Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Stillmeadow - February

Well, here we are on the last day of February, and I still haven't used the snowshoes Tom and I bought last year. I brought them up from the cellar, and placed them next to the swing on the terrace, positive, absolutely positive that we would walk the fields of snow on our trusty snowshoes. But, no. My excuse is that I need to buy some snow pants, not the nylon or whatever the new material is, but wool. That's what I had for years, but I 'outgrew' them, and need a new pair. Why didn't I buy them last spring, summer, or fall so I would be ready when the snow arrived? This is who makes them. The price has gone up considerably in 40+ years! I plan to order some in the next few days, and I plan to put on those snowshoes next fall as soon as it snows. Of course it may well snow some more this winter, but somehow that doesn't count in my book. By the end of February, the old-timers used to say "the back of winter is broken."

These thoughts were floating around in my head as I read Gladys Taber's February entry in The Book of Stillmeadow. I reminded myself of Gladys. She isn't afraid to note her shortcomings either. Gladys and I are rather anachronisms in these times of everyone putting their best face forward on social media. No little foibles show up there!
I never have been adept at focusing opera glasses. Just as I get the right end to my eye, and screw the things up, whatever I am viewing moves away and I only see blurs and table legs.
I always mean to file my sheets according to size, but they never get filed correctly. The twin size play hide and seek with me every week at Stillmeadow, where we have all sizes of beds and all kinds of sheets. Flushed and unhappy, I am always lugging piles of the wrong size up and down stairs.
When her companion Jill says that "this is the time of year to reorganize everything in terms of what is oftenest used." Gladys admits that
She is certainly right, and if I were an organizing person I should instantly wrestle with the jammed-up china cupboards and pack up those dishes never picked up except to dust. ... The trouble is that as I pick up a cracked ironstone plate, I get to admiring the glaze and the way the edge is scalloped, and I think it is nice to look at with the candlelight glimmering on the soft finish - and back goes the plate in the same old spot.
Gladys talks about the seed catalogues that overflow the mailbox this time of year. I remember reading that sentiment often in the past ten to twenty years, but now I never hear anyone talking or writing about it. That must be because we can order online now. I'm also lucky that my favorite, local-ish company offers its seeds in my Co-op store. But I do miss the days of a pile of catalogues to look through.
There's never so fair a garden as the one that grows during a blizzard - on the colorful pages of the seed books. ... Nothing ever comes up and looks like any picture.
A quote I used once here is from this book, as she writes of the brightness of the February sun. I say frequently during the month that there is no sun in any month that can match it. Is it because we have been starved for the sun from November through January? The sun, even when it comes out in those dark months tends to be rather weak. Welcome, but not startling beautiful. The February sun tells us that spring is coming regardless of the temperature or the snow on the ground.
After Valentine's Day we can really feel that winter is on the downgrade. A few more blizzards, perhaps, but definitely March will arrive. There will be a certain day when the air comes in over the hills with a different feeling. It's an intangible thing, known only to folks who have had hard winters, and it is exciting and wonderful. One morning you poke your nose out and you know all of a sudden that there will be another spring. You smell it in the air, and no matter how deep the snow is, you think nothing of it. You dash out without your arctics and Mackinaw and catch a raging cold, but no matter - spring is coming! Tallyho!
And thus, Gladys ends this month's entry.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Jacob's Room is Full of Books - February

The reviews of Jacob's Room is Full of Books haven't been all positive. I don't have an opinion yet, but probably will by the end of December. It isn't much like Howards End is on the Landing. It is less about books and authors, at least so far, but I rather like the rambling from one thing to another.

The words from Jabberwocky popped into my head as I sat down to write about the February entry.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax -
Of cabbages and kings -
And why the sea is boiling hot -
And whether pigs have wings."

I'm not a big Lewis Carroll fan, but I do love this. Susan Hill goes from subject to subject, and I wish I were there beside her so I could say, "yes!" or "I don't agree." She even talks of cabbages (!) in the context of the bright colors at the greengrocer.

