Friday, January 31, 2014

Delighting in J.B. Priestley

I came across this title in my morning reading and was reminded that long ago I tried to find this little book but to no avail. The book in question is Delight by J.B. Priestley. It was published originally in 1949 and contains 114 short essays in praise of simple pleasures. Things were pretty dismal in England at the time; its people were still suffering from the effects of the war and these thoughts offered a bit of cheer.

I am a sucker for this type of book! A 60th anniversary edition was published five years ago which may have been when I searched for it before.

Now I am on a quest once again. I have submitted an inter-library loan request and have contacted Powell's Books concerning a copy it has listed as available (I want to make sure it is not a former library book).

I await a response. 

Here is a bit of the review of Delight written by Lisa O'Kelly for The Observer in 2009:

There is much here to raise a smile, not least Priestley's wonderfully lucid prose, which is a delight in itself. The little things in which he takes pleasure are varied and often hugely affecting: dancing; fountains; a walk in a pine wood; a new box of matches; the sound of a football or an orchestra tuning up; long trousers; playing a cracking game of tennis; smoking in a hot bath; being silly with children; waking to the smell of bacon and coffee; getting a great idea.

Mr. Priestly was a novelist and playwright. In the 1940s, he wrote the play An Inspector Calls which was performed by a touring company here sometime in the 1990s. The company put a call out for some local folks to be a part of a crowd scene. I auditioned but apparently didn't have the look they wanted. Oh, well. My one chance at Broadway.

My failed theater career aside, after a gloomy and dreary January, this book sounds to be the perfect pick-me-up. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

One Across, Two Down by Ruth Rendell

The best thing about Ruth Rendell's 1971 suspense novel One Across, Two Down are the crossword puzzle clues. The characters, the more-often-than-not unemployed Stanley, his overworked wife Vera, and Vera's mum Maud, are all quite unattractive. I wouldn't invite any of them for tea.

Stanley loves his crossword puzzles and even though he is a failure at everything else he tries to do, his grasp of the workings of the clues and answers is quite phenomenal. He attacks the daily puzzle in the paper and has volumes of completed puzzle books that he keeps in the bedroom. He even takes to making up some of his own.

The only thing he wants more than a new puzzle to work in the Daily Telegraph is the money he thinks his wife will inherit when Mother Maud dies...which she does but not in a good way and Stanley's descent into despair and insanity are not pretty to watch.

I am glad it was a short book - fewer than 200 pages.

It has been a while since I read anything by Ms. Rendell. I used to be quite a fan but eventually her books got too disturbing. I only stuck with this one because of the puzzle clues scattered throughout.

Here are a few:

Root cause of biting wit?Wisdom tooth  

Underwear for barristers?  - Briefs 

Frank takes a well-known stage part?  - Candida 

Not one of my favorites? - This book

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fait Accompli - The Sketchbook Project

While ailing, between naps and bemoaning the fate of my laptop, I did manage to work on my sketchbook for the Sketchbook Project that I signed up to participate in last July (when the weather was warmer). You can read about my visit to the touring library here.

I was inspired by the recent weekend art workshop I attended. I pulled out some of the small watercolors and sketches I had created over the past few years and did a fine job of cutting and pasting a few of them into about half of the Sketchbook's 32 pages. Since I was adding paper to the book I figured it would make it less bulky if I only used the right-hand pages. 

I created a few new pieces as well. I dug out a calligraphy set that had been languishing in a drawer for years, did some practicing, and was able to add some lettering to the sketchbook.

It was a pleasant endeavor and a nice way not to have to think too much.

Of course, for my sketchbook to be included in the traveling library's tour this coming summer, I had to have it postmarked by January 15. I missed the deadline, but the book will be housed in the Brooklyn Art Library along with 30,000 others who have participated. 

If you think you might want to sign up for a book - it won't be due until January 15, 2015 so you will have plenty of time to complete it - here is the link: The Sketchbook Project. Some of the sketchbooks are digitized on the website if you need some inspiration.

And, if you should ever get to Brooklyn, be sure to visit my book!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Dance to the Music of Time

The twelve novels that make up A Dance to the Music of Time
by Anthony Powell

Yesterday's presentation at the Monday Afternoon Club was another one involving a book, or I should say books. The topic for the January and February papers is "Great Journeys of the Past". This week's presenter chose to look at the fictional journey through life of Nicholas Jenkins, the narrator of twelve novels known collectively as A Dance to the Music of Time. 

Written by Anthony Powell (who was Welsh so his name is pronounced POHL), the novels were published between 1951 and 1975 and depict life between World War I and just after World War II. 

