A Peaceful Afternoon

It is late Tuesday afternoon and pouring down rain outside. I have a fresh cup of tea by my side and a cheesy ham and potato soup in the crockpot. My husband is sitting on the couch reading the news and feeling a little bored which I view as a good sign. Boredom is an indication he is getting better. My daughter is home from school with a cold and she has dragged her brother downstairs to play video games with her. Not all of that sounds good--the cold, my husband's accident-but somehow it is all contributing to a peaceful afternoon. I have to go out again later but for now, I am just going to revel in the peace and quiet.

I am currently reading The G.I.'s: The Americans in Britain, 1942-1945 by Norman Longmate. I have an ongoing interest in life during WWII. Most of the books I have read have been about life on the Home Front in Britain. This is a fascinating account of the arrival of the Americans in Britain and how the two countries reacted to one another. Two million American soldiers were stationed in Britain during the war and the two countries learned a lot from each other. I find the differences in the cultures absolutely fascinating. The book is full of reminiscences and first-hand accounts from the G.I.'s and the  British people who encountered them. I am about halfway through it right now and highly recommend it. I have also read How We Lived Then by Longmate which is just as interesting.

I ordered a couple of books at the beginning of the month, I always do, and I just got a notification that one book is no longer available and my money is being refunded. Obviously, that means I need to buy another book to replace it. At least books are cheaper than the perfect wool dress coat for under $200.00 that I am currently looking for. It can't be black, it needs to be knee length, and it has to look modern and fun while still being classic. I don't ask too much, do I? Maybe I should just go back to buying books.

Isn't the teapot in the photo pretty? A friend showed up with a gift bag full of goodies for me--the teapot and cups, chocolate, cocoa mix, cookies, tea, and an entire flourless chocolate cake. She said she knew my husband was the one who was hurt but she thought I needed some comfort too. It was so sweet of her. I did share the cake with my family but the chocolate bar I hid away and I don't intend to share it though I should probably eat it soon before someone finds my hiding place.

We might get snow on Thursday. Maybe it will be another afternoon of books, tea, chocolate, and soup. I wouldn't mind that at all.

A Poem for a Thursday #5

Photo by Jordan Bauer on Unsplash
Carol Ann Duffy is a Scottish poet and playwright. She was appointed Britain's Poet Laureate in May of 2009. In describing her own writing she says she "likes to use simple words, but in a complicated way."  Here is a poem about Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife, to whom he willed his second best bed.

"Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed...'
(from Shakespeare's will)

The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles,, torchlight, cliff-tops, seas
where he could dive for pearls. My lover's words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights I dreamed he'd written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer's hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love -
I hold him in the casket of my widow's head
as he held me upon that next best bed.

Anne Hathaway
Carol Ann Duffy

In Which I Cope With Life by Buying Books

Some people have practical reactions to stress. They go for a run. They clean their house. They garden. I, however, buy books. Actually, I buy books and eat sweets. My friends and family have been providing a steady stream of sweet treats since my husband was injured. In the last two weeks, we have been given multiple boxes of chocolate, lots of cookies, lemon bars, apple pie, flourless chocolate cake, carrot cake, and chocolate-covered fruit. Maybe I should go for a run instead of sitting on my couch and ordering more books. Maybe tomorrow...

In the meantime, I have been doing an excellent job comforting myself with books as you can see from the photo above. I have a few more ordered that have not shown up yet. I know it isn't particularly easy to see the titles in the photo but the weather is not cooperating for photos and, to be honest, I just gave up. I'll list them for anyone interested.

A Kind of Magic by Edna Ferber. This is the second volume of her autobiography. I read the first volume a month or so ago.

Darkness Falls From the Air by Nigel Balchin. I listened to a Backlisted podcast about this and the enthusiasm was so contagious I immediately bought it. I think the episode was from a while ago but I just got around to listening to it. Books set during WWII are definitely my thing.

A Woman's War by Frances Donaldson. The diaries of a woman during WWII. Of course I bought it.

A Soldier's Letters by Jack Donaldson. This is a very slim volume but it is the letters of Frances Donaldson's husband. It seemed necessary.

Pastoral by Nevil Shute. I read A Town Like Alice earlier this year and loved it. I  have gone on to read a few other books by Shute and this is up next.

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I read The Boat by Hartley a while ago and enjoyed it. This is a book that everyone seems to know about but somehow I never heard of it. I am making up for lost time.

