Thursday, September 27, 2007


I injured my back this past Monday afternoon by picking up something the wrong way. I spent the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday laying on the floor watching reruns of America's Next Top Model (quite addictive if you've no place to go) and reading a bit in between. I'm getting around - laying down is best, followed by standing and walking carefully. Sitting is not feeling so good, so I'm very behind on my blog reading and such.

Fortunately, I've been reading the perfect book for an invalid, Asta's Book by Barbara Vine (published in the US as Anna's book). Asta's Book is told from two points of view. The first, that of Asta, a Danish woman whose husband has brought her to England to live, is told through her diaries which she began in 1905. She writes about daily life and her innermost feelings about her family, maid, and neighbors. The second point of view is that of her Granddaughter Ann and takes place during the 1980s. Ann's Aunt Swanny, oldest daughter of Asta, comes across her Mother's diaries after her death. They come to be published and Asta becomes a well known writer posthumously. There is mystery involved, an unsolved murder that took place near Asta's home in 1905, and some missing pages in the original diary.

I believe Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell) is best known as a mystery writer and while I don't generally read much in the murder-mystery genre, I really enjoyed this book. It felt more like a literary book that happened to have mystery within it. I really enjoyed Vine's writing, and found this book a completely enjoyable and absorbing read.

I'm curious to know what the difference is between books published by Ruth Rendell compared to Barbara Vine. I'm also interested in finding out what Barbara Vine books have been enjoyed by others. Please let me know if you have any ideas.

Now I am off to ice my back.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The rest of my collection. Well, almost.

A while back I shared my new bookcases and their contents here. Here are the rest of my books in various locations around the house. There are yet more in the basement and scattered around the house. Also, these do not include my husband's or daughter's collections.

These are built in shelves in my living room. These books are mostly memoirs, divided loosely by country/continent.

These is my (mostly) American non-fiction section. You might notice how much smaller it is than the British non-fiction section of my large bookcases.

My Virago collection. I bought this vintage bookcase years ago at a flea market. I think it suits these books well since it was built around the same time many of them were originally published.

These are some of my books about books, located on top of my desk.

This bookcase is in the corner of my bedroom. Everything is double shelved and stacked all over the place. There used to be huge stacks on top, before my new shelves arrived.

I almost forgot these! This console table is in my living room. Those baskets? Yep, filled with books. I thought they would be a good place to hide toys, but that never happened.

I'm off to clean my kitchen. I have an upcoming delivery of something that will hold some of my other favorite items....

P.S. I should add, I didn't edit these bookcases at all - I just photographed them as they were.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tarte Tatin

I read Susan Loomis' memoir On Rue Tatin a few years ago and remember really enjoying it and recommending it to people. It is the story of how Loomis and her family come to live in France and find their home and their way in a small town in Normandy. Therefore, it was with great excitement that I noticed she had published another memoir, Tarte Tatin, in 2003 and eagerly awaited its US release - which never came. Enter Bookcloseouts where I was thrilled to procure a copy earlier this year and waited for just the right moment to read it.

I enjoyed the first few chapters very much which told of Loomis' decision to host lunches, then eventually cooking classes in her home. I read the tale of how Loomis' husband built her a beautiful new kitchen with pleasure. Then came a chapter about the town's weekly market. Wonderful, I thought, I love reading about this sort of thing. Loomis wrote about the vendors she liked and what they sold. Yet she also wrote about the vendors she didn't buy from, how they included rotten produce in her bag, or their bread didn't taste very good. She named names, and described where their stand was located at the market. Perhaps it is my Midwestern sensibility, but I found this rather bold, to disparage people she will continue to see, who will presumably hear tales of what she's written about them. The book continued in this vein. Her earlier memoir felt more cohesive to me, proceeding in a linear way; this one was more a series of essays on different aspects of life in France. Other topics she covered included: a smelly dog they adopted, getting one's French driver's license, children playing sports, French childcare and several others. There continued to be negativity throughout the book - in the chapter dealing with her daughter's childcare she names caregivers and describes incidents she was not happy about. There was quite a bit of praise of her own family, specifically how intelligent, clever, and talented her children are. I think we all know who finds our own children most interesting - we do! I didn't need to know her daughter's pronunciation of Paris - repeatedly. The book ends with a chapter about the September 11 attacks on the US. I will say only that her very dramatic and egocentric response was disconcerting.

