It was a month for quality, if not quantity:
Letter from New York, the Helene Hanff book I sighed happily over in this post. First time rereading it since, I’m guessing, 1994. It was rather goosebumpy to revisit: so much of my first year in New York was tied to that book. The neighborhoods I explored, the way I looked at the city, the way Miss Hanff taught me to seek out the small interesting details and big colorful people that give a place character. As I savored her letters, I kept thinking how much these spoken essays she wrote for BBC radio read like blog posts—and I could see her influence in my own blog style, over fifteen years later.
The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. When I first read it last year, I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to be immersed that intense, disturbing world again: but I did. I found myself thinking about the novel quite often and wanting to return to the rich, tapestried world Byatt creates, suffused with art and lore. The puppets: I am really in awe at how vividly she is able to describe the marionette plays so that you see them, really see them. And the pottery, the Dungeness seaweeds, the strands of Olive’s various stories, the huge cast of distinct, painfully real characters, the currents of culture and history. It’s a hard book, a dark one, but ultimately hopeful, I think, and worth the effort.
Besides those two, there were the usual piles of picture books, and small increments of progress on Calpurnia Tate with Beanie and Rose. July, for us, is really only three weeks long, because a full week of it gets swallowed up by SDCC.
Nonetheless I did think I’d read more, myself, than simply the Hanff and the Byatt. I began a few things, review copies I’ve received, but since the Byatt I haven’t been able to settle into anything else. Just now, looking up the link for my 2010 post about The Children’s Book, I noticed on that year’s booklog that right after it, I reread a large chunk of To Serve Them All My Days—R.F. Delderfield’s sweeping tale about a shellshocked WWI soldier who becomes a teacher in an English boys’ school. That makes me smile because that is exactly the kind of book I’m craving right now, post-Byatt: big, sweeping, warm, moving, funny, and, if sad in places, not dark. Herriott might work. Or: I’ve never read Brideshead Revisited. Would that work? Or is it grim?
Actually, there’s Blackout, I’ve just remembered. I had to set it aside for one reason or another. Connie Willis sweeps me away in just the right way, I always think. Maybe that’s the ticket.
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Philo! Philo! Philomathian!