Mary's Library

Friday, March 31, 2006

Up where the river is narrow

There are some books you just know you’re gonna love, right from the first paragraph. Here’s a novel with a narrative voice that draws you right into the story.

“Oh, it would be years ago now, but at one time a minister lived with his small daughter in a town up north near the Sabbanock River, up where the river is narrow and the winters used to be especially long. The minister’s name was Tyler Caskey, and for quite some while his story was told in towns up and down the river, and as far over as the coast, until it emerged with enough variations so as to lose its original punch, and just the passing of time, of course, will effect the vigor of these things. But there are a few people still living in the town of West Annett who are said to remember quite clearly the events that took place during the wintry, final months of 1959. And if you inquire with enough patience and restraint of curiosity, you can probably get them to tell you what it is they claim to know, although its accuracy might be something you’d have to sort out on your own.”

I’m having difficulty restraining my curiosity. The book is ABIDE WITH ME (2006) by Elizabeth Strout.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Not-Trollope Book of the Week

I have just finished reading Mrs Oliphant’s THE DOCTOR’S FAMILY (1863.) I am reading all six Carlingford novels to gain some context for MISS MARJORIBANKS, which my Not-Trollope group is reading for April.

TDF is unusual in that the heroine, Nettie, is obnoxiously domineering but the narrative voice, and apparently Mrs Oliphant herself, seem unaware of this. Nettie is, like so many other protagonists in Carlingford novels, new in town, along with her sister, the wife of the doctor’s lazy and alcoholic brother.

When his brother, and then the wife, three children, and sister-in-law show up on Dr Rider’s doorstep he is disgusted, anxious about having to support these people, annoyed with his brother for not telling him he was married, and annoyed with Nettie for bringing this plague of family members to Carlingford to disrupt the doctor’s life.

The doctor is fighting a battle of duty vs disgust with his worthless brother and longing to be rid of the less than appealing people in his family. Nettie has given up her personal life entirely to take care of her ungrateful sister and her unlikable children, and she too faces a conflict between this duty and the need to create a life of her own.

I am about to move on to the next book in the series, SALEM CHAPEL (1863.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Ballet

Sandy went with her grandchildren last weekend to see a ballet, their first. The girls are 2, 4, and 6 and all three were enchanted. So was Sandy.

The ballet was based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett book THE SECRET GARDEN (1911), which has long been one of my great favorites. I still re-read it every now and again. Burnett is also the author of LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY (1886), but don’t hold that against her.

When I was in high school I learned to transcribe text into Braille and that was the book I chose to do for my certification. This was just before they perfected a typewriter that did the work a lot better and faster than an unaided human. So I never used my skill, but I got to know THE SECRET GARDEN really really well.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Samuel Johnson Prize

The longlist for the 2006 Samuel Johnson Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious prizes for non-fiction writing, has been announced. It has been given annually by the BBC Four (which I believe is a TV station) since 1999.

We own only two of the books on the list, and I haven’t read either, but I’ve looked at them pretty closely and I have read earlier works by these authors. Both books should be worth your time.

They are:

THE COLD WAR: A New History (2005), by John Lewis Gaddis. Gaddis is acknowledged as the leading historian of the Cold War.

AFTER THE VICTORIANS: The Decline of Britain in the World (2005), by A N Wilson.

I have Wilson’s earlier book, THE VICTORIANS (2003), and it’s excellent.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

American Names

By Stephen Vincent Benet

I have fallen in love with American names,
The sharp names that never get fat,
The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.

Seine and Piave are silver spoons,
But the spoonbowl-metal is thin and worn,
There are English counties like hunting-tunes
Played on the keys of a postboy’s horn,
But I will remember where I was born.

I will remember Carquinez Straits,
Little French Lick and Lundy’s Lane,
The Yankee ships and the Yankee dates
And the bullet-towns of Calamity Jane.
I will remember Skunktown Plain.