I did enjoy reading about life in France, the many challenges and differences Loomis faced. I was left, though, with an overall bad taste in my mouth about this book that I just cannot shake. I wondered if perhaps I shouldn't post my thoughts on this book. I know that some only write about books they enjoy and recommend, but part of my doing this blog was to keep a record of what I read and what I feel about it. So while I don't enjoy posting a bad review, for me, it's about being honest about my relationship with the books in my life.

I'm currently dipping into Apples for Jam and Time Out's 1000 Books to Change Your Life. I'm reading Chatterton Square by E.H. Young and began Barbara Vines' Asta's Book yesterday - which I am really, really enjoying so far.

Have a great weekend - I'll be at work!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Making a list

I am a few weeks away from having to present my bookclub with a list of three books to vote on, the winner of which will be discussed at my home in 2008. We all look forward to seeing what everyone suggests each October.

The only book I know will definitely be on my list is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I just loved this when I read it a few years ago, but hope it is not too similar to my book choice in 2006, Up From Orchard Street by Eleanor Widmer.

I am also considering:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - I really loved reading this book. A friend I recommended it to said "Thank you. It was everything I wanted in a book." The only downside is that my bookclub seems somewhat resistant to books about other cultures - the ones I've suggested have generally not been chosen.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie - I've been hearing so much about this since it won the Orange Prize. Same downside as Snow Flower - but this is very close to being on my definite list.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters - I'm just nuts about this though I know there is at least one person that would dislike it.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser - I have not read this - though I've read lots of books in the same vein. I doubt this would be a popular choice for an number of reasons.

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas - This was written about most beautifully by Kay and I've been considering it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini- This sounds really good and I think there would be a good discussion. Downsides include being available only in hardcover for the time being and my suspicion that someone else will suggest it.

That's all I have so far. I am often disappointed in the bookclub's choices. It sometimes seems as though people don't put much thought into their suggestions while I tend to mull it over quite a bit. So often, I have already read the books that are chosen and in my opinion we've read too many 'silly' books that aren't worth discussing. We have been together for seven years and I like all the members very much so that keeps me active in the group.

I am open to suggestions!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sister Carrie (Among other things)

Brrrrrr! It is cold here! My bedroom was 60 degrees this morning. I remember a few years back, perhaps the fall/winter of 2000 when I wore my winter coat from the end of September into June - I hope this year is not a repeat of that.

My daughter and I went to the farmer's market this morning. The overnight temperatures have gotten very close - but we haven't had our first frost yet, thus late summer vegetables are still available. Here are small bits of what we brought home.

I was so happy to see garlic today - the farmer who grows it has been out the last 2 times I've asked him. What was in that empty container? Late-season raspberries picked out by my daughter and eaten on the way home. I got four. She also picked out the Fall variety of honey (I preferred the Late Summer) and Red Currant Jelly (I tried to talk her into the Peach-Ginger Chutney) and a pumpkin so she can eat the seeds. I actually ran out of money since three of these items were quite costly. It's definitely more interesting to be there with her - and watch her interact with the vendors who are so wonderful to children. My cooking plans include Cauliflower-Cheese Pie (a request from my co-shopper), corn pudding, and a pasta dish I'll make with the roasted pumpkin.

I finished Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser yesterday. This was the second time I've read this book, the first being some years ago while I was living in Chicago. Sister Carrie tells the story of Carrie Meeber, an 18 year old arriving in Chicago in 1889 from a small town to live with her sister and sister's husband and find work. Carrie is immediately swept up in the excitement and romance of the big city, but soon finds that her life is not going to live up to her expectations. The only work she is able to find is mind and body numbing factory work. Carrie loses her job due to illness and not finding another quickly, thinks she will have to go back to her small town. Enter Mr. Drouet, who takes Carrie under his wing and she agrees to move in with him. Drouet introduces Carrie to a business acquaintance George Hurstwood who falls in love with Carrie, and makes some very poor decisions which lead him to tragedy. I remembered enjoying Sister Carrie the first time I read it, and was having trouble remembering why this time around. I know that I enjoyed the Chicago setting and being able to imagine where the action was taking place. Dreiser included quite a bit of moral discussion in the early part of the book, the amount of which decreases later on in the story when the plot takes over. I would say that I did enjoy this again and suspect that the fact that I read the first half of the book in short snippets late at night when I was tired decreased my interest in it. I found all the characters to be fairly unlikeable. Hurstwood is a weak and disgraced man. Carrie is the 'fallen woman', living with men she is not married to; I didn't really blame her as the alternative was not so desirable. Drouet seems like a nice enough fellow, but what sort of man expects a woman in live with him in 1889, unmarried (it comes up a few time why he has not married her).

