Mary's Library

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz, who died yesterday at the age of 94, was the first Arab writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize, 1988. He wrote 50 novels, his most famous being the Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk (1956), Palace of Desire (1957), and Sugar Street (1957.)

These books describe daily life in a traditional Egyptian family and how they react to unsettling change over three generations, from 1905 when Egypt was occupied by the British, through the middle of the 20th century.

The tyrannical father is unwilling to adapt to the increasingly modern world that encroaches on the old ways he has known all his life. The women become restive in their secluded world. One son becomes violent as he is caught up in the political turmoil of the struggle for Egyptian freedom while the idealistic younger son becomes an introspective academic.

“It is in the grandsons . . . that we see modern Egypt emerging. [One] becomes a communist activist, while his brother . . . becomes a Muslim fundamentalist – both working for what they believe will be a better world.” The third grandson, a man of “suave charm and sensual nature, launches a promising political career.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


This is a photo of our god-daughter on a visit to Santa Barbara.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A New Phone

After a year of attempting to go completely wireless with our phone service, Mary and I threw in the towel yesterday and acquired a new phone, with service from Vonage. Reception has been too poor at our house to rely solely on wireless phone service. But, I could not bring myself to get a traditional land line. So, we went with Vonage. For those of you in far off lands who may not have seen Vonage's "Woo Hoo" commericials, Vonage in a large voice-over-internet phone service provider. So far, we are quite pleased with the service.

Like everything else in life for Mary and me, a new phone brings to mind books. In this case, I thought of John Steele Gordon's A Thread Across the Ocean (2002). Of course, as with most things literary, Mary blogged this first. Nonetheless, this book, which tells the epic story of the laying of the first transatlantic cable is worth mentioning again. Our current ability to communicate worldwide instantly is a marvel. This book tells one of the many intriguing stories showing how we got to our current system of communications. John Steele Gordon's books make business and economic history come alive. They are among my favorites.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Breaking Blue

“Fresh on a job that promised not only a guaranteed salary of twenty-seven dollars a week but clean clothes as well, Bill Parsons was given a leather strap, brass knuckles, an oak billy club, and a six-chamber, five-inch-barreled, 38-caliber Smith & Wesson, and was introduced to the routine of a lawman in a town staggered by the sixth year of the Great Depression.”

“During the early part of Bill Parson’s career, crime [in Spokane] was tolerated so long as it was the right kind of crime. Bootlegging. Cathouses. Gambling. Wife-beating. Gun-running. No harm there . . .”

The Lady of the Lake reminded me the other day of a book I read back in 1995 called Breaking Blue (1992.) Written by NY Times correspondent Timothy Egan, it’s the engrossing story of a 1935 murder in the town of Newport, WA.

“A rancher’s son, born when followers of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce still dreamed of driving homesteaders from the ponderosa pine forests and alfalfa fields of the inland Pacific Northwest, . . . Bill Parsons had seen the length of the twentieth century . . .

“He started in police work at a time when bootleggers and Chinese numbers rackets could provide a patrolman with a healthy income on the side, and he got out just before crack dealers and the state lottery commission made a mockery of the Depression-era enforcement routine.”

In 1989 Tony Bamonte was asking questions.

“Bamonte was pursuing a master’s degree at Gonzaga University, the old Jesuit college that was built on the banks of the Spokane River at a time when most of the people who lived near its shores were native Spokane or Coeur d’Alene Indians.”

His thesis was a history of the sheriffs of Pend Oreille County. He was the current sheriff and the murder from 54 years before was still unsolved, an open case sitting on his desk.

The clues in this murder mystery led to the bedside of the now-dying Parsons, so Bamonte called the former Spokane police chief and asked for an interview. He wanted to know about the Newport Creamery murder.

“That same week in September 1989, there had been a story in the paper about drug gang members from Los Angeles moving to the Northwest; they would kill one another over the color of somebody’s hat, the story said. Imagine. But Parsons now recalled a day when one man would shoot another over a few pounds of stolen butter.”

Egan’s book is still in print and available at Barnes & Noble.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


"Some people say that cats are sneaky, evil, and cruel. True, and they have many other fine qualities as well." -- Missy Dizick
-- From
Cats Me If You Can

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mary Garden

I have been reading The Merchant of Power - Sam Insull, Thomas Edison, and the Creation of the Modern Metropolis (2006), by John F. Wasik. I expect that I will have more to say about Mr Insull after I have finished the book. For now, though, I offer up an anecdote from the book about the incomparable Mary Garden, one of Insull's paramours.