I will fall in love with a Salem tree
And a rawhide quirt from Santa Cruz
I will get me a bottle of Boston sea
And a blue-gum nigger to sing me blues.
I am tired of loving a foreign muse.

Rue des Martyrs and Bleeding-Heart-Yard,
Senlis, Pisa, and Blindman’s Oast,
It is a magic ghost you guard
But I am sick for a newer ghost,
Harrisburg, Spartanburg, Painted Post.

Henry and John were never so
And Henry and John were always right?
Granted, but when it was time to go
And the tea and the laurels had stood all night,
Did they never watch for Nantucket Light?

I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Library Books

Books Going Back to the Library Unfinished or Unread (Continued)

THREAD OF GRACE (2005), by Mary Doria Russell. This is a book about Jews who during World War II must hide out in Italy to escape the Nazis. I started it and it’s a fine book. What’s more, I’ve read the author’s previous novels, THE SPARROW (1996) and its sequel CHILDREN OF GOD (1998) and rated them 5 on my scale of 1 to 5. The thing is, those two are Science Fiction, or Psi-fi as my friends the Psitoses call it. They read a lot of it; I don’t read it at all. Ever. And I read those books and loved them. Go, as they say these days, figure. I’ve labeled this book Borrow Again.

AT WAR WITH OURSELVES: Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World (2003), by Michael Hirsh. I am fairly conservative and nominally a Republican (though I have never voted for a Bush) but I like to think I have an open mind about politics. (That’s the most dangerous delusion of them all. I realize that.) Anyhow, I read books on both sides of political matters. But this isn’t going to be one of them. I didn’t get a chance to open the book. Too many other books and that @#$%^& sweater have been gobbling up my time.

THE DANTE CLUB (2003), by Matthew Pearl. This book is a mistake. I was after THE CLUB DUMAS (1997) by Arturo Perez-Reverte and requested this from the library instead. I must have been on Ambien or something.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Library Books

Books Going Back to the Library Unfinished or Unread

DESERT NOIR: A Lena Jones Mystery (2001), by Betty Webb. This is the first book in a new mystery series, and you know how I love mysteries and how I am about reading them in order. Sandy liked it. It takes place in Scottsdale, Arizona, and I like desert settings. I like the cover, and you can tell a book by it's cover; don't let anybody tell you differently.

But I can’t read this. I just can’t. More books will be arriving from the library this afternoon, including another ILL, and Sandy (The Other Sandy) is sure to deliver something in today’s mail, and both my Trollope and Not-Trollope groups are beginning new books that I haven't read yet, and I had to rip out the throat of my sweater last night (which isn’t as violent as it sounds, really), and I have to re-knit all 17 ½ rounds of the Fair Isle design and then knit a dozen more and then do short rows, all before my class on Wednesday . . .

What I’m trying to say is, One Can’t Read Everything. Not even I.

LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT (1978), by E X Ferrars (which is pronounced Ferris, I believe.) This is another mystery, written about 25 years ago (a plus), the first in a series, and by an author about whom I have been hearing for 25 years and whose work is well thought of by Those Who Judge. But I was turned off by the first chapter. I know Nancy Pearl says I must read 100 pages minus my age before throwing in the towel. I’m old, but I’m not 86. However, I quit after 14 pages.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Joseph Roth is not as well known as Robert Musil or Stephan Zweig, but his work is considered by some to be of equal merit. THE RADETZKY MARCH (1932) is a fictional description of the decline of the Habsburg Empire during the decades before World War I, and I think it ranks with A MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES (1930, 1933.)

Captain Trotta is ennobled by Emperor Franz Joseph after saving the emperor’s life during the Battle of Solferino in 1859. The Trotta family’s pessimism and self-destruction mirrors the decline of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The lives of the Trotta men become a meaningless round of duty and empty honor. The son of the captain lives out his life in useless bureaucratic desiccation and his son, also an officer in the Austrian army, lives a life of dissipation and dies early in the First World War.