I found the appendix in my copy to be of particular interest. It has to do with the multiple versions of Sister Carrie, particularly differences between the manuscript and the published text due to revisions. I found it quite interesting that Dreiser's wife made some of the revisions including the very last words of the novel which actually change the meaning of Dreiser's original words.

I don't think I'll ever read this novel again, but am glad I had the chance to revisit it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A few things

I have not finished any books lately - though I am almost done with Sister Carrie and am looking forward to selecting my next read. I think I enjoy the selection process as much as I enjoy the actual reading (as much as I enjoy looking at books, and reading about them!). So today, a few things that have been on my mind.

First I would like to thank Nan for giving me the Nice Matters Award. She gave this award to me in August and I have been delinquent in properly thanking her for it. She is undeniably one of the nicest people I've met through blogging. Thank you Nan! (I've tried to figure out how to add the lovely picture that came with the award but it's not working and I'm too computer and time challenged to figure it out.)

Second, I would like to show you my new Moo cards.

Aren't they fun? I saw these on someones blog and had to have my own. They have my name and information on the back and will come in handy when I am exchanging numbers with the other parents at school.

I decided to watch Northanger Abbey this past week - a friend sent it to me to watch online. NA is the Jane Austen novel that I know the least. I've only read it once in early 2001 while traveling to England with plans to visit Bath. I didn't remember much of the story so was not able to compare this film to the novel. The movie was fine, I did like the second half better and enjoyed the ending more than that of Persuasion (all that running around was really silly). There were quite a few heaving bosom sort of scenes related to the heroine, Catherine, reading The Mysteries of Udolfo. I didn't really care for these parts, nor did I care for the elder Mr. Tilney who was rather creepy. I was happy to see these films early, though, and look forward to the rest this Spring on Masterpiece Theater.

Finally, there are lots of cookbooks being released this Fall, and as I am a collector of them as much as I am a collector of (all) other sorts of books I have a few on my wishlist.

I've seen Apples for Jam all over the place on the blogs and have been waiting to salivate over it myself. I've often seen it described at the "most beautiful cookbook I've even seen." This is actually not on my wishlist anymore, but is instead on its way to me from thanks to a gift certificate.

I am also waiting for Diane Rossen Worthington's Seriously Simple Holidays -I just loved her book Seriously Simple and have made loads of things from it and hope I am just as lucky with this one. Nigella Express is on my must have list. I also am looking out for Jamie Oliver's new US release ( somehow we are a year behind over here) - I doubt I'll need to own this one but I do enjoy looking through his books. Mark Bittman has a new vegetarian book coming out- it looks to be the size of his book How to Cook Everything - that is to say, enormous. I am not vegetarian, but would love some more meal ideas that my family will eat. Last but not least, and not an actual cookbook I believe but more a book of essays, is Nigel Slater's newest release about British Cookery. I doubt this one will have a US release so this will be a Book Depository purchase.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A few book reviews

Here we are, into the second week of the school year, and we've already had to make a trip to the doctor's office for a rash. Fortunately, a non-contagious, non-itchy rash, unfortunately one which can take up to 8 weeks to clear. I did enjoy the opportunity to arrive at school in the middle of the day and see my little one join her class without looking back. "Mom, I'm not going to miss lunch am I??"

As promised, here are the book reviews I promised last week.

