Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February Recap

Books read: 7
Books bought: 3
Books returned to the library unread: 0
Books begun and still reading: 1 (Living Alone by Stella Benson)
Authors met: 0

Even with an extra day in the month I only got around to reading seven books. Of course, The Greater Journey took a week to read. Actually, except for that one title, it was a disappointing month for books. As I look back on the books read, there isn't any other one that didn't feel as if I were just slogging through words.

Well, March is ahead. Maybe my brain was tired from the 14 books I read in January. Not that I am on a mission to read a bunch of books just so I can say I have...

My three Merry Hall books by Beverley Nichols arrived yesterday from Powell's. I pulled down off the shelf my copy of The Story of Charlotte's Web by Michael Sims and will start the month off with it.

I ran into an old friend today outside the post office. We had worked together at a bookstore in the '90s. We once made a pilgrimmage to Memphis in honor of Elvis. We also wrote a book, the draft of which is still in my possession. She lived in another city until maybe two years ago. We stood on the sidewalk and made a pact to read our manuscript over a cup of espresso. An espresso makes everything better.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stella Benson (1892-1933)

Finished The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green. Oh my, but it was slow going. Too many suspects all denying any wrongdoing but not willing to offer any help to Mr. Raymond, the attorney and narrator, or Mr. Gryce, the detective. Many, many secrets. Lots and lots of dialogue that went nowhere and then was repeated on later pages. By the time I arrived at the denouement I didn't really care who had shot Mr. Leavenworth or why. I skipped quite a few pages and was disappointed that it was not more engaging.

Picked up my Nook last night and started Living Alone by Stella Benson. Wikipedia tells me she was an English novelist, travel writer, and feminist who was born in 1892 and died in 1933. This book, written in 1919, is the whimsical story of a witch who transforms another woman's life. It is very witty. Just the thing to be reading before one falls asleep.

Here is the author's apologia:
     This is not a real book. It does not deal with real people, nor
     should it be read by real people. But there are in the world so
     many real books already written for the benefit of real people, and
     there are still so many to be written, that I cannot believe that a
     little alien book such as this, written for the magically-inclined
     minority, can be considered too assertive a trespasser.

And, her characterization of a Miss Ford: ...a good woman, as well as a lady. Her hands were beautiful because they paid a manicurist to keep them so, but she was too righteous to powder her nose. She was the sort of person a man would like his best friend to marry.

Looks to be quite a romp.

Monday, February 27, 2012

On Leaving Paris

Read all day Sunday. Finished The Greater Journey by David McCullough. All 456 pages not including the Source Notes, Bibliography, and Index (although I did browse those).

I was a little sad when we reached the turn of the twentieth century and the American men and women who had filled the streets and studios of Paris were either back home, soon to be dead, or already in the grave.

It was a marvelous journey. I met so many folks I didn't know and many that I just thought I knew. What a project for Mr. McCullough to research and organize and write a book of such scope and detail. And even when I got lost amid some of the unfamiliar names, historical events, dates, and the avenues of Paris, I just let myself go with it.

After all, there wasn't going to be a test or quiz on the information.

I know I was a bit put off at the beginning of the book and I am so glad now that I stuck with it. One page at a time and I was mightily rewarded.

One of the artists mentioned toward the end of the book was a fellow named Robert Henri. Here, in the source notes is what McCullough wrote:

Robert Henri, who was to become a leading American painter of the early twentieth century and was one of the most inspiring of all American art teachers, also wrote a delightful book called The Art Spirit, with recollections of his time in Paris and much else.

Now, I just happen to have a copy of The Art Spirit. It was recommended by a watercolorist when I asked her what was the one book she would want me to read about being an artist. Shortly after that, I found a used copy at a consignment store. This was about a year ago. The shop had just received a great number of art books from the personal library of a local artist who had recently passed away. I bought several. Of course.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The beautiful earth

I woke up this morning thinking about the poet Mary Oliver. I knew just the poem of hers I wanted to find. I looked in a couple of her books on my shelves but to no avail. However, and you must love the internet, I found it and herewith I present it for your enjoyment:

What Was Once the Largest Shopping Center in
Northern Ohio Was Built Where There Had Been
a Pond I Used to Visit Every Summer Afternoon

Loving the earth, seeing what has been done to it,
I grow sharp, I grow cold.