She writes of not liking stories with fairies in them, preferring goblins and trolls. She says,
What does our individual taste in matters like this, matters that actually don't matter, say about us? I wish I could understand. I am not keen on folk tales either. Or folk songs. Cecil Sharp must have been a bore.
I don't like fairies or the scarier creatures. And I would so love to have known Mr Sharp. I am very interested in the work he did. It would have been fun to say that to her, and ask if she had liked the Natasha Solomons book (The Song of Hartgrove Hall), and if she has read Electric Eden.

She wrote of a website where various people offer five books on a theme. She was so interested in this, and I just didn't care at all, but then she began writing of Iris Murdoch's Alzheimer's disease, and my metaphorical ears pricked up.
I have always felt that, in writing his [her husband's] memoir of her decline and then in allowing it to be filmed - the whole sad, sad detailed saga of it - he had betrayed her and, above all, betrayed her dignity. She had no say, no opportunity to say no - or, of course to say yes. 
As much as I loved the book and the movie, I certainly understand her view, and even agree with it. It is possible though that they may have helped someone who was going along the same path as John Bayley was in those years. And of course, without the movie, we wouldn't have that perfect Hathaway line in Inspector Lewis when he goes into a cluttered house and describes it as the Iris Murdoch school of decorating!

In Howards End is on the Landing, Susan Hill was living in Gloucestershire, and that house seemed my dream place. Her descriptions were so good that I could see it as I read along. There's a nice piece here that talks about this. In Jacob's Room is Full of Books, she has a new home by the sea in Norfolk. She describes it:
Norfolk is the least horsey of all the counties I have ever known. I don't think there is even a hunt. It isn't much of a sheep place either, though there are a few flocks round here. No horses. No sheep. Instead, pigs. Pigs and sugar beets. And churches. And the sea. The sea. ... If you have been born and bred by the sea, you can be content watching it for hours.
As I read along I wondered why she moved. I understand the appeal of the water, especially if one is born near the ocean, but leaving that house? Well, this article might explain. 

The author does, of course, talk about books.
Not the weather for standing around more than two minutes admiring the spring flowers, the weather for clearing out bookshelves. If we ever leave this house, we will not want to start doing it as the removal men are at the door. I thought I had cleared out all the books I would ever need to lose five years ago, but books breed. They beget second copies because you have mislaid the first and buy another, the day before you find the first. They interbreed, too, so you have The Cambridge Companion to the Bible next to the Oxford ditto, and several copies of Quentin Bell's biography of Virginia Woolf next to the one by Hermione Lee. 
And whenever I go to the shelves to start an hour of de-stocking, I come upon a forgotten treasure. 
Susan Hill's birthday is 20 days before mine, and she says
I found a great quote for a birthday, too, from May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude: 'Do not deprive me of my age. I have earned it.' It gives the lie to all those who want to remain young, and although they surely must know that they cannot do that, they still give it a go, via facelifts and Polyfilla.
Later in the February essay, she attempts to de-stock again. Some of the work is easy, like
...ephemeral detective stories you will never re-read, and duplicate copies, the books that don't belong to me, the books that have had coffee or wine spilled over them, been left out in the rain or fallen in the bath and retrieved, more in hope than in expectation of a good outcome.
 She then goes on to talk of "small collections" she has made over the years.
Most people have obsessions and these usually come and go. Once you have fallen out of love with your passion, you do not want books about it to take up several yards of shelf space, though you may feel fond and nostalgic enough to save one. Or perhaps two.
One of Susan Hill's passions might surprise the reader. Not, of course, Virginia Woolf books, either by her or about her, but an obsession with Marilyn Monroe?!

I ended January's installment by saying that I was going to re-read Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf, and I did begin on her birthday, January 25, but I put the book back on the shelf because I realized that I wanted to read a print book that I haven't already read. I do hope to get back to it, but unless I begin reading more than one print book a month, I really must pick up those unread books.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Death of Emma Chambers

The Guardian has a lovely obituary piece about the sadly late Emma Chambers. I so loved her as Alice in The Vicar of Dibley. She was the dearest character. The jokes at the end of the shows were just great.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Quote du jour/Oliver Goldsmith

This month's quote from the Irish Writers Calendar

comes from Oliver Goldsmith.