But Roth’s characters are not merely symbols; they are well defined people and the scenes of the bureaucrat and his son listening to the Radetzky March together are very touching. You can almost see the scenes and hear the music of this novel. Roth is a master.

(Bit of interesting trivia: Jean-Henri Dunant, having witnessed the atrocities of The Battle of Solferino, began the campaign that led to the Geneva Conventions and the establishment of the International Red Cross. The Red Cross, of course, takes it’s name from its flag, which Dunant created by reversing the colors of his native Swiss flag.)

You can hear a bit of the famous Radetzky March by searching on Radetzky-Marsch at

Vienna in this period of dazzling elegance and corrupt despair is endlessly fascinating. This is the Vienna of Klimt (and the Vienna Succession), Kokoschka, Schnitzler, Herzl, Wittgenstein, Loos, von Hoffmannsthal, Kraus, Schonberg, Mahler, Bruckner, Freud, Jung, and of course, Musil and Roth. Stalin, Trotsky, and Lenin were in Vienna just before WW I, and so was Hitler. You can read about it in these histories, which I own but have not yet read in their entirety:

A NERVOUS SPENDOR: Vienna 1888-1889 (1979) and THUNDER AT TWILIGHT: Vienna 1913/1914 (1989) by Frederic Morton

FIN-DE-SIECLE VIENNA: Politics and Culture (1981), by Carl E Schorske

WITTGENSTEIN’S VIENNA (1973), by Alan Janik and Stephen Toulmin

VIENNA’S GOLDEN AUTUMN: 1866-1938 (1987), by Hilde Spiel

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What I'm Reading Today

My reading is all over the place this week. Not that my reading is ever very disciplined. But these delicious books keep popping up. What else can I do?

Sandy brought no books in the mail yesterday, but just as I was finishing Johnson’s CREATORS, Wilhelm brought home from the library two books I had requested.

One of them is a children’s picture book (one of my favorite genres, along with oversized 19th century novels and murder mysteries.) This is Jane O’Connor’s FANCY NANCY (2006), illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. It’s great. I couldn’t resist buying it, though I was a little embarrassed to buy it for myself, so I sent it to Ella.

I hope she likes it. Her grandmother tells me she enjoys dressing up. Besides, the parents in the book look like Tim and Anita, and Ella isn’t unlike Nancy. The little sister even looks like Piper. (At least I think she does. Nobody ever sends me pictures.)

The other book I got yesterday is one that Sandy (the other Sandy, my sister, not the letter carrier) urged me to read. Sandy keeps me informed of what she’s reading, but she doesn’t usually go any further than asking if I've read a book, or suggesting I might like it, or mentioning how much she liked it herself. So when she tells me to read something I usually do so.

THE TEA HOUSE ON MULBERRY STREET (2003), by Sharon Owens, is a sweet romance-ish novel that takes place in Belfast in the late 90s. It’s a Grand Hotel sort of book that tells the stories of otherwise unrelated characters who visit the tea room (which they always call a café, I notice) and sometimes help one another resolve their problems.

MULBERRY is what Sarah calls non-serious non-trash. It's not great literature, but it’s well written and very well plotted with a couple of characters that are so real I’d like to give them a hug – or in a couple of cases punch them in the nose.

I’m on page 256 of MULBERRY, which is good because the Wells Fargo Wagon arrived at our door today with Penelope Fitzgerald’s EDWARD BURNE-JONES (1975.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What I'm Knitting

I'm taking a course from Lena at A Grand Yarn, learning how to use a steek in a traditional Scandinavian-style sweater. Here's a photo of my sweater. A week from Thursday I'm going to take a pair of scissors and cut the sweater right up the front. Stay tuned.

What I'm Reading Now

Everything has changed since yesterday. Sherlock Holmes didn’t last after all.

Yesterday morning I read the book I’ve borrowed on ILL until Sandy arrived with our mail, which included a box from

It contained two books. One was Christopher Benfey’s THE GREAT WAVE: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and the Opening of Old Japan (2003.) Benfey is the author of DEGAS IN NEW ORLEANS: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable. I read that book when it was published in 1997 and then again in 1999. It sent me on a year-long New Orleans reading spree, guided by my friend Bobby Lee from NO. (He’s still there and still mopping up from Katrina.)

