Thursday, August 2, 2018

Jacob's Room is Full of Books - July

My blogging friend Cath at read_warbler wrote today that she hates the month of July, and in Jacob's Room is Full of Books, Susan Hill says
The deadly months. July and August. The weather often disappoints, the birds have stopped singing, the roads round here are crammed with mobile homes and caravans being towed, the beaches are also crammed full and, yes, it is thoroughly selfish of me to complain about it. But winter is best here. Empty everywhere. In high summer it is best to get back from any shopping trip by ten o'clock and then stay in the garden, to read, or write, cold drink to hand, intermittently watching the swallows high overhead.
Anyone who lives near the ocean, or the mountains, or any tourist destination knows this sentiment. Often these areas are dependent upon tourist money to keep afloat. Many people do the seasonal jobs, and switch them with the seasons. There is a bit of a love/hate relationship with all the people who come. I've not had this kind of job, but I know that some workers are driven crazy by the demands the occasional tourist puts upon them.

I found this interesting.
It is a sad thing when you discover that a book you loved beyond many, a book of which you knew whole paragraphs and conversational exchanges by heart, a book you thought you would be wedded to for life, has lost its appeal, its charm, its ability to amuse and entertain, delight and impress. How does this happen? Does it mean the book has become dated, or outdated, its humour old-fashioned, its charm rusty, its brilliance tarnished? Was it a book you simply grew out of? Or one that, as you read more and got more life experience, could not keep up with you? Was it simply not up to the job, did it not bear any more re-readings, yield any more wisdom, reveal any new aspect to the wit, so that you laughed again but in a slightly different way?
Do you feel this way about any particular books or authors? For a reader this is kind of like a break-up, or a slipping away of a friendship. You can't always put your finger on it, but you know that something has changed. Susan Hill goes on to tell the reader
What I am saying is that my love affair with E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia novels seems to be over. There are odd things that still delight... But I droop after reading three chapters of any of them and I no longer smile at all. It was a blow when this first happened. I decided it was just me and left the books alone for a while. But it went on happening. I found myself becoming impatient with these silly people - and that was fatal.
Over the years of email groups and blogging, I've known a lot of people who absolutely love these books. I wonder if they would understand what she means. Personally, I saw Mapp and Lucia first on PBS ages ago, and could not stand the women! I never even tried the books.

Susan is very concerned about the decrease in small nesting birds.
In his Natural History of Selborne, Gilbert White records not only dozens upon dozens of sparrows but of every other sort of 'common' bird - thrushes, blackbirds, finches, tits - as well as the migrants. ... Even in my own childhood, there were probably several hundred percent more song birds than now. The telephone wires were lined with swallows and martins, the air thick with swifts.
The loss of so many over the last hundred years or so is forgotten - everyone talks about the pandas and the tigers and the giraffes, and of course they are important. Meanwhile, not far from home, people trap thousands of small birds for food.
And she later writes
Watched a hen harrier on the marshes. There are several pairs, always visible, swooping across, looking for prey. They were rare once, but now they are common. The campaign to make hawks protected birds has seen to this, so they breed safely and murder small birds unhampered.
It is really difficult for me to read all this. Heartbreaking.

She writes of one of her (and my) favorite writers, P.G. Wodehouse. She has encouraged people to read him, and
some cannot get past the receding chins, the brainlessness, the vacuousness, the frippery, the juvenile mentality of the characters. The only one to whom none of the above descriptions apply is, of course, Jeeves. Lord Emsworth sometimes succeeds where Bertie Wooster fails, but I never press home my argument about Wodehouse, because if the magic doesn't work, it doesn't and never will. It is the uncomprehending reader's loss. Nobody half likes Wodehouse... You are an addict or you are left stone cold.
I openly admit, I am that addict. I've often said that his writing is second only (maybe) to Shakespeare's. I agree when Susan notes that he is a "master of the language, whose plots and characters are of second and third importance to the writing."