"I love everything that is old; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines."

It seemed this quote was everywhere a few years ago. I might have first read it in a Susan Branch book. Goldsmith is the second oldest writer on the calendar, and it is interesting how his words still resonate with us all these years later.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The country family heads to a casino

On January 27 we did something we've never done, and never thought we would do. No, not skydiving or ice climbing, but going to a casino! We are so not gamblers. I don't know anything about gambling games, and would never waste my money that way. So, why did we go? Because our beloved daughter got tickets for all three of us to see comedian Jim Gaffigan at Foxwoods. We love Jim G's work. He mostly talks about his family (wife and five kids) and food (the junk/fatty variety). There are five of his stand-up shows streaming on Netflix, and he has also written books, which Margaret has read but I haven't yet. We had a really wonderful time, both in the car and at the place. Foxwoods is huge, probably bigger than the whole area I live in. A couple of things struck me - there weren't any drunks. I somehow expected it to be a big drinking place, but no. We all figured out that probably people stay sober to concentrate on the games they are playing. There were a few bars but the people frequenting them were likely not the gamblers. But my goodness, there were a lot of games and people at them. There were also a lot of restaurants and stores. I expect people go there for all kinds of experiences. It is spread out so much that one has to do a lot of walking to get from a show to a restaurant or to the gaming areas. And here's the other thing that struck me - the people seemed a bit zombie-esque in the walking. All together, all at the same pace. It felt weird to see them. There were people of all ages, from little kids to quite elderly people, several in wheel chairs. We ate at a California Pizza Kitchen and thought it the best pizza we'd had. Our breakfast place was also very good. All the people working there were very nice, answering our questions and just being really friendly. And Mr. Gaffigan was wonderful. We laughed the entire show.

I so love what Margaret wrote on her Facebook page.
This weekend was a thank you for my amazing parents for taking such amazing loving care of Hazel while I work. We didn't gamble or take home thousands of dollars but boy did we laugh ALL weekend!!! #jimgaffigan who knew these old hippies would have such a good time at foxwoods!!
In the hotel room

In our seats (who is that fellow behind us)

View of the stage - no pictures allowed during show

Just before we left. Had to get a pic of the games.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A different and funny take on Valentine's Day

I have the Roz Chast engagement calendar, and I just had to share her Valentine's Day entry with you.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Quote du jour/William Cullen Bryant

We had rain during the night, then a touch of snow as it got colder and colder. 'Tis a beautiful winter's day.

This was in The Old Farmer's Almanac Engagement Calendar for the beginning of February.

Come when the rains
Have glazed the snow and clothed
the trees with ice,
While the slant sun of
February pours
Into the bowers a flood of light.

William Cullen Bryant, American poet (1794-1878)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

January books

Don't faint or have a heart attack, but I am really going to try and write about my reading this year, starting with January. I've added a category to my book descriptions - the nationality of the author and the location where the book takes place. And I've begun capitalizing Kindle. I thought Amazon called it kindle with a small "k" but I've seen them use the capital so I thought I would.

1. Brooklyn Wars - book 4 in the Erica Donato series
by Triss Stein
mystery 2017
finished 1/4/18
US writer/US setting

I have loved every book in this series. As I noted when I wrote about one of the others, there is a great sense of place, much like Cleo Coyle's New York City in the Coffeehouse mysteries only Triss Stein's are focused strictly on Brooklyn. I love the historical information that is offered, and how the past can influence the present. The mother, her teenage daughter, her friend, her boyfriend, and all the smaller characters are excellently drawn, and seem like real people. I hope she continues but I can see how this one might end the series.

2. The Young Clementina
by DE Stevenson
fiction 1935
finished 1/8/18
Scottish writer/English setting

There is a special kind of reading joy I experience within the covers of a book by Dorothy Emily Stevenson. I am in the hands of an excellent storyteller, whose tales take me completely away. It makes me happy that I still have a lot of her books yet to read. This one was so very enjoyable. It is about a childhood friendship that two solitary children share, and their adult lives and what happens to that friendship. I really don't want to say any more because it is better to let the story unfold as you read it. What I will say is that I loved it.

