Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween and October Recap

Unknown, Still Life with Pumpkin, Book, and Sweet Potato, c.1855
daguerreotype with applied colouring, 6.3 x 5.1 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Here is the recap for October:

Books Read: 8

Author events: 2 -- Hannah Rosin (The End of Men) and Camille Paglia (Glittering Images). Also enjoyed celebrity chef Tyler Florence at The Incredible Food Show in Lexington. He has written quite a few cookbooks (which I would never read) and I found him to be down-to-earth and engaging.

Still reading: Billy Boyle by James R. Benn (a WWII mystery that I am reading on my Nook) and I Capture the Castle (which I planned on reading entirely in October but didn't. Now it is on my November reading list).

Books returned to the library unread: 3

Number of pumpkins carved: 0

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happier at Home

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin is the latest book I read on my Nook. I conveniently downloaded it from the library. I recently read Ms. Rubin's The Happiness Project (here) and wanted to see what resolutions for happiness she was embracing. 

(Oh dear, I see that I read THP in January. Does that count as 'recently'?)

In this newest book, Ms. Rubin spends the nine months of the school year trying out resolutions to make life about the house - or in her case a Manhattan apartment - happier. Three chapters had to do with marriage, family, and parenthood and I didn't really read those. But her resolutions for September/Possessions, January/Time, and February/Body interested me.

In September, two of her resolutions were Cultivate a Shrine and Go Shelf by Shelf. Her idea of a shrine in not a religious one but a gathering of items that enshrined her passions, interests, and values.  In her case that meant having photographs framed and displayed in a prominent position and objects gathered that reminded her of beloved family members. She made her office a Shrine to Work by de-cluttering papers and office supplies and adding painted wisteria vines to her office's bare walls.

Also in September, by going shelf by shelf, drawer by drawer, then closet by closet she considered her possessions, found the things that were in the wrong place and moved them to the right place, and worked her way through her clothes closet.

I love reading about someone's efforts made to simplify and organize and get rid of clutter.

In January she strove to Cram the Day with What I Love (I so try to do this!), and in February one of her resolutions was Embrace Good Smells. 

To me, one of the many benefits of getting a facial every other month is experiencing the wonderful scents of the products that the clinician uses. Ahhhh. After my last visit, I brought home a small bottle of lavender scented oil and one of peppermint. I inhale the lavender scent before bed each night as it fosters relaxation. The peppermint energizes and I enjoy that scent in the mornings. Sometimes I even go a bit crazy and mix the two in the palms of my hands and just breathe.

Ms. Rubin mentions an on-line store, Demeter Fragrance, which sells scents such as Hay, Laundromat, Frozen Pond, and Bamboo. I can barely wait to see what it has to offer. 

As always, Ms. Rubin writes in an accessible style and I appreciate her honesty when some of her resolutions don't prove to work out. And her efforts make me aware of ways I already am Happier at Home. Or should I say Happiest at Home.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Greetings from Lompoc

I presented my research paper today for the Monday Afternoon Club. It was well received and I had fun giving it. The paper was on the history of Lompoc, California (pronounced Lom poke). 

I lived there in the seventies and thought that the town had some interesting aspects to it. It was founded as a temperance society. It is the Flower Seed Capital of the World. It was home to the 'country club' prison that housed H.R. Haldeman and other Watergate criminals. Vandenberg Air Force Base is there and is still launching unmanned missiles into the wild blue skies. And, it is the setting of the most completely restored Spanish mission, La Purisima, which is now a state park. 

On a bookish note, Lompoc is mentioned often in Sue Grafton's series of alphabet mysteries. Lompoc is about an hour's drive north of Santa Barbara, which is the real town to Kinsey Millhone's Santa Theresa. Kinsey's mother was from a well-to-do Lompoc family. The town is featured prominently in J is for Judgment and Q is for Quarry.

It amazes me how much time and thought goes into preparing one of these papers. Lots of research and then getting the information down and then the tweaking, tweaking, tweaking, followed by many practice presentations. And then more tweaking. 

I don't know if others spend as much time as I do but for the past two months I have felt that preparing for this 30-minute presentation has been like a second career. 

I will be happy to give my mind a little rest.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

When the Year Grows Old

Here is an offering from my new book of poems by 
Edna St. Vincent Millay:

When the Year Grows Old

I cannot help remember
When the year grows old --
October -- November --
How she disliked the cold!

She used to watch the swallows
Go down across the sky,
And turn from the window
With a little sharp sigh.

And often when the brown leaves
Were brittle on the ground
And the wind in the chimney
Made a melancholy sound,

She had a look about her
That I wish I could forget --
The look of a scared thing
Sitting in a net!

Oh, beautiful at nightfall
The soft spitting snow!
And beautiful the bare boughs
Rubbing to and fro!

But the roaring of the fire,
And the warmth of the fur,
And the boiling of the kettle
Were beautiful to her!