What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan. Because if you are stressed and tired then obviously the only thing to do is read Jane Austen. Which I did. I just finished rereading Northanger Abbey for the five millionth time. When you have done that the next step is to buy a book about Jane Austen. If that doesn't help with stress then I don't know what will.

The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism by Lynne Olson. I read Citizens of London by Olson recently and found it fascinating. I wanted to read more about Edward Murrow and the other journalist who became famous for their coverage of WWII.

An Open Book by Michael Dirda. I have loved everything I have read by Dirda. His bookish enthusiasm is a joy and a pleasure.

That is it. For now. My husband is doing better but his recovery is going to take a while. I see more stress--and more book purchases--in my future.

A Poem for a Thursday #4

AdPhoto by Siska Vrijburg on Unsplash
Wislawa Szymborska was a Polish poet and essayist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 among many other honors. An article in The New York Times described her as living "a life of quiet amazement, reflected in poems that are both plain-spoken and luminous." This poem, a lovely description of the joy of writing, is a wonderful example of the imagination and deft touch evident in  so much of her work.

Why does this written doe bound these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertip.
Silence - this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word 'woods.'

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they'll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what's here isn't life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof's full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

The Joy of Writing
Wislawa Szymborska

Reading and Writing

My daughter is writing a short story for her English class. It is supposed to be historical fiction and she is writing about a girl who lives in a castle in Britain during the 1500s. I think it is simply an excuse for her to research knights, swords, and castles. Her main character runs away from home because she wants to be an artist instead of learning the usual womanly skills of the time. Celia is enjoying writing the story and I have been requested to regularly read the various drafts. She is doing a very good job on it, including a lot of description that gives a feeling of place and time. I commented on this last time I read it and she told me that she thinks it is easier to write if you are already a reader because then you know how a story works and what kind of details to include. She feels that if you don't like to read then you can't write well because you don't have the necessary knowledge.

Today I came across a quote by Stephen King. He said "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." My daughter would agree with him and so would I.

Often when we talk about our love of reading we mention our love of stories. We say that we like to learn about other people or that we like to escape into a different world. Maybe we insist we like to read simply for reasons of entertainment. However, in actuality, we are not only being entertained; we are being taught. By reading we learn how to format a story, we learn about conflict and resolution, we become better at using proper grammar and spelling. By reading we learn about building suspense, the need for secondary characters, and the perfection inherent in just the right combination of words.

This does not mean all of us are going to become best-selling authors. If it was that easy I would be rich and famous by now. However, it does mean that a reader can format a better report and write a better letter. A reader can probably more easily tell a story to their child. A reader can write. Of course, a non-reader can learn to do these things as well but, in all likelihood, it will take a bit more time, a bit more effort. For a reader, the knowledge of how words and language work comes a little more naturally because when we read we are not only taking in the story; we are taking in the mechanics of the story as well.

So, go, read a book. Fiction or non-fiction, fluff or serious tome, it is all educational. My daughter says so.

A Poem for a Thursday #3

When I was a child there was a fat, blue volume of Edna St. Vincent Millay's poetry on our bookshelves. I would dip in and out of it, caught by the language and the rhythm. I did not always care (and still don't) about exactly what the poems meant but she made words into music and that I loved. Millay wrote a huge amount of poetry. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923. I have a biography of her on my shelves somewhere that I should read soon.  I was tempted to use a favorite poem of hers that I memorized as a child but I am saving that for another day. I also was tempted to use a very sad poem of hers that I read three times in a row when I just came across it but that is for another day as well. For today, we have a poem about love- a stereotypical topic but not a stereotypical poem.

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX)
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Trials and Tribulations

I don't write about my husband much. He is a man who values his privacy. He is also the best man I know. Last week he took the day off work, went for a motorcycle ride, and a deer jumped in front of him. The man who witnessed the accident said he didn't even have time to swerve. I got the phone call I have always dreaded.

He is going to be okay. He spent several days in intensive care, several more days in a regular room, and is now home. He has a months-long recovery in front of him but he will recover. It could have been so much worse. It almost was so much worse.

It is our anniversary in a week and a half. It won't be the celebration we were planning.  There are not going to be any romantic weekends away. However, we will have what I want the most--each other.

