the Olympia Theater in Paris three times and is booked to return there in the spring.

She has performed in clubs around the United States but has had a harder time finding airplay on mainstream radio, which is heavily formatted and has little room for jazz.

Nowadays Ms. Gardot lives out of a suitcase. Since giving up a Philadelphia apartment she couldn’t afford, she has had no fixed abode. She still calls Philadelphia home but says she feels just as comfortable in Paris, where she said she may have lived in a previous life.

The accident has had lasting effects, including chronic lower-back pain, an extreme sensitivity to climate and light, and episodes of vertigo. In the winter, she said, her body nearly shuts down; she loses sensation in her extremities and can only tour in warmer climes. A macrobiotic cook, Ms. Gardot refuses to take pain medication, although she allows herself a little good wine now and then.

Asked if she went through a period of despair after the accident, she said: “I’ve had my share of wondering why. But if you do that for too long, you get stuck in the cold hard reality that there isn’t an answer.”

What saved her, she said, was her determination to get better and the dedication of a doctor who was willing to explore therapies “not set in stone by the medical industry.”

Evasive about her background, Ms. Gardot describes her education as “the school of hard knocks.” Born in New Jersey of Polish and Austrian descent and the only child of parents who were both artists, she was raised Roman Catholic but is now a Soka Gokkai Buddhist.

A thread of mysticism runs through Ms. Gardot’s reflections on life and art. As a result of the accident she feels she is much older than her years and sometimes wonders how long she will live. “When you’re 19 and 20, you’re running around at a million miles an hour, and the world can’t even catch up,” she said. “But when you have to stop and walk the way you would when you’re much older, it’s like riding in a car through a city. You can see better and see more.”

Her two albums for Verve were preceded by a five-song EP she produced herself — “Some Lessons: The Bedroom Sessions” — consisting of material she wrote during her recovery. It was played on local radio stations and earned her a following. An early mentor was the singer-songwriter Phil Roy, a fellow Philadelphian, to whom she sent an admiring e-mail message after hearing his 2003 album “Issues + Options.” He invited her to open for him at local clubs, and they became close friends.

The EP precipitated a record-company bidding war, won by the British arm of Universal, which distributes Verve. Mr. Roy, who introduced her to Glenn Barrett, the producer of her debut album in 2008 for Verve, “Worrisome Heart,” marvels at her “Zen-like poise” during the initial whirlwind of attention.

He pointed to her song “If the Stars Were Mine,” a dreamy ballad whose lyrics imagine creating a painting in which the world is gold and green and the oceans orange, and then disappearing into the canvas with a loved one, as “ageless and timeless.” “It could be about a lover,” he said. “It could be about a child.”

Many of the songs on the delicate, wistful “Worrisome Heart” relate directly to her accident. The album earned her comparisons to everyone from Norah Jones to Madeleine Peyroux, although Ms. Gardot is jazzier than either, and the structure and feel of her music is closer to the pre-rock American songbook.

“Worrisome Heart” was followed this past April by “My One and Only Thrill,” a moody collection of mostly original songs with stronger jazz and blues shadings, produced by Larry Klein and arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza.

Heavily orchestrated ballads like “Our Love Is Easy,” a torch song with a funereal film noir feel, and “My One and Only Thrill,” which she calls her most ambitious song, visit the same heavy territory as Billie Holiday’s late-1950s album “Lady in Satin” and Frank Sinatra’s brooding albums with Gordon Jenkins. They share the same weight as two late Joni Mitchell albums, “Both Sides Now” and “Travelogue,” produced by Mr. Klein with Ms. Mitchell and arranged by Mr. Mendoza.

Mr. Klein has specialized in producing female singer-songwriters, having worked with Ms. Mitchell (to whom he was once married), Shawn Colvin, Julia Fordham, Ms. Peyroux and his current wife, the Brazilian singer Luciana Souza.

Reflecting on Ms. Gardot’s singularity, he speculated that it had to do with “the insular nature of illness that turns people inward enough to find their own voices as artists.”

“I find that most of the people I work with had illnesses as children or were extraordinarily shy,” he said. “I didn’t know Melody before her accident, but she is a combination of two very different people. Part of her is outgoing, funny and smart, but there’s another part that’s incredibly private. Most artists I know have gone through some period that forces them to get to the very core of who they are. Joni’s version of the accident was polio.”

Ms. Gardot feels she has emerged from near death with an intense awareness of the fragility of life and a greatly heightened sense of what really matters. “I’m truly confident that I’m a better person,” she said, then added, “Not that I was ever a really bad person.”

“In the grand scheme of things,” she continued, “if I’m never able to make another album, I think I’ve done the best I could.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse

(15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975)

A few words from Mr Wodehouse on his birthday.

