Archive for the ‘My World’ Category

Happy Valentine’s Day!

We are still very much in the grip of winter here, but spring is just around the corner. Not that many weeks until flowers appear again…

It’s almost over in this time zone, but I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you spent it with someone you love. Or doing something you enjoy – that counts too!

Magnolia heart, Vancouver, B.C., April 2016.

Magnolia heart, Vancouver, B.C., April 2016.

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The Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo by Richard Caton Woodville

The Charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo, by Richard Caton Woodville

Surfacing from a major word processing project having to do with the upcoming regional performing arts festival in which I am deeply and happily involved, and thinking that I really would rather be reading than writing.

Or, if writing, then writing about books, versus schedules, and ad copy, and begging letters asking for money, and also begging emails for things people promised me weeks ago and which still aren’t here, and eloquent explanations regarding a very clear (we thought) syllabus. So why did I think this year would be any different?!

Ah, well, it will be fun in the long run, when the participants hit the stage, and my role will mostly consist of sitting back and taking it all in, with snippets of frantic activity here and there. This particular deadline was met, and I have a little breathing space before the Next Big Thing is due, so I hope to be back in this forum for a bit.

I’ve read – or attempted to read – some supremely crappy things this past week or ten days, and some slightly ho-hum things, and a few gloriously engaging things.

A quick listing, more to keep my memory straight than for any other reason. these are all (or should have been) Century books, so slightly expanded discussions shall follow, with a separate post for each book.

Let’s see…

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer. 1937. This is the book Georgette Heyer often said she was proudest of, and I can see why. It contains a meticulously researched depiction of the Battle of Waterloo which deserves all of the good things scholarly critics have said about it over the years. There is  – of course! – a love story, but it is secondary to the heart-rendingly realistic historical stuff. Well done, indeed.

Introduction to Sally by Elizabeth von Arnim. 1926. Oh joy! Oh bliss! What a sweet romp of a thing. I loved it. What happens when an unbelievably beautiful girl is born into a modestly situated, working class, strictly God-fearing family, unable to fathom how best to protect their jewel of a child from the increasingly lecherous gaze of every man who sees her? By marrying her off, of course, to the first man who offers for her, thereby shifting the responsibility to other shoulders. Beauty as burden is the theme of this little novel, with a dash of reluctant Eliza Doolittle-ism thrown in.

The Prelude to Adventure by Hugh Walpole. 1912. A Cambridge undergraduate accidentally kills a despised fellow student in a moment of righteous rage, all unwitnessed, except by God, wherein lies the key to the tale, as Olva Dune struggles mightily with his conscience and his newly wakened awareness of a Higher Power. Things are complicated by his confession to a religion-addled compatriot, and even more so by his falling in love. Much inner dialogue, and a rather odd non-resolution at the end. Often referred to as a psychological drama, and that does sum it up as well as anything. Not a murder mystery in the traditional sense of the word, which is what it is also occasionally described as. One of Walpole’s more obscure early works, uneven here and there, and more than slightly morbid, but nonetheless diverting to an acceptable degree.

Little G by E.M. Channon. 1936. A charming summer-set fluff piece about a misogynistic Cambridge mathematics don falling all unwillingly into love. There is tennis, and much drinking of tea in shady gardens, and long country walks. There are roses, and a flower show. There are cats. This one made me happy, and my inner cynic turned away and let me enjoy it to the utmost. A keeper.

How Firm a Foundation by Patrick Dennis. 1968. A naive English teacher is roped into a job tutoring a millionaire’s lackwit children, and finds himself deeply involved in a tax dodge involving the making of an unplanned “art film”. Patrick Dennis of course was the author of Auntie Mame, and there are glimmers of that happy satire here, but the splashes of cheerful vulgarity which rather enhanced Mame and The Joyful Season are poured on here by the bucketful. It sounded promising. It doesn’t work. This thing stinks.

Bitter Heritage by Margaret Pedler. 1928. A hugely predictable melodrama about a young woman whose father has disgraced himself, and by association her, by a massive financial gamble with other people’s money which failed. His subsequent suicide makes things even worse. Never mind, our tumbled-down heroine impresses everyone by her plucky cheerfulness and finds herself bumped back up into posh society, but not without some overblown drama and much talk of blackened names. A period piece, one might safely say.