I started this post thinking I had so much to say but I really don't. That is it. He is going to be okay. I am sure we will have other trials and tribulations in the future because life is full of them. However, we have friends, family, and a congregation that will always support us. They have proven it in the last few days by their phone calls, meals, texts, visits, and willingness to be at the hospital at a moment's notice. The trials and tribulations are there but so are the blessings.

It has been a bad week. It has been a scary week. But I still have my husband, my kids still have their dad, and everything is going to be all right.

A Poem for a Thursday #2

I know Judith Viorst as the author of children's books. My kids loved Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I liked it too. It is a children's book that holds up to repeated reading and that has a lovely rhythm to the language. This is not surprising because Viorst is also known for her poetry. I particularly like The Pleasures of Ordinary Life. 

I've had my share of necessary losses,
Of dreams I know no longer can come true.
I'm done now with the whys and the becauses.
It's time to stop complaining and pursue
The pleasures of an ordinary life.

I used to rail against my compromises.
I yearned for the wild music, the swift race.
But happiness arrived in new disguises:
Sun lighting a child's hair. A friend's embrace.
Slow dancing in a safe and quiet place.
The pleasures of an ordinary life.

I'll have no trumpets, triumphs, trails of glory.
It seems the woman I've turned out to be
Is not the heroine of some grand story.
But I have learned to find the poetry
In what my hands can touch, my eyes can see.
The pleasures of an ordinary life.

Young fantasies of magic and of mystery
Are over. But they really can't compete
With all we've built together: A long history.
Connections that help render us complete.
Ties that hold and heal us. And the sweet,
Sweet pleasures of an ordinary life.

Autumn Days

Crisp mornings.

Blue skies.

Leaves of red, orange, and yellow.

Apples, pulled off the tree with a twist of the wrist, piled into a bag, and taken home to be turned into applesauce and apple pie.

Pumpkin pie.

Hikes through the state forest with the leaves drifting down around us and our feet scuffling through them, inches deep, on the ground.

The strong, earthy smell of chrysanthemums.

Sitting around the fire pit outside with the fire crackling, the sparks flying upward, and constant discussions about whether or not it is the right time and place to add another log.

Acorns and horse chestnuts and milkweed pods and pinecones and leaves again--always leaves--collected on walks and saved until they shrivel in pockets and crumble in piles on the counter.

Evenings spent on the couch with a cup of tea, a warm blanket, and a good book or two.

The vivid reds, oranges, pinks, and purples of autumn sunsets that take your breath away and are gone in only moments.

Warm bread dripping with butter eaten straight from the oven while standing at the counter.

Cozy sweaters, ankle boots, and warm scarves--all my favorite clothes.

October was a beautiful month at Green Gables, when the birches in the hollow turned as golden as sunshine and the maples behind the orchard were royal crimson and the wild cherry trees along the lane put out the loveliest shades of dark red and bronzy green, while the fields sunned themselves in aftermaths.
 Anne reveled in the world of color about her.
"Oh Marilla," she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn't it? Look at these maple branches. Don't they give you a thrill--several thrills? I'm going to decorate my room with them. 

I agree with Anne. October, with all its assorted paraphernalia, gives me a thrill--several thrills.

A Poem for a Thursday

I don't read much poetry and I am not sure why. It might be pure laziness since poetry is frequently not as straight-forward as a novel and I like my words clear and incisive. However, I also like my words beautiful and lyrical and poems fit the bill there.  In a bid to read more poetry I am going to start posting a poem I like every Thursday. That is all it is going to be--a poem I like that caught my eye or my ear. I am not going to tear it apart and analyze it to death though I might occasionally have some random thoughts about it. If you have random thoughts as well then I would love to hear them in the comments. I also would love poetry recommendations. Do you have a favorite poem? A favorite poet? Tell me what I have been missing.

I have always thought of Robert Frost as a New England poet but I was fascinated to find out that, while he lived for many years in Massachusetts, his poetry was first published while he was living in England. Frost won the Pulitzer Prize four times, was made the poet laureate of Vermont in 1961, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature an amazing 31 times. I doubt there is a high school student in the U.S. who has not read and analyzed his "The Road Not Taken".  I wasn't familiar (what a surprise) with this poem but I stumbled across it while looking for quotes about autumn.

A tree's leaves may be ever so good,
So may its bar, so may its wood;
But unless you put the right thing to its root
It never will show much flower or fruit.