Mary Garden (1874-1967) was a soprano in the early twentieth century. She was rather ahead of her time in the degree of sexuality that she infused into opera. As a result, her career was more successful initially in France than in the United States. She never forgot that. So, she interrupted her career to assist the French during the First World War. She went to France where, among other things, she worked part-time as a Red Cross nurse. She even tried, unsuccessfully, to join the French Army. Explaining this enlistment attempt, Mary said:

Why not? I owe France more than I can ever repay, even by giving my life, and I am sure that I could fight as well as a man if they would let me. I have never failed to subdue every man that I have met so far.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Reading Like a Writer

I don’t know whether it’s the arrival of cool fall-like back-to-school weather or the arrival in the mail yesterday of Francine Prose’s new book, but I am disposed this morning to prioritize my reading (again) and get some of the clutter off my reading list.

The book, which was a surprise because it isn't scheduled for publication until November, is Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Like Them. Publishers Weekly gives it a starred review and suggests it should be on the shelf next to E M Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. I agree.

To read like a writer, Prose tells us, is to slow down and pay attention; to look carefully at paragraphs, sentences, and words; to detect the author's meaning from the carefully chosen elements of his writing. This is, of course, what those of us lucky enough to escape from the English Department before the advent of the “isms” learned to call “close reading.” Instead of being taught to criticize the author first and read him later, we spent class time prying out the details of a work – details that tell us a good deal more than does squinting through a narrow window called “feminism” or “deconstructionism.”

Prose tells of a high school assignment to circle every word relating to eyes, light, darkness, and vision in Oedipus and Lear and to write an essay about what she concluded. She found hundreds of references to sight and blindness, knowledge and ignorance, truth and lies, making the blinding of the characters at the climax more powerful and compelling.

Reading Like a Writer makes me want to read that way again, but applying the technique to chick lit and undistinguished murder mysteries is not gratifying. I need to get back to belles-lettres, to books with literary merit, to the canon.

Prose appends a list of “Books to Be Read Immediately,” which includes Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep as well as the more predictable Anna Karenina and Pride and Prejudice. Also on her list is Edward St Aubyn’s Mother’s Milk, a Man Booker longlist title.

Reading Like a Writer is available from Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Another trip to "the dentist"

Long-time readers of Mary's Library may remember a post last January about a trip to the dentist's office that Mary made. Yesterday, it was Darcy's turn. She had to go to the veterinarian's office for some major teeth-cleaning. This was highly stressful for all involved, but she came through the ordeal OK. Now, we can relax and re-read A Kitten's Year (2000), by Nancy Raines Day and Anne Mortimer (Illustrator). This is a delightful little picture book for pre-schoolers, and just right for the children's shelf in Mary's Library.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fire Season

Here in the Inland Northwest we have spent most of the month of August under what is known as a red flag alert for wild fires and forest fires. We have had many days with high temperatures over 90 degrees F and some days over 100 degrees F (roughly between 30 and 40 degrees C). We have had no appreciable rain since early July. Last night around 10:00, a fire broke out in a wooded area just north of Spokane, on the edge of the metro area. So far, it has burned about 40 acres and now is mostly under control. A few houses were threatened and had to be evacuated, but none has been destroyed. Mary stayed up until about 2:00 watching the live local news coverage. This was a fairly small fire, and notable only for its closeness to a developed area. The biggest fire in the region is the Tripod Complex fire in North Central Washington State. So far it has burned over 100,000 acres and is expected to continue to burn until the autumn rains arrive in October.

In my younger days, I spent three summers working for the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho. My time was spent with survey crews, although I did go out on one fire. That was rather anti-climactic, as the Forest Service crew I was with had nothing to do other than watch a bulldozer from a private logging company cut a line around the fire and contain it. It is not always so for fire crews. Norman MacLean's gripping book Young Men and Fire (1992) tells the story of one of the worst disasters in the history of the U.S. Forest Service. In August of 1949, 12 young fire fighters (out of a crew of 15) were killed in the Mann Gulch fire in Montana. The tragedy and the recriminations that followed make for very compelling reading.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Godly Hero

To the extent that William Jennings Bryan is remembered at all today, he is usually recalled as a figure deserving of ridicule. He is seen as a bigot and an intellectual lightweight with a talent for beguiling the slow-witted. Bryan had the misfortune of counting among his critics H.L. Mencken. Mencken (a distant relative of Bismark) had a great talent for hilarious, if not always justified, mockery. The stage play and the movie version of Inherit the Wind pretty much finished off Bryan's reputation.