Another wonderful month spent in Susan Hill's company.

20 comments:

  1. Always look forward to your Jacob's Room monthly post, Nan. It's funny, I'd forgotten that Susan Hill dislikes July too. Time to get the book out and read it for the third time perhaps...

    I'm trying to think of books I've fallen out of love with. I know it's happened but for the life of me I can't think of what they were. As to Mapp and Lucia, I read two and that was enough. OK, but their silliness got to me in the end.

    As to the decrease in small birds in the UK... hawks, yes possibly some, but I would also blame domestic cats and magpies. In our previous home I watched magpies work their way across a huge hedge we had, looking for nests to raid.

    I used to read loads of Wodehouse years ago and absolutely loved the Fry & Laurie version of the TV series. Someone I follow on Twitter put frequent Wodehouse quotes up... always hilarious.

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    1. Yes, cats. I have read that they kill millions of birds. I don't know why there isn't a law to keep them in. People think they "need" to be outdoors, but if you bring up a kitten indoors, the cat will never know the difference. Recently when a vet heard how old Raya is (17) he said that she must be an indoor cat. Yes. And just yesterday we saw a coyote walking down the road, big as life, in the daytime. We lost four cats to fishers and coyotes and said, never again. And now knowing what I do about birds, I would never let a cat out.

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  2. Oh my goodness I came by earlier and was going to comment on the header picture of your beautiful home, but got interrupted ... and now it has been replaced by wonderful sunflowers, my favorite summer flower! Both pictures full of joy~~

    With regard to Susan's and your feelings about birds of prey: Hen harriers are now (again) on the endangered list. apparently from what I read on English bird blogs they are again being hunted. Which makes me more sad than the fact that they prey on small birds. (If we only left nature alone......

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    1. You read English bird blogs!! And yes, that makes me sad, too.

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  3. I agree with Cath that July was not a favorite month -- too hot, too humid, even with central air; I was cranky all month, ask my husband! I love your headed picture Nan -- stunning and I've NEVER read, Jacob's Room - I must remedy that soon.

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    1. Not this year, that's for sure! We have fans in every room. Some days have been better than others but on the whole it was pretty yucky weather. Still having it in August, I'm not happy to say! Longing for it to be cold enough for the woodstove.

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  4. Aaah, Wodehouse! It is a long time since I last read any of his books, but there was a period in my life when I devoured every one I could get my hands on, and I still remember them fondly. Maybe I should try him again, see if I still feel the same about his writing.
    Usually, I do not re-read books often enough to have first-hand experience with what you describe here, like "growing out" of a book. Quite the contrary, I have re-read some books that were good childhood friends and I still love them very much as an adult, having discovered new aspects of them that I simply could not know/understand as a child.

    Small birds: Only last night, I read an article about that. In Germany, there has been an 80 % (!!) decline in small "common" birds over the last 100 years - on average, we have now only 1.5 small bird per person. To blame are of course not the hen harriers or other animals who kill them, but us humans, by destroying their habitats and food sources.
    Take the sky lark, for instance: It breeds on the ground, but our feelds are so tightly planted now that it can not nest between the stalks. And the weeds are all killed, which means the insects that used to sit on the weeds are gone, too - they were the main food source for larks who would feed the insects to their young and eat the seeds of the weeds themselves.

    Summer? I have never hated summer, but then of course I do not work in the tourist industry. This year, I am particularly looking forward to autumn, because it has been almost unbearably hot and dry in this country. Also, O.K. and I will go hiking in the Bavarian woods for two weeks in September!

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    1. Thank you so much for such an important response. When are people going to realize that farming practices are doing so much harm? It's all about money. I'm so thankful for the many organic farmers who are taking care of the land. I could cry reading the statistics you quoted. I think I've heard that conditions in their winter homes are also causing problems. Seems it has been hot all over the world this summer.