But I may be one who does not care
Ever to have tree bloom or bear.
Leaves for smooth and bark for rough,
Leaves and bark may be tree enough.

Some giant trees have bloom so small
They might as well have none at all.
Late in life I have come on fern.
Now lichens are due to have their turn.

I bade men tell me which in brief,
Which is fairer, flower or leaf.
They did not have the wit to say,
Leaves by night and flowers by day.

Leaves and bar, leaves and bark,
To lean against and hear in the dark.
Petals I may have once pursued.
Leaves are all my darker mood.

Leaves Compared With Flowers
Robert Frost

I wrote this whole post and then realized that, as with many things, this is not an original thought. The blog Girl With Her Head in a Book also posts a weekly poem. Go, read! Have a double-dose of weekly poetry.

Bookshop Visit//The Shire Book Shop

The Shire Book Shop

Second-hand bookshops are delightful. Hours can be lost in them and even amongst the most seemingly pedestrian selection of books treasures are waiting to be found. I discovered just such a bookshop a few weeks ago on a sunny Saturday afternoon. My husband and I went out to brunch and visited The Shire Book Shop in Franklin, Massachusetts. The bookshop is on the ground floor of a turn-of-the-century old mill building, it is large, and it most certainly does not contain a pedestrian selection of books.  I walked in, turned to my husband, and informed him that I might never leave.  I found it overwhelming at first because there are books and shelves and nooks and crannies and I didn't know where to start. I wandered aimlessly for a while simply admiring all the old books and then I got down to business.

the shire book shop

the shire book shop

My book budget is reasonably limited and if I spent $40.00 on a book then that was likely to be the only book I would buy for the day. I am only going to do that if I come across something I can't live without. For a while, I felt like every book  I pulled off the shelves was more than I wanted to spend but I decided to start with the paperback section at the rear of the store and I was more successful there.

the shire book shop

typewriters at the shire book shop

The shop is a jumble with boxes of books in front of shelves, stacked on chairs, and around every corner. I felt a bit as if all customers should be greeted at the door with a treasure map, preferably hand-drawn on brown paper, showing the location of all the different sections. However, it was equally fun to make discoveries on my own.

the shire book shop

the shire bookshop

the shire book shop

I had a lovely chat with the bookseller. I asked if she had any old Penguins and she said I would have to search for them, they were all mixed in with the other books. She told me about a couple of her regular customers who come in a few times a year to add to their Penguin collections. I simply like Penguin books and will pick one up if it is a book I want to read but she has several customers who are trying to complete collections.  We talked about Jane Austen and the yearly Jane Austen themed tea party she attends. She also made a few bookshop recommendations. She was a pleasure to talk to.

the shire book shop

the shire book shop

So, what did I buy? I ended up having to spend endless amounts of time debating and putting books in and out of my final pile of purchases but the books below are the ones I brought home with me. I thought I already owned the first volume of The Horseman Riding By trilogy but apparently, I don't so I will have to look out for a copy of that. I was pleased to find Patience. This has been reprinted by Persephone Books. Any book about Jane Austen is a good book to have. The Edna Ferber is because I just read her autobiography and now I am rereading her books. The two Pelicans are because I find books about social history fascinating.

I had a very enjoyable visit to The Shire Book Shop and I am sure I will be back sometime soon. It is a wonderful place to while away a Saturday afternoon. And did I mention that they offer a complimentary cup of tea?

The Shire Book Shop
305 Union Street
Franklin, MA 02038

Golden Moments #8

It is autumn. Now, admittedly, it is not as cool as I would like and it is still raining pretty much all the time but it is autumn which is my favorite time of year. We had one very cool day when I got out my favorite afghan, sat on the couch with my book, and drank many, many cups of tea. Long may those days continue. Now I just need the leaves to change.

The other day I had a book show up in the mail (That isn't the golden moment. Stick with me here.) and Celia grabbed it, buried her nose in it, and announced that the smell of old books is one of the best smells in the world. My work here is done. I hereby proclaim myself to be a success as a mother.

Celia and I went to The Big E on Monday. The Big E is the largest fair on the east coast and one of the largest fairs in the country. All the New England states are represented. I have been going off and on since I was a child but we haven't been much in recent years since we moved further away. I picked Celia up early from school and we met my aunt and uncle there. We had ice cream, fried dough, baked potatoes, and slushies. We looked at animals, watched sheep dog trials, rode the Ferris wheel, and stayed out way too late for a school night. Celia had the time of her life and I had fun watching her. Sometimes you just have to ignore responsibilities and run away for a day.

