Mary's Library

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Elinor Lipman Does It Again

Elinor Lipman published her first novel, The Inn at Lake Devine in 1998. Until now I have thought it her best and funniest.

But with My Latest Grievance (©2006) she has outdone herself.

The story takes place at a fourth-rate New England girls college in the late 1970s. The daughter of a left wing psychologist and sociologist makes friends with her father’s ex-wife when the woman comes to be a house mother at the college.

After some hilarious lying, scheming, manipulation, adultery, and attempted suicide, not to mention the Great Blizzard of 1978, justice prevails and all is well. It’s a charming and very funny book.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Local Boy Makes Good

Jess Walter’s Citizen Vince won the 2005 Edgar for Best Novel last night. He was a long shot and the competition was stiff: Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, George Pelecanos. Citizen Vince is only Walter’s third mystery and he has not been well known outside of devoted mystery reading circles and the Spokane bookstore crowd. All that is changed as of last night.

I was reading his books when I lived in Virginia. These days I live in Spokane, the setting and heart of his mysteries, and I’m proud to find that a fellow citizen is getting the recognition he deserves.

The first and second books in the Caroline Mabry series are Over Tumbled Graves (©2001) and Land of the Blind (©2003.) Both are available in mass market paperback. Citizen Vince is still in hardback, but it’s the very best mystery novel published in the US last year, so don’t wait for the paperback. Buy it now.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

What I’m Reading

I’m still reading Bleak House (published 1853.) I read only a page or so each night to make it last. I’ve come to love Esther’s narratives and my heart is breaking for John Jarndyce. Dickens really did a fine job with this tragic story.

American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (©2006), by Kevin Phillips. Whatever possessed Phillips to choose religion for the title of this book, in which the religion section is so weak? I haven’t read the finance part yet, but I find convincing his argument that much of US foreign policy has been controlled for the last century by our need for oil.

High Rising (published in 1933), by Angela Thirkell. It’s delightful.

Abide with Me (©2006), by Elizabeth Strout. A clergyman begins to fall apart as he copes with a family tragedy in this excellent novel.

Miss Marjoribanks (published in 1866), by Mrs Margaret Oliphant. I didn’t like this book for the first ten chapters or so, but I’m beginning to warm to the eponymous heroine, who really is hilarious in her lack of humor and blind egotism. Don’t tell my Not-Trollope group. I’ve been grousing to them about the book all month.

Flaubert: A Biography (©2006), by Frederick Brown. Just what I need! Another lengthy biography of a literary figure, and a French one at that. But the author of Madame Bovary (published1856) is such an interesting guy and the book is so well written that I’m hooked.

The Autobiography and Letters of Mrs M O W Oliphant (©1899), edited by Mrs Harry Coghill. Yawn. This is slow going. However the book I’m reading is one printed in 1899 and some of the pages are still uncut so I’m enjoying “the reading experience,” so to speak, if not the text. (M O W stands for Margaret Oliphant Wilson.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Book of the Month – March 2006

A Legacy (©1956), by Sybille Bedford.

I’m a little late with the March book of the month, which is entirely unnecessary since I realized early on that this book was the highlight of my March reading. In fact, it’s the highlight of my 2006 reading.

I talked about the book in my post of 2 March. Here’s the quote from the cover that I used then:

“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.’”

And quotes from admiring readers:

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

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

I recommend it unreservedly.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs was a prophet. In 1961 she published a revolutionary book for which she became famous. In those days “urban renewal” was in fashion, a theory that said we needed to bulldoze the sometimes crumbling neighborhoods in our cities and build high-rise apartment buildings instead, or alternatively, to move folks out to the suburbs.

Jacobs, looking around at her complex and lively neighborhood, Greenwich Village in New York City, proposed that we did not need more sterile Bauhaus buildings and acres of streets faced with blank garage doors. She was an advocate for high density and diversity. This is now called mixed-use.

She lived above a candy store and she recommended that we scuttle the single-use zoning then being rigidly enforced even as sprawl ate up our open space and made our suburbs less livable. She recommended combining commercial and residential components in a single property.

This is now mainstream theory, the heart of the new urbanism that is creating places like Seaside, Florida, and reviving places like Clarendon, Virginia.

If you haven’t read The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it’s time to do so now, to honor the memory of this remarkable woman, who died today in Toronto, the livable city where she had resided for many years.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Happy birthday, dear Tony . . .