I cannot but remember
When the year grows old --
October -- November --
How she disliked the cold!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Book Fairies Strike Again

Edna St. Vincent Millay
photo by Arnold Genthe
I don't have anything against poetry, I just don't read it very often. As I look at my bookshelves I see a couple of books by Mary Oliver and a small edition of Walt Whitman poems. The Whitman volume is published by Everyman's Library and is one in its Pocket Poets series.

I love the size. I fits comfortably in my hands and even has its own yellow ribbon bookmark.

This leads me to tell you that yesterday I visited Poor Richard's Bookstore in Frankfort, Kentucky. It is a grand bookstore across from the Old Capitol building downtown. Shelves stretch up the high ceilings, ladders stand at the ready to help reach for the highest placed volume, and new and used books sit side by side. Through a doorway, a coffee shop beckons with soft leather chairs and low tables and more books. 

There is even a second floor, an attic really, that holds scads of old books. Books that are somewhat beyond used but treasures just the same. I have visited the attic on a previous visit, but I didn't climb the stairs this time. As we were only passing through town, I just had a short minute to browse and said out loud to Rose, my traveling companion, "I will not buy a book today."

Hah! That of course tempted the Book Fairies to prove me wrong and within minutes I had a book in my hand. Another in the series of Pocket Poets. This one: Edna St. Vincent Millay.

On the cover is a wonderfully evocative sepia photo of a young Ms. Millay standing among what look to be the branches of a tulip tree full of white blossoms. Her dark hair is pulled back into a soft bun and she is wearing a linen dress with a white collar and white buttons which I will just bet you are made of mother of pearl. The photo was taken in 1914 by one Arnold Genthe. 

This jacket photo alone was worth the price of the book - a mere $13.50 - but as I look at the receipt, I see I was charged $15.50. Oh, well. Poor Richard is two dollars richer.

I do believe I will enjoy reading Ms. Millay. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923 and is the author of the following familiar lines:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends --
It gives a lovely light!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Personal Pleasures: Reading

Rose Macaulay
As I am always on the lookout for essays about the everyday, I thought I would love this book of thoughts on everything from Armchairs to Fire Engines to Writing published in Personal Pleasures by Rose Macaulay. I was disappointed. Ms. Macaulay's writing isn't as straightforward as I would have liked and I had difficulty staying engaged. 

This is the opening of her essay on Reading:

Here is one of the oddest of the odd inventions which man has sought out, this conveying to one another by tracks scratched on paper thoughts privately conceived in the mind. It shows, as all the arts show, the infinite publicism of humankind, the sociability,  the interdependence,  which cannot endure to have a thought, to conceive a tale, a tune, a picture, an arrangement of words, or anything else, but all must forthwith be informed of it. And how avidly we run to be informed; we have already consumed many thousands of tales, poems  essays, and what not, but we are never satiate,  we are greedy always for more.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An album of bookmarks

Since I was on the subject of odd things I have used for bookmarks, I thought I would share photos of some of real bookmarks that I picked up on my Grand Southern Literary Tour in May. 

I know they run over the margins, but if I didn't make the photos X-Large, you wouldn't be able to see any detail. My apologies.

Eudora Welty books all in a row

This first comes from Eudora Welty's house in Jackson, Miss. It is difficult to see, but photo is of the spines of her books. They look so pretty sitting all together, don't they. 

Square Books time three

The one above shows all three bookstores run by Square Books in Oxford, Miss. From Left to right: Square Books Jr., Square Books (the main store) and Off Square Books.

All are on the town square. One doesn't need to be anywhere else.

Lemuria Books

These three are from Lemuria Books also in Jackson, Miss. One of the clerks that I spoke with remembered when Ms. Welty used to shop at the store. Talk about making a bookseller's  day...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ten odd things used as bookmarks

Metro ticket used as a bookmark
There has been some chatter recently about bookmarks. Frisbee has taken to trying her hand at knitting them here. Penny at Lifeonthecuttoff had a post about a new book about strange things found in books here.

As someone who would never turn down a page to mark my place - someone Anne Fadiman calls a courtly book lover - here is a list of ten items I have used as bookmarks. Although I have a basket full of bookmarks - from bookstores in other cities, states and countries   - I am sometimes caught unawares and have to make do.

1. A piece of dental floss - not used.
2. A leaf - from picnic reading.
3. An index card that invariably has something important noted on it - a phone number or address - and gets lost in the book.
4. The computer-generated due date receipt from the library. I hate these. They are as banal as a grocery store receipt. I used to love the hand-stamped dated ones as each book had one to use to mark my place.
5. A paper napkin - it was handy.
6. A newspaper article or a torn-off corner of a page of the newspaper.
7. A dollar bill.
8. A Kleenex - like the floss, unused.
9. A piece of ribbon - this always seems to be so old fashioned and romantic.
10. A Metro ticket from Paris.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Camille Paglia Storms the Library

Camille Paglia

A very welcoming and appreciative crowd showed up last night for the library's author event featuring Camille Paglia. Oh my. She hit the stage walking and talking.

