Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
March 11, 2014 @ 5:23 pm | Filed under: Books, Gardening
As soon as spring is in the air Mr. Krippendorf and I begin an antiphonal chorus, like two frogs in neighboring ponds: What have you in bloom, I ask, and he answers from Ohio that there are hellebores in the woods, and crocuses and snowdrops and winter aconite. Then I tell him that in North Carolina the early daffodils are out but that the aconites are gone and the crocuses past their best..”
—Elizabeth Lawrence, The Little Bulbs
The photo is not of my garden; this lovely sight of a neighbor’s front yard left me breathless last April. I haven’t been down that street lately to see what may be in bloom, but the daisies and poppies are coming up in other yards around town. My own poppies are all leaf, not quite ready to set buds yet. But soon. And some of these small daisies have popped up quite unexpectedly in a large planter by my front steps, along with some adorable johnny-jumpups. Either they jumped up indeed, right into the pot, or it’s possible Rilla planted some seeds…she’s always finding an old half-full packet in a drawer somewhere (why do I only ever plant half the seeds in a packet?) and taking it upon herself to do a bit of Mary Lennoxing. Today it was freesia seeds, inherited from a friend, and some sweet peas and sweet william. I grow freesia from bulbs, not seed, so I’m eager to see if these come up. It’s turning wonderland out there, already…the lavender has gone supersized this year, the bees are quite drunk.
It’s the season when I have no choice, I must read gardening books. The Little Bulbs is mandatory at this time of year, when the freesia are tumbling everywhere. I could live on the scent of freesia. This bit to Miss Lawrence from her horticultural pen-pal, Mr. Krippendorf, one February day, made me laugh:
“I was surprised to hear of the paucity of bloom in your garden, as I once read a book by an Elizabeth Lawrence who listed quantities of plants that bloomed in February or even January in her garden (which she alleged was in Raleigh, North Carolina). We have quite a few snowdrops now, and some eranthis, in spite of the fact that the pool on the terrace freezes every night.” And later: “I have your letter dated Fourth Sunday in Lent but not mailed until Tuesday. You say you might as well have lived in Ohio this winter—that sounds almost scornful. Yesterday was a wonderful day, not too warm, and sunshine off and on. I have tens of thousands of winter aconites in the woods—bold groups repeating themselves into the distance, also the spring snowflakes, and Adonis amurensis.”
All this sudden color is the result of the few days of rain we had the other week, after a crispy, crackling, waterless winter. And I know so many of you in other parts of the U.S. have had a really dreadful time of it these past few months. I wouldn’t dare to ask Miss Lawrence’s question, above, but I’m starting to see hints on Facebook and Twitter of a crocus here, a narcissus there, and Mr. Krippendorf’s tens of thousands of winter aconites gave me courage.
Henry Hikes to Fitchburg (ahhh, deep delight)
Grace for President
Here Comes Destructosaurus (coming out soon, quite funny, wonderful Jeremy Tankard art)
Finished Where Angels Fear to Tread. Forster is tearing me up, lately. I had to read Howards End because of the Susan Hill book, and it wrung me inside out, and Angels hung me out to dry. In a good way, you understand.
March 10, 2014 @ 7:26 pm | Filed under: Books, Poetry
Overslept this morning, thanks to Daylight Savings Time (which I nonetheless adore) and to having stayed up past midnight, too wired from sending off a manuscript (yippee!) to sleep—or to read, for that matter. Fumbled at a crossword puzzle on my phone instead. Well, after talking at my poor exhausted husband for an hour.
So no early-morning reading for me today. And a whirl of a morning, catching up on the housework and garden work I’ve neglected these past weeks. It’s spring out there! Who knew! Loads and loads of freesia sweetening the air—almost knocked me over, the scent was so lovely and so unexpected. And the pink jasmine is blooming, and the lime tree and grapefruit (not as exciting as it sounds, those two—they don’t seem inclined to produce fruit, ever). Nasturtiums and sweet alyssum and loads and loads of lavender. I might have to live outside for a while. “I think your garden needs you, Mom,” said Rose only a little reproachfully. She’s right; the clover is overrunning everything, and let’s not even speak of the bermuda grass.
