A sad day at Belle, Book, and Candle. My sweet 99-year-old Aunt Polly died yesterday. She was a great reader and, in fact, was the person who long ago introduced me to the idea of keeping a list of the books I read.
She was a true Southern Belle. She raised the most fragrant roses and credited her success to the use of banana peels as fertilizer. She worked fine needlepoint and I am honored to have a few of the pieces she stitched.
I will miss her.
She was my father's sister and is the last of my parents' siblings.
I will be taking a few days off to be with family and will be back soon.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
I just finished reading The Numbered Account, another adventure with the intrepid Julia Probyn. In this, the third in the series, author Ann Bridge has Julia in Switzerland on the trail of an impostor heiress and the two nefarious men who have employed her to steal not only money from 'the numbered account' left by the heiress's grandfather, but also the blueprints for some sort of oil pipeline that the British Secret Service would like to keep out of the wrong hands.
As usual, Julia knows just what to do and say so that (almost) all works out in the end. In this tale, she meets, works with, and falls a little in love with a British Intelligence agent with the unlikely last name of Antrobus. (Every time I came across his name I thought it was referring to a Swiss transportation company.) Anyway, he and Julia share a kiss or two, drink many glasses of chilled Cinzano, and save the day. The romance, though, is short-lived, but perhaps they will meet again in one of the remaining five books.
I must say Julia comes across as a bit of a snob in this story. She ends up befriending the young impostor heiress who is not of Julia's 'upper class' and boy, does she have some nasty barbs about the young girl's lifestyle and background.
Other than that, Ms. Bridge has a wonderful time delighting the reader with all sorts of information about the native wildflowers and birds of Switzerland, descriptions of the various Alpine lakes and peaks, and a glimpse into the lifestyles of the Swiss citizens.
The next adventure takes Julia to the islands off the coast of Scotland. My bags are packed.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The colorful dust jacket from The Gift of a Garden.
Don't worry - I didn't splay the book open; this is the jacket only.
I adore Beverley Nichols, the British author who writes so humorously about gardens, flowers, homes, cats, villages and the eccentric characters he meets.
The trilogy about his efforts to restore Merry Hall, his Georgian home and its gardens that he owned in post-war England, are just about my favorite books. I own all three (Merry Hall, Laughter on the Stairs, and Sunlight on the Lawn) and often pick up one volume just to read a paragraph or two. Any page will do with Mr. Nichols as his writing is so delightful. I have written about him many times here at Belle, Book, and Candle.
I don't often come across his books, but yesterday I discovered yet another of his delights. The Gift of a Garden or Some Flowers Remembered was on the sale table at the library. I eagerly snatched it up and paid the overwhelming price of one dollar for it!
This is actually a condensation by Mr. Nichols of three of his gardening books starting with Down the Garden Path (which I have read in its entirety and wrote about here and here), moving on to A Thatched Roof, and ending with A Village in a Valley. All tales of his first garden in 1930s England and its cottage. With Mr. Nichols the garden always comes first.
This volume was published in 1972 and has a lengthy forward by the author written Forty Years On. It still has its colorful dust jacket which is amazing as in its previous life - before I got hold of it - it was a book from the collection of the public library in a small town about 30 miles from here. It is a farming community so maybe the inhabitants weren't too interested in reading about growing flowers in Great Britain. All the better for me!
I shall enjoy tripping about the garden again with one of my favorite authors.
Monday, December 9, 2013
I have some thoughts on what we bookish folks can think about and accomplish to start off the New Year with a clean shelf, so to speak. It's as easy as BOOKS:
Be ruthless. Sort through your shelves and book piles (I know you have them) and box up those that you know you won't read again - or even read for the first time. Duplicates? I have a tendency to replace paperback editions with hardcover editions and yet never seem to be able to let go of the softcover books. Donate the ones you no longer want to the Goodwill, your library, or a favorite charitable book sale. Perhaps you will even find a borrowed book that needs to be returned to its proper owner.
Organize and clean what is left. Dust those dust jackets. Swipe those shelves with a clean cloth. Eliminate those little piles of book lint in the bookshelf corners. Take a minute to put all your books together by one author or that cover one subject. Perhaps those five books of Mary Oliver's poetry would be happy perched on a windowsill or bedside table. Get those books off the floor and into a proper home. Perhaps a new bookshelf is in your future to keep your collection corralled.
Open the journal or notebook or computer file that holds your To Be Read List. Take a look. Are there books that you have now lost interest in reading? Are there ones that have been on your list for a decade? Clean up this list by eliminating ones that are no longer relevant and starring the books you absolutely want to read in 2014. Of the Top One Hundred Books for the year listed on Amazon, I have not read a one. But there are two that interest me and are the first ones on my TBR list for 2014: One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson and The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Kickstart a reading schedule. Develop the habit of reading at certain times of the day. I try and read for an hour first thing in the morning before the computer and chores and errands start to eat up my time. I usually take a tea break about four o'clock and read for a bit then as well. I also read for 30 minutes or so every evening before bed. Other than than, it is catch as catch can.