I bought a typewriter. I am not posting a photo or saying anything else because it gets its own post one of these days but its arrival definitely qualified as a golden moment.

I already put this photo on Instagram but here it is again. I  bought a Jane Austen board game. My son loves board games but he also loves Star Wars and he owns so many different Star Wars board games. Star Wars is not my favorite. I decided if  I play those games for him he can play a Jane Austen game for me. I am looking forward to his playing the "card game of marriage and social domination." How is he going to cope with a game that doesn't involve lightsabers and jetpacks and does involve romance and balls? I can't wait to find out.

We had the exterior of our house painted. It needed it badly. I was not initially thrilled with spending so much money on such a relatively unexciting thing but now that it is done I am very pleased. It looks so fresh and nice and I have an indigo front door which is making me unexpectedly happy.

My husband and I decided to do something fun, just the two of us, one Saturday recently. We went out for brunch and then to a bookshop an hour or so away. That is going to get its own post as well so you only get one photo now but it was a lovely day and I have a lovely husband.

So, tell me, what lovely things have brightened your life lately?

Book Review//The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton


There will be a murder at the ball unless Aiden Bishop can solve the crime and stop the killer. It sounds like a basic mystery, doesn't it? You have your usual British mystery collection of a country estate, quirky characters, servants, balls, shooting expeditions, and fraught relationships.  Then you realize that the crime occurs over and over and the day repeats time after time and Aiden has eight days and eight bodies to inhabit in order to solve the crime. This is not your usual British mystery.

That is all I am going to say about the plot because the less you know the more you will enjoy this book. It is really best read in massive gulps over a short period of time. It is a bit confusing at first as Aiden jumps from person to person and you, and he, try to figure out what is going on. If you read it slowly it would be easy to lose track of what each person knows and has done. 

Since the story jumps from character to character you do not become attached to anyone in particular. This is a plot-driven, more than character-driven, book. That is necessary for the story but it does leave the reader a bit disengaged. Now that it has been a few weeks since I finished reading it the characters have all blended together a bit in my head. But while you are reading it you completely invested. 

The ending felt a bit forced to me but I find that to be typical of books like this that sweep you along to an unknown conclusion. There is such a big build-up to the reveal that it can be hard to make that reveal completely live up to expectations. The book also leaves a lot of questions about the world Aiden lives in. I wouldn't mind another book that focused on the greater world or the world after the mystery is solved. It is hard to explain what I want without giving away too much of the plot but I wanted to know more about the society and Aiden in the future. 

This was a fun and engrossing read. I don't think it is a book I will read over and over but it is a book that kept me up at night because I just had to know what happened next. 

A copy was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley.

Books Lately

I have a number of books I owe reviews for because I received them from the publisher through NetGalley. However, writing reviews is not my favorite thing to do on this blog. I like to buy books, photograph books, lust over books, and read books, but straight-up reviews don't happen often enough. This post is an attempt to catch up a bit. I have every intention of doing better in the future but we will see how that goes. I enjoyed all of these books and think you would too.

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land* by Connie Willis.  This novella tells the story of Jim, a blogger who has just appeared on a radio show where he insists that the demise of the physical books is necessary and acceptable. He then wanders through New York in the rain and stumbles upon a bookstore that isn't quite what it seems. When he goes through a door in the back he stumbles upon a storage warehouse for books. But what books are these? They are books that are lost forever in fires, floods, library cullings, and other unfortunate events. This is definitely a novella with a message. I enjoyed it but it was not Connie Willis at her finest. For that read To Say Nothing of the Dog or Domesday Book. 

Scarweather* by Anthony Rollins. In 1913 John and his cousin, Eric, visit a famous, and eccentric,  archeologist and his wife at their house on the English coast. Eric falls in love with the archeologist's wife. Eventually, John gets a message that Eric is missing, presumed drowned. The book then skips ahead about 15 years when John decides to look into his cousin's death a bit further. Frankly, I don't know why it took him so long since I could see the resolution a mile off. This was well-written and enjoyable even if very predictable.