I would have liked to have heard a bit more about Mr. Powell (1905-2000), but the presenter quoted a lot from the books which I found to be tedious. Not the author's words, just the being read to...

Anyway, as luck would have it, after the meeting (which is held in the community room of a branch library) I was browsing through the branch's DVD collection and, lo and behold, there were the first three recordings of the 1997 television series based on the books and produced by Britain's Channel Four.

Well, I can tell you I snapped up all three of them up and am ready to settle in for a couple of nights and 'watch' the novels. I have the fourth and final DVD on request and it should be available by time I get to that point in the series. It will be fun to watch the characters flit around from upper class party to picnic in their tuxedos!

I know this is sort of cheating, but so be it. The idea of 3000 pages for the twelve novels seems a bit daunting! For now, I think I will simply watch the DVDs and read a biography of Mr. Powell. I see that he also published his memoirs and journals.

Has anyone read the entire A Dance to the Music of Time or even one or two of the volumes? 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

On Weather and Being Under the Weather

Le frégate
Henri Matisse

Oh, my. My computer and I were both blindsided by viruses at the same time. While my laptop languished for a week at the techie hospital, I languished on the chaise lounge. 

The Polar Ice Caps that seem to be hovering over the region and the blowing snow didn't help my frame of mind. I did manage to push though and fulfill a couple of commitments but keeping up an entry a day on 'Belle, Book, and Candle' fell by the wayside.

I wish I could report that I read many books this past week, but sadly that has not been the case. I did finish Once Upon a Timepiece by Starr Wood which I really enjoyed and will write about another time.

I managed to read a chapter or two in The Bully Pulpit about Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Said chapters are quite long and so filled with information that after finishing one I feel as if I have read a book.

There were a couple of free mysteries on my Kindle which once begun were quickly abandoned as they didn't hold my interest. So, I returned to the tried and true detective adventures of Peter Diamond in Upon a Dark Night. Author Peter Lovesey never fails to sweep me away with his tales of Bath, England and the criminal goings-on there.

My laptop is back where it belongs...on my lap. I am slowly coming back to life myself and hope to get in the swing of things shortly. If you, dear reader, have left me a comment I plan on catching up with you over this weekend.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Time in a Book

I recently added my email address to Belle, Book, and Candle and almost immediately received an inquiry about a new book published by Bo Tree Books. I normally don't read new fiction (unless there is a fairly bloodless murder or comic mayhem involved), but the idea behind Once Upon A Timepiece intrigued me.

I have a fascination with watches and clocks and even sundials. The thread that connects these twelve stories by Starr Wood has to do with a wristwatch and the different lives that this one timepiece touches. 

While I do not want to get involved with receiving books for review, I responded that I would be happy to give Mr. Wood's book some time. It arrived in yesterday's post.

I like the premise of this book and the fact that the author is a British journalist who worked in London. He now lives in Singapore and this is his first book. 

I look forward to reading Once Upon a Timepiece and will give a full report soon.

By the way, I looked up 'bo tree' and discovered that it is also known as the bodhi tree. It was under such a tree that the Buddah received enlightenment. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft house in Cincinnati

I am learning a lot about former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft in Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit. Both were quite brilliant men; Roosevelt (Harvard) had a natural curiosity and creative mind while Taft (Yale) had a more studious intelligence.

One thing I didn't know was that Taft, who served both as president and chief justice of the United States, was originally from Cincinnati a mere 90 miles up the Ohio River from where I live. He came from a respected and accomplished family. Taft was born in 1857 and the house he grew up in is now a National Park Service site and has been restored to look as it did when the Tafts lived there. There are exhibits on President Taft's accomplishments as well.

The city also holds the Taft Museum of Art, the historic house and private art collection bequeathed to Cincinnati by Taft's half brother, Charles and his wife Anna Stinton Taft.  

I do believe I sense a field trip in my near future.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

/Alexis de Tocqueville

Yesterday's presentation at the Monday Afternoon Club was on the journey of Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont around what there was of America in 1831-32.

The journey took nine months and the two young men, they were both in their twenties, traveled thousands of miles by horseback, steamboat, stagecoach, and on foot. They visited 17 out of the 24 states in the Union, including a brief stop here in Louisville. 

Unfortunately, the two men were traveling down the Ohio River from Cincinnati on a steamboat in December and the river soon was blocked by ice. The passengers were cast off onto shore and the two fellows had to walk the final 22 miles to get here. 

The upshot of the journey - at once one both physical and intellectual - was Tocqueville's Democracy in America. 

This 1000-page book is not one that I have read, but it has intrigued me as it is often quoted (and most likely misquoted). The presenter of the paper said her father first read it at the age of 80 and thereafter read it multiple times. So it is never too late.