Michael Kazin, a professor at Georgetown University, has attempted to restore some balance and historical perspective regarding Bryan in the biography A Godly Hero - The Life of William Jennings Bryan (2006). Kazin faces up to Bryan's flaws, but also demonstrates that prior to the last 10 years of his life, Bryan was a major force for reform in American politics. Although Bryan's oratorical skills were often derided as being long on style and short on substance (he was compared to the Platte River in his home State of Nebraska as being a foot deep and a mile wide at the mouth), Bryan was almost undoubtedly the greatest American political orator of his generation. Bryan's Cross of Gold speech deservedly is remembered as the most famous speech ever given at an American political convention (granted, there is precious little competition).

At the 1896 Democratic National Convention, Bryan was, at the age of 36, a leader of the "Silver Democrats". The nation had suffered a major economic depression in the early 1890s. Farmers and laborers, especially in the South and West, were hard hit. Bryan and others fought for the free coinage of silver by the U.S. mint, at a ratio of 16 to 1 to gold. Urban and Eastern political forces staunchly opposed this inflationary proposal and backed the gold standard. Further, the incumbent Democratic President, Grover Cleveland, was a Gold Democrat. So, Bryan's Silver Democrats were fighting on two fronts -- against the Republicans and against the leadership of their own party. Bryan's Cross of Gold Speech to the convention so electrified the delegates that Bryan, definitely a dark horse candidate, won the nomination. Here are two of the best known excerpts from the speech:

You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold
standard. I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile
prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will
spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will
grow in the streets of every city in the country.

* * *

Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Bryan went on to lose the election to McKinley. He was twice more nominated and twice more defeated. Yet, he remained a major voice in American politics until 1915, when he left the post of Secretary of State in the Wilson administration.

Bryan spent the remaining ten years of his life speaking on many issues. Most notably he spoke against Darwinism. And, of course, he served as a counsel for the prosecution in the Scopes "monkey trial" in 1925. Kazin attempts to put the Darwinism debates of the 1920s into the context of that time. Aside from the various scientific and theological issues of evolutionary biology, Kazin notes that in the 1920s Darwinism was invoked as a support for social policies that ranged from neglecting the helpless to enacting eugenics laws that required the sterilization of the mentally and morally "unfit". Those policies Bryan could not abide, and for that he is deserving of better than the ridicule he has often received.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Blogspot has a remarkable number of ways of thwarting attempts to post a picture to a blogger profile. Over the past couple of days, I've been thwarted by, I believe, all of them. But, I perservered and now have a picture along with a profile. Those of you who checked out my profile before today (when it contained nothing), might find it now to be marginally less uninteresting. The information is deemed reliable, but is not guaranteed. The picture is of me standing in front of the Hofbrauhaus (sorry, I don't know how to do umlauts in a post) in Munich. It seemed appropriate somehow.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Your Dreams

I'm tired of following my dreams. I'm just gonna find out where they're goin' and hook up with them later.
--Mitch Hedberg

From Purls Are a Girl’s Best Friend.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hawaiian Statehood Day

Hawaii became the 50th State of the Union on August 21, 1959. But today, the third Friday in August, is the day on which Hawaii observes Statehood Day. Happy Birthday Hawaii.

I am a bit notorious for being a conservative dresser. I once told Mary that she could knit me a cap in gray wool, as long as "it is not too loud a shade of gray." Nonetheless, I got hooked on Hawaiian shirts a few years back. I don't recall how it happened, but it did.

I soon became quite picky about my Hawaiian shirts. They had to be (1) made in Hawaii, (2) made of 100% rayon (as were the originals back in the 1920s), and (3) had to have coconut or bamboo buttons. With these standards in place, Banana Jack quickly became my favorite on-line purveyor of Hawaiian shirts. I proceeded to put together a small collection of these shirts. There is nothing else quite like them on a hot day.