I put Benfey aside for later.

The other book was Paul Johnson’s CREATORS: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney (2006.)

Despite the other books I’ve looked at or read parts of since noon yesterday, I’m on page 237 of Johnson’s book. It grabbed me. It’s not original literary or artistic criticism; it’s not intended to be. But as a collection of short biographies from Johnson’s very personal viewpoint, it’s terrific.

CREATORS impelled me to look at Johnson’s INTELLECTUALS (1988), which I read very carefully when it was first published. (My underlining goes all the way to the end of the book and there’s a lot of it.) I know little about Rousseau, Ibsen, Bertrand Russell, or Victor Gollancz, and much of what I know I learned from that book.

CREATORS really got perking for me with Chapter 7, “Jane Austen: Shall We Join the Ladies?” That sent me back to TEA WITH JANE AUSTEN, which I read recently. I went looking for MISTRESS TO AN AGE: A Life of Madame de Stael (1958), by J Christopher Herold, but couldn’t find my copy as it is out of its box in some unrecorded spot.

I did find my biography of Marian Evans, GEORGE ELIOT: Voice of a Century: A Biography(1995), by Frederick R Karl, which Johnson mentions in his footnotes and which my friend Clint recently gave me. I looked at the pictures.

Johnson’s chapter on A W N Pugin tempted me to look for my Arts and Crafts books as did the chapter on Louis Comfort Tiffany. I resisted the Arts and Crafts, and fortunately my jewelry books, including my books about Tiffany, are still in boxes and it’s cold up in the attic, so Alice let me look through a couple of her Tiffany catalogs instead. Then I headed for my biography of William Morris.

I have the Fiona MacCarthy bio, WILLIAM MORRIS: A Life for Our Time (1994.) I didn’t pick it up because it’s humongous. (It weighs more than my cat.) What I did pick up was a recent acquisition, bought because one of my favorite writers, Penelope Fitzgerald, wrote the introduction: Morris’ THE NOVEL ON BLUE PAPER (written 1872; published 1982.) I read the introduction and went back to Johnson.

I got through Chapter 12, “T S Eliot: The Last Poet to Wear Spats,” without incident, but Chapter 13, “Balenciaga and Dior: The Aesthetics of a Buttonhole,” sent me first to John Peacock’s 20TH CENTURY FASHION: The Complete Sourcebook (1993) and then on to Linda Watson’s VOGUE FASHION: 100 Years of Style by Decade and Designer (1999.)

Fortunately, my other fashion books are in the above-mentioned attic or I have no doubt I would now be paging through a picture biography of Chanel.

And as I wrote that last sentence I spotted Sandy with her pith helmet and shorts as she approached our mailbox. (To be continued . . . )

Monday, March 20, 2006

What I'm Reading

THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES: Volume 1 (2005), by Leslie S Klinger. I started this last night after watching Jeremy Brett do his magic in the latest BBC interpretation of the great detective.

THE PUBLIC CULTURE OF THE VICTORIAN MIDDLE CLASS: Ritual and Authority and the English Industrial City, 1840-1914 (2000), by Simon Gunn. Academic and slow going, but interesting.

THE DOCTOR’S FAMILY (1863), by Mrs Oliphant. I looked it up – her first name is Margaret. My Not-Trollope group is reading MISS MARJORIBANKS (1866) so I decided to read the whole six-book series, starting with THE RECTOR (1863), which I finish a couple of days ago.

BLEAK HOUSE (1852), by Charles Dickens. I’m still reading this and still enjoying it immensely (which is about right since it’s an immense book.)

THE WAY WE LIVE NOW (1875), by Anthony Trollope.

AN EYE FOR AN EYE (1879), by Anthony Trollope. This is my Trollope group’s next book. We begin discussion on Friday.

