Friday, December 22, 2017

Holiday Greetings

Wishing you a safe holiday and a bright New Year.

I am taking a little break and will not be posting here until the season's festivities are over.

Happy reading.

See in you 2018.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Winter Solstice

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Today, December 21, is the Winter Solstice. I am someone who loves winter - or at least the cold but maybe not ice and snow unless I have plenty of tea, chocolate, and books to keep me comfortably indoors.

Whatever holiday you are celebrating this season, be safe, be kind, and remember to breathe. Take naps. Also, you have your Winter Shelf reading list from last week's post, so you can be as bookish as you want.

Tonight, ignite the Yule log or a few candles. 

Take time to reflect on the year past.

Enjoy the dark and embrace the light.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Our Winter Shelf

Just in time for the Winter Solstice on December 21, here are the books you suggested for Our Winter Shelf.

Many of you chimed in with The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, especially The Long Winter, and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Both perfect choices.

Here are more:

Joyce F:
An entire shelf of cozy mystery suggestions - M.C. Beaton (Agatha Raisin, Hamish MacBeth), Mary Daheim (Alpine series), Jeanne M. Dams (Dorothy Martin or Hilda Johannson books), Diane Mott (Goldy Bear caterer), and Jo Dereske (Miss Zukas).

Winter Solstice or any other by Rosamund Pilcher.
Nine Coaches Waiting and Thornyhold by Mary Stewart.
Jane Austen - take your pick.

The Agatha Raisin books - here's one appropriate title, Kissing Christmas Goodbye.
Agatha Christie  - I found these two titles that fit our theme - Hercule Poirot's Christmas and The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (short story mysteries).
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.

From the irrepressible Tullik:
The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys (I wrote about this splendid book here).

Winter: Five Windows on the Season by Adam Gopnik - a series of lectures given on the impact of winter on art, culture, polar exploration, etc.

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann - Tullik suggests that if nothing else, read the chapter 'Snow'.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf for the frozen Thames chapter.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens for its chapter 'Christmas at Dingley Dell'.

Christmas Day - tongue in cheek poem by Irish poet Paul Durcan.

The Ice Palace - a short novel by Tarjei Vesass who was Norwegian and should know something about winter. I found an Amazon Kindle edition for 99 cents.

My thought for the Winter Shelf was for it to hold books I already owned and wanted to reread. That way, I wouldn't have to leave my house and 
brave the snow and ice and cold to get to the library or bookstore.

So here are my choices, many of which I have written about before on Belle, Book, and Candle and I have included links to those posts.

I had Little Women in mind when I started thinking about this list and have an edition (see the photo at the top of the post) that is inscribed in my grandmother's handwriting to my mother - Christmas 1932.

The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink - just in case I want to spend a little time in the Florida sun (here).

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas - my parents gave me this little book with woodcut illustrations and I reread it every year.

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols - I'll save this one for the approach of spring to get me in the mood to think about the garden.

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg - I read this suspense novel a long time ago and remember that Smilla, a Greenlander now living in Copenhagen, surely knows her way around snow and ice.

Essays by E.B. White - almost anything written by him brings me comfort.

Endangered Pleasures by Barbara Holland - its subtitle says it all - In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences (here).

And finally,

Simple Pleasures: Little Things That Make Life Worth Living - a collection of essays by various British writers published by The National Trust (here).

So there you have it. Plump up the pillows in your reading chair, gather a warm, soft throw and your favorite cup of tea, and settle in for a long winter's read. Enjoy!

Friday, December 8, 2017

All I Want for Christmas...

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This year as a Christmas gift to myself I have hired a professional organizer. Although I have a shelf full of books on decluttering (ironic, I know) and am pretty good about keeping my things organized and tidy, I do believe stuff sneaks under the door and in through the windows when I am sleeping. As I get older, the task of dragging items out of closets and cabinets and deciding what stays and what goes is exhausting enough. Having someone who can help with that chore and also pack up the discards and take them to either a charity shop or the garbage bin is pure luxury.

Seeking inspiration for this undertaking, I have been revisiting Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (that I wrote about in 2015 here). I also dipped into her recent book Spark Joy in which she tells more about discerning 'joy' and offers illustrations of her concepts. If you have read either of her books, you know that her theory is to only keep those items that spark joy or at least are practical and make your life run smoothly. So instead of deciding what to discard, the focus is on choosing what to keep.

Ms. Kondo suggests approaching this task by category and lays out a specific order: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, and finally, sentimental items. I decided to follow this plan.

My first two-hour session with Lori the Organizer meant that we dug into my clothes closet. Granted, I don't have a huge wardrobe but still Lori ended up taking away two large bins full of tops, pants, shoes, coats, purses, and scarves. Plus, one trash bag full of throwaways.

So far, so good. 

Before she left, we set up a second appointment and talked about the next category: books. 

At the time — this was just a few days ago — I felt I was ready to tackle this part of the plan. But I have since had a change of heart (as you might imagine). I realized that for me, books are sentimental items and should come last...or maybe never. Some of my books have been with me for so long I would surely miss them if they were gone. En masse, my bookshelves offer comfort and companionship. 

So you know what, I am not going to worry about the books! I usually donate a stack a couple of times a year to a historic home book sale, so I am passing that category and going straight to miscellaneous. (I don't feel the need to pay her to watch me sort through papers which are pretty much under control anyway.)