She spoke to the audience and then answered questions. I don't think she took a breath for the entire 90 minutes she was on stage. 

She is intense, opinionated, and funny. At times I felt I was at a comedy club. The woman talks so fast and is so sincere, she sputters at times.

Ms. Paglia is an art historian, culture critic, and Salon columnist. She is a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She is the author of eight books.

In twenty-nine chapters, her newest book, Glittering Images, surveys the major art periods in history for the general audience. The handbook, as she called it, features accessible language and contains quality reproductions of the artworks she writes about.

"Survey courses in art and art history are being abandoned," she said. "I want people to know what great paintings are and how to look at a painting.  The art of painting has been overshadowed by other media. It has been marginalized."

She spoke of how much painting and art has meant to her in her life.  How today visual clutter is the norm. (Think poorly designed web sites and television screens screaming with images and people and ticker-tape headlines scrolling along the bottom.) About how difficult it is for an individual to have an quiet encounter with a work of art. (Think of all the tourists milling about Mona Lisa in the Louvre.)

Well, I have had my encounter with Ms. Paglia and she is a 'work of art.' I didn't stay to buy an autographed copy of the book. But I certainly found myself nodding in agreement with many of her opinions. She is quite brilliant. I think you could ask her to speak on any topic - say, sump water - and she would be able to hold forth in an informative and entertaining way.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Joe Queenan and Camille Paglia

While I was looking up an article in the Wall Street Journal on Oxford, Mississippi that a friend had recommended, I discovered an essay by Joe Queenan, My 6,128 Favorite Books. I had to read it pretty quickly and was delighted to find it online so I can re-read it and again laugh and nod my head in agreement.

I am also delighted to provide the link to it. I do hope you will find it entertaining.

On another note, tonight at the library is an author event with Camille Paglia. Her latest book, and the one she will be discussing, is Glittering Images.

According to the library website, in this book "she tackles the great themes of Western art through more than two dozen notable images taking us on a 'Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars.'"

Ms. Paglia is a bit of a provocateur, so the evening should be interesting. I will take notes and let you know.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

An Autumn Haiku

The trees here have shrugged on their autumn sweaters of red and yellow.  The maple trees look as if they have been plugged in and a switch thrown - they are so electrified with the sun.

Here is an autumn haiku:

Leaves on grass
leaves in books
pages turning

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach

I am not finding much time to read during the day. I am in the middle of doing research for a paper that I have to present this month to my Monday Afternoon Club (here). The category is Cities. We have already learned about "Pittsburgh" and "Cities in Literature" and Monday's paper is "City of Enlightenment." My paper is entitled "Nestled in a Fertile Valley" and will take a look at Lompoc, California. (Don't ask.)

So, I find the only time for reading is right before bedtime and I am well into Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill. Unemployed crime reporter Jimm Juree is back with her family and the run-down resort they own and run on the Gulf of Siam in Thailand. There is mother Mair; granddad Jah, a retired traffic policeman; her somewhat dim brother Arny, the body-builder; and Sissi, her sister who (through the miracles of modern medicine) used to be her brother and is a wiz on the Internet. It's all crazy.

This is the second in the series that began with Killed At the Whim of a Hat (here). There are a mysterious mother and daughter on the lam and hiding out in the family's resort. There are tales of the struggles of the Burmese refugees living in Thailand working for little or no pay and occasionally disappearing. There is the head Jimm finds on the beach which no one - especially the police - seem interested in identifying.

And although the plight of the Burmese refugees is real, the story is full of crazy characters and situations all of which Mr. Cotterill manages to make ring true. Very entertaining.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Desert Isle Addendum

A fingerpost in Great Britain

Yesterday I posted about the "Crime on Desert Island" essay by Bill Ott in the mystery and crime issue of Booklist, the book review magazine published by the American Library Association.

I was so busy thinking about which mysteries I would want with me if stranded on a desert isle that I didn't let you in on the books Mr. Ott chose. He decided to focus on style not suspense. So here goes. 

1.  The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler - Mr. Ott felt that the titles of Chandler's other mysteries - The Long Goodbye, The Big Sleep, and  Farewell, My Lovely - were not words that someone stranded on an island would want to see.

2.  The Maltese Falcon by Dashiel Hammett - Another classic. He is entranced by Kasper Gurman's line: "I am a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."

3.  Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell - The story of a woman longing to escape from a place she no longer wants to be. "Woodrell writes some of the funniest, most musical, most double-edged prose being written by anyone in any genre."

4.  Out on the Rim by Ross Thomas - This book stars characters Artie Wu and Quincy Durant. "Thomas's plots are like cathedrals, masterworks of architectonic design and things of beauty in themselves."

5.  An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears - This is a historical mystery set in Restoration England and offers "a mix of politics and passion, sex and science, revenge and religion."

High praise for all.