Continental Crimes* is a British Library Crime Classics collection of short stories. I am not always a fan of short stories that are mysteries. They frequently feel a bit rushed. I did enjoy these. They are all set, in whole or in part, on the continent. I particularly remember A Bracelet at Bruges by Arnold Bennett. A woman is showing off her new bracelet while standing by a canal. It somehow gets dropped in and is gone forever--supposedly. There is also a story by Agatha Christie, one by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and G.K. Chesterton, among others. As with any short story collection, some are better than others.

Death Makes a Prophet* by John Bude. This is another British Library Crime Classic. The Children of Osiris is a new religion led by its mild-mannered prophet and financed by a very opinionated woman. The first half of the book does a lot of scene-setting and I almost forgot I was reading a mystery as I got caught up in the eccentricities and relationships of the characters. Then the murder-suicide occurred. Superintendent Meredith arrives and has no trouble putting all the pieces together.

I enjoy reading the British Library Crime Classics. It is wonderful to see so many of the Golden Age of detective fiction being reprinted. Of course, some are stronger books than others but, so far, I have enjoyed them all. I do have mixed feelings about receiving them through NetGalley since they only provide an e-book. The covers are so beautiful that I feel like I am missing out by not having a physical copy.

I recently reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This is probably the five millionth time I have read it and I loved it just as much as the last time. If you haven't read the coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan in the Brooklyn of the early 1900s then do so now. It is a wonderful depiction of a time and a place but also of an imaginative, realistic child. Here is one quote for you.

From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day wen she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived. 

What have you been reading lately?

*Received from the publisher through NetGalley.

Wandering Through Old Sturbridge Village

Covered Bridge-Old Sturbridge Village

Dusty roads, New England clapboard houses, covered bridges, sheep and pigs and oxen, cookies, candy and pictures of the past. I have written before about my love for Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. You can see those posts here and here. However many times I visit I am always happy to go again. My brother texted me last week and asked if I wanted to meet him and his family for an afternoon of wandering and chatting. I promptly canceled all my plans and took an afternoon off.

Bixby House--Old Sturbridge Village

Bixby house--Old Sturbridge Village

Old Sturbridge Village

I didn't actually take that many photos because I was busy talking to my sister-in-law and because my nephew, like most children his age, does not stay in one place for too long. The nice thing about visiting a place I have gone to so many times is that it doesn't matter if I miss things. I will always go again; probably soon because Celia was distinctly irritated that I went while she was in school. We wanted to go all summer but the summer has been so ridiculously hot that I could never muster up the enthusiasm necessary for wandering around in the heat and humidity. This day, however, was the one day of reasonable temperatures for the whole week--or maybe the whole summer.

Old Sturbridge Village

Old Sturbridge Village

I don't see a lot of my brother and his family, we live just too far apart to make getting together easy, so it was nice to spend a quiet afternoon together. Somehow, walking into Sturbridge Village, where life was slower and quieter, forces me to take a deep breath and relax. For a few brief hours, nothing mattered except following a child as he ran from place to place and chatting together. Life should be like that more often.

Old Sturbridge Village

Salem Towne House--Old Sturbridge Village

Is there a place full of memories for you that you return to again and again?

Book Review//The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

If a reader must choose between Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters then I firmly come down on the side of Austen. Austen's writing style suits me; her wit, her humor, her ability to use the trivialities of life to tell a dramatic story, all are exactly what I look for in a book. The Bronte sisters with their wuthering moors, their insane wives locked in attics, and their tragic lives are interesting but not quite my cup of tea. I read Jane Eyre a few times over the years and enjoyed it but never liked Mr. Rochester. The passion for Wuthering Heights passed me by when I was a teenager. It irritated instead of enthralled me. I read the Bronte sisters because I read everything I came across when I was younger but they are not books I return to again and again.

Recently I read a review of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and the storyline didn't sound familiar. Maybe I never read it? Anne Bronte seems to be viewed as the less-appreciated of the sisters and I decided I should give her a chance. I still am not sure if I read this years and years ago but I do know that I enjoyed it now.

The book opens with a letter from Gilbert Markham promising to tell the story of some major events in his life. He tells of the arrival of Helen Graham and her son to live in the uninhabited Wildfell Hall. She is a private woman who doesn't talk much of her past and the neighbors spend a lot of time trying to pry out her secrets. Inevitably, Markham falls in love with her; she refuses him and then gives him her diaries to read to explain the reason for her refusal. 