And, whenever I think of Hawaiian shirts I recall an amusing book by one of my favorite humorists -- Waikiki Beachnik, by H. Allen Smith (1960). Smith was a successful humorist in the Forties and Fifties, with books such as Life in a Putty Knife Factory (1943), Low Man on a Totem Pole (1944), and Lost in Horse Latitudes (1948). Waikiki Beachnik was one of his later books. Essentially, it is a collection of stories about a winter vacation in Hawaii that he and his wife took. I haven't read the book in years, but can still imprecisely recall some of my favorite passages.

While in Hawaii, Smith encountered James Michener, who was then living in Hawaii while doing research for his novel Hawaii (1959). Michener's novels, of course, were all lengthy historical epics, starting somewhere before the dawn of time. Smith's books were light humor. When discussing their respective writing projects, Michener noted that his book starts out 10 million years ago. Smith responded that his book starts out last October 22nd. That may not be the exact date, but you get the idea.

Smith has quite a discussion of Hawaiian shirts. He observes how you have to start out gently, but eventually can find yourself wearing some so loud that "it would make a cow throw up." While shopping for a shirt, he came across a simple one that had something on it that resembled the number 4. The shop proprietor informed him that this was the symbol for taosand. After struggling a bit, Smith figured out that this was the symbol for a thousand. That seemed odd. Could it mean a thousand broken arms, or what? The proprietor assured him that the symbol is lucky and stands for only a thousand good things. A thousand dollars, a thousand gulls. When later explaining all of this to his wife, he wondered whether the proprietor was trying to say a thousand girls. Mrs. Smith, the literalist, insisted that the shopkeeper meant what he said -- a thousand gulls, a thousand sea gulls -- and that Smith shouldn't get his hopes up. But, then what on earth would be so lucky about a thousand sea gulls?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Update on Happiness

I’ve finished reading Daniel Gilbert’s book, Stumbling on Happiness, and I now know his secret for achieving happiness: surrogation.

When we make decisions about our future Gilbert encourages us to observe people at random who have done the thing we are contemplating and to use that information in making our own decisions.

We have a lot of objections to this way of running our lives, particularly to the randomness of the observation. This is because we think we’re different. Psychologists tell us we aren’t. Many more than 50% of people polled rate themselves as well above average, whether the question is about our penmanship or our decision making. Ninety six percent of us think we are above-average drivers.

So look around you. Are richer people happier? Are parents of teenagers glowing with the deep and lasting joy of childrearing? Are blondes having more fun?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

An Afternoon at the Lake

Some friends invited us to spend this afternoon at their lake place about 50 miles north of Spokane. What a peaceful and restorative place a mountain lake can be on a summer afternoon.

We watched the setting sun light the tops of the clouds, which were reflected in the darkening lake. The trout were jumping for bugs, and the cormorant and the grebe and the kingfisher were diving for the trout.

The red-breasted nuthatches were vying with a chipmunk at the bird feeder and the mosquitoes were non-existent.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

English Cities and Small Towns

I’ve stumbled on another fine book. This is a slim little volume, published in 1947 and for some reason retained by the Spokane Library for all these years since it acquired the book, apparently at about the time it was published.

It’s John Betjeman’s English Cities and Small Towns. It’s only 48 pages long and it’s subject is the simple appreciation of English places, an appreciation that Betjeman tells us he didn’t really acquire until he was away from England for a time during the war. (Absence, fonder heart, etc.)

The author tells us how to go about enjoying a town when we are a new visitor. Go immediately to the stationer and look at the post cards. You may discover something not well known but of great interest, like a folly in a local park, or an old church that has not been “restored” during the Victorian era to the point of unrecognizability.

He tells us what guide books to read, what architects’ names to look for, where the old alleys and streets are likely to be, how to appreciate churches and chapels from various periods. Walk down the alleys or mews behind the main street, he advises. The backs of the buildings will tell you about their origins and history.

He describes his delight with Whitby Church, the local museum at Scarborough, Market Hill in Sudbury. There are lots of line drawings and some colored plates of 18th or 19th century views.

And heading the first chapter is a quote from George Cragbe’s “The Borough,” which I suppose is the source of the title of Susan Hill’s first Simon Serrailler novel, The Various Haunts of Men:

Cities and towns, the various haunts of men
Require the pencil; they defy the pen:
Could he, who sung so well the Grecian fleet,
So well have sung of alley, lane or street?
Can measured lines these various buildings show,
The Town Hall Turning, or the Prospect Row?
Can I the seats of wealth and want explore
And lengthen out my lays from door to door?