Today is Anthony Trollope’s birthday. He was born in 1815 and died in 1882. My on-line Trollope group is a little giddy from celebrating, with virtual cake being passed around and much singing of “Happy birthday, dear Tony.”

If you have never read Trollope you have a treat in store. He is a fine writer who has carefully captured in his novels the world of 19th century England and the people living there. They are a lot like the people living now. I frequently run into his characters. I knew a woman in Virginia who was Mrs Proudie to the life.

Where to begin if you haven’t read Trollope before? I recommend Phineas Finn (published serially from Oct 1867 to May 1869.) Phineas is a young Irishman who has arrived in London to study law. But his aim is to get into Parliament, and he meets political figures who encourage him to try. His best friend in the political world is Lady Laura Standish, who is related to half the Whigs in Parliament.

The novel is the story of Phineas’ struggle to make a place for himself in politics and to find a suitable wife to help him do so. It’s one of Trollope’s best books. I’ve read it repeatedly over the years and I always come away new ideas and new understanding. It’s one of my 10 favorite books. Possibly one of my 5 favorites.

If you love Jane Austen, you will love Trollope. (If you don’t love Jane Austen, why would you be reading this blog?)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Fox

This morning Wilhelm and I went to the Fox Theater with the Spokane Preservation Advocates. The Fox was built in 1931, and it's being restored, a project that will take about 2 years and $22 million. When it reopens it will be the home of the Spokane Symphony.

We were there to "fold the curtain." Ok, it’s a big curtain, but 20 people? Turns out that, like so much other colorful theater terminology (legs and lifts, wings and wagons), there's a little more to it. “Curtain,” encompasses about 12 curtains, each about the size of the footprint of my house. They are heavy velveteen and fully lined. Oh, and did I mention the chains sewn into the hems?

For more info on the Fox Theater, go here:
For more info on the Spokane Symphony, go here:
For more info on the Spokane Preservation Advocates, go here:

For a book on theater skills and terminology, see The Stagecraft Handbook (©1996), by Daniel A Ionazzi.

Global Warming

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (©2006), by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Pop Quiz:

1. What did Augusta, Maine, look like about 100,000 years ago?

2. How much did the average global temperature at that time differ from the average temperature now?

3. How much land are the Dutch reclaiming from the sea every year?

4. “As the effects of global warming become more and more difficult to ignore, will we react by finally fashioning a global response? Or will we retreat into ever narrower and more destructive forms of self-interest?”

1. Who knows? It was under a mile of ice.
2. The average world temperature was only 10 degrees colder.
3. None. They are now being forced to give it back.
4. “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”

This is a short, non-hysterical examination of the effects of global warming in some particularly vulnerable spots around the world. I recommend it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Fred Friendly

Somebody told me a George Clooney anecdote the other day. Cloony was sitting at the same table as my interlocutor at a celebration of some sort when a well-known figure walked into the room.

“Look,” said Clooney, “There’s Clem Cadiddlehopper. I’ve met him. I wonder if he remembers me.”

In his movie, “Good Night and Good Luck,” Clooney plays Fred Friendly, an understated character with the modesty the actor himself demonstrates in this possibly-apocryphal anecdote. The film is primarily about Edward R Murrow (one of Washington State University’s more distinguished alums) and the courage he and his producer, Friendly, exhibited by taking on Senator Joseph Macarthy on Murrow’s TV show, “See It Now.”

Friendly wrote an “occupational memoir” about those early days of television called Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control . . . (©1967,) which arrived at our house yesterday. It may be a 40-year old book, but the story it tells of the struggle to make television something more than an “idiot box” continues.

For those too young to remember test patterns and the National Anthem when the networks signed off for the night, "circumstances beyond our control" was what appeared on the TV screen when the broadcast was interrupted by "technical difficulties."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bear Went Over the Mountain

William Kotzwinkle’s Bear Went Over the Mountain (©1996)

“Once upon a time a big black bear discovered a manuscript under a tree. He read it, and decided it wasn't bad. Borrowing some clothes from a local store and the name Hal Jal from the label of his favourite food, he headed to New York to seek his fortune. There he took the literary world by storm.” (Synopsis from )

This book is a hoot.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In the Bleak Midwinter

Julia Spencer-Fleming is writing a delightful series of mysteries that feature a female Episcopal priest.

In the first book in the series, In the Bleak Midwinter (©2002), a the Reverend Clare Ferguson, newly hired at St Alban’s Church in upstate Miller’s Kill, NY, finds a baby on the church steps with a note directing her to give the child to two of her parishioners.