Survey your list of books read in 2013. Get a sense of where you spent your reading time. Were your choices intentional or did you succumb to the shiniest reviews? Did you read all fiction or did you learn something from books on history or biography or nature? Are you reading only best sellers or have you dipped into the vast canon of works from the past? I don't pay much attention to the latest and greatest lists and have a tendency to read mostly mystery and non-fiction books. Perhaps I could use a little more balance in my reading choices.
Here's hoping these simple tasks will inspire you to have a Great Reading Year!
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Right on the heels of my four-day retreat comes another respite. This one planned by Mother Nature. Ice, snow, more ice and then more snow. Perhaps three to four inches, but enough to keep me indoors by the fire as a safeguard against frigid temperatures.
So since Friday, I have been relishing another day or two of solitude and quiet - a bonus retreat, as it were.
I am still reading the wonderful At Home by Bill Bryson. This book is an entire education in itself. I have learned about architecture, gardening, inventions, and explorations. I don't know how he does it, but he has included everything from mousetraps, bricks, follies and ha-has, to the plague and the conspicuous consumption of America's robber barons and England's aristocracy.
Am in the middle of Cross Creek by Majorie Kinnan Rawlings. One chapter, "Our Daily Bread", is all about the central Florida flora and fauna that she and her neighbors enjoyed eating. We are talking alligators, turtles and turtle eggs, rattlesnakes, and a fruit called the Scuppernong grape. All this, of course, along with cornpone, white bacon, pokeweed, and collard greens. Definitely an acquired taste!
I will stick with tea and pumpkin bread.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
One of the things I have learned about myself is that I work best, live best, if I follow a routine. Odd as it sounds, having a daily schedule offers me freedom. I don't have to think so much. My mind can wander a bit - while fixing the coffee, brushing my teeth, opening the blinds to let the morning light come in - because I don't have to try and figure out what I am going to do next.
That's why the new book by Mason Currey with the extremely long title Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work: How Artists Work looks to be a fascinating glimpse in how creative folks that we know and love Get Things Done.
From the reviews I have read (here) and (here), the successful authors/artists/composers/film makers favor early rising, long walks, and setting a work schedule and sticking to it.
Of course there are the quirky rituals - Benjamin Franklin liked to sit about naked for a while in the mornings and Patricia Highsmith ate bacon and eggs for every meal to avoid the 'What's for dinner?' conundrum. Who doesn't enjoy reading about the eccentricities of the rich and famous.
It might be amusing to try out a few of these routines and see what happens. I am definitely adding this book to my wish list.
Friday, December 6, 2013
In working on the card catalog of my library, I discovered a book that came from my family collection: The Silent Reading Hour - First Reader. It has my mom's and her brother's names inscribed on the inside cover. The copyright date is 1924. The editors are listed as Guy Thomas Buswell, associate professor of education at University of Chicago and William Henry Wheeler.
Professor Buswell, who lived to the ripe age of 103, was known for his studies on how children read.
What attracted me to this book were the illustrations by Lucille Enders of whom I could find absolutely no biographical information whatsoever. She is listed as illustrator, though, in all sorts of books for children: Wag and Puff, Surprise Stories, and In All France, one in a series of books about children's lives in other countries.
Ms. Enders's illustrations accompany sweet little stories about Jack, Peter and Jane, and Toni and his monkey Pippo. One tale tells of Betty who races across the street to the Balloon Man, falls down in the path of an auto, but is scooped to safety just in time by the vendor.
The children attend a circus parade, help out a carpenter in his workshop, follow the scissors grinder, join in with a troop of marching soldiers, visit a doll hospital, and are enchanted with the sight of a paper balloon launched into the Fourth of July night sky.
"And then up, up, up sailed the balloon like a big moon, with a tail that burned yellow, white, and blue in the sky."
These tales are full of friendship and growing-up-lessons (in the case of Betty, one should look both ways before crossing the street). They show the children being kind to animals, getting into a bit of harmless mischief, and there seem to be lots of cookies, too.
The stories and poems included in The Silent Reading Hour are all written by women: Louise Ayres Garnett, Annette Wynne, Edwina Pope Larimer, Josette Eugénie Spink, and Violet Millis.
Oddly enough, there are no stories about books or reading. There is this one little poem by Annette Wynne and I will close with it:
Take some little words,
Place them in a row,
Soon you have a pretty story
Made before you know.
Tales of house and hill,
Butterflies and birds,
Anything at all you will,
Made from little words.