Where will the trilliums go, and the coltsfoot?
Where will the pond lilies go to continue living
their simple, penniless lives, lifting
their faces of gold?

Impossible to believe we need so much
as the world wants us to buy.
I have more clothes, lamps, dishes, paper clips
than I could possibly use before I die.

Oh, I would like to live in an empty house,
with vines for walls, and a carpet of grass.
No planks, no plastic, no fiberglass
And I suppose I will.
Old and cold I will lie apart
from all this buying and selling, with only
the beautiful earth in my heart.

--Mary Oliver

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Paris Commune


After two days immersed in 21st century consumerism, I returned to the 19th century and life in Paris. I am embarrassed to realize how little I know of French history. I mean there were all those kings and queens, a Napoleon or two, The Reign of Terror, A Tale of Two Cities, Les Miserables...

Mr. McCullough, in The Greater Journey, has done a thorough job of introducing the reader to the French capital and the goings on of its people and their part in history. So I was happy to have nothing on my To Do list today but read, eat, and nap.

I am at the point in the book where there has been quite a bit of fighting: the siege by the Prussians and the devastation of the city by the Communards. Difficult to imagine the thunder of cannons and the killing of French citizens by French citizens.

The four-month siege of Paris by the Prussians in 1870-71 during the Franco-Prussian War was especially frightening. Food ran out so horses, dogs, cats and even the wild animals in the zoo became dinner for many. Trees along the boulevards and in the Bois were felled for firewood. And in the final days of the siege, the sounds of the cannonballs hitting the city was maddening.

And as if that defeat was not enough, even though the Prussians did not occupy Paris, for two months a group of insurgents controlled the city. In the final week of the short-lived government, the Paris Commune, some 18,000 Parisians were killed by soldiers.

It was not pretty, but then revolutions and wars never are.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ohio Book Store

OBS buildingWell, I did discover that there is an independent bookstore in downtown Cincinnati. It is the Ohio Book Store and was established in 1940. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit.

Its website shows a wonderful photo of the store front. The 1916 building has five stories of books and magazines, a book bindery and repair department, and the owner does appraisals of rare books and documents.

The store closes at 4:45 p.m. I guess its employees want to try and beat the traffic. Anyway, a trip saved for another day. It does look like a lovely place to while away an afternoon, doesn't it?

Instead of books (except the abused ones I wrote about yesterday), for the past two days my friend and I saw hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of home furnishings and accessories: sofas, chairs, tables, desks, dishes and cutlery, pillows, rugs, lamps and baskets. Pictures and maps. Frames and footstools, clocks and cabinets. Quite overwhelming really. I wonder if there are enough rooms in enough houses to be outfitted with them all.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cruelty to Books

Abused books

Am in Cincinnati on a shopping expedition: IKEA, Ballard Designs Outlet, Crate and Barrel, Container Store, Pottery Barn, Arhaus, and Restoration Hardware. Have asked for location of any used book stores to no avail. I guess no one here reads.

A short post to register my horror at the cruel treatment of books in the name of home decor. At Arhaus book covers were torn off and discarded. Pages were folded and twisted and curled which made for unusual sculptural pieces, but do they need to destroy books in the name of design? These broken books were to be found on tables, bookshelves and on desks. And at Crate and Barrel books were displayed with their pages facing the browser; the spines were facing the back of the bookcase. I don't get it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pinball Reader

Reading is so much like playing a fast game of pinball. Flip the flapper and ding! ding! another book comes into play. For example, let's take Edith Wharton who has been making appearances on book blogs recently in celebration of the 150th anniversary of her birth.

I started out the year reading her French Ways and Their Meaning written in Paris in 1919. After WWI was over, Wharton traveled in Morocco as the guest of the first French resident general, Hubert Lyautey and his wife. Wharton stayed in their home in Marrakesh, the Bahai Palace which was built in the late 1800s. This palace and the fact that Ms. Wharton stayed there is mentioned in the book A Lighthearted Quest by Ann Bridge which I recently finished.

That mention led me to see if Wharton had written anything about her travels in Morocco. She had and cleverly named the book In Morocco. I just now downloaded it onto my Nook for free.

See what I mean. Ding!Ding!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Americans in Paris and the dip pen

I am learning so much from The Greater Journey. Samuel Morse, he of the telegraph and Morse Code, was an accomplished artist. One of his most famous works, The Gallery of the Louvre, is a representation of some 40 masterpieces in that museum gathered in one "exhibit". Mona Lisa is there along with works by Titian, Caravaggio,  and Rubens. Currently, this large work is on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. through July 8, 2012.