If you are interested, there is an abridged version (208 pages) and a couple of different Kindle versions which would be easier to lug around than that unabridged paperback edition. 

Is Democracy in America on anyone's TBR list? Or has anyone read it? Chime in...

Monday, January 13, 2014

In Which I Report on the Watercolor Traveler Workshop

The weekend's art workshop was Ab Fab. The instructor, Laurie Doctor, combined words and images and poetry and movement and it all came together in a Final Flourish with the completion of my two travel journals. 

The pocket side of the journal of days and its carrying case.

One is a journal of days (above and below) with pockets for mementos picked up along the way. Perhaps carnets from the Paris Metro. Or a bright feather fallen from the sky in Santa Fe. I also made a case so I could carry this book with me. 

The other side of the journal and case.

The second  journal (below) has stitched together pages to gather notes and plans. Quotes and meditations. Sketches and watercolors. 

There are some blank pages in this one so I can keep playing with it.

There was quite a stream of creative juices flowing in the room of twelve artistes.

One woman, and I love this idea, had an on-going project of making a collage a day. She started doing this last January. She had come into a cache of discarded library catalog cards and was using them as her tiny canvases. Brilliant. 

I asked to see these and she brought in her collection on the second day. On one side of a card were her collaged images of people or animals or machines or objects from nature. On the other side was the raw data about a book from that library's catalog.

(Of course this was a painful reminder that my own project of creating a card catalog of my library was languishing.)

If I thought there were going to be no words this weekend, I was wrong. Ms. Doctor read to us or mentioned poets William Stafford and Marie Howe. She read a bit to us from the book, Seven Nights by Jorges Luis Borges, a series of lectures he gave after he was appointed head of the Argentine National Library. He was blind by then and imagining Paradise as a kind of library.

I am still floating on a Creative Cloud.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Watercolor Traveler: Simple and Small

I have signed up for a two-day art workshop this weekend.
Sometimes, you know, I have to step away from words and let another part of my creative mind have a play day or two.

I am a very amateur artist who enjoys sketching and watercolor dabbling. What attracted me to this workshop, called Watercolor Traveler: Simple and Small, is that it is described as being for someone looking for "some fresh portable ways to paint and draw." It promises that at the close of the second day I will have a hand-made reference journal full of examples to use "in the field or at home." 

Any activity that involves notebooks appeals to me. And, simple and portable is just my speed. 

So I have gathered together my paints and brushes and am ready to Meet My Muse.

To inspire me even further, I dipped into my copy of The Art Spirit (1923) by Robert Henri and found this:

Painting is the expression of ideas in their permanent form. It is the giving of evidence. It is the study of our lives, our environment. The American who is useful as an artist is one who studies his own life and records his experiences; in this way he gives evidence. If a man has something to say, he will find a way of saying it. 

As will a woman, Henri. As will a woman.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Art of Slow Reading

I am not surprised by the comments on my post from the other day on "Theodore Roosevelt and Speed Reading". No one responded that they read to Get Things Done. We are members of the Slow Reading Movement.

If this were a business blog or a blog that wanted to help one rush through life, then speed reading would be de rigueur. If we were all having to read professional journals (horrors) and 20 newspapers per day (more horrors), we would need to be reading in the Fast Lane. 

But, reading for pleasure and reading for speed seem to be the antithesis of each another. We Slow Readers want to savor the words, think about what we have read, and even - good grief - reread passages.

All to the good, I say.

I discovered that the average adult reads 250 words per minute and I found a reading-speed calculator online. Here is the formula:

--Open a book.

--Count the number of words in three lines and divide by three. This figure is your WPL or Words Per Line

--Count the number of lines on a page. This figure is your LPP or Lines Per Page.

--Multiply the WPL by the LPP. This figure is your WPP or Words Per Page.

--Read for a set amount of time, say 15 minutes.

--Count the number of full, half, and quarter pages you read.  (I would just make sure you read at a spot in the book that contained full pages of text. Why complicate matters with more math!)

--Multiply the number of pages you read in that time by the WPP. This figure is your Total Number of Words.

--Divide the number of minutes you read into the Total Number of Words. This figure is your WPM or Words Per Minute.

So, if you read 10 pages each containing 400 words per page (which would equal 4000 words) in 15 minutes, your WPM would be 267. 

Or you could just practice the Art of Slow Reading, enjoy the book, and forget about the math. Plan on it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Blogger Chronicles at mirabile dictu

Kat, at "mirabile dictu", is running a series, The Blogger Chronicles, that features interviews with book bloggers (including me!), novelists, and critics.