Now of course I have heard of Chandler and Hammett and I believe that at one time I owned a copy of Chinaman's Chance, the first Artie Wu/Quincy Durant mystery by Thomas. But Mr. Woodrell and Mr. Pears are totally unknown to me and their books sound intriguing. 

I will put these on my TBR list and maybe one of them will make the cut on my own Desert Isle List.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On a Desert Isle

Mysteries for a desert island
I do not subscribe to any magazines. I don't want the extra reading material in my house to turn into stacks or to have to recycle or to tempt me to keep because "I might need them some day."

So, once again the library is my friend. Occasionally I breeze through its magazine sections. Usually I am looking for home decor mags - House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Traditional Home. But sometimes I like to just randomly pick a couple of ones that focus on something different.

This past week, I pulled out Booklist, the book review magazine published by the American Library Association. I checked out three issues - mystery and crime, historical fiction, and series non-fiction. And I thought I had a long TBR list before. Now I am officially overwhelmed. 

So far, I have only browsed through the pages and pages of reviews of mysteries - for adults and young readers. I was in heaven. 

I was especially intrigued by the Back Page essay written by Bill Ott entitled "Crime on a Desert Island." Here he attempts to choose five mysteries that he would want with him if stranded on a tropical isle along with cases of Dewar's scotch, fresh vegetables, matches, and a good paring knife. He went for style rather than plot.

This of course got me thinking of five mysteries I would want with me. Off the top of my head I thought of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the unfinished book by Charles Dickens. Since Dickens didn't live to provide a solution, I could spend my days cracking coconuts and thinking of alternate endings. 

Another selection, and this might be cheating but it's my list, would be a box set of the fourteen John Dortmunder mysteries by Donald Westlake. If there isn't a boxed set, there should be. The plots are as intriguing as the characters and dialogue. Those would keep me entertained through many a tropical storm. 

That leaves three more to choose and I will have to give them some thought.

How about you? Most desert island lists are mixed fiction and non-fiction. I like just getting to choose mysteries. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Murder Will Out

P.D. James
author of fourteen
Adam Dagliesh mysteries
The Murder Room took its time getting to the solution of the crime or I should say crimes. But then getting to the denouement
with author P.D. James is a nice way to spend a couple of evenings. 

Ms. James likes to give detailed backstories to her characters and she does a bit of social philosophizing now and again. Well, all that takes time. 

Briefly, this murder mystery concerns the death by fire of psychiatrist Dr. Neville Dupayne. He and his brother and sister are the owners of a London museum dedicated to the decades between WWI and WWII. The museum was founded by their father and left in trust to them upon his (natural) death. Now, the lease is up on the building which houses memorabilia, paintings, and books from that period. There is also The Murder Room where weapons and photos and newspaper clippings of famous murders during that time are displayed. Dr. Dupayne doesn't want to renew the lease but his siblings do and it takes all three to agree in order for the museum to continue to remain open.

Enter murder, another murder, and then a third. Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his crew plod along interviewing suspects, discussing the case, and following false leads. It appears that the killer has been inspired by the real-life crimes from the museum's Murder Room. 

To complicate things even more, AD (as he is referred to by his team) is a bit distracted during the investigation of the case by his feelings for Emma, a professor at Cambridge. Emma is someone he met in Death in Holy Orders.

The police and even a few of the suspects figured out who the murderer was way before I did. Murder will out and, apparently for AD, so will love.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Little Help Please

Here are some of the strategies Daniel Smith used to try and overcome his anxiety as recounted in his book Monkey Mind, A Memoir of Anxiety:

Therapy - He had about six therapists. One actually pulled a diagnostic book off the shelf and read the questions aloud. Mr. Smith answered all  - difficulty controlling your worry? restless, keyed up or on edge? difficulty concentrating? irritable? muscle tension? etc. -  with a "Yes." The therapist responded: "I'd say there is something definitely off kilter." You think?

Breathe - Inhale for four counts through your nose; exhale for six counts through your mouth. This worked sometimes and for a while.

Books - In college, when he discovered Philip Roth, he felt an immediate kinship. Authors he avoided as too anxiety provoking: Faulkner, James, Cheever, Pynchon.

Chew - As in chew your nails down to the nail bed. Very painful and not really a cure. Besides, he writes, "My hands looked like they had been manicured by an immersion blender."

Hide out - He spent most of his first year in college in the basement of the library. He felt safe there. And then there were all those Philip Roth books to absorb.

Pills - One word: Xanax. He told his college roommate that they were vitamins for his heart.

Weep - Difficult to find a solitary place to cry when living in a dorm with a hundred other guys.

Alas, there may be more but I have been laughing too loudly to note them.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monkey Mind

OK. Daniel Smith is funny. His book Monkey Mind, A Memoir of Anxiety has me laughing out loud, chuckling to myself, and nodding my head in recognition of all the fears and absurdities that are modern life.