Seems to me I’m missing something, but I think I’ve got most of them pinned down.

Back soon!

Okay, back the next morning, to add the two I forgot.

Wonder Cruise by Ursula Bloom. 1934. An orphaned daughter of the vicarage, left destitute as is the tradition in these sorts of things, finds herself living in London under the thumb of a bullying older brother. She manages to attain independence through a secretarial job, but  begins to find that the daily grind is just that, with a long bleak vista a years-all-the-same stretching ahead, until a chance sweepstake win triggers a personal reinvention. The usual sequence of events occurs, with the eventual finding of true love. Absolutely predictable, but decently readable. Ursula Bloom was a stupendously prolific B-list writer (over 500 published works; more on that in my “proper” review) but she did know how to turn a phrase. Sexual awakening is a great part the theme here, stated in those very words. The tiniest bit unexpected for a popular novel from 1934, but then again, not really, when one considers what else was going on in the actual and literary world at the time.

The Slave of Silence by Fred M. White. 1906. A highly improbable romantic melodrama which was one of the most deeply boring things I’ve come across in recent years. A beautiful young woman is forced into an appalling marriage with a wealthy scoundrel in order to save her father from disgrace (he’s been speculating financially with other people’s money, yadda yadda yadda) and the vows are just pronounced when the wedding is interrupted by the announcement that Dear Dad has been found dead. Is she really married? Or not? And when the paternal body disappears before a postmortem can be performed, things become very convoluted indeed. A crippled criminal mastermind in a wheelchair, a couple of interchangeable Scotland Yard/Senior Army Officer investigative chaps, the true lover of our confused heroine wandering about in various disguises, doors conveniently left open while key plot points are being discussed by the bad guys…you name it, this thing has it. I’ll save you reading it. The baddest of the bad guys end up dead, and true love prevails. And our heroine ends up rich again (I think) because of some ruby mine or something in (possibly – I forget the exact place) Malaysia. Or Java? I dunno. A dull book by a rather interesting writer, and despite my “run away!” recommendation for this particular work, I think I will expand on Fred M. White. Old-style sci-fi “Doom of London” disaster novels ring any bells? Our Fred was the writer of those, and I must admit my curiosity is piqued.

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Looking ahead to the coming year.

Several weeks have raced past since my last post, and it’s not for lack of fantastic reading that I haven’t been posting.

Just life stuff. Busy, busy, busy.

What an off-kilter year this has been; I lost my balance somewhere in there, and haven’t quite centered myself yet. Me and how many others? A lot of us seem to be struggling emotionally and physically this year, sometimes with quietly resigned fortitude, sometimes with various degrees of desperation. It swings back and forth!

barn-kitty-winter

No picture of a Christmas tree, because it’s still very much out there somewhere on our hillside, but this post needs something, so here instead is a random snapshot of one of our ever-amusing, much beloved, barn/greenhouse cats, adorned with just a dash of seasonable snow.

I do believe I shall just reboot this whole blog year and start all afresh in January, with <drumroll> another wonderful, challenging, Century of Books project. I did this a few years ago – can it have been in 2014? – doesn’t seem like that long ago – and it was great fun.

I decided to do this in 2017 some months ago, and have been collecting likely prospects and stacking them up in neat piles on a “do not touch” bookshelf, which of course means that my housemates have been wildly pillaging my literary dragon’s trove. Mostly they put things back, though sometimes sans spine sticker with the pertinent year marked on it. It’s all good, because I have a master list. As long as the computer doesn’t crash, I’m smiling. (Okay, I’ll be backing things up tonight, now that I’ve tempted the cyber gods with that teaser.)

In any event, I have a glorious pile of things to read for January and beyond, and as a crucial part of the Century project involves writing a bit about everything one reads, posting should pick up a bit.

I fully intend to get back on here with a post or two before year’s end, but just in case I don’t, here is my heartfelt wish to all of you, friends and fellow readers near and far, for a peaceful and joyous holiday season, and an optimistic start to our coming new year.