Instead she calls the police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, and so begins a friendship between the devoted priest and the married cop that threatens to develop into something more.

When the body of the child’s mother turns up the spunky Clare, an ex-Army helicopter pilot, is called on to show her courage and her caring as her conservative congregation question her involvement in the murder investigation.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Circle of Sisters

Today's mail brought me a book that was recommended by some folks in my Not-Trollope group. Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne, Agnes Poynter, and Louisa Baldwin (©2001) is by Judith Flanders, who wrote another fine book about 19th century England, Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England (©2004.)

The Macdonald sisters were daughters of a Methodist minister in mid-Victorian England, a modest lower middle class background for women who were to become so eminent.

Alice was the mother of Rudyard Kipling; Georgiana was the wife of Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones; Agnes was the wife of Edward Poynter, who was director of the National Gallery and president of the Royal Academy; and Louisa was the mother of Stanley Baldwin, who became Prime Minister of England.

Wouldn't you love to be invited to a dinner party when the whole family got together? Circle of Sisters is the literary equivalent.

Flanders is interested in the social history of Victorian times, and this book, like her earlier one, offers "a glimpse of daily life in the nineteenth century – of how people lived and died, of how houses were run and children were raised. . . . Flanders tells their remarkable story with wit, authority, and flair." (From the book jacket.)


Teen girl #1: Yeah, it's totally true. I heard it on the olive branch.
Teen girl #2: Olive branch?
Teen girl #1: Yeah, you know. It's going around...It's a rumor. The olive branch.
Teen girl #2: You mean the grape branch?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

What I'm Reading Right Now (11 AM PDT)

I started the morning reading Miss Marjoribanks (Margaret Oliphant, published 1863), moved quickly through Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties (Frederick Lewis Allen, first published 1931), to arrive about an hour ago where I am now.

I’m currently reading The Cold War: A New History (©2005), by John Lewis Gaddis, who is The Authority on the Cold War and has written six other books on the subject.

His primary audience for this new book is the young folks for whom the Cold War was never “current events,” those for whom it’s “not all that different from the Peloponnesian War.”

It is also useful for those of us who remember all too vividly the Cuban Missile Crisis and backyard bomb shelters. Few of us fully understand how the war began, how it ended, and how close we came to mutual assured destruction.

This is Wilhelm’s book and he rates it highly. He went through it like a hot knife through butter, and this is a serious book with 266 pages of text and 70 pages of notes and sources. Read it.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Avian Flu

There’s a wonderful old black and white Elia Kazan movie starring Richard Widmark called “Panic in the Streets,” which is about the arrival of pneumonic plague in New Orleans. Widmark, playing a US Public Health Service doctor, has to warn people, inoculate them, and convince them to report any suspicious symptoms. But more importantly he has to prevent panic. An unenviable job.

Mike Davis’ book, The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (©2005) suggests that our communities are going to need lots of folks like Widmark's doctor in the next few years as avian flu or some other influenza virus breaks loose and becomes vicious and pandemic.

In addition to the attraction of the book’s 1950s-style murder mystery cover featuring a rabid-looking chicken, the book appeals to me because Davis writes so lucidly. He achieves an appropriate degree of urgency and provocation.

I bought the book because a reviewer said the first chapter, explaining what viruses are and why they mutate so easily, was the best such description he had ever seen anywhere. I agree. You can’t judge the seriousness of the flu problem unless you understand how viruses work.

Davis helps you comprehend how and where influenza is engendered among pigs and waterfowl, how it is spread, and why bird flu is more scary than other flu viruses. After reading this book you can decide for yourself just how dangerous influenza is and is going to be and what you need to be doing about it.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Jeff Faux has written a book called The Global Class War: How America’s Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future and What It Will Take to Win It Back (©2006.)

The problem: The US is rapidly losing jobs to China and elsewhere; i.e., the world is flat. The US is living in a bubble of debt. Our country’s elite and powerful Upper 50,000 do not have America’s best interests at heart.

The solution: We all must save more and spend less, from the US government to everybody with a credit card.

But here’s the real solution, according to Faux: The United States of North America. Admittedly, the State of Canada and the State of Mexico may not like that very much, but it would save the US economy.

I’m oversimplifying of course. The book isn’t bad as books about economics go. However, I would suggest a prerequisite: Thomas L Friedman’s The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (©2005.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Seven-Inch Heels?

What Diantha Did

Today I’ve been reading a book recommended to me by my pal Lynne, who lives in Devon.