But inside, there was Spenser. We’re reading it in excerpts, with plot summary between the passages—Marshall’s English Literature for Boys and Girls is wonderful for this—if you, a 21st-century teenager, can forgive the condescending name. Today was great fun, as the girls kept spotting parallels to Narnia (Una happening upon the dancing fauns and satyrs, not to mention her devoted lion)—Rose or Beanie, which?, said “I think Lucy is supposed to be an Una, Mom.” And the description of St. George going forth unto the dragon’s darksome hole:
“And lookéd in: his glistering armour made
A little glooming light, much like a shade,
By which he saw the ugly monster plain…
Most loathsome, filthy, foul, and full of vile disdain.”
I thought of Bilbo and Smaug, but Beanie thought of Eustace. They know a lot about Tolkien’s literary credentials and influences from our Beowulf studies, and now they know about Lewis’s too. You can’t help but see it, reading Spenser.
Oh, and we returned to our Poetry 180 journey, poem #8, “Numbers” by Mary Cornish.
Now, during all this poetry-reading, Rilla was perched in her usual spot at the kitchen table, drawing, and suddenly she flitted across to the shelves behind my rocking chair and started piling up books—mostly volumes from our Poetry for Young People collection, plus Child’s Garden of Verses. Later, I found this pile on my bed. She informed me gravely that she has decided to be a poet as well as an artist, “and I’m going to need to study everything about poetry. All the poems, and the poets’ lives, and everything.”
All the poems. Well, then. No time to lose. We began with Sandburg, at her request—his “Between Two Hills” is her favorite. And then a bit of Poe (we are incapable of saying his name without belting “Poe, Edgar Allen, American poet, born in eighteen hundred and nine…“). She liked the Raven but deemed it “too long” (I can’t disagree) and said she prefers poets like Emily Dickinson who “tell a whole story in a short little poem.” I can’t argue with that, either.
March 10, 2014 @ 2:50 pm | Filed under: Books, Family, Photos
Things I read last week:
—finished Howards End
—the “Keeps House” chapter of Milly-Molly-Mandy (a favorite because of Billy Blunt pretending to be a Mr. Snooks)
—Queen of England: The Story of Elizabeth by Helene Hanff
—essay, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Alice Walker
—began Where Angels Fear to Tread
I spent the past week (month) (several months) in panic/crunch mode on a manuscript and missed commemorating a rather significant milestone here: Scott and I celebrated the 25th anniversary of our first date. Our 20th wedding anniversary is coming up in May, but in many ways this week’s date is the more significant, the more earthshaking, life-altering. We met at callbacks for a college play (Black Comedy) in February 1989. I was head over heels for him immediately. He seemed keen on me too. On March 3rd I invited him to my roommate’s birthday party. He took some coaxing—not a partygoer, is he—and somehow we wound up at a different party, either before or after my roomie’s (college, man), and we fell into a discussion of our mutual favorite books, The Lord of the Rings (remember, this was long before the films and you were part of a relatively small geeky subset if you were a Tolkien nut) and, well, we’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since. (Even my two years in grad school in North Carolina, when he was working in NYC, we talked every single night on the phone. And that brutal three-month stretch in 2006 just after Rilla was born when he came out here to San Diego to start the new job and I was back in Virginia trying to sell the house, we had an IM window open round the clock and often spent our evenings working together, each on our respective assignments. Ping, ping, ping.) I am still as ridiculously crazy about him as I was that very first day.