Monday, August 14, 2006

VJ Day

In the United States, August 14th is recognized as VJ Day (Victory over Japan). Courtesy of the International Dateline, VJ Day is observed on August 15th in some other parts of the world. Of course, the formal surrender of Japan to the allied powers occurred on September 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. On August 14th, however, the announcement was made that Japan had accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration and was surrendering to the allies.

When I lived in the Washington, DC, area, I enjoyed listening to an old-time radio program on Sundays that was broadcast by the American University public radio station. Every year at this time, that program would play excerpts from the CBS radio coverage of VJ Day. I never tired of listening to those broadcasts. I have not heard the broadcasts in several years, but will try to summarize them as best I can from my somewhat dim memories.

The coverage starts with CBS news breaking in on a broadcast of a daytime drama (soap opera) with news of a development in the war with Japan. Rumors about a surrender had been going about for a few days at that time, following the atomic bombing raids and the Soviet entry into the war.

As I recall, the announcer indicated that the U.S. State Department in Washington had received a lengthy message from the Imperial Japanese government in Tokyo. The Japanese government had sent the message to the Japanese embassy in Switzerland. The embassy delivered the message to the Swiss government. Thereafter, the message was delivered to the U.S. embassy and then sent to the State Department.

The radio announcer stated that President Truman would be holding a press conference later in the day. Apparently, the press conference itself was not broadcast. Rather, the reporters had to rush from the White House with the news of the President's announcement. In brief, the Japanese, subject to reservations about retaining the Emperor, had accepted the allies' terms. The war was over. Even after all this time, the drama of this broadcast is still gripping.

Over the years, I have read many books about the Second World War in general, and about the Pacific War in particular. A few of my favorites about the Pacific War are Eagle Against the Sun - The American War With Japan, Ronald Spector (1984); With the Old Breed - At Peleliu and Okinawa, Eugene B. Sledge (1981); and The American Magic - Codes, Ciphers, and the Defeat of Japan, Ronald Lewin (1981).

Eagle Against the Sun is considered by many to be the best single volume history of the American-Japanese War in the Pacific. It is a scholarly, yet highly readable, book. Mary and I were acquainted with Ron Spector while we lived in the Washington, DC, area. In fact, Mary helped edit his first book, a biography of Admiral Dewey. I believe that Eagle Against the Sun is still available in paperback.

With the Old Breed is a memoir of the author's experiences as a young Marine in the Pacific during the war. The author, Eugene B. Sledge, earned a Ph.D. in zoology after the war and became a university professor. He is an intelligent and articulate memoirist. The book has been republished by the Naval Institute Press as part of its Classics of Naval Literature series.

The American Magic tells the fascinating story of U.S. Navy codebreakers during World War II. I believe that this book is no longer in print, but could be obtained through used-book sellers. This eccentric group of cryptographers played an important (and very underappreciated at the time) role in the Pacific War. They played a critical role in discovering the planned attack on Midway, thus making possible the U.S. Navy's decisive victory in that battle. They also learned of Admiral Yamamoto's inspection trip to the Southwest Pacific, enabling U.S. Army aviators to intercept and shoot down the admiral's plane.

Although these books emphasize the American war effort, on this day we remember and give thanks for the sacrifices of the individuals in the military and naval forces of all the nations who participated in the defeat of Japan in the Pacific in that terrible war.

Willkommen, Wilhelm

I have enticed Wilhelm to become co-blogger on Mary’s Library. He doesn’t read as much as I do, but what he reads is unlike what I read, so he will probably talk about different books and will have a different slant on them. He will also blog on non-book subjects.

Be on the lookout for his inaugural post later today or tomorrow.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Stumbling on Happiness

I’ve stumbled on a delightful book by a Harvard psychologist called Daniel Gilbert. The book, Stumbling on Happiness (2006), is a combination of psychology and philosophy and is remarkably entertaining.

Gilbert says that we think we know what we want, but we’re often mistaken. We predict how we will feel when things go wrong based on a combination of obvious common sense and carefully thought out assumptions. And we are usually wrong.