Also learned that medical students in America knew almost nothing of women's anatomy or disease. Too prudish. In Paris, though, the women were not so shy and did not object to being examined by a male physician.

And although I have never read any of the adventure stories of James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans, The Deerslayer, etc.) it turns out he was quite a sensation both in America and in Europe. It also happens that he wrote Notions of the Americans:Picked Up By a Traveling Bachelor a non-fiction look at Americans and written for the Europeans. It might be fun to read. My library doesn't have a copy, but it does own a book of Cooper's journals and letters.

That is another delightful bit about the book: McCullough quotes from letters and journals of the artists, physicians, and writers. The writing then was so extraordinary. Not at all florid or pompous, just accurate accounts of the day or event. The language is quite lovely. Each took time to write to family and friends back home even though it might be months before a response was received. So unlike today when we can dash off a text and get a response - most likely with abbreviations and misspellings - in seconds.

And to think that these letters and journal entries were written with a dip pen. Scratch, dip, scribble, dip. If you have ever written with such an old-fashioned writing instrument, and I happen to have quite a collection of them, you will know how much more thoughtful your words become. You actually have time to breathe as you slowly write. Your whole way of thinking changes a bit. And just imagine the books and letters and essays written this way. It's a wonder anything ever got put down on paper at all.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Leavenworth Case

The Leavenworth Case is the book I picked up Saturday at the library. It is a mystery written by Anna Katherine Green (1846-1935) in 1878. Green was one of the authors in the Victorian Women in Crime book and this library copy has an introduction by Michael Sims who was the editor of that book.

Within a couple of paragraphs we learn that Mr. Leavenworth, a wealthy citizen of the town, has been found shot in his locked library. Two nieces live in the house along with the butler, Thomas;  a cook and a housemaid; and, Mr. Leavenworth's secretary, Harwell.  All were in the house the night of the murder. Not only was the library locked from the inside but the house was locked as well.

We learn at the inquest (which oddly enough was held the morning of the discovery of the body and the jury was made up of fellows brought in from the street) that one of the nieces inherits everything while the other gets nothing.

Motive anyone?

This book was Green's first and made her quite famous. (Here)  If your library doesn't have a copy, it is on Google books and Kindle for free. On Nook it will cost you 99 cents. I discovered that there was a movie made of the mystery in 1936 which would be interesting to watch but I don't find that it is on DVD.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Merry Widow

Painting The Tuileries Gardens, Paris by Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924)

Hied myself off to the opera this afternoon. The Merry Widow.  It was quite amusing about a wealthy widow, her feckless suitors, and her true love. Her true love won out of course. It took place in Paris at the end of the 1800s. There were dancing girls, lavish costumes, and witty dialogue - performed in English, thank heavens! The operetta was written by Austrian Franz Lehar and was first performed in Vienna in 1905.

I have hit my stride with The Greater Journey. Not only am I enjoying learning about the Americans who lived and worked and studied in Paris in the 1830s but I am also getting a fine history lesson about the beautiful city as well. When McCullough writes about the avenues, the Tuileries, the Louvre, and the Seine, I am right there with him. I have been lucky to have visited the City of Light twice now. And I have bruises on my toes to this day from walking its wide sidewalks and strolling down its garden paths. Badges of honor, n'est-ce pas?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Breakfast with Socrates

A quick stop at the library today after a fine lunch with a friend at a little French bistro in town. I had chicken salad on a fresh croissant and my friend tried the quiche Lorraine. We were both very satisfied. Tres bien!

I swear I was just going to return one book and pick up another one that was being held for me. But then, a book practically fell off the shelf and tripped me: Breakfast with Socrates by Robert Rowland Smith. The subtitle of the book is An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day. Mr. Smith is a former Oxford Philosophy Fellow. The premise of the book is to take the reader "through an ordinary day with history's most extradordinary thinkers."

This promises to be accessible. The first chapter, Waking Up, introduced me to Descartes ("I think, therefore I am."), Immanuel Kant, and G.W.F.Hegel. But not in a stodgy or convoluted way, but in a way that takes the nugget of truth of each philosopher and plays it against your very waking up or coming into consciousness of the day.