We all know, or at least know of, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The book I’ve just read is her novel, written in 1909, called What Diantha Did.

Diantha is engaged to a storekeeper in a small town in California. He is not a success and his mother and four sisters, who know not the value of a dollar, are spending money faster than he can earn it. He and Diantha will be unable to marry for many years.

Diantha decides to do something about it. She gets a job as a cook and maid and is very good at it. But she has plans. She wants to make housekeeping scientific, to give dignity to the labor of household domestic laborers, and to make life easier for the wives who are worn out from the hard work of keeping house.

This is not a great book. It is didactic and some will find tedious the author's descriptions of the many tasks that must be done in an average household and what they are worth. But I found it most interesting.

I read it on line by subscribing to .

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tely's Picks

I am deeply engrossed in a book that Tely recommended the other day. Since I’ve been crazy about most of the books he’s suggested in the past I bought a copy. (At Auntie's, of course.)

Joseph J Ellis’ His Excellency: George Washington (© 2004) is a deceptively simple book. I was reading along last night and considering the simplicity of the language and the smooth chronological structure I was puzzled at why I found it so riveting.

I looked back at what I had read, but it was so clean and dispassionate that I still fail to understand why it’s so absorbing. It’s Washington himself I suppose.

Other books recommended by Tely:

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (© 2000), also by Joseph J Ellis. “Every schoolchild in American should be required to read this book,” says Tely.

Ruled Britannia (© 2002), by Harry Turtledove. This is alternative history, which isn’t everybody’s cup of double bergamot Earl Grey, but it does make you think more carefully about what actually did occur during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (© 2004), by Stephen Greenblatt. This non-alternative history/biography covers the some of the same territory as the Turtledove book.

Perfect Prince: The Mystery of Perkin Warbeck and His Quest for the Throne of England (© 2003), by Ann Wroe. The 15th century was a tough time anywhere, but in England, where the War of the Roses had just come to a gory end, to step forward and announce that you were Richard Plantagenet (one of the “princes in the tower”) and rightful heir to the throne was suicide.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


I’m a sucker for a sexy book title and today I met a woman at the library who suggested a real doozy: LIPSTICK ON A PIG: Winning in the No-Spin Era by Someone Who Knows the Game (2006.)

It’s a book by Torie Clarke, who was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs in the first years of the Bush administration. Her advice? “Tell the truth early, often, and in plain language.”

"Clarke shows that a policy of transparency not only protects you, but that you even stand to gain from it – because once you figure out that you can't put lipstick on a pig, you've actually learned something far more powerful: not to create a pig in the first place." (From the book jacket.)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Old Friends Visit Spokane

Sarah and Tely arrive this afternoon. We haven’t seen them since we left Virginia in August and we’re excited.

We have lots of plans. We’ll walk in Manito Park and River Front Park and look at the falls, which are at their very best at the moment.

(To see some photos of them look here. The falls are at the bottom of the page.)

We’ll have dinner at the Steam Plant and then dessert in the lobby of the Davenport. Wilhelm’s folks used to go there in the early 1940s, so it’s a family tradition.

We’ll visit to Auntie’s, of course, and have lunch at Northern Lights Brew Pub. And we’ll sit around in our old bungalow and talk and laugh and eat Tillamook ice cream, which is the second best ice cream in the world and is inexplicably unavailable on the east coast.

Two books about Spokane and its history by Tony and Suzanne Schaeffer Bamonte:

MANITO PARK: A Reflection of Spokane’s Past (1998, 2004)


Saturday, April 08, 2006


I’m an unapologetic Elvis fan. So when a two-volume biography of The King was published a few years back I was first in line at the library.

The first volume of Peter Guralnick’s excellent biography was called LAST TRAIN TO MEMPHIS: The Rise of Elvis Presley (1994) and it is a better book than the second volume, CARELESS LOVE: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley (1998.)

But both are worth reading as Guralnick has wisely presented the facts of Presley’s life without undue editorializing about the tragedy of his later years and the destructive influence of his manager.

To learn about how Parker managed – and grossly mismanaged – Presley’s career, read Alanna Nash’s THE COLONEL: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley (2003.)

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Enthusiast

I’m reading a book that came from the library today called ENTHUSIASM (2006), written by Polly Shulman who is the daughter of Alix Kates Shulman, author of MEMOIRS OF AN EX-PROM QUEEN (1972.)

ENTHUSIASM is what they call in the library game Young Adult Fiction. It’s expected to appeal to females aged 11 and up. I’m in the “and up” category. It appeals to me.