I first followed Kat and her excursions into reading and blogging about books (and occasionally other subjects as well) on her blog "Frisbee: A Book Journal" which she had for six years. Then, in December 2012, she moved to her new site 

Mirabile dictu, by the way, translates as wonderful to relate.

Kat makes me laugh. She tears around her Mid-West neighborhood on her bicycle, dreams in Latin, and fights the urge to spend too much time in the kitchen. All with a book in hand and with high spirits.  

Check out The Blogger Chronicles here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt and Speed Reading

Theodore Roosevelt bookplate.jpg
Bookplate used by Theodore Roosevelt
for his personal library

"My library has been the greatest possible pleasure to me, [Theodore Roosevelt] wrote to his parents during his freshman year [at Harvard], "as whenever I have any spare time I can immediately take up a book." 
             ---from The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin

It is said that Mr. Roosevelt read a book a day...before breakfast! In the evenings, when things in the White House (where he lived from 1901 to 1909) were quiet, he read another book or two plus magazines and newspapers. 

Speed reading, anyone?

I once took a class in speed reading. It ruined me. It made reading too much like work, gave me a headache, and I had absolutely zero comprehension of what I had read. I soon went back to my normal pace. I am the type of reader who Reads Every Word. It is my one weakness (as Candleford's Postmistress Dorcas Lane would say).

As much as I like the idea of gobbling up books, I find that forcing my eyes to tear across lines of text takes away all the enjoyment of reading for me. 

In 2009, the blog "The Art of Manliness" (which has some great information that is not only for men) had a post on Mr. Roosevelt's reading habits and some tips on increasing one's reading speed. You can read the entry, slowly or quickly, here: Speed Reading.

What about you, dear reader. Have you tried speed reading? Did you have any success? Do you consider yourself a slow reader or a fast reader?  Have you ever calculated the number of words you read per minute? Does your reading speed matter to you? 

Comments, anyone?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan

My first book finished in 2014 is a mystery by a new-to-me author, Timothy Hallinan. Crashed introduces professional burglar Junior Bender who has been in the business for two decades without ever getting caught. Until now. 

His latest heist, stealing a Paul Klee painting (while holding off four vicious-crazy Rottweilers), is captured on security film. This leads not to jail but to being blackmailed into helping the head of an organized crime family. Trey Annunziato wants to produce an adult film trilogy that will make her enough money to get her out of the business of crime once and for all. Production on the film is being sabotaged and it is up to Bender to find out who is messing with the schedule. If he doesn't, those Rottweillers are going to have a Bender Dinner. Complicating matters, the film's star is to be one Thistle Downing, beloved former child television star and now a down and out junkie, who has a habit of disappearing.  

I know this sounds bleak, but it's not. Mr. Hallinan has fun poking fun at just about every profession  in the Hollywood film industry, Los Angeles traffic, the above mentioned Rottweillers, coked-up art collectors, crooked cops, the tabloid press, and stage mothers.

Junior Bender may be a crook but he also knows how to do the right thing. I found him to be witty and charming. And, of course, he is very resourceful and fixes everything in the end. 

Mr. Hallinan has two other series. One features Simeon Grist an English professor turned private eye which bears looking into. The other stars Poke Rafferty who lives in Bangkok. There are also two more Junior Bender books to add to my list, Little Elvises and The Fame Thief

It is always best to start a new year with a laugh or two and Junior Bender provides plenty of them.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Gift from The Professor

My neighbor The Professor dropped in the other evening. He had a book he wanted to give me and which I was delighted to accept.

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes is a non-fiction offering from the Man Booker Prize-winning author. It is a small book, only 125 pages, and is divided into three sections: "The Sin of Height" about the daring balloonists of the 1800s; "On the Level" about a balloonist's love affair with Sarah Bernhardt; and "The Loss of Depth" about his grief upon the death of his wife, Pat Kavanagh, in 2008. In each section, Mr. Barnes reflects on putting together "two things that have not been put together before." 

I am always happy to receive a recommendation from The Professor. We have lovely conversations in which he quotes lines from his favorite books. (He has many.)

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Grouchy Grammarian by Thomas Parrish

I was rearranging books this morning (which means I was trying to cram the strays onto shelves and between bookends on tabletops) when I came across a copy of the only book I bought at the first Kentucky Book Fair I attended in 2002.

The book is The Grouchy Grammarian written by Thomas Parrish. It is subtitled A How-Not-To Guide to the 47 Most Common Mistakes in English Made by Journalists, Broadcasters, and Others Who Should Know Better.