In Mr. Smith's case, his Monkey is more of a terrifying King Kong, whereas, thankfully, my Monkey is tiny and tame enough to sit in a teacup. 

Mr. Smith is not sure when his anxiety began. Was it when he was three and almost drowned or was it when he was 16 and lost his virginity when he was seduced by a lesbian? Odd, huh? I think either event would qualify.

I am only about 65 pages into the book. It reads like something by A.J. Jacobs (The Know-It-All): funny, honest, and faces head on the author's foibles. I remind myself though, that underneath the humor and crazy situations, there is the reality of his painful struggles with his over-the-top anxiety. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Raining Books

Sky Stack Cane Umbrella
The Gifty

When it rains it comes down in books here at Belle's house. 

I am within 100 pages of finishing P.D. James's The Murder Room and just began I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I could read the first chapter over and over. There is not a false note or a wrong word in it. I think that chapter alone should be studied in all writing classes. It is perfect.

As to the rain reference, two books that have been on my library reserve list forever showed up in one day. One is a mystery by Colin Cotterill, Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach. This is the second in Mr. Cotterill's Jimm Jaree series set in Thailand. The first was Killed at the Whim of a Hat which I wrote about here. Mr. Cotterill is also the author of the Dr. Siri mysteries that take place in Viet Nam and which I totally enjoy. 

And you have to admit, the man has a way with titles.

The other book that arrived is Monkey Mind, A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith. As I am familiar with my own chattering monkey mind, I look forward to comparing neurosis with Mr. Smith. I just hope his book doesn't give My Monkey any ideas. 

Of course, having all these wonderful books to read at once is making me very anxious. How does one cope?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Writer's Block Festival

Writer's Block: An inability to write.

It's a term I am sure we are all familiar with. But today, I took writer's block to a new level by attending The Writer's Block Festival. This was the second annual celebration of local, state, and regional writing. 

People could attend workshops on plot, poetry, place or playwriting. Or perhaps one had an interest in sitting in on panels discussing  publishing, blogging, or young adult fiction. Readings were held. Books were for sale. There was a print fair. A national poetry slam winner Anis Mojgani was to be the keynote speaker/reader/slammer at an event this evening.

I signed up for a 90-minute workshop on travel writing led by university assistant professor Robin Lee Mozer. There were six participants. 

To begin, we each wrote for 20 minutes about a trip we had taken recently: a trip to the airport, a river boat trip, an island off Hilton Head, and a stroll through an art fair. I wrote about my trip this week to the chapel at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky (here). One fellow had recently hiked the Appalachian Trail which led to a discussion of Bill Bryson (see my fan letter to Mr. B. here) who has written about his adventures conquering that trail.

Ms. Mozer explored how to create yourself as a character in a travel essay, spin a good yarn, and address awkward situations or uncomfortable accommodations. 

This is from her handout:

Good travel writing does more than simply tell readers about a place. Good travel writing invites readers to sit with you in that booth at that barbecue joint in Alabama or to pedal wildly along next to you on that unexpectedly grueling bike tour of Argentina's wine country. Part of transporting readers is giving them a character to travel with. In a travel essay, that character is you.

It occurs to me that those of us who write about books are writing 'travel essays' as well. To follow Ms. Mozer's guide: The book is the place we have visited, we tell the book's story (or part of it anyway), and some books are so uncomfortable to read that we flee from them as if their pages held bedbugs. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Three Strikes

Wrigley Field
 where some of the action in
Calico Joe takes place
Maybe I am spoiled by reading Beverley Nichols, but really, there isn't an interesting sentence to be found in John Grisham's Calico Joe. It's just a story and one that we have heard before. There are four characters: Warren Tracey, pitcher for the New York Mets; his 11-year-old son Paul; Joe Castle, rookie for the Chicago Cubs; and, baseball.

Paul, as an adult, narrates the story which switches back and forth between the summer of 1973 and the present day. Warren is a bully and not all that great a father or a pitcher.  Paul loves baseball; hates his father. Joe loves baseball and is quite a sensation but has to deal with the resentment and jealousy of his opponents. Baseball is baseball. 

All these characters meet on the diamond of life (ouch) in these 200 pages. No surprises. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Book Events

There are some bookish events coming up soon that might be worth checking out.

On Saturday there is a Writers Block Festival with workshops and discussion panels. The workshops don't interest me, but one of the panels is going to be on blogging. I might check that out.

This is the second year for this event which is held in an up-and-coming retail/restaurant/gallery neighborhood.

In November, the Kentucky Book Festival will be held in Frankfort. I have attended this a few times and have always enjoyed the trip. It is held indoors and is not too overwhelming. It is nice to see all the Kentucky writers.

On a different note, I started John Grisham's Calico Joe. By page 20 I could see where it was going...maybe. There is some fun baseball history and the names of famous and familiar players are scattered throughout. I hope it doesn't disintegrate into a sad story. Alas, I fear it will. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lindsey Wilson College and the John Begley Chapel

John B. Begley Chapel
Lindsey Wilson College
Columbia, Kentucky

A road trip today to Lindsey Wilson College about two hours south of my home. I drove through farmlands and around small town squares to the town of Columbia, Kentucky.