I told her I thought it was more important to my well-being and sense of accomplishment if we went through the places that I knew held items I could easily part with. There are a couple of small storage closets, pantry shelves, under the bed bins, and kitchen cabinets that can be dealt with. 

Besides the books, the biggest collection of stuff I have acquired in the past five or six years are art and craft supplies. I do love buying art supplies and taking classes and somehow a ton of watercolor paints, brushes, decorative papers, sketchbooks, stickers and stamps, tools, and pretty much any shiny thing that has caught my eye at the Dollar Tree has settled quite comfortably into my life. 

Only now, not so comfortable. 

But I get ahead of myself. Lori will be here Monday and we will tackle together the pantry and kitchen cabinets and drawers and perhaps move on to discovering what is under the bed. Who knows what evil lurks there!

Everyone needs a little help now and then clearing out, and Lori and I will tackle this project together. I am not looking for minimalism. All I want for Christmas is just a little breathing room.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Past, Present, Future

I wanted to take some time this week to look at books read, books reading, and books to be read—and make a request for suggestions from you, the readers.


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First of all, on retreat at St. Meinrad Archabbey last week I read for the third or fourth time Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. What a terrific little book of essays. After each one I hugged the book to me as I was so delighted with what I had read. Ms. Fadiman covers a lot of ground from former British Prime Minister William Gladstone's instructions on constructing the perfect library to her own collection of books on Arctic exploration to the mingling of her and her husband's vast libraries.

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Lucky for me, my room in the guesthouse was right next to The Reading Room with its wooden library table and chairs surrounded by shelves of books. Some titles had a very religious slant—after all, I was staying at a monastery—but others promised a more spiritual flair. I searched to see if there was anything that struck my fancy and came across Sweeping Changes: Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks by Gary Thorp. Its gentle reminder: when you are sweeping, sweep...don't be pondering your next activity or your last one. In other words, stay in the moment with your dusting, folding, or mopping. Consider those tasks to be a form of meditation. It was a small book with simple illustrations at the head of each chapter. I knew I could finish it over my short stay and it proved to be a great choice, although I must admit housekeeping is not one of my strengths.


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As sometimes happens, two books I had on reserve at the library came available at the same time and I am ready to settle down with both of them. The first is The House of Unexpected Sisters, Alexander McCall Smith's newest mystery featuring Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Oh, how I love being in their world.

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The second is A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney. I am really anxious to dig into this one as I have read good things about it.


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As winter is almost officially here—even though in Louisville we are still experiencing balmy temperatures—I plan to come up with a list of Cozy Books to have on hand. I am thinking more of favorite comfort books to reread that will hold the cold and dark at bay.

This is where I could use your help. Email me [bellebookandcandle(at)hotmail(dot)com] or leave a comment about what your Ideal Cozy Bookshelf would hold. I will put all our suggestions together in another post. 

Thanks. Looking forward to reading about your choices! 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Pause to Give Thanks

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Today in America we are celebrating Thanksgiving — a day set aside to pause and count one's blessings. And eat, of course. 

I am on my annual Thanksgiving week retreat. Normally I would be at the Abbey of Gethsemani but the monks are having the guest house refurbished and it is closed until March 2018. 

Not to be daunted, I switched abbeys and am staying at the guest house at St. Meinrad Archabbey. It is about an hour's drive west of  Louisville. 

I have found that monasteries are the quietest places and make for the perfect retreat. No one bothers me. The food is prepared and served and the cleaning up is done by someone else. 

I brought my watercolor paints and sketchbooks and two books of essays by Ann Fadiman - Ex Libris: Confession of a Common Reader and At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays. I have read both books before but am in the mood for them again. The books are small in size and comfortable to hold. The essays are thoughtful and engaging. 

Hope your day is splendid and that there is plenty of pie.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody

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I left behind Dahlia Moss and her amateur detecting from last week's post...she was entertaining, but I couldn't quite get with the computer gaming part of the tale.

So, I moved on to a British mystery that features an amateur sleuth who couldn't be more different. Meet 31-year-old Kate Shackleton. She is a widow, promising photographer, daughter of a police superintendent (which helps), and was a voluntary field nurse during World War I. She also has a penchant for finding people who have gone missing. 

Her first professional case comes to her when friend and former nurse colleague Tabitha asks her to find her missing father. Joshua Braithwaite was the successful owner of one of the many textile mills near Leeds. One day he simply walked away from his family, his village, and his business. Tabitha, who is to be married shortly, believes he is still alive and hires Kate to find him before the wedding.

The setting is the 1920s and I love reading about that time. The clever chapter headings all reference textile or mill terms — for example, crepe-de-chine, twisting-in, candlewick. There are intriguing historical details and descriptions of the mill and the difficult and dangerous life of its workers. (Think Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South.)

My only complaint is that there are too many instances when I am aware that the author is 'writing'. By that I mean there are character background details or descriptions that don't actually move the story forward. They seem forced. I guess I don't have patience for too many side trips. I want to get on with it.

This is the first in a series — there are nine mysteries so far. If you are a fan of Maisie Dobbs, these books will be sure to please.

Here is a quote I quite like regarding Kate's interest in photography. It could apply to any artistic endeavor.

Even when my photographs did not do justice to the scene, which was most of the time, simply framing the views developed a photographing habit that changed my way of seeing. A photographer's eye sharpens memory from a vague or hazy recollection to a clear image of an everlasting moment. Owning a camera gave me a new interest in people and landscapes, in markets and busy streets. It is a way of looking outside yourself and at the same time gathering up mental albums of memories.