Helen married young and her marriage was not happy. We read of the slow deterioration of her marriage and of the strength with which Helen faced it. Her husband is an alcoholic, unfaithful, and a bad influence on their son. All of this is described with unflinching realism including the scene where Helen locks him out of their bedroom. This must have been a shocking scene for the time in which it was written. Helen finally flees from her husband--also a shocking decision for the time. 

I admired Helen. She was strong and determined to stick to her moral code no matter what those around her might be doing. She did seem to dissolve into tears at the drop of a hat but I can't deny she had reasons for those tears. This was a strong book that packs an emotional punch. 

I did find that the diary and letter format left me wishing for more about some characters and scenes. We only saw things from one viewpoint and sometimes minor characters were introduced that could have been fleshed out a bit more fully. Several of them could have had novels of their own. On the other hand, the diary format gave an immediacy to the events that was compelling. 

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was severely criticized when it was published. Sharpe's London Magazine warned women against reading the novel saying that there was a " perverted taste and absence of mental refinement in the writer, together with a total ignorance of the usages of good society." Charlotte Bronte herself suppressed the novel when it became due for a reprint a year after Anne Bronte's death. It is unclear whether that was from jealousy or because of concern for her sister's reputation. Either way, it is only in recent decades that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has become appreciated fully as the excellent book that it is. 

The End of Summer

Summer is starting to wind down and I am not particularly upset about it. We are all feeling a bit like the flower in the photo above; bedraggled and a bit rough around the edges. It has been a hot summer, a humid summer, a bit of a stressful summer. Now the heat has broken for a day or so, the leaves are the dull green that comes before the brilliant colors of autumn and my daughter goes back to school next week. It is time for new outfits, new notebooks, and alarms that go off at 5:45. That last item does not thrill me.

Not only does my daughter go back to school next week but when September first comes I go back to a busier schedule. There will be more days in Boston and fewer days at home reveling in my books--and revel I have. There is nothing quite like the kind of day where you finish one book and promptly turn to your shelves and pick up another. I highly recommend it as a way to escape the stresses of life.

A few weeks ago I read Browsings by Michael Dirda. This is the third book of his I have read and I have enjoyed them all. His reading taste is not always the same as mine, though he has a commendable admiration for Georgette Heyer, but his enthusiasm for books is something that is very familiar and a joy to read about. He describes his taste in books here and I completely agree.

I...am mainly interested in books published before I was born, largely by authors who are virtually forgotten. What I like to see on bookcase or steel shelves are lots of pre-World War II fiction, most of it looking just slightly better than shabby. 

My copy of the book is littered with sticky notes marking books I want to read and quotes I like. Here is one more quote. It is how he ends the book and I love it.

So let me stress, one last time, that the world is full of wonderful stories, heartbreakingly beautiful and witty poems, thrilling works of history, biography, and philosophy. They will make you laugh, or hug yourself with pleasure,or deepen your thinking, or move you as profoundly as any experience this side of a serious love affair. 
None of us, of course, will ever read all the books we'd like, but we can still make a stab at it. Why deny yourself all that pleasure? So look around tonight or this weekend, see what catches your fancy on the bookshelf, at the library, or in the bookstore. Maybe try something a little unusual, a little different. And then don't stop. Do it again, with a new book or an old author the following week. Go on--be bold, be insatiable, be restlessly, unashamedly promiscuous.  

 Summer is ending but we all know what that means. Next comes autumn with its cool evenings perfect for snuggling up on the couch with an afghan, a cup of tea, and a good book. So go ahead, "be bold, be insatiable, be restlessly, unashamedly promiscuous."

Little Things

I bought a fountain pen. I realize some of you might not find this fact as absolutely thrilling as I do but I am telling you about it anyway. I have wanted a fountain pen for ages but they seemed fiddly and expensive. Plus, I already have a notebook addiction, do I really need to add a pen addiction to that? Well, it seems I do. I found one online that was downright cheap ($11.00) and got rave reviews. It showed up in the mail the other day and I have never before been so happy to make grocery shopping lists. I have made my entire family admire it and have forced at least one of them to write with it. It came with an ink cartridge, which I am using, but it also included a refillable ink bladder which means I can buy different colors of ink and fill it myself. Just think of it. If that doesn't thrill you then this is probably not the blog you should be reading. The reasonable side of me knows that a fountain pen won't suddenly make my handwriting easy to read or the words I write suddenly more poetic but I am ignoring that side of me in favor of a lovely daydream that includes my fountain pen, a coffee shop, a new notebook, and the start of the next great American novel.