FULL DARK HOUSE (2003), by Christopher Fowler. This is the first in a series of mysteries that take place in WW II London. It’s superb and I’m reading it just a few pages a day to make it last.

I'm living in the past; I'm reading about nothing that takes place after 1943.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sherlock Holmes

Wilhelm and I have been watching the BBC rendition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Beginning in 1887 with A STUDY IN SCARLET, Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr Watson have solved puzzles, prevented murders, and otherwise entertained millions and their appeal seems never to have waned.

Wilhelm has held for decades that no actor could better portray Holmes than Basil Rathbone, but after watching this most recent film version he has come to agree with me that Jeremy Brett is the ultimate Sherlock. Tonight we watched “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” and “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.” What a thrilling moment when Joss Ackland responds to Natasha Richardson’s query, “Where are the copper beeches?” with, “Dead, my dear, all dead.”

A three-volume work by Leslie S Klinger, THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES (2005 – 2006) has caused a stir in recent years. We have it but I had not looked at it until tonight. And of course I’m hooked. Again. When I was in high school I read my way through the entire oeuvre – more than once – and I’ve often gone back to these tales. Looks like I’m going back again.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Not-Trollope Book of the Week

My Not-Trollope group has decided that each member should post a Book of the Week. Here's mine for this week:

Our friend, Chris, has invited Wilhelm and me to visit her in Madrid, so I’ve started to read about Spain. I went looking in the Spokane Public Library for some classic Spanish literature, but alas, all I could find in the classic genre was DON QUIXOTE. I did get 103 hits when I searched for “Spain – fiction,” however.

The book I chose to read is DEATH OF A NATIONALIST (2003), the first in a series of mysteries by Rebecca Pawel. The novel takes place in post-civil-war Madrid. The detective, Sergeant Carlos Tejada Alonso y Leon, from a wealthy and powerful old family, is a member of the Guardia Civil, Franco’s police force.

From the Publisher’s Weekly review: “The immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War provides the bleak setting for Pawel's stirring first novel. Madrid in 1939 is filled with bomb craters, desecrated churches and nearly abandoned streets, while black markets are just about the only markets with anything to sell. The hatreds and atrocities shared by the Nationalists (supported by the fascists) and the Republicans (supported by the Communists) still simmer and erupt in sporadic violence.”

That history informs this immediate post-war period when torturing a suspect or shooting him on the spot was routine police policy. Tejada is searching for the murderer of a policeman, an old and very close friend, a Nationalist alongside whom he fought in the war.

His investigation leads him to Madrid’s black market. Gonzalo Llorente, a Republican who is in hiding, is more interested in finding his fiancée’s killer than in saving his own life. His search for that killer and his attempt to escape from Spain leads him, too, to the black market.

Tejada “must follow a tortuous path to find the real killer and, ultimately, redemption . . . Pawel is unsparing in her depiction of the casual brutalities spawned by the war, but also offers evidence of the power of little civilities and kindnesses in a novel that easily transcends the formulaic crime story.”

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot defend themselves or run away. And few destroyers of trees ever plant any; nor can planting avail much toward restoring our grand aboriginal giants. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the oldest of the Sequoias, trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra.
--John Muir, naturalist, explorer, and writer (1838-1914)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Knitting Camp

I am taking a course at A Grand Yarn in which I’m learning to knit a sweater in the round, adding a few extra stitches in the front, called a steek. When the sweater is nearly done I will take a pair of scissors and cut the knitting right up the middle. Scary, huh?

I’m told that knitting doesn’t unravel sideways, making this a safe way to convert a pullover to a cardigan. We shall see. The gal teaching the course is Lena, an artist who knows more about knitting than any human in North America excepting maybe Meg Swanson.