Lesley wrote an intriguing review of Road Song by Natalie Kusz back in May and I was fortunate enough to mooch a copy of this 1990 memoir. Kusz's family was living in California in the late 1960s and her parents, tired of their suburban existence and working multiple jobs, decide to sell everything and move to Alaska with their 4 young children. They set up camp on a bit of property and their home consists of a trailer with a small uninsulated room built on. They live in this manner for years. Natalie is soon the victim of a terrible accident, requiring multiple surgeries and procedures which leave her disfigured. The book is about the accident and the aftermath, but it is really the story of the Kusz family. I really couldn't help but question the parents choices in this book. I wondered if the life they found in Alaska was 'better' that their life in California, and is it fair to figure that out with small children involved. I can understand being tired of the so-called 'rat race' but living in the wilderness, the Alaskan wilderness, without proper plumbing or heating and the Father working far from home didn't seem a great trade-off to me. Nevertheless, the family was very close-knit and met obstacles as a unit -I really came to admire their cohesiveness. Their lifestyle seemed to work well for them, and perhaps the reason I found this book so interesting is because it is one I would never choose.

Singing Bird by Rosin McAuley is the story of an English woman searching for her adult child's birth parents in Ireland due to a suspicious call from the Nun who set up the adoption. This was a readable but not particularly memorable novel. A few things about this book irritated me. One was that multiple characters kept advising the main character, Lena, that finding a birth parent would be a long, arduous path with many disappointments along the way. Lena is able to figure things out during a vacation which seems quite unrealistic. The other bit that kept coming up was a discussion about genes and the fact that two blue-eyed parents could only have blue-eyed children. Everyone in the novel seemed quite surprised by this information, yet I remember learning about this in science class when I was very young.

The third book I've finished is Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. This was my first Pym to read, though I have added a few to my shelves this year. I enjoyed this book and was glad that I didn't read the introduction (which gave away the plot) until I was finished. Why don't publishers print these essays as afterwords anyway? I found this a fascinating picture of post-war life in England and a sad commentary on life as a single woman:

'I suppose an unmarried woman just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people's business, and if she is also a clergyman's daughter then one might really say that there is no hope for her.'

Oh, dear. I certainly enjoyed reading about this period of time, but was struck over and over again at the societal expectations of women and how lonely many must have been. When our heroine, Mildred, is invited for dinner at a man's home she declines - because she know she would be expected to cook it. I loved reading about what everyone was eating, and particularly enjoyed the many mentions of Tea. I do know of the custom of afternoon tea, but I don't think I realized that at 4 o'clock everyone just expected to have tea, regardless of where one was.

I was very curious to see how Pym would end the novel. I think it reflected the times, which is to say, it was hopeful. I eagerly anticipate reading more of Pym's work in the future.

Friday, September 7, 2007

My incoherent thoughts.

The last couple of weeks have brought the end of preschool and many tears on my part (Mom, why are you sad? You still get to bring me to Kindergarten.), a terribly busy and stressful 4 days of work over the holiday weekend, the last outdoor swimming of the year, and the first days of Kindergarten. I haven't slept well in days, and have been busy cleaning our home since we are having a cat allergic guest over tonight to celebrate Preschool Graduation. The good news: a clean house, a happy child in school, and dinner is ready to go.

I have completed three books since I was last here and started on two more. I will write about them next week when I will hopefully have better luck putting words together.

I have watched one film over the past week - the most recent production of Persuasion - I believe it aired in Britain last Spring. It was fine - I enjoyed the 1995 version much, much more. I was tired of the closeups of Anne in this new version and the running sequence at the end was just silly. I just cannot get enough of the letter towards the end - 'You pierce my soul.'

Here are some of my new books. This stack contains the books I paid for. The top two were ordered from The Book Depository in a moment of weakness. I'd had my eye on these for a while thanks to all the wonderful reviews. The remaining three are used, 2 Viragos - Hester and Golden Miles, and the book on the bottom is Through One Administration is by Frances Hodgson Burnett and comes recommended by Elaine.

Here are the books I've received from Paperbackswap.

Asta's Book was a recommendation from Danielle. There are two newer Viragos, The Dark Tide and Curious, if True. A Fine Balance sounds wonderful - I read about this on a blog but cannot remember where. Much Depends on Dinner is nonfiction - I'm not sure where I heard about this book. The back blurb states it "corrects our lack of knowledge of these most ubiquitous of foods and lays before us a captivating register of facts, myths, fetishes, and rituals that stretches back into our early history."

I'm really looking forward to getting into a routine in the next weeks. I have lots of blog housekeeping to do - comments to respond to, blogs to visits and blogs that I've been reading and need to add to my sidebar.

Have a great weekend!