He registered surprise - mild surprise, of course. He never goes so far as the other sort. One eyebrow flickered a little and the tip of his nose moved slightly.
Jeeves in the Morning

For as a dancer, I out-Fred the nimblest Astaire. Jeeves in the Morning

I like my soul the way it is. It may not be the sort of soul that gets crowds cheering in the streets, but it suits me. The Cat-Nappers

I let it go; principally because she had gone on speaking, and it is practically impossible to cut in on a woman who has gone on speaking. They get the stuff out so damn quick that the slower male hasn't a hope. The Cat-Nappers

It was one of those heavy, sultry afternoons when nature seems to be saying to itself, 'now, shall I or shall I not, scare the pants off these people with a heluva thunderstorm.' Jeeves and the Tie that Binds

The great lesson we learn from life is to know when and when not to be in the center of things. Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

However dark the prospect may be, Jeeves, however murkily the storm clouds may seem to gather, a keen eye can usually discern the bluebird. Right Ho, Jeeves

And Catsmeat [Claude Cattermole Potter-Pirbright] is a fellow who'd always thought you were kidding him when you assured him that there were words in the language that had more than one syllable. Thank You, Jeeves

Physical exercise is a recognized palliative when the heart is aching. Thank You, Jeeves

And I returned to my book. It was the only thing I could think of that would keep me from sitting torturing myself with agonizing broodings. The Code of the Woosters

It was one of those perfect days which come 3-5 times in an English summer. Cocktail Time

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Product placement/Sea Jerky

Look at our Sadie run! Ears blowing in the wind as she flies through the wildflowers.

Well, when she was a little one she couldn't do this. At first we thought she just had 'funky' legs - that she just ran funny, but as she grew to maturity, we realized that she had real problems. It was hard for her to get up when she had been sleeping. She couldn't really run. The vet thought there was probably some arthritis, but gosh, she was awfully young for that to set in. Then we found this stuff at the health food store. The owner told us that people swore by it. So we gave it a try, and it worked like a miracle cure. At five years old now, she is so much better than she was at one or two. It is pricey, but so very worth the cost to us. We are quite sure she would have had to be put down by now if she had continued on the way she was. You may read more about the product here. There are different flavors. The smell is quite alluring to the dogs, and they love the taste. Since Ben doesn't need it, Tom does what he calls 'the sleight of hand' each evening. He gets out the sea jerky and also a couple dog bones. He rubs the dog biscuits with the sea jerky strip, and Ben gets them while Sadie gets her medicine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Quinoa with corn and onion

On this evening when Tom is away at a conference, I'm cooking a quinoa dish. He doesn't like quinoa, and I love it so I tend to make this when I'm alone for supper. The recipe comes from a cookbook called Café Max & Rosie's. Tonight I also added some frozen summer squash and a little chopped sweet pepper to the onions and it was really delicious. I forgot the basil, but it didn't seem to matter. This makes enough for supper tonight and a couple lunches.

Quinoa with Corn and Onion

1 cup rinsed (for 5 minutes) quinoa - more about quinoa here.
2 cups water
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 chopped onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil

Combine quinoa, water, and corn in a pot on the stove.
Cover and bring to a boil; then lower heat and simmer 20 minutes.
Meanwhile sauté onion (and any other vegetables you wish) in olive oil.
Lower temp and add garlic.
When this has cooked a bit, stir in the quinoa and corn and cook just enough to blend the flavors.

And here is Sooty before Tom left.

Mrs Bale reports: a little bit autumn; a little bit winter

Mrs Bale wanted to let you know about the first snowfall!

And inside

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Urge for Going sung by Tom Rush

'See the geese in chevron flight
flapping and racing on before the snow'

Urge for Going written by Joni Mitchell, sung by Tom Rush.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Library Loot/October 9

Hosted by Eva and Marg.

Although I'm already reading two books, when I saw this today on the new shelf at the library, I had to bring it home. The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall is, I hope, the first in a new detective series. Vish Puri is a private investigator in Delhi, and the book begins with him 'devouring a dozen green chili pakoras [the book has a great glossary] from a greasy takeout box.' He has been advised by his doctor to stay away from such foods, as he is now fifty-one years old and his blood pressure is up. 'Puri considered the doctor's stern warning as he sank his teeth into another hot, crispy pakora and his taste buds thrilled to the tang of salty batter, fiery chili and the tangy red chutney in which he had drowned the illicit snack.'

The food is irresistible to him and this book is irresistible to me!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sour Cream Apple Pie

Sour Cream Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 375º F.

In a large bowl, or the mixer:

Beat two eggs.
Continue beating and add:
1 cup sour cream
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Stir in:
3 cups peeled and chopped apples

Pour into unbaked pie shell (9 inches). I used the graham cracker crust from Wholly Wholesome because this is what I had on the shelf.
Bake for 15 minutes.