The college, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, sits atop a hill overlooking the courthouse tower. Columbia is the county seat and boasts about 4,000 residents. The college has an enrollment of 2700. 

The reason I wanted visit the college is evidenced by the photo I took today (above) of the John B. Begley Chapel. It was designed by architect E. Fay Jones. Jones was inspired by the many farm silos that dot the landscape in the area. I love that his design was influenced by the surrounding farmland.

And how serendipitous. Totally unknown to me, today was the 15th anniversary of the chapel's dedication. There was to be a ceremony in celebration of that event, but I was unable to stay for it. 

Antique Bibles from a collection
at Lindsey Wilson College

Of course I visited the college's Katie Murrell Library. Here, upon request, I was shown to the archives where I viewed a collection of antique Bibles owned by the school. One was from 1860 (the red one above). The leather binding was the softest you ever felt. The school also owns the library of Kentucky historian Thomas D. Clark. Like the books comprising Robert Penn Warren's library that reside at Western Kentucky University and which were part of the Grand Southern Literary Tour, I was impressed by the range of intellect of Mr. Clark. Most of his library consisted of history - American, British, French. As he was born in 1903 and died at the age of 101 in 2005, the books from his shelves were soft and lovely. 

What a wonderful way to spend a stunning autumn day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My reading list for October

I am finally moving on from the delightful gardens of Beverley Nichols. This month, I am going to head out to the baseball diamond and then I will explore a castle.

In October, I am determined to read Calico Joe by John Grisham. As this is an exciting baseball month - the playoffs culminating in the World Series - I feel it is only fitting to read a book about the Great American Pastime.

Calico Joe is a book I purchased from Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi on my Grand Southern Literary Tour in May. It is autographed by Mr. Grisham. I have not read anything by this very popular author but I couldn't resist buying this one as I do love baseball. Calico Joe is a rookie AA player who becomes the idol of every kid with a ball and a bat. That's all I know about it for now.

As far as the next book on my list for this month, it will be I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I have owned this very famous book for some time. I have even read 50 pages or so. Then I put it down and, to my chagrin, never picked it up again. I will start again at the beginning.

I am committed to reading I Capture the Castle. One reason is that I remember being enchanted by the story (so far) and the other is that the movie stars Bill Nighy (I have a crush on him) as the father and I want to see him in it. I will read the book first, though, I promise. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Murder Room by P.D. James

I have tried three mysteries from the library - new authors all - and have returned them unread. Well, maybe I read three to five pages of each. Too many words, too many uninteresting words, too many words taking too long to get to the point. I was bored before I had barely begun.

The premise of one that I downloaded to my Nook had promise. It was about a librarian in a small Midwestern town. But her policeman boyfriend kept calling her "Babe" which irritated me (I don't think he ever called her by her actual name). To make matters worse, this librarian was "traditionally built" as Mma Ramatswe would say, so every time he called out "Yes, Babe" I pictured Babe the Pig.

In circumstances such as this, it is best to turn to the professionals. I turned to P.D. James. I have been remiss in recent years in keeping up with her Scotland Yard Inspector Adam Dalgliesh so was excited to see that his 12th adventure, The Murder Room, was available as an e-book from the library.

The book has to do with a private museum in London dedicated to the time between the wars. The three children and trustees of the museum's founder are at odds with one another over signing the lease which would extend the life of the museum. (Imagine siblings not agreeing.) One wants to close the place and the other two are determined to keep it open. I suspect the dissenting voter will soon become the victim.

The museum has a tidy collection of first editions and art from the 1920s and '30s. And, one of the rooms of the museum just happens to be dedicated to murderers and their victims from that time in history.  

I haven't seen a body yet, so I don't know any more than that, but with Ms. James I know the puzzle is in capable hands.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Rocks, Goldfish, and Grapes

Goldfish pond
You might be wondering if I will ever stop swooning over Beverley Nichols. Well, probably not soon.

So far in Down the Garden Path, Mr. Nichols's adventure in the garden of his thatched cottage in Allways, England, I have learned how to build a rockery and what plants to use to create cascades of color. And, if I ever feel up to having a pond dug in my yard, I know just how to fill it with twelve goldfish that will create little black fish and soon I will have an entire pool shimmering with gold. 

Not that I am apt to add either rocks or fish to my garden, but the knowledge of how to do both creates nice tidbits of conversation.

Mr. Nichols's neighbors in this undertaking are not quite as friendly and kind as the ones he inherited with Merry Hall. Most of them seem to irritate him which makes for some dazzling dialogue and internal harrumphing. 