From there he goes to Getting Ready, Traveling to Work, and on through other circumstances of an ordinary day: shopping, going to the doctor, taking a bath, or reading a book. There are 18 short chapters in all. The book itself is small (just over 200 pages) with a cheerful yellow cover showing a silhouette of Socrates and a modern man chatting over breakfast.

Every now and then I get on a kick of reading books on philosophy although I can rarely keep the boys (they are mostly male; women didn't have time to sit around and ponder things, I suppose) and their ideas straight. But you can't fault me for not trying.

If I make it through this one, Smith's follow-up book is Driving with Plato.

Friday, February 17, 2012

History in the Making

Have you ever collected books by an author that look so upstanding and proper on your bookshelves that just seeing them makes you feel smarter? Books that are full of adventure and historical heroes and biographical tidbits? Those that promise to swoop you away to other places and eras? And, volumes that are so well-written and well-researched that two of them have won the Pulitzer Prize?

Well, the author of those esteemed books would be David McCullough, something of a National Treasure in the United States. Mr. McCullough has written books about Presidents Harry Truman, Theodore Roosevelt, and John Adams. He has given the world a recounting of the Johnstown Flood and the American Revolution. He has introduced readers to the rigors of  building the Panama Canal and the Brooklyn Bridge. And, most recently, has written of the American artists, writers, doctors and architects who set off to study in Paris in the 1820s and '30s.

On my shelves I happen to have four of Mr. McCullough's books. What's that you ask? How many have I read? I will admit it...I haven't read a one.

How is it that I keep these books? Do I think that one day in my dotage I will sit down and read all about Harry Truman and John Adams? That the year 1776 will hold a fascination for me? That Americans in Paris in the Victorian era will appeal to me?

I don't know, but in my bookcase they stay. Just today I picked off the shelf The Greater Journey. I settled into my comfy reading chair full of resolve and was ready to be carried across the Atlantic to the French capital. I lasted a total of 19 pages before I closed my eyes and took a nap.

Perhaps I should admit to myself that I am just not a Person Interested in History. That that Person is a fantasy reader I could let go of. I don't know. We shall see. I will keep at The Greater Journey a wee bit more and will report in again.

Do you have a fantasy Reader in you that continues to buy books that you want to have but don't read?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Armchair Travel

I am so enjoying Journeys by Jan Morris. She really captures the atmosphere of a city: its people, history, foibles and fables. I know she has written many books about her travels and I think my next choice will be Destinations: essays from the Rolling Stone published in 1980. She even has a biography of Abraham Lincoln. That one surprised me.

Reading her thoughts and comments on cities I have visited and ones I might not even think to visit gives me a feeling of just how large and how varied the world is. It is too bad that traveling has become such a chore. Really, just trying to get around my hometown has gotten difficult. Traffic delays, road closures, and we have one of three bridges over our lovely river closed. That has definitely put a damper on things.

I think for the time being, at least until I begin my Grand Southern Tour,  I will stick to traveling via my armchair.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

And so to bed...with the Nook

As sometimes happens, I find myself oddly restive after finishing one book and looking to start another. Last night was one of those nights. I had finished Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer the night before. I wandered down the hallway to bed but turned around to find a book to take with me. I studied the bookshelves.  During the day I like to read non-fiction, but in bed at night it is almost always a mystery to be found open on my stomach.

I hemmed...I hawed....I pulled out Queen of Kentucky, a book I bought a few weeks ago. I carried it with me and set it on the nightstand. By the time I had brushed my teeth and flossed I knew that it was going back on the shelf. I wasn't in the mood.

I studied the shelves again. Then remembered the Nook. Hurray, I have mysteries loaded on it! So I tracked it down, it was sitting on my desk, and lo and behold the battery was dead. Sigh.

So I plugged it in to charge and worked on a crossword puzzle. The Nook will let you read and charge at the same time but not if the battery is totally empty. So I gave it 15 minutes or so and picked up where I left off in A Lighthearted Quest.

It had been a while since I had read any of it and I spent a bit of time trying to figure out what was going on. I finally gave up and turned out the light.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Be My Valentine, Beverley Nichols

As this is Valentine's Day and I got a 14-percent-off-your-total-order offer from Powell's Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, I decided to treat myself to something better than chocolate: three books.