Research has shown that our satisfaction with our decisions is greater when we make an unbreakable commitment than when we have a chance to opt out. We are better able to cope when things go seriously wrong than when we face less disastrous problems. We remain happy about something longer when we can’t explain it than when we know how and why it happened.

Complicating the situation is the fact that we decide what to do next based on our past and what we remember, alas, isn’t always what actually happened, as numerous psychological experiments have shown.

So what are we to do? How can we make the best decisions? Unfortunately, I haven’t read the last two chapters and so I can’t tell you what the author recommends. But it may not really matter, for in the introduction he has warned us that in these last chapters, “I will tell you why illusions of foresight are not easily remedied by personal experience or by the wisdom we inherit from our grandmothers. I will conclude by telling you about a simple remedy for these illusions that you will almost certainly not accept.”

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Plebicitarian Presidency

I had to make a decision this morning whether to return to the library or keep and read Bruce Ackerman’s book, The Failure of the Founding Fathers: Jefferson, Marshall, and the Rise of Presidential Democracy (2006.) I decided to keep it.

The book addresses an interesting development in US history. In the 1801 election, Thomas Jefferson and his Republican party had won the popular vote. But the electoral college was split down the middle. So the decision was thrown into the House.(If this sounds familiar it’s because we still have the electoral college, whose vote is not always for the guy who won the plebiscite.)

The Federalists controlled the House and after 35 ballots there was still no president. If the Federalists had put their man, Aaron Burr (yes, that Aaron Burr), into the presidency, anti-Federalists state militias were prepared to march on the capital.

A compromise was reached, Jefferson became president, and thus began the two-party system in this country and the strong presidency with claims of a mandate for broad change.

The Federalists withered away to be replaced by the Whigs, who withered away to be replaced in 1854 by the Republican Party. Meanwhile Jefferson’s Republicans became first the Republican Democrats and eventually the Democratic Party we know today.

Fascinating stuff.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Princess Priscilla

Sarah mentioned a book this morning that I haven’t read. I hadn’t even heard of it before today. It’s Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight (1905.)

Sarah is reading it on line, so I decided to do the same. I found it at

The print there is small, so I copied the first chapter into a temporary Word file and blew up the type face to a readable size. And I’m finding it surprisingly easy to read this way. I’d rather be reading from paper, but the book is not easy to come by and in lieu of a paper volume this is fine.

I’ve only read the first chapter, but so far the book is quintessential von Arnim, which means delightful.

“Priscilla wanted to run away. This, I believe, is considered an awful thing to do even if you are only a housemaid or somebody's wife. If it were not considered awful, placed by the world high up on its list of Utter Unforgivablenesses, there is, I suppose, not a woman who would not at some time or other have run. She might come back, but she would surely have gone.”

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Morland Dynasty

My Cynthia Harrod-Eagles collection turned up the other day. They had been on the shelves in my library in Virginia and where the packers had put them was anybody’s guess. Under a pile of office supplies and some CDs, it turns out.

This is a series of 29 or so books about a fictional family in Yorkshire, starting in 1434 and continuing through the early 20th century. Harrod-Eagles packs a lot of history into each volume. Reading these novels is a painless way to learn to learn about Lancaster and York, to remember the date of the Battle of Bosworth Field, and to get a feel for the lives of prosperous merchants in the 15th century.

The first three books in the series are The Founding (1980), The Dark Rose (1981), and The Princeling (1981.)

It used to be difficult to get these books in the US, but I find that and Barnes & Noble now sell them. Do your self a favor and buy the first volume. You will find it’s very difficult to stop reading once you meet the Morlands and the world they lived in.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Too Many Books?

Do you find the temptation to begin reading yet another book irresistible, even though you're reading 25 or 30 of them already? Join the club.

There's a charming essay in today's NY Times by Joe Queenan in which he addresses this very probem. If it really is a problem.

Says Queenan: "Starting books always makes me feel that a long-awaited voyage has already begun; that while it may take five years to finish Boswell’s Life of Johnson or Remembrance of Things Past, these are no longer dimly envisioned projects like learning to play the accordion or fly a helicopter, but in some way a real part of my life. Other people say, 'One of these days, I’m finally going to get to Ulysses.' Well, I’ve already gotten to Ulysses. I’ve been getting to Ulysses for the past 25 years."