Melt 3 Tablespoons butter, and combine with:
1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup sugar (recipe called for brown; I use Sugar in the Raw for both white and brown)
Dot this mixture over the pie and return to the oven for 20-25 minutes until filling is set.
Cool completely on a wire rack.

I cut this out of a magazine years ago, and it is a quick, easy, and delicious little pie. I used MacIntosh apples.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays/Henrietta's War

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!).
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

To set the stage: in England during the Second World War, an older woman must sell her house. She cannot afford the upkeep; her gardener is retiring and she can't get another one; and she can't do the work herself.

'The secret of happiness is to adopt this attitude towards possessions,' she said - and she made a pushing-away gesture with her hands - 'rather than this,' and she pulled an imaginary treasure to her bosom. 'Once you can drop the grabbing habit everything is plain sailing. ...'

p. 130, Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys
We read this everywhere nowadays, but these words were written in the 1940s!

Rosie's Award-Winning Brownies

So often when I make brownies, they are for someone else, and most of those someone-elses do not like nuts in their brownies. Last evening I decided to make some for just Tom and I, with nuts, because we decidedly love them this way. I turned to an old favorite cookbook by Judy Rosenberg.

If you live in the Boston area, you may visit one of the bakeries, and if you don't the products may be bought online.

Rosie's Award-Winning Brownies

Preheat oven to 350º.
Grease an 8x8 pan with cooking spray.

Over low heat, melt 1 1/2 sticks of butter with 3 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate. Note: I didn't have any unsweetened so used semi-sweet, and of course the brownies tasted great - also I used the whole 4 ounce package.

In the mixer, beat together the butter/chocolate mixture with 1 1/2 cups sugar.
Add 3/4 teaspoon vanilla.
Add 3 eggs and beat well.
At a lower speed, add 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour.
Add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.

Spread batter into the pan, and top with 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a thin crust forms on top and a tester inserted in the center comes out with a moist crumb.
Let cool an hour before cutting.
Serve the next day (it takes a day for the flavor to set) and don't forget the tall glass of milk.

Obviously, I had one last night, but they really and truly do taste even better this morning. Brownies for breakfast? Why not?! These are some of the best brownies ever.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Short Story Monday/The Last of the Belles by F. Scott Fitzgerald

On the first Monday of each month, I plan to read a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Today's choice was The Last of the Belles. It is set in Tarleton, Georgia during the First World War, and told mostly as a flashback. The story comes back to the present many years later for its resolution. The narrator is a fellow named Andy, who is supposed to be a 'safe' date for his friend's girlfriend while that friend is away. Of course he becomes smitten: at first with her name, Ailie Calhoun, and later with her looks and personality. But nothing happens between them while his friend is gone. She is truly the belle of the ball with a different date every night; dates which are esssentially dancing and nothing else. When Bill Knowles, the man who loves her, is coming back, one of her would-be suitors says that if she marries Knowles, he will bring his plane up 6000 feet and turn off the engine.

The wonder of Fitzgerald's writing is that in thirteen pages, he tells an entire story. I could actually feel my heart pounding faster when I finished. I was absolutely wowed. I was completely caught up in this story. The characters are perfectly drawn. The time period is perfectly described.

Some snippets to whet your appetite:

She had the adroitness sugar-coated with sweet, voluble simplicity, the suggested background of devoted fathers, brothers and admirers stretching back into the South's heroic age, the unfailing coolness acquired in the endless struggle with the heat.

We drove through pine woods heavy with lichen and Spanish moss, and between the fallow cotton fields along a road white as the rim of the world.

... I stumbled here and there in the knee-deep underbrush, looking for my youth in a clapboard or a strip of roofing or a rusty tomato can.

You may visit here to read other short story reviews.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Not a plague of locusts, but...

... of ladybugs. I'm sure you've read about this problem over the years. Some people have it, and others (the lucky ones!) don't. This isn't the cute little one you want for your garden. These awful creatures live in one's house, sometimes in huge multitudes. If you want to know more (and I can't imagine why you would!) just type ladybug problem into a search engine. I hate them beyond words. They come mostly at this time of year when the weather turns a bit warmer after it has been cool; like today. They are outside and in. Today they are so bad that they fly into us as we walk around the house, and we step on them as they crawl along the floor. There are thousands. Our solution is to vacuum them and throw the bag away afterwards. Did I mention how much I hate them?!

Addendum: The next day they were almost all gone. The weather turned cool and cloudy. But the thought in my head is where do they go? I fear they are hunkered down in the walls. After occasional times each year like yesterday's 'plague' we mostly see just a few inside. But the windows are dotted with their 'droppings.'