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Everything melts
burns out:
lamp lampshade
the light itself
with no shade left

no world
belongs to you and you
belong
to no world

you are pulled
by rain and light
on roads coming
and going
from everywhere
to everywhere

Jaan Kaplinski, circa 1985

*******

Such a melancholy week we are having.

Several days ago one of my husband’s sisters died at much too young an age. Though her passing was expected – she had terminal cancer and had been in palliative care for the last two months  – we are all deeply sad for her, for this person was not ready or willing to leave her life, despite her terrible suffering, and that is perhaps the most dreadful thing of all.

“She died so angry,” one of her sisters said to me just a little while ago when she called to talk, and to cry.

We just never know what we will be asked to face, do we?

We step out blindly, day by day, trusting that there will be ground under our feet, or at least a not-too-hard place to fall. Sometimes the ground disappears, and then all that we have is courage as we try to make sense of where we are, and, if we are fortunate, hope, and at some point, ideally, the grace of acceptance.

Thank you to my friend Marijke for the poem, which I shared here. It seemed to fit the mood tonight, as we are quietly grieving, paying tribute in memory to a life which had its deep and fervent joys, as well as its final overwhelming darkness.

Onward, then, one step at a time.

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Crossing the Skeena River by 2-car reaction ferry, Usk, B.C.

Crossing the Skeena River by 2-car reaction ferry, Usk, B.C.

Since my last post a good two weeks ago quite a lot has happened in my world. The most exciting thing being an immensely enjoyable week-long road trip to Alaska in our old Triumph Spitfire. Top down all the way, though we were pretty chilly those cool northern British Columbia summer mornings!

An overwhelming magnitude of most excellent scenery. Glaciers and totem poles, the tock-tock of ravens everywhere we went, and the fragrance of sweet clover from the hayfields and roadsides overcoming our little car’s perpetual miasma of Old British Car over-fuelled exhaust.

It was grand.

Bear Glacier, near the Canada-U.S.A. border towns of Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, Alaska

Bear Glacier, near the Canada-U.S.A. border towns of Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, Alaska

Lichen-covered lava flow at the Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Park near Terrace, B.C., site of Canada's last volcanic eruption in the mid-1700s.

Lichen-covered lava flow at the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park near Terrace, B.C., site of Canada’s last volcanic eruption in the mid-1700s.

Totem poles near Kitwanga, B.C. These are memorial poles erected over the graves of band chiefs. The figures depict clan memberships and significant connections of the people they memorialize.

Totem poles near Kitwanga, B.C. These are memorial poles erected over the graves of band chiefs. The figures depict clan memberships and significant connections of the people they memorialize.

So. Books.

Just before we took off on our drive, a kind neighbour passed on to us three boxes full of dusty vintage hardcovers she’d been shuffling from shelf to shelf for years. In between the collections of sermons and prayers-for-the-day, the moralizing children’s tales, and the expected classics were some now-obscure popular novels which were bestsellers in their day. E. Phillips Oppenheim, John Buchan, and Ethel M. Dell, anyone? Or how about Kathleen Norris?

I packed a random handful of the most promising along on our trip, but was so exhausted each night from the miles of windy driving and the glorious sightseeing (and possibly the brisk northern air combined with those afore-mentioned exhaust fumes) that I only managed to make my way through one of them.

An Apple for Eve by Kathleen Norris, 1942, was a contemporary romance novel by the prolific San Francisco writer. If you’re not familiar with the name, here’s a brief biography, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Kathleen Thompson Norris (July 16, 1880 – January 18, 1966) was a popular American novelist and newspaper columnist. She was one of the most widely read and highest paid female writers in the United States for nearly fifty years, from 1911 to 1959. Her stories appeared in the Atlantic, The American Magazine, McClure’s, Everybody’s, Ladies’ Home Journal and Woman’s Home Companion, and she wrote 93 novels, many of which were best sellers. She used her fiction to promote values including the sanctity of marriage, the nobility of motherhood, and the importance of service to others

An Apple for Eve by Kathleen Norris, 1942. This edition: P.F. Collier and Son, 1942. Hardcover. 340 pages.