I have even gotten to meet his parents. His father was apparently quite a knowledgeable gardener and has ample opportunities to pass on bits of fatherly wisdom to his more novice son. It was his father who discovered the grape vine almost smothered by briers, jasmine, and ivy. Within a year, Mr. Nichols was enjoying luscious purple grapes from the rescued vine. 

Another totally unexpected garden delight.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Down the Garden Path

Beverley Nichols's garden
in Allways, Huntingdonshire, England
Oh lovely. More Beverley Nichols with Down the Garden Path which was written 20 years before he bought Merry Hall and wrote about restoring that Georgian house and its gardens. 

Now I am transported to 1930s England to a small village which Mr. Nichols calls Allways. He has just purchased - pretty much sight unseen - a thatched cottage on a country lane. He once visited the cottage and remembered the gardens as bursting with blossoms. Not so now. Here is how he describes the garden upon his arrival:

I stepped through the window. Stopped dead. Blinked...Looked again...and the spirit seemed to die within me.

It was a scene of utter desolation. True, it was a cold evening in late March, and the shadows were falling. No garden can be expected to look its best in such circumstances. But this garden did not look like a garden at all. There was not even a sense of order about it. All design was lacking. Even in the grimmest winter days a garden can give an appearance of discipline, and a certain amount of life and colour, no matter how wild the winds nor dark the skies. But this garden was like a rubbish heap.

Oh dear. Mr. Nichols does have his work cut out for him. How wonderful for me. I get to dig about in the garden with him without getting my fingernails dirty. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Author Event: The End of Men by Hanna Rosin

Last night at the library, I attended an author event starring Hanna Rosin of The End of Men fame. She is quite feisty and talks very fast but then she had a lot of ground to cover. 

I took notes. Ms. Rosin is a senior editor with The Atlantic magazine and this book is an enlargement of an essay she wrote in 2010. She writes that the feminist ideals of the 1960s have come to pass. More women than men are graduating from college; women make up the majority of the workforce (in 1950, 1 in 20 men was not working, whereas today it is 1 in 5); in many instances married women make more than their husbands; and in fact, women are not so interested in getting married right away but are preferring to get established career-wise before committing to husband and family.

So no, it is not really the end of men as in the Charlotte Perkins Gilman novel Herland featuring a Utopian society composed entirely of women and where there have been no males for 2000 years. 

But there has been a shift and a rise in women. Due to the end of the manufacturing age with a labor force dominated by men, there has been a swing toward a service and technology economy to which women are suited and have gravitated. Women executives are now in positions to hire women to do the jobs of child care, elder care, food preparation and housekeeping. 

I had a great question for her but she didn't call on me (although I was in the front row and repeatedly raised my hand). No matter. I will ask it now.

She told the true story of a small town in Alabama that lost its major textile employer. For many years, the town had been dominated by the men who worked at the factory. Now, it is the women of the town who are working. One manager, when he called the unemployment office, ended up talking to his former secretary who had found a job whereas he hadn't.

This story reminded me of the movie The Full Monty. The men have lost their factory jobs and their wives are working at low-paying positions. By the end of the movie, the fellows have become male strippers. The term The Full Monty refers to total nudity - a rather rousing ending to the tale.

Anyway, I wondered if any of the men in that Alabama town had become strippers (smile). And if not, what were they doing?

I also wondered, but didn't get the opportunity to ask, if this shift is merely the extreme swing of the pendulum and would encourage men to get a college degree (just as women set out to do) and in 50 years we would all be sitting around bemoaning the fact that men were on top again in the areas discussed.

I think Ms. Rosin is hopeful that we will use our imaginations to give women and men a little more room to breathe in this world.

Well, that certainly couldn't hurt.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ten Things I Adore About Beverley Nichols

Beverley Nichols in the garden of Merry Hall
with its 'peculiar crane' at the edge of the pool
Here are ten things I adore about Beverley Nichols:

1. He uses great verbs. On one page alone you have twist, swing, totter, delve, dream, stagger, trip, suffocate, lurk, and devote. 

2. He uses unbiased gender pronouns - he and she or him and her instead of just the male pronoun. (And this was in the '50s.) For example...When a visitor first sees my garden, he or she breathes a sigh of serenity. 

3. He writes brilliant dialogue.

4. There is always something to learn from Mr. Nichols whether it is about music, myths, or mice. His diversions and asides are just as witty and scintillating as the main story.

5. He knows his cats. And he loves them, as well as all animals. He can't even stand to swat a bee on a windowsill but instead catches it in a matchbox and releases it back into the garden.

6. He quickly captures the essence of his neighbors and friends - Bob with the his gold pocket chain and charms that he jingles when upset; Marius with his knowledge of just about everything, Our Rose with her reckless and energetic flower arrangements; Miss Emily with her practical nature which often clashes with Our Rose's more ethereal personality; and Miss Mint whose brutal childhood has made her quite timid and yet is such a kind person and everyone loves her. 

7. In Sunlight on the Lawn, he provides instructions for making a lavender fan with fresh lavender stalks, starched muslin, and ribbon. 