Today I bought a marvelous book that Lena showed me called SWEATERS FROM CAMP: 38 Color-Patterned Designs from Meg Swansen’s Knitting Campers (2002), edited by Amy Detjen, Joyce Williams, and Meg Swansen. Meg has been teaching a knitting summer camp in Wisconsin since 1974. She devised a competition, asking the folks who had been to camp to design sweaters. This book has the patterns for the winners. And winners they are!

I'm trying to talk Sarah into going to knitting camp with me in the summer of 2007.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


One of the books I requested on interlibrary loan (ILL) has arrived from Colorado State University. It’s called THE PUBLIC CULTURE OF THE VICTORIAN MIDDLE CLASS: Ritual and Authority and the English Industrial City 1840-1914 (2000) and it’s by Simon Gunn.

The author theorizes that the classical music concert was one of the most important social rites among the wealthy during the second half of the 19th century. As with so much of public culture it was designed in part to distinguish between groups and classes.

There’s much more to the book, of course and I look forward to mining it for information that will help me better understand Trollope’s novels and the world he was describing therein. I haven’t read an academic book like this one for a while. I wonder if I still remember how.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Book of the Month -- February 2006

It’s time again for the Book of the Month Award. And February’s award goes to . . .

THE LOST PAINTING: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece (2005), by Jonathan Harr. This is nonfiction, but it has the plot, characterization, suspense, and happy ending of a really good novel. It’s the story of an Italian art history graduate student’s hunch that a painting purportedly by a second-rate Flemish artist is really a lost Caravaggio.

I described the book in my post of 12 February. It's by the author of A CIVIL ACTION (1995), another fine book, which was made into an excellent movie for which Robert Duvall was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor. (He won the Screen Actors Guild Award for the role.)

They must make Harr’s exciting new book into a movie; there are half a dozen supporting roles that just might win Duvall the Oscar this time.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Americans are always moving on
The stream uncrossed, the promise still untried
The metal sleeping in the mountainside.
-- Stephen Vincent Benet

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Rhoda Broughton

BELINDA has arrived. My new online not-trollope group is not only reading Mrs Oliphant’s MISS MARJORIBANKS, we are also tackling a collateral reading of Rhoda Broughton’s BELINDA (1883.)

I haven’t read any of Broughton’s work – in fact I don’t recall ever having heard of her, which is surprising because I've spent the last 40 years reading and reading about the 19th century novel.

Our group was attracted to this novel because of a character, Professor Forth of Oxford, a dried up old skinflint modeled on Mark Pattison, the man on whom George Eliot based Casaubon in her novel, MIDDLEMARCH (1871.)

A photo of the formidable author, wearing a peculiarly architectural dress, can be found here:

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Carlingford Chronicles

For some years now I’ve belonged to an on-line group dedicated to reading and discussing the works of Anthony Trollope. Recently a few of us from that mother ship have launched a new on-line group dedicated to reading books that are of interest to Trollope aficionados (called trolls, not trollops) but are not written by Trollope himself.

The first book the not-trollope group has chosen to read is MISS MARJORIBANKS (1866), by Mrs Oliphant. I don’t recall that lady’s given name at the moment and I have yet to fetch the book from Box 149. In any case, she published as Mrs Oliphant rather than using her full name.

MISS MARJORIBANKS is the fifth of six books that together form the Carlingford Chronicles. This was an echo of Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles. (This is the not-trollope group, after all.) The other books are:


Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Go-Between

I came across an old favorite the other day, L P Hartley’s THE GO-BETWEEN (1953.)

It’s the story of a young man who one summer visits the Edwardian country house of a school friend. In his innocence he becomes a go-between, carrying messages to a neighbor, a working man, from the daughter of the house.

In 1970 it was made into a fine movie with Julie Christie and Alan Bates.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What I’m Really Reading

In theory I’m still reading many of the books that were on my earlier lists. But in truth I’m reading only the following:

BLEAK HOUSE (1852), by Charles Dickens, because I was inspired by the Masterpiece Theater production that has been on PBS of late.
THE WAY WE LIVE NOW (1875), by Anthony Trollope, because I’m always reading one Trollope novel or other and Wilhelm and I just watched the TV adaptation of this extraordinary book, arguably Trollope’s best.
FULL DARK HOUSE (2003), by Christopher Fowler, a mystery taking place in London during WW II. Recommended by Sarah, to whom I’m grateful. It’s very good.