It’s the story of Julie and Ashleigh, high school sophomores and Jane Austen fans, who seem to fall for the same Mr Darcy-like boy and struggle to hide their true feelings from one another while rehearsing for a school musical.

Ashleigh, who is prone to Enthusiasms, is now in an Austen phase and wearing vintage clothing. From the cover:

“’Listen, Ash,’ I said. ‘You’re not planning to go to school wearing that, are you? No guy will even look at you.’ Me neither if they see me with you, I added inwardly. ‘Couldn’t you please, please, please wear jeans?’

“As always, my plea fell on deaf ears.

“‘I see not the necessity of discussing with you, Miss Lefkowitz, the propriety of a young lady wearing Trousers. As you know, modesty forbids us to reveal the shape of the Lower Limbs.’

“‘If you do get a boyfriend, he’s going to want to see a lot more than just the shape of your Lower Limbs,’ I argued silently.”

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Muriel Spark and Lord Lucan

We went to Auntie’s today and I found some treasures, including a copy of a Muriel Spark novel, AIDING AND ABETTING (2001.)

Miss Spark is best known for THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1961.) She has written some other superb novels, including THE MANDELBAUM GATE (1963), MEMENTO MORI (1959), and THE ABESS OF CREWE (1974.)

AIDING AND ABETTING is based on the true story of the seventh Earl of Lucan, who in 1974 disappeared, leaving behind his battered wife and the body of their children’s nanny. Lord Lucan has reportedly been seen here and there over the years, particularly in Africa. But none of these appearances has been substantiated. He was officially declared dead in 1999, though his body has never been discovered.

In this witty satire Lord Lucan arrives in the office of a psychiatrist in Paris. But the doctor already has a patient who claims he is Lord Lucan. The story of her attempt to determine which (if either) is the real earl is complicated by her own somewhat sinister past.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Another Visit to the Dentist

I was in the dental chair for an hour and a half today and by the time they were finished with me I had an important migraine. I always reward myself when I get back from the dentist, and today’s reward was to take Cataflam and Cafergot and to lie down in a cool, dark room.

It should also have been a quiet room, but the cat felt the need at about that time to prowl the house meowing at the top of her little lungs. After dozing off six times and being wakened by her plaintive yowls six times I had used up my dozes and was wide awake.

That’s when the incident of the 60% cocoa Ghirardelli chocolate squares occurred. The less said about that the better.

An exceptionally good book about migraine, now somewhat dated but still worth reading (as are all his books) is Oliver Sacks’ MIGRAINE (1970.)

An interesting book about the interpretation of cat behavior is Myrna M Milani’s THE BODY LANGUAGE AND EMOTION OF CATS (1987.)

The web site for Ghirardelli is here:

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Anniversary Celebration

Today is our anniversary. We are planning to paint the town red. (Well, pink.) When Wilhelm gets back from the gym we will be going to River Park Square for lunch, at Twig's I think. Then I’m going to buy a dress at Nordstrom to wear to the dance we’re going to on the 28th.

I need a dress that covers my floppy upper arms, hides my pot belly, de-emphasizes my over-large asymmetrical bosom, and has a flippy skirt for dancing. Can such a dress exist? Where’s Edith Head when you need her?

EDITH HEAD: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer (2003), by David Chierichetti.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Noel Coward

We saw Private Lives at the Civic Theater yesterday with Isabella and Charlie. I was tickled to find Sue sitting in front of me. It gives me a little thrill to run into someone I know here in Spokane. (I’ve only lived here for about six months.)

We went after the play for pizza at Rocky Roccoco’s. What a good time we had. I find it interesting how as I grow older the “little” things we do sometimes seem so much more important and rewarding than the “big” things.

I’ve been a fan of Noel Coward since I stumbled upon Blithe Spirit while I was at Duke. I’ve also seen Design for Living, Present Laughter, and of course Private Lives, some of them more than once, and I’ve enjoyed various film versions of them. I just put Design for Living in my Netflix queue and bumped it up to # 1. One can’t get enough of Noel Coward.

I own four books by and about him:



NOEL COWARD AND HIS FRIENDS (1979), by Cole Lesley, who is also the author of REMEMBERED LAUGHTER: The Life of Noel Coward (1976), which I’ve read and which I recommend.

NOEL COWARD: A Biography (1995), by Philip Hoare, which is excellent.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

In Other Words, Prioritize

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.
--Herbert Alexander Simon, economist, Nobel laureate (1916-2001)