Although you would never catch me touching dirt, I do love reading books about people who do. And although I have read all three of Beverley Nichols's books regaling the reader with his efforts to restore his Georgian manor house and its gardens, I wanted them for my own. Powell's had them all, in hardcover. Two used and one new. So without ever leaving my chair, I have set in motion the order fillers at Powell's and soon the trilogy will be here: Merry HallLaughter on the Stairs, and Sunshine on the Lawn.

Just in time for Spring.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thank you, Mr. Carnegie

Carnegie's first library in Dunfermline, Scotland

Many American cities, including my own, have Andrew Carnegie to thank for his generosity in donating money for the building of lending libraries. In 1899, my city received $450,000 from Carnegie and built not only our main library building but eight branches. One of those branches is right down the road from me and still operates as a library. Two others that I know of are still operating. A couple of others have closed or moved into other facilities. One Carnegie building in a nearby neighborhood has become an office building and another is a community center.

I write about this as I am doing my research on libraries to visit on my Southern Tour. Nashville's original Carnegie library was torn down. The new main library was opened in 2001 and was designed by Robert A.M. Stern.

It doesn't appear as though Carnegie's money made it to Memphis. Although its library system was founded in 1888, I find no mention of a Carnegie grant. Its 330,000-square-foot Central Library opened to the public on November 10, 2001.

I guess I won't be seeing the ghost of Mr. Carnegie in the stacks after all.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


I slept in...and in...and in...this morning. Much later than I planned. When I finally looked out the window while the coffee was brewing I saw the sunshine doing its best to warm up a very cold day.

I felt this would be a good Sunday to do some armchair traveling, so I picked up off the library chair Jan Morris's Journeys which has been sitting there for weeks waiting for me to get on board.

Ms. Morris gives the reader a wonderful sense of a place. Not tourist site after ubiquitous tourist site, but more of a collage-painting of sights, sounds, conversations, weather, history, architecture, atmosphere, and anomalies of the cities and countries she is visiting.

Already today I have been to Sydney, Australia; Wells, England; Las Vegas, Nevada; Bombay and Calcutta, India; and, Houston, Texas. Quite a whirlwind trip.

These essays were written based on visits in the early 1980s. But what does it matter? The writing is entertaining and Ms. Morris is quite a companionable and well-spoken guide. From her balcony at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay to the drawing room of the Organist at Wells Cathedral, her droll sense of humor and spot-on (and sometimes caustic) observations never fail to bring a laugh or a nod of agreement. She is not one to avoid the controversial comment.

There are 13 different journeys to be enjoyed - all from the comfort and coziness of my reading chair.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mr. g by Alan Lightman

Mr. g decides to create the universe upon awakening from a nap. He lives in the Void with Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva who have their own ideas about what the universe should hold. Aunt P. doesn't want her nephew to rush his creation. Uncle D. want the universe to have soul. The name of the universe is Aalam-104729.

Atoms become molecules become stars, planets, and intelligent life in this novel by Alan Lightman. Cities are built and civilizations fade away. Good and evil, beauty and ugliness exist. A stranger appears in the Void, a devious rival to Mr. g's ideas about the way the universe should work.

There are a lot of terms for those of us with unscientific minds to assimilate. Mr. Lightman is a theoretical physicist as well as an author. Be warned. My mind glided over the antics of photons, particles and antiparticles, ellipsoids, spheroids and topological hyperboloids.

The book didn't rock my world, but it had enough drama, humor and mystery to keep me reading. And speaking of mystery, here is what Mr. g has to offer the inquisitive creatures inhabiting Aalam-104729:

"The creature could never know where the First Event came from because it came from outside the universe, just as the creature could never experience the Void.  The origin of the First Event would always remain unknowable, and the creature would be left wondering, and that wondering would leave a mystery."

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Grand Southern Tour - update

Eudora Welty

Well, already my Southern book store tour has gotten grander. I forgot about Jackson, Mississippi, home of Eudora Welty. Jackson is three hours south of Memphis.  I think the thing to do is go to Jackson from Memphis and come back through Oxford.

Have been on line checking out hotels. I like to stay downtown where the action is, not out in the suburbs where every street corner looks the same.

The January issue of Southern Living had an essay by Rick Bragg about books and lo, and behold, there was a photo of Welty's library. (link) I will look forward to visiting it. I love the books piled on the couch.

And speaking of libraries, a friend reminded me today that I must visit the main libraries in each of the cities on the trip. Absolutely.