3. Whale of a Crime - book 7 in the Gray Whale Inn series
by Karen MacInerney
mystery 2017
finished 1/13/18
US writer/US setting

I so enjoy this cozy mystery series set on an island just a short boat trip away from Bar Harbor, Maine, a place I have visited twice and really love. As with the the Triss Stein Brooklyn series, there is a strong sense of place and also some historical connections. Highly recommend for light, but terrific reading. A bonus is the author includes recipes, one of which I made already. Stay tuned.

4. Blandings Castle
by PG Wodehouse
short story collection 1935
finished 1/21/18
English writer (who moved to the US)/England and US setting

A confusing thing about Wodehouse's work, and that of many other writers is that the name of the work is sometimes changed. When I wrote about it here, it was called Blandings Castle and Elsewhere really a better title because the stories aren't only to do with Lord Emsworth and his home. I love the Blandings stories, and the one about Bobbie Wickham, but I don't care for the Mulliner tales that are about his Hollywood relatives. In general, I'm not as interested in Wodehouse' stories that involve Americans.

5. Him & Me
by Michael and Jack Whitehall
nonfiction 2013
finished 1/22/18
English writers/English setting (with a few vacation spots)

It all began with a show I watched on Netflix called Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father. I recognized Jack Whitehall from another program I had seen called Very British Problems, but I knew nothing about him. Well, I must say that I have fallen in love a little bit with this father/son team. I've watched Jack's live stand-up show, also on Netflix, but, as funny as he is, I really think he is funnier with his father. They play off one another in this wonderful way. Jack is a very modern young man, and his father is an older man with very conservative, non politically correct opinions. Yet, they love one another deeply. They can also be seen on YouTube in some television programs they did together called Backchat. I have now bought two books, this one, and another by only Michael called Backing into the Spotlight, a memoir which I haven't read yet. I find them simply hilarious. In Him & Me, the authors alternate chapters, with little notes from the one who didn't write the chapter. When Michael tells a family story, Jack is right there with his own memory, and vice versa. I laughed and laughed as I read the book, and mildly chuckled or smiled when I wasn't laughing out loud. My caveat must be that everyone has a different sense of humor. What many people think is funny often leaves me cold. And my Margaret who very often shares my nutty sense of humor just can't get into these two Whitehall men. But I can't get enough. I want them to take another trip together. I follow them on Facebook and Instagram. What can I say except laughter is good for the soul.

6. After the Wake: Twenty-One Prose Works Including Previously Unpublished Material
by Brendan Behan
fiction and nonfiction published posthumously 1981
finished 1/26/18
Irish writer/Irish setting (mostly)

Brendan Behan was the January entry for my new Irish calendar which I wrote about a couple days ago. I had never read him, and really only heard his name from my Irish friend, Eddie. His best-known work is probably Borstal Boy which you may read about here. I am finding it a little difficult to write about this book. There were times when I thought the writing was lively and even brilliant, and other times it seemed to be rambling and a bit incoherent. Behan was famously quite the drinker and probably this influenced his writing. Perhaps I'd have done better to read Borstal Boy, but I'm not interested in reading about a boy in prison. And maybe that explains why I didn't care for this collection. The subject matter just didn't appeal to me. By the way, Behan is pronounced like bein'. There's quite a good piece on the writer here, if you are interested to know more than I have told you.

7. Silence - book 3 in the Inspector Celcius Daly series
by Anthony J Quinn
crime fiction 2015 (first time I've used this term, I think. A better description than mystery.)
finished 1/31/18
Irish writer/Irish setting

Now this is an Irish writer I really like. The setting is Northern Ireland where the past is always lurking. The Troubles are just under the surface. There's a fine article from a few years ago which talks about this. Celcius is a lonely man who lives in the cottage where he grew up, and is a man who is a serious thinker about the present and the past. This book tells us Celcius' back story and explains so much about the character. I really love this series and am so happy there are two more I haven't read. I hope it goes on and on.