I met Mr. Parrish at the Book Fair and he kindly inscribed my copy of his book. He is an author and editor and lives in Berea, Kentucky. 

The Grouchy Grammarian is Mr. Parrish's fictional friend who, depressed over the grammatical blunders and missteps he encounters daily in the media, encourages the examination of examples of such errors and voila! we have a book.

There are chapter headings such as: There - the Introducer; May and Might - Did They or Didn't They?; Floaters and Danglers; Whiches, Who's and Thats; Pairs - Some Trickier Than Others; and Between vs. Among.

And, it contains a extensive bibliography and helpful index.

I have dipped into and dawdled among this book's 172 pages over the years, but I think the time has come to sit down and read it straight through. A mini-grammar refresher. 

This is just the sort of book I enjoy reading. Not for everyone's taste, but I am the person who rereads Strunk and White's Elements of Style every year, so of course this book appeals to me. 

From the book jacket:
"No one is safe from the Grammarian's vigilant monitoring of the English language. From the New York Times to the New Yorker to network sports broadcasters, the Grammarian records various gaffes, careless errors, and basic grammatical mistakes made by those who should know better."

The moral of the tale: Sometimes we can learn from our own mistakes and sometimes we can learn from the mistakes of others. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Four for 'Fourteen

Woman reading on top of ladder, c.1920© Bettmann/CORBIS
[thanks for reminder,Alex;]
Woman reading on top of ladder
c. 1920
copyright: Bettmann/CORBIS

Yesterday's post was all about First Lines of the Past - blog posts from 2013. Today features First Lines of the Future - the opening sentence of the four books I am determined to read in 2014:

Roosevelt Is Coming Home, Hurrah! Exultant headlines in mid-June 1910 trumpeted the daily progress of the Kaiserin, the luxury liner returning the former president, Theodore Roosevelt, to American shores after his year's safari in Africa.
---The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism (2013) by Doris Kearns Goodwin (750 pages)

He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features; a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a limousine--he could see out, but you couldn't see in.
---Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994) by John Berendt (388 pages)

In the spring of 1841, when John Tyler was President, a Kentucky farmer named Solomon Young, and his red-haired wife, Harriet Louisa Young, packed their belongings and with two small children started for the Far West.
---Truman (1992) by David McCullough (992 pages)

On a warm spring evening just before Easter 1927, people who lived in tall buildings in New York were given pause when the wooden scaffolding around the tower of the brand new Sherry-Netherton Apartment Hotel caught fire and it became evident that the city's firemen lacked any means to get water to such a height.
---One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson (456 pages)

All intriguing beginnings, I think. Do any of them pique your curiosity? 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Year in First Lines

As this is the first day of the new year, I thought I would follow a suggestion by Simon at Stuck in a Book (who is following a suggestion by Melwyck at The Indextrious Reader) and copy the first line of each month's blog post (with link) in 2013.

Here goes:

January: I have already pulled off my shelves three books that I bought in 2012 and that I have been saving to read this year. 

February: Here is what author Jean Hersey has to say about February in her book The Shape of the Year (1967). 

March: March is restless and wild and windswept.

April: For most Major League baseball teams, today is opening day. 

May: Happy May Day! Did you ever circle 'round the May Pole when you were a kid?

June: There is an urgency in April and May in both man and Nature, an urgency that quiets during June. 

July: Here's the thing: I grew up watching television shows such as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Have Gun...Will Travel

August: I took two years of French in high school and then quickly forgot the headache of deciphering the feminine and masculine nouns, the use of pronouns - je, tu, il, elle, on, and the days of the week - lundi, mardi, mercredi...

September: I have added two destinations to my travel itinerary - armchair travel that is - for this long weekend.

October: Here is a link to some helpful suggestions - from a librarian no less - at Design Sponge on how to style your bookshelves. 

November: It's funny how similar themes seem to arise from books that one is reading. 

December: My at-home, no-writing retreat went something like this:

In review, I know that these lines don't touch on the posts on vintage dictionaries, the Letter a Day Month in February, my four-day retreat from writing and technology, the Kentucky Book Fair, The Grand Southern Literary Tour of 2013, author events at the library and other venues, used book sales and bookstores, my research and paper on the female Victorian archaeologists, attendance at The Jane Austen Festival, my 500 Posts Giveaway, and book lists from the past.

It also doesn't tell me - and this is a good thing - how many books I bought this past year. I would estimate at least fifty but that is low-balling it. I will have to go on a book-buying diet this year to give me a chance to read the stockpile that I have acquired. (Oh, yeah...we'll see how long that lasts!)

Happy New Year to all of you. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting here at Belle, Book, and Candle.