Anyway. I put some pictures on Facebook. Later in the week I was clicking around on the ‘related links’ below my posts, wandering back through funny kid stories I would have forgotten if I hadn’t blogged them, and I got swept with a tidal wave of gratitude for the chronicle this blog has become, this diary of our lives. His blog, too—even more so than mine, in so many ways—practically nothing is sweeter to me than glimpsing our children through his eyes, from his inimitable perspective. So, because I know I’ll be glad later that I did, I’m posting the photos here too.
Pretty sure this was the first picture ever taken of us. Would have been late March, 1989. Rehearsals for Black Comedy. In that show, if you haven’t seen it, there’s a blackout five minutes into the play, and the characters spend the entire rest of the show in the dark. When the show opens, the stage is pitch black, but for the characters there is light, and they are walking and talking as if all is normal. Then boom, blackout: the stage lights come up, and the actors stumble around as if plunged into utter darkness. We had to stick around campus during Spring Break and rehearse, and at one point there was a blindfolded egg hunt on the stage. You can tell our respective feelings about children’s Easter chocolate. I cannot say I have matured in that regard in the slightest.
Some months later but still ’89. I can tell because of the lipstick. It wouldn’t have been long after that that I bumped into Scott on my way (late) to an 8am class and he was all, wow, you look great, and I was all, but I don’t even have any makeup on…Ohhh. I just may marry this boy.
Recently. Still goofy. Still head over heels.
There’s never any knowing—(how am I to put it?)—which of our actions, which of our idlenesses won’t have things hanging on it for ever.
—E.M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread
“I’ve never met a really good writer who lives in high style. I think a stylish life is unsuitable to the writer, and very often in the house where there’s a mild disorder one finds the writer with the best powers of organising his work. Order where order is due.”
Muriel Spark— “The Poet’s House”
Read this and many other wonderful essays by Muriel Spark in The Informed Air, which will be released by newdirectionspublishing on April 29th.
(Source: kevinelliottchi, via maudnewton)
(I’m counting the days until this book comes out!)
March 3, 2014 @ 7:47 pm | Filed under: Books
Our favorite line from The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. And Sir Isaac Newton (the newt) cracks Rilla up every time.
And in the you-had-me-at-hello department, how’s this for an opening?
When I walk into a bookstore, any bookstore, first thing in the morning, I’m flooded with a sense of hushed excitement. I shouldn’t feel this way. I’ve spent most of my adult life working in bookstores, either as a bookseller or a publisher’s sales rep, and even though I no longer work in the business, as an incurable reader I find myself in a bookstore at least five times a week. Shouldn’t I be blasé about it all by now? In the quiet of such a morning, however, the store’s displays stacked squarely and its shelves tidy and promising, I know that this is no mere shop. When a bookstore opens its doors, the rest of the world enters, too, the day’s weather and the day’s news, the streams of customers, and of course the boxes of books and the many other worlds they contain—books of facts and truths, books newly written and those first read centuries before, books of great relevance and of absolute banality. Standing in the middle of this confluence, I can’t help but feel the possibility of the universe unfolding a little, once upon a time.
—from The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, one of your memoir suggestions from the other week, and also mentioned by jep in the comments here.
And a bit of Howards End this morning. I didn’t read much this weekend. How about you?
February 28, 2014 @ 3:50 pm | Filed under: Books
So this morning the littles and I stayed in and read. Mice, more mice, is what Rilla wants these days. Kittens and hedgehogs are an acceptable substitute. Any small creature that wears clothing, really.
So first it was The Story of Miss Moppet—four times! I ask you. They kept begging and begging.
Then The Tale of Tom Kitten, which is crammed with delicious language. All Beatrix Potter is, but this one especially tickles me.
“While they were in difficulties, there was a pit pat, paddle pat! and the three Puddle-ducks came along the hard high road…”
“‘My friends will arrive in a minute, and you are not fit to be seen; I am affronted,’ said Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit.”
That petulant “I am affronted” cracks me up every time. Mrs. Tabitha is the Mrs. Bennet of B. Potter characters.