(It's snowing in Spokane as I write this. Everything is white. What a lovely spring surprise. I really do love snow.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Torie sent me an email today asking me to comment on the movie, “Memoirs of a Geisha.” I haven’t seen it and the DVD won’t be released for two more weeks, so I can’t say much about it. The reviews, I think, were not kind.

However, I’ve read the book, which was one of those serendipitous finds. When it was first published and before I read a review I saw it in the bookstore and couldn’t resist. I bought it.

It was meet right so to do. How did Arthur Golden, an American male, achieve a narrative voice of such authenticity, the voice of a Japanese geisha? Pure talent, I suppose. I gobbled up the book and looked forward eagerly to the movie. (Why did it take them nearly ten years to get the story to the silver screen?) Alas, the reviewers were unimpressed. No matter, I’ll watch it anyhow. I have it on my Netflix list.

I checked my database for books about geishas. Here are the books I’ve read on the subject.

The books I own:
MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (1997), by Arthur Golden.
GEISHA (1983), by Liza Crihfield Dalby. This is one of the books Golden used when writing MEMOIRS.
WOMEN OF THE PLEASURE QUARTERS: The Secret History of the Geisha (2001), by Lesley Downer.
GEISHA: A Life (2002), by Mineko Iwasaki.

The ones I borrowed from the Fairfax County Public Library:
MADAME SADAYAKKO : The Geisha Who Bewitched the West (2003), By Lesley Downer.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A GEISHA (2003), by Sayo Masuda
GEISHA: The Life, the Voices, the Art (1995), by Jodi Cobb. Primarily photos.
GEISHA (1999), by Aihara, Kyoko

Monday, March 06, 2006

Tom Williams

Yesterday Wilhelm and I met Isabella at the Civic Theater where we saw “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” What a fine production! I’m always surprised at the professional performances they put on at the Civic. The star of yesterday’s show was Chasity Kohlman, whose Maggie the Cat almost equals that of Elizabeth Taylor.

The play is one of my favorites, even in the watered down 1958 movie version (which I have just added to my Netflix queue, at # 140.) “Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie” are equally gripping. Tennessee Williams is undoubtedly one of our great American playwrights.

His life was complex: drugs, alcohol, homosexuality, and fear of madness, which ran in his family. (His sister had a lobotomy.) You can read about all this in THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS: The Life of Tennessee Williams (1985), by Donald Spoto. More recently Lyle Leverich has published the first of a projected two-volume biography, TOM: The Unknown Tennessee Williams (1995.)

There is also a book by Williams’ brother, Dakin, called TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: An Intimate Biography (1983), which has been accused by some of a having a powerful aroma of mendacity. I don’t know the book so I can’t say.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Blessing

“May blessings be upon the head of Cadmus, the Phoenicians, or whoever it was that invented books” -- Thomas Carlyle

Friday, March 03, 2006

Knitting A Screen Door

I’m thinking about knitting a screen door. The screen in the door on the back porch is in ill health; it’s torn and pulling away from the wood and needs to be replaced. And I happened on a pattern for a screen door recently in a book called ALTERKNITS: Imaginative Projects and Creativity Exercises (2005), by Leigh Radford.

The book has patterns for a necklace knit from silver wire, a chair cushion, a bulletin board, paper lanterns, and a rug knit from old T-shirts, meeting and exceeding the expectations raised by its title. The book also has some charming hats, scarves, and sweaters if you don’t want to get too creative.