See what I mean: Grander and grander.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book Club

I am not a book club type of person. I attended a book discussion once at the public library but there was too much talking about non-book things. Plus, it was my first time at the meeting, I hadn't had time to read the book, Anna Karenina, and the ending was spoiled for me. Sigh.

Since then, when someone approaches me about joining their book club it is always with the disclaimer that "we usually end up just sitting around drinking wine and talking." Like that is supposed to entice me?

Anyway, I learned about Hulu's web series "Book Club" on Frisbee: A Book Journal  (here) and gave it a look. This is the link  - Book Club. The pilot is only 13 minutes long and some of the episodes are a mere four minutes long. My kind of program. Anyway, the group is made up of many misfits (of course) and you can see for yourself if this is your kind of club. I am not sure if it is mine. At least if I get bored with the chatter I can turn it off.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Millions, the movie

Am catching up on my Movies From Books watching. Last night found me in England on the eve of the pound sterling being phased out and the euro coming in. Damain and his brother find a bag full of pounds that was part of a train robbery of money being sent to the incinerator because it would soon be worthless.

Damian, who studies and see saints, wants to give the money to the poor. He thinks the money came from God. His brother, Anthony, wants to spend it as fast as they can. Or at least invest it in real estate.

Their mother is dead. Dad isn't told about the money because, as Anthony tells Damian, "the government will take 40 percent of it."

The movie is as bright and shiny as the book by Frank Cottrell Boyce. There wasn't a false note in it. The actor, Alex Etel, who played the young Damian was brilliant. There is music and madness and haloed saints and birds being set free. There is even a donkey that gets to ride on a bus.

Well, you will just have to see it. I think the movie captures all the sweetness and the moral conundrums of the book.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Grand Southern Tour

Oxford, Mississippi Courthouse

I have been wanting to visit Oxford, Mississippi for quite a while now with its courthouse square bursting with restaurants and shops. And best of all, book stores. 

Although favorite sons William Faulkner and John Grisham hail from these parts, I have actually only read one book of Faulkner's and none of Grisham's. That is not what attracts me. I am a sucker for small, Southern college towns (Ole Miss is here) and so Oxford has been on my radar for years.

Thanks to this blog, I now I have created a reason to go: a grand Southern Tour if you will of bookstores along Route 40 through Nashville, Jackson and Memphis, Tennessee with my point of destination being Oxford.

Ms. Google tells me there are independent bookstores all along the way. BookmanBookwoman in Nashville, the Book Rack in Jackson, and Burke's in Memphis. Once I get to Oxford there will be Square Books. I am sure to find others as well.

It is a three-hour drive to Nashville from where I live and another three hours to Memphis. Then from Memphis to Oxford is about 90 minutes. But of course, this is a Grand Tour, and so I will be taking my time and stopping and savoring each town. And buying books, no doubt. 

I will keep you posted on my plans. I am thinking April when the South will be abloom.

Monday, February 6, 2012

1918 Flu Pandemic

I belong to an intellectually stimulating club that meets every Monday afternoon from October to April. It was started in 1887 by Sarah Short Barnes (Mrs. C.P.) and is cleverly named Monday Afternoon Club. "Its object shall be the encouragement of culture among woman" as quoted in its constitution.

That is not a photo of us with masks on!

Each Monday, a member presents a 30-minute research paper on a subject within the guidelines of three major topics. This year the topics were Oh, Those Victorians; Historical Villains; and, Voyages.

Today's paper, under Historical Villains, was Pathology of a Killer. No, not a human killer, but the 1918 flu pandemic in which 50 to 100 million people died. It is one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

Between 1918 and 1920 there were two waves of the Spanish flu, the second of which was deadlier than the first. The first wave mostly affected the sick, infants, and the elderly.

The second wave, though, struck down healthy young adults particularly soldiers and sailors during WWI. Close troop quarters and massive troop movements hastened the pandemic among malnourished and combat-stressed soldiers with weakened immune systems.

The presenter also read from a family history that her great-grandfather had written about the death of his own soldier son in an Army camp here in the city. It was quite moving. This woman's father and his twin brother were born after the death of their father.

It was chilling to hear the account of the new recruits standing outside the Army camp waiting to get in while inside the camp soldiers were dying of the flu.