My rating: 5.5/10

an apple for eve kathleen norris 1942An Apple for Eve was the fourth novel by this writer that I’ve read, and based on past experience I assumed it would be a readable, well-detailed, decidedly earnest though not off-puttingly preachy, easy to take up and put down light read. And it was all of that.

Teenage Loveday, daughter of a much-respected family of once-wealthy California Quakers, falls tempestuously in love with a young man of not quite top-drawer origins. She promises eternal faithfulness, and sends her fiance off to flight school with the promise to marry him as soon as he can finish his training and set up a modest starter home.

Much drama then ensues. Loveday becomes orphaned; we learn of a mysterious family fortune possibly hidden somewhere in the decaying family mansion; Loveday is semi-adopted by a wealthy family and introduced to high society and rich living; Larry-the-fiance stops writing; Loveday finds herself in a mutually-attracted relationship with an already-married playwright; heart rendings all round!

Eventually Loveday and Larry reunite and marry, but things go swiftly downhill. For Larry is something of a ne’er-do-well. He can’t keep a job, he argues with any sort of authority figure he comes across, he’s deeply jealous of Loveday’s affection for her adopted family, who keep swooping in with welcome cash donations to ease Loveday’s continual financial woes, for she and Larry and their three small children are sliding ever deeper into a lower strata of society than either of them started out in.

Re-enter Loveday’s other lover, the wealthy playwright Chris. His wife has just died, and he feels himself free to woo the still-lovely Loveday, as her husband is obviously unwilling to man up and support her in the way which she deserves. And Loveday must admit that she returns the illicit passion. But will she be able to set aside her marriage vows and divorce her sad-sack spouse? Larry, though continually inadequately employed, occasionally sullen, and generally slightly mopey, is quite a sweet guy at heart, who has never done anything to deserve spousal desertion.

Hmmm…

Take a peek up to the bit about Kathleen Norris’s championship of the sanctity of marriage vows and the nobility of motherhood for a Great Big Clue as to what our heroine eventually decides.

I’ve occasionally seen this author’s work classified as “Christian Romance Fiction”, and while I wouldn’t go that far myself – she seldom directly references God or religion, and her characters get up to some rather worldly shenanigans – I can see why that is a tidy and appropriate categorization in this current anything-goes age.

This not particularly top rate novel is redeemed by its generous period detail and its depiction of rural California life in the early World War II years, when America was poised on the brink of committing to the overseas conflict. There is ongoing discussion of the situation in Europe and the role which America should play in the escalating war; some characters go north to Canada to join the R.A.F.; during the course of the novel the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor takes place, precipitating the U.S.A.’s decision to jump into the fray. Back on the home front, wives and mothers scramble to compensate for breadwinners heeding the call to arms, and, just a little later on, to deal with the inevitable deaths of loved ones and the return of the wounded.

By 1942 Kathleen Norris had honed her writerly craft to a very competent level, and working one’s way through this melodramatic tale some 75 years after its publication is no great hardship, with the expected allowances for era-expected attitudes, as well as a soupçon of bigotry and racial slurs. Those of Chinese ethnicity come in for most of the little digs, as Loveday’s household staff (for of course our heroine has devoted family retainers despite her desperate poverty) are descendents of the California Gold Rush “coolies” of a generation or two before. A typical off-the-cuff comment from Loveday, in reference to her housekeeper: “The Chinese are trustworthy because they find it pays better to be honest.”

As in the other Norris novels I’ve read, the chief heroine is almost impossibly beautiful, universally admired, and stunningly competent at everything she does. Though she temporarily allows herself to be tempted – remember that clue-providing title? – “Eve”, “apple”? – I couldn’t work up any surprise upon finding out that she ultimately does the morally right thing. And of course earthly rewards follow thick and fast, though Norris pleased me by not tying up quite every loose end.