I found my copy of that book at my local Spokane yarn store, A Grand Yarn, where I also found LAST MINUTE KNITTED GIFTS (2004), By Joelle Hoverson. The patterns in Hoverson’s book are organized by how long it takes to knit them: less than two hours, two to four hours, etc. I bought this book because I was so taken with the cashmere draw-string pouch on the cover, but it has useful patterns for a floor cushion, stuffed animals, a tea cozy, and miniature Christmas tree ornaments. The hats and scarves are excellent also.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Sybille Bedford

I’ve found a fine old novel by a writer hitherto unknown to me. I can’t recall where I heard about the book or the author, but I checked the Spokane Library and the book was there so I requested it. It’s called A LEGACY and it was written by Sybille Bedford and published in 1956. It takes place in pre-WW I Germany.

It came home from the library yesterday along with some other, more immediately compelling books like the new biography, HERSHEY: Milton S Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams (2006), by Michael D’Antonio; an E X Ferrars mystery, LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT (1978); and THE WORKS: Anatomy of a City (2005), by Kate Ascher. The last, by the way, is a fascinating (and excellently illustrated) analysis of the transportation, communication, sewer, garbage, and power systems of NY City.

I picked up A LEGACY this morning because I was immobilized with Miss Woodhouse in my lap (I’m too soft-hearted to move a sleeping cat) and the book was to hand.

To begin with those testimonials you find in the front of paperbacks are a little out of the ordinary. Here are the first two:

“One of the very best novels I have ever read.” – Nancy Mitford

“A book of entirely delicious quality.” – Evelyn Waugh

Miford and Waugh think the book is first rate? For me this is like Ted Williams flacking Corn Flakes to a 12-year-old.

And I think they may be right. The novel grabbed me from the first paragraph and won’t let go. From the book cover:

“The Kaiser’s Germany is the setting of this, Sybille Bedford’s first and best-known novel, in which three families – one from solid, upholstered Jewish Berlin, the others from the somnolent, agrarian Catholic south – become comically, tragically, irrevocably intertwined. ‘Each family,’ writes the author, ‘stood confident of being able to go on with what was theirs, while in fact they were playthings, often victims, of the now united Germany and what was brewing therein.’”

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Lenten Reading 2006

The books on my Lenten Reading short list include two books by Elaine Pagels, THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS (1979) and BEYOND BELIEF: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003.) Also suggested were GOLDEN MOUTH: The Story of John Chrysostom—Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (1995), FATHER JOE: The Man Who Saved My Soul (2004), and LIFE TOGETHER: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community (1954), by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Unfortunately, I don’t own any of these books and the library isn’t forthcoming with those I have requested.

So I have looked at some of the books I do own. I have two books by Hans Kung, but ON BEING A CHRISTIAN (1974) is 720 pages long, and DOES GOD EXIST? An Answer for Today (1978) is 838 pages. I also considered MORAL MAN AND IMMORAL SOCIETY: A Study of Ethics and Politics (1932) by Reinhold Niebuhr, which is short, but exceedingly dense. I know Lenten Reading isn’t supposed to be light going, but flagellation went out with the Spanish Inquisition.

I looked briefly at THE CHRISTIANS AS THE ROMANS SAW THEM (1984) by Robert L Wilkin, CHRISTIANIZING THE ROMAN EMPIRE (AD 100-400) (1984) by Ramsay MacMullen, and THE FIRST URBAN CHRISTIANS: The Social world of the Apostle Paul (1983) by Wayne A Meeks. Those I put in Box 101 with PAGANS AND CHRISTIANS to be read, perhaps together, another year.

Wilhelm suggested a book by his late friend, Jim Kittelson, LUTHER THE REFORMER: The Story of the Man and His Career (1986.) That was very tempting.

Finally, I found JESUS THROUGH THE CENTURIES: His Place in the history of Culture (1985) by Jaroslav Pelikan and MERE MORALITY: What God Expects of Ordinary People (1983) by Lewis B Smedes.

After a lot of thought I’ve decided to read both the Pelikan and Smedes books. One is a history of Christian doctrine and the other is a guide to ethics. They have about 400 pages between them, and divided into the 40 days of Lent that is 10 pages a day, which seems about right.