And then finally we got to the necessary mice. Well, mouse, singular. We read about half of The Mouse of Amherst (speaking of delicious language). She didn’t remember it from three years ago, which made it all the more fun. Seven is the perfect age for this loveliest of little books.
I slept too late to get any Howards End in, but did grab a few minutes for …on the Landing. Now that I’ve determined I’m going to buy a copy, I may save the rest for later and turn to one of the other interlibrary loans I have piled up, as time is ticking and they can’t always be renewed. I have The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop and a couple of Gladys Taber’s Stillmeadow books, which were recommended to me in the memoir thread the other week. I also got hold of Helene Hanff’s Elizabeth I biography for children—she admired Elizabeth so, and it seemed a fun choice for a sampling of her children’s nonfiction.
February 27, 2014 @ 4:42 pm | Filed under: Books
Paperwhites by Rilla
Something Sherry mentioned in the comments reminded me of this post I’d left sitting in drafts all month. Instead of a booknote today (since all I’ve read is a chapter of Howards End), I’ll toss the draft up. I was saving it until I had time to say something intelligent about the three 1963 books, but now I can shove it into these quickie notes I’m doing and be excused from coming up with something insightful.
I read about the Century of Books project at Alex in Leeds—a reading project in which you endeavor to read a book written in every year of a particular century. Ideally you would assign yourself a time frame for completing the mission, but I’ve learned that deadlines are deadly to my recreational pursuits—too many deadlines swirling around my working life. I love, however, the idea of tracking the publication dates of my reading: another layer of interest to add to my favorite activity.
And so I borrowed Alex’s template and created a 20th-century list for myself, and plugged in last year’s titles. Right off the bat I discovered that my reading is skewed far more toward 21st-century titles than I might have guessed. (Over a third of my 2013 total.) I do read a lot of new books, I suppose, via NetGalley and other advance review copies. I just hadn’t thought about how that means new publications dominate my reading pile, elbowing older books to the lower, dustier shelves.
I logged fourteen 20th-century books in 2013 (well, counting this month*). Several were rereads—the children’s books especially, my read-alouds with Rilla. (I’m counting middle-grade and above, but not picture books. I can’t keep count of picture books. A dozen a week, at least.) Most surprising to me was the discovery that of those fourteen titles, three were published in the same year—1963.**
1) Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which caught my attention when Betty Draper read it in her bathtub. It was republished an as ebook by Open Road last year, and I snapped it up. (Set in the 30s.)
2) The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark. (Set in 1945, with a 1963 framing story.)
3) The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. (Contemporary with its writing.)
All so striking, and so very different! All books that stick with you and affect how you think of other books, and the outside world. I will try to come back to this when I have more time and muster some actual analysis. There’s an essay in these three books rubbing shoulders, to be sure. I haven’t the brain for it now.
*”This month” was early January. Total in late February is twenty 20th-century books.
**And now there’s 1962′s Underfoot in Show Business right alongside these, capturing yet another vivid and totally distinctive world. (The striving of Broadway hopefuls in the 30s and 40s, mostly.)
***I made a 19th-Century page as well, but there’s nothing there yet. Not a single 19th-century book for 2013-present? Actually I do have a number of late 1800s titles I’ve used as reference for my current novel, but for some reason I never seem to include research books in my annual booklogs. That makes no sense at all. I’ve read them, haven’t I?
Oh, and I did read three picture books with the littles this morning. The Ultimate Book of Vehicles and two other interactive books from Chronicle, who have been spoiling me with review copies lately. Vehicles became Huck’s instant Favorite Thing Ever (it’s a giant pop-up with excavators scooping and crane operators climbing to the top, and he fell instantly in love, as Scott’s tweet attests.
February 26, 2014 @ 8:25 pm | Filed under: Books
My Winter Bookletter is live! If you’re a subscriber, watch your inbox. To subscribe to future issues, click here.
This time around, I share a new picture book the littles and I have fallen in love with and a surprisingly entertaining app for sentence diagramming. Plus news about my next Inch & Roly book!