8. When it comes to beauty in house or garden, expense be damned. 

9. I actually love the fact that he employs Gaskin, his "Jeeves", and Ted, a male secretary. I wish I had such helpmates.

10. He has generously chosen William McLaren, a fine, talented Scottish gentleman, to illustrate the Merry Hall trilogy. This makes the books not only a delight to read but a joy to look at. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

I just finished Cards on the Table, a Hercule Poirot mystery by Dame Agatha Christie. I had not read this one before.

Eight folks at a dinner party; afterwards, two tables of bridge. Later, the host, a Mephistophelian-like fellow Mr. Shaitana, is found dead sitting by the fireplace. Stabbed through the heart. Fortunately, M. Hercule Poirot is a guest as well as Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, Colonel Race with the Secret Service, and Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, the mystery writer who shows up now and again in Ms. Christie's tales. 

The other guests, the ones playing bridge in the room where the host was killed, all have secrets in their pasts which give each of them a motive for murder. 

And so the game is afoot.

As secrets are revealed - each suspect could possibly have murdered in the past and had been found out by Mr. Shaitana - the case becomes curiouser and curiouser. 

Of course, M. Poirot and his little grey cells unravel the mystery but, alas, not before two others are found dead. It is all very psychologically intriguing and great fun. (Well, except for the dead people).

Ms. Christie gives Mrs. Oliver an opportunity to tell a young woman, Rhoda, that being a writer is hard work, that there is much thinking involved about plots and poisons.

Mrs. Oliver: “One actually has to think, you know. And thinking is always a bore. And you have to plan things. And then one gets stuck every now and then, and you feel you’ll never get out of the mess—but you do! Writing’s not particularly enjoyable. It’s hard work like everything else.

"... Some days I can only keep going by repeating over and over to myself the amount of money I might get for my next serial rights. That spurs you on, you know. So does your bankbook when you see how much overdrawn you are.”

“It must be so wonderful to be able to think of things,” said Rhoda.

“I can always think of things,” said Mrs. Oliver happily. “What is so tiring is writing them down. I always think I've finished, and then when I count up I find I've only written thirty thousand words instead of sixty thousand, and so then I have to throw in another murder and get the heroine kidnapped again. It’s all very boring.”

I suspect these are the words of experience.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

September Recap and 84 Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road Poster

I need to do some catching up. 

Here is the September - my 'Oh, To Be In England' month - recap:

Books Read - 9

Books returned to the library unread: 3 - Those crazy British cult mysteries by Kyril Bonfiglioli from the '70s. I could not for the life of me figure out what was going on. I think I lasted about 20 or 30 pages.

Authors met: 0  - This is my fault. Pulitzer Prize recipient Robert Massie, author of Peter the Great, Nicolas and Alexandra (which I read ages ago) and most recently Catherine the Great, was here speaking at the library last week. I failed to get registered for a ticket and the event was 'sold out'. (These events are free but one must request a ticket.) In checking Mr. Massie's biography, I see that he was born not 90 miles from where I live.  Drats and double drats. Fortunately, there  is a podcast of his talk available which I will listen to this weekend. All is not lost, but I would have liked to have seen him in person. 

I also must report that Sunday night I watched the movie 84 Charing Cross Road which never loses its charm and appeal. I think I wept most of the way through it. The story means so much to me. How could it not? There are typewriters, cigarettes (OK, maybe not the smokes), a lovely dusty London bookshop, actual letters (not electric ones) sent back and forth across the Atlantic, history (there is actual footage of Queen Elizabeth's coronation!), characters that one would love to have tea with, books, books, and more books, and, even some baseball. 

I wish I could live in this movie.

I had forgotten that Judi Dench played Nora, Frank Doel's wife. And Ian McNeice played Bill Humphries, one of the clerks of Marks & Co. Nowadays, McNeice plays Bert Large on Doc Martin

Monday, October 1, 2012

An Exquisite Piece of Jewelry

Here is a 'jewel' from Beverley Nichols's Laughter on the Stairs tucked into a chapter on bird song:

The first time I found a jay's feather, which is made of turquoise blue silk embroidered with grey and black pearls, it had alighted on a clump of deep blue Canterbury bells. It was early morning; the dew was still heavy; and the tiny drops sparkled over the blue of the feather and the blue of the petals. The effect was of some exquisite piece of jeweller's work, dropped overnight by an elegant but absent-minded fairy.

Doesn't that just make you swoon?

I am now finished with Laughter and am scooting through the final book in the trilogy, Sunlight on the Lawn. It is now seven years since Mr. Nichols moved into Merry Hall. Oldfield the aged gardener has retired, the house is pretty well furnished, and the gardens complete. Well, complete until Mr. Nichols goes on a quest for a 'nice balustrade'. Who knew that the purchase of the N.B. (as he refers to the sixty feet of stone) would turn into a Folie de Grandeur. Ah, but there in lies the tale.