My own father was born in June 1919 and I sometimes think that my grandmother and her unborn child - my father -  could have been casualties of the disease.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Anna Katherine Green

Anna Katherine Green (1846-1935), American writer of detective fiction, is represented by two stories in Victorian Women of Crime. The first is the opening chapter of That Affair Next Door (1897) introducing Miss Amelia Butterworth. She wrote two other mysteries narrated by Miss Butterworth who is financially secure, comes from a good family, and is independent. Although dismissed as a 'busybody' by certain male investigators, nevertheless, she solves the crimes. Think Miss Marple.

The other selection in the book is "The Second Bullet" starring young and wealthy New York socialite Violet Strange. This story was taken from The Golden Slipper and Other Problems for Violet Strange (1915).

Green wrote some 40 books. Perhaps her most famous is The Leavenworth Case (1878) in which she introduced Ebenezer Gryce, detective of the New York Metropolitan Police Force. It is the classic "body in the library" mystery and the one that set her on her career as a writer of detective fiction.

Ebenezer Gryce was featured in several of her books including the three starring Miss Butterworth and in one story with Violet Strange. There are several editions of The Leavenworth Case, That Affair Next Door, and The Golden Slipper available on Amazon. All three, as well as others written by her, are available in free editions for Kindle. Barnes and Noble has the three and others by Green for 99 cents each.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mr. g

A trip to the library in the rain to pick up Mr. g by Alan Lightman. It was on hold. Honestly, I am the first person to read this particular copy. How pleasant is that. Almost like I brought it home from the book store.

Opening sentence:
"As I remember, I had just woken up from a nap when I decided to create the universe."

Here we have novel about the creation. Knowing Mr. Lightman, it will be surprising, engaging, and witty. Just what one needs for a rainy February weekend.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Miss Cayley's Adventures

One of the advantages to reading a compilation of mystery stories as in my Victorian Women in Crime edited by Michael Sims, is the discovery of a new author. Here I am into the seventh story and I hit upon Grant Allen (1848-1899) and "The Adventure of the Cantankerous Old Lady".  It is the opening story in Allen's book Miss Cayley's Adventures.

The heroine is Georgina Lois Gayley. She is a recent graduate of Girton College at Cambridge, is down to her last twopence, and is looking for adventures. She finds one as a temporary traveling companion to The Cantankerous Old Lady. Although she doesn't do much detecting in this story, she does save the COL's jewels.

I like Lois. She is the New Woman: fearless, well-read, optimistic, and known for her talent for mischief. She is a delightful heroine.

My library doesn't have a copy, but there is a free ebook edition at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. How fun.

Allen's style of writing is a bit breezier than most of the authors of this time. He was a friend to Darwin and Doyle and also wrote popular novels, two of which appeared under female pen names (now there's a switch). He created a great character in Victorian crime, Colonel Clay, a notorious con artist who robs the same millionaire twelve times in An African Millionaire.  It too is available in ebook form.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Georgette Heyer - Mystery Writer

Until I read a piece by Michael Dirda praising Georgette Heyer for her wit and charm in his book Classics for Pleasure, I would have snobbily refused to read her thinking she just wrote Edwardian romance novels. Oh, how wrong I was.

I discovered one of the twelve mysteries she wrote when I was browsing the few books left on the shelves when one of the three Borders stores in my city was closing. I was smitten not only by the cover but by the characters and the plotting. When the two other Borders stores closed a few months later, I went and scooped up another four of her mysteries.

Now, the remaining seven are in my cart at Amazon. At $12 a piece, that is a chunk of change, but I must have them. I love everything about these books - inside and out. The size is perfect. The covers are gorgeous. I obsess.  They are available for my Nook, but I don't want the ebooks. I simply must have all of her mysteries on my shelves. And I am afraid that if I don't go ahead and order the remaining seven, the publisher will come out with a new edition that won't match the ones I have.

Oh, the trials and tribulations of a book lover.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Coming Up

So far I have finished three of the Victorian female detective stories. Actually, I have figured out what was going on way before the detective did, but the writing is good and the characters are fun.  I will try not to think too hard about the clues so maybe I will be surprised a couple of times.

I rented the DVD Millons. I just finished reading the book and will be interested to see how the movie folks treated it. I will give my report soon.

For February, I am going to make an effort to read books that I have on hand, although I am sure I will still visit the library because it is such a fun thing for me. As a matter of fact, I have a book on hold: Mr. G, the story of creation as told by God by Alan Lightman. It is brand new. I loved Lightman's book Einstein's Dreams. I could actually feel my brain cracking open with his ideas. Fantastic.