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  5. I, too, enjoy these posts. I think what strikes me most is the varied topics she obviously writes about and that you share. One never knows if we'll be reading about books or birds...ha! July and August are indeed the hot months, but since I've lived most of my life in a region where summer is always, always very hot, I don't really notice as much. I think I thought that living in Oregon, there would be a difference. However, it was warm in the city of Portland too. The wind direction changes in the summer and comes from the east often. That's the way of the deserts of Eastern Oregon and not the Pacific Ocean. In these days of A/C everywhere in Texas, I often think back to my childhood - very little A/C and boy was it hot! Fans everywhere. Skin always sticky. Ick.

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    1. I wonder if anyone has written a book about the changes in the US that air-conditioning has brought? I would love to read it. Maybe you could write one, Kay! Your last two sentences describe my summer so far!!!

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  6. I glanced up at a bookshelf of British novels as I read this and yes there's Mapp and Lucia, and I never bought another one or reread it. But then I must not have been that fond of it on first reading. But two shelves down are my Taylor Caldwell novels that I used to devour, reading every single word. When I recently tried one again I just could not give it the time. But after much winnowing of books through two big moves, most of what remains on my shelves probably are ones that I will reread in years ahead as I've stopped ordering many new books and a trip to the library is inconvenient.

    I'm still wondering whether I could handle Susan Hill's mysteries. I just had an email from Amazon about her new release in it and really wonder if they would be too gruesome for me. Do you read them?

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    1. No, I haven't read any. This is what my friend Kay says: "They are not particularly gory as I recall, but being crime novels, they do include death and crime. "

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  7. Hello, Nan, I've not looked in for a long time, don't know why and then I was reminded of your blog on Cornflower blog.
    Oh dear, Mapp & Lucia isn't for everyone, but did you see the original series? The one with Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan? That was the one to watch, the later one with Natasha Richardson isn't as good (in my opinion). But it mightn't be for you, it's not for everyone, it's silly, but I think deliciously silly and very much of it's period.
    Re-reading books one has loved, always something fraught with danger. I recently tried to read an early P D James, whose crime novels I loved, and thought it hadn't stood the test of time.
    Margaret P
    www.margaretpowling.com (Blog: Devon Dreaming)

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    1. Good to see you! And thanks for your blog address. I've added it to my sidebar list.

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  8. Lovely post - so thoughtful. And I haven't re-read Mapp and Lucia for a few years, but certainly still loved Benson the last time I read him. I fervently hope I never tire of him!

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  9. I love how you're working your way through the book in this way - always a treat to read.

    We're certainly bucking the sparrow decline trend in our garden / neighbourhood: we have at least 12 of them on our feeder most days and there's a nest in our next-door neighbours' front hedge. This makes us very happy, as you can imagine.

    I've gone off authors (Anne Tyler had a sad dip but is back on form; Douglas Coupland was lost tome with his one about workers in a store a few books ago) and that's always terribly sad. But what I find funny I continue to find funny - incl Mapp and Lucia, actually (much better in books than on telly).

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    1. Thank you! And that is the best news about the sparrows! We had quite a few at the feeders last winter, and this summer there have been song sparrows and white-throated sparrows nesting. I know there are others, too, in both winter and summer, but I don't know their names or calls. Wonderful, cheery little birds. I'm off and on with AT depending on the books. Some I love so much and others I can't take at all. Just saw "your" city on Gardeners' World again! This time it was balcony gardens in a housing complex.

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  10. Ah, summer tourists have become a regular nuisance in our little world here on the coast, but I really can't complain. They bring loads of money to our towns and until last year, we were tourists, as well. Our weather wasn't nearly as beastly as the rest of the country and I would welcome a ten degree increase on the coast, but goodness, the inland temps (near Portland and Salem) were awful. Just last week we were in Corvallis and it was 93. I'm not used to the heat anymore! We're happy if it gets above 60! :) Lovely post, as always. This book sounds absolutely delightful!

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    1. Our temp and humidity is down, and I hope it stays!

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