"Why I Can't Stop Starting Books" made me laugh. Check it out.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

What I'm Reading

I'm Currently Reading:

Apex Hides the Hurt (2006) by Colson Whithead. This thin novel seems to be about a guy who works at an advertising agency. His eponymous slogan for Apex bandages seems to be the apex of his life’s work. I’ll let you know about this one when I’ve finished reading it.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (2005) by Lauren Willig. More English spies are saving the day in the manner of the Scarlet Pimpernel, this time during the Napoleonic period.

Walden (1854) by Henry David Thoreau (re-reading.) It’s just as good as I remembered.

Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter (2006) by Blaize Clement. Here we go again. This is a cat-themed mystery about a former police officer who is now a cat-sitter in an upscale key off the coast of Sarasota. How can you resist a mystery in which the corpse is found face-down in the cat’s water dish?

I’m Still Reading:

The Prime Minister (re-reading)



I’ve Recently Finished Reading:

***** Death at La Fenice

**** The Din in the Head, essays by Cynthia Ozick. She is at her ascerbic best in these musings on 20th century novelists and why we read them.

**** Sweet Poison (2001) by David Roberts. This is a real find. It’s the first in a series of mysteries that take place in the 1930s, starring Lord Edward Corinth and Verity Browne. I got started with these because I was so attracted to the covers.

** The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal It’s not great literature but the temperature was 105 and it was perfect for that sort of day.

I’ve Abandoned:

* Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life (2005) by Michael Dirda

-* A Love Affair (1984) by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

Waiting To Be Read:

The Ladies' Paradise (1883) by Emile Zola. We are considering this for future reading on the not-trollope group.

Shadows at the Fair by Lea Wait (2002) I picked this up at the library yesterday because it’s the first in a series. It’s about an antique dealer.

The Butcher of Beverly Hills (2005) by Jennifer Colt. The attraction of this book is the hot pink, fuchsia, and orange cover. And it’s the first in a mystery series.

The Bronte Project (2005) by Jennifer Vandever. This book appeals because it has “Bronte” in the title.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Miss Woodhouse and Henry James

Back in the middle of May I reported that Miss Woodhouse had pulled a volume of Henry James off the shelves in the bedroom. That volume contained his early novels, including The Americans and The Europeans. I was never able to get her to tell me what she was looking for.

Well, she's done it again, this time with the volume contraining the novels from 1896 to 1899, including The Spoils of Poynton, What Maisie Knew, and The Awkward Age.

Once again I appeal to my readers. Why is the cat pulling these volumes of Henry James novels off the shelf? What is it that she wants to read?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Five Star Mystery

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Donna Leon’s Death at La Fenice (1992) while we were in Barnes & Noble. This is the first of the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series by Donna Leon. And although I have half a dozen other books in the works it was all that was to hand when I had a few free minutes as I waited for Wilhelm to emerge from Pet-Smart with some cat food so I began reading it.

And that was it for the rest of yesterday and this morning. What a fine book this is. Not just a good mystery, but a good book.

La Fenice is the most famous opera house in Venice and the book opens there as the orchestra returns to the pit before the last act of Traviata. The hall grows quiet, someone drops something, someone coughs. Everyone awaits the conductor.

But he doesn’t appear. Murmurs are heard from the pit, the balcony, the orchestra. And then the house manager stumbles on stage and announces that the conductor will not be able to continue and will be replaced by someone else.

Oh, and is there a doctor in the house.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I tell you the great maestro has been found dead in his dressing room, apparently of cyanide poisoning. And so the chase begins.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Today's Acquisitions

I was in Barnes & Noble today and picked up a few treasures.

On the remainder table was Jane Smiley's Good Faith, which I snapped up at a mere $5. In mysteries I found a couple of Donna Leon's Guido Brunelli mysteries, Death at La Fenice and Death in a Strange Country. I also got the second in the Laurie R King Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

And since I expect the not-trollope group is going to be reading ZolaI bought a copy of Germinal, a book I've heard described as Zola's masterpiece.

At home the mail had brought the Zola novel that Jan in the trollope group recommended to the not-trollope group: The Ladies' Paradise.

Also waiting for me was Michael Innes' Inspector Appleby mystery, The Daffodil Affair. There was a novel I ordered the other day for Wilhelm, Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman, purportedly the first blog novel.

The Golden Age

"The poet, Randall Jarrell, quipped that thepeople who lived in the golden age probably went around complaining how yellow everything was."
- Michael Dirda, Book by Book