Some years ago I read and reviewed 1937’s The American Flaggs. My opinion of the writer’s style engendered by that first experience of her work have not changed in my subsequent readings; I’ve since acquired and read The Venables (1941), Bread Into Roses (1936), and, just the other day, Butterfly (1923). Good summertime books, not too deep, and the annoying bits are easily brushed aside. Next in the queue is The Heart of Rachael (1916), which I may dip into this evening, before setting aside Norris’s all-of-a-pattern heroines for something with a bit more oomph.

 

 

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I must share my little gloat. Lovely book-luck day today!

I was in town fulfilling some rather ho-hum errands, namely picking up plumbing supplies and visiting the dentist, and, with a half hour to kill, I wandered into a little antique store just down from the building supply store. As is my usual habit, I automatically perused the “antique” books used for set dressing in such emporiums, and bingo! -an unexpected bookish jackpot.

Two Rafael Sabatini novels, The Lion’s Skin (1911) and Bardelys the Magnificent (1906). One of Noel Streatfeild’s “adult” novels, Grass in Piccadilly (1947). And – so unexpected and so very perfectly timed, because I’ve just finished reading Helene Hanff’s memoir Q’s Legacy – a handsome 1921 copy of On the Art of Writing, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

And a fantastic little book from Herbert Jenkins Ltd, published in 1952, The Crossword Companion, by “M.R.W.” This being a book of word lists useful to the crossword aficionado – what a helpful concept. Love it already.

I’ve dipped into the Streatfeild, though I must stiffen my resolve and set it aside in order to finish my current book, Edna Ferber’s okayish-so-far-though-not-stunningly-wonderful Showboat.

Mulling over the possibility of undertaking another Century of Books project – the Sabatini oldies in particular would be perfect candidates for some of those elusive early years.

I’ll keep you posted on that, and I’ll report back on the Piccadilly thing as soon as I finish it. Two chapters in, and the tone is very slightly sordid and more than a little cynical – if you’ve read The Whicharts, you’ll be familiar with the style.

That’s it for now – over and out.

 

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Well, this has been a rather longer hiatus than I’d ever intended.

What a goofy spring. Weird weather, and an overwhelming continuation of “little things” keeping me from ever feeling quite in control of my very own life.

Sunday, June 19th we had our last plant sale day (we operate a small perennial plant nursery); 48 hours later I was on the operating table undergoing a mite of abdominal surgery, which I’d been supposed to undergo back in April but which I’d postponed till a “better” time – after the spring planting season. Luckily everything held together until now!

All is as well as it could be expected to be. I am rather sore but less so than I could be, and several weeks of “light duty” stretch in front of me. Perhaps an opportunity to take up the blogging habit once again? I do miss it.

So, what have I been reading this strangely subfusc spring? Not a whole lot, I’m sad to say. Too busy and too distracted for anything terribly challenging, though I did recently manage a trio of Gavin Maxwells – Ring of Bright Water, The Rocks Remain, and Raven Seek Thy Brother. (Now there’s a chap with issues!) Maxwell deserves more than I can give him at present, so he’s back on the shelf for now.

Lying on the gurney the other day, waiting for the surgeon, I did manage to immerse myself to a reasonably deep degree in Barbara Pym’s Less Than Angels. “Good book?” asked one of the nurses. “Not particularly,” I replied. And it really isn’t, is it? Not one of her strongest. I insist on reading Pym from time to time, and occasionally sparks are struck, but she’s so darned…I dunno…cynical is too strong a term…not particularly cheering, anyway, to someone in a fragile state of mind.

So it’s been O. Douglas the last few days, as something of a Barbara Pym antidote. Taken by the Hand, and The House That is Our Own. Good old friends, these have become. But I’m ready for something new.

I see that Margaret Kennedy (The Constant Nymph, The Feast, Together and Apart et al) is getting some positive press in book blogger world. Time to order some new-to-me summer reading? But according to CBC News a possible postal strike is looming, so I might want to hold off.

Back to the high shelves here at home it is! (Well, not literally. I’ll send someone else up the stepladder.)

Hope you’ve all been having a lovely spring. Mine has had its magical moments, despite everything. And now it’s truly summer, longest day just past and all. Cheers, book friends!

 

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