I have only just started A Peculiar Treasure by Edna Ferber. It is her autobiography and, going by the few pages I have read, it will be fascinating. She writes just as if she is sitting in the room talking to you. It covers her life as a child in small-town America and then her career as a journalist in Chicago. It is full of photos which I think no biography should be without. I read most of Ferber's books when I was a teenager and have been slowly re-reading them in recent years. I read Saratoga Trunk last year and it was just as good as I remembered. I think I will have to look for a copy of Show Boat and read that next. I just looked up Ferber's books on Wikipedia and found out that she won the Pulitzer Prize for So Big.  I knew that Show Boat was made into a wildly successful musical but I didn't know that Cimarron won the Academy Award for best picture in 1931. Giant and Ice Palace were also made into movies. There is also a second volume of her autobiography called A Kind of Magic.

I, of course, have bought a few books recently. No, this is not all of them. This is just all I am admitting to at the moment. The Jane Gardam is because I listened to a Backlisted podcast about it. I have read a couple of other books by Gardam and have loved them both. Exposure was purchased because of a review I read somewhere so if you have reviewed it on your blog recently then thank you for the recommendation. It has London, the 1960s, spies, missing files, and lots of adventure and suspicion. It should be a lot of fun. Then there are two books about Jane Austen because I can never have enough books about Austen and her novels. Finally, I bought a volume of the broadcasts of Edward Murrow. I recently read Citizens of London which discusses how America came to build an alliance with Great Britain during WWII. It concentrated on three men, one of whom was Edward Murrow, the head of CBS News in Europe. He became the voice of the war for many Americans and I am very interested in reading the broadcasts that were referenced in Citizens of London.

So, there you have it; a few books and a fountain pen. What else could I need? Well, maybe a full skirt with lovely, deep pockets. I found one of those this week as well--on the clearance rack. If that doesn't make you envious I don't know what will.

For the Love of a Library

We would walk to the library, lugging bags full of books. It wasn't far, under a mile, but when I was small and the books were heavy it felt like forever. It was a walk we took in all kinds of weather because we were a family that believed in regular trips to the library. We were each responsible for carrying the books we checked out and since I always checked out the most that were allowed (eight books which I never thought was enough) it is not surprising that my bag was heavy. We would walk down our street, right on Main Street, past the pizza place, Lift-the-Latch Gift Shop, and Fairway. I'm not sure what you would call Fairway. Maybe it was the equivalent of a five-and-dime though I am not old enough for it to be a true five-and-dime. It was the heady source of many of my childhood purchases. My allowance went far in there; Slinkies, doll's baby bottles filled with fake orange juice, jump ropes, Chinese jump ropes when those were the fad in fifth grade. On we would walk, past the park next to the library, the fountain with the dancing bears, and up the steps into the children's room.

The librarians were kind but very firm. They had the books arranged by grade and if you ventured into the wrong section they would come and question you. I found this very frustrating because I always read way above grade level and yearned after the books in the section for older kids. Finally, I got approval to use that section early and then, and this was a huge concession, to check out books from the adult section before I was in sixth grade. The freedom! The books! All the Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse I wanted!

Library cards still had the little metal tab that slid onto them and the card in the book was stamped by being inserted into a machine. I can still remember the sound it made. If you needed to find a book you looked it up in a card catalogue. I always got sidetracked when I was looking a book up. I would stumble across so many other interesting books and would end up just browsing the card catalogue. I understand the convenience of computers but oh, I miss the card catalogue.

I visited the Mary Cheney Library a week or so ago and I am happy to say that it hasn't changed much. You walk in and it still smells of old books and old building. It is how I think all libraries should smell. The old metal shelves are still there and the banisters are just a little more worn. The reference room is full of computers now which, I suppose, is necessary. But I swear the chairs and tables in the children's room are the same ones I sat at so long ago.

What made me happiest though was to see that so many old books remain on the shelves. There are books that I remember from my childhood. I pulled a copy of Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott off the shelf and I think it is the same one I checked out years ago.  And while I saw a lot of new releases I also saw a lot of books from decades gone by. Too many libraries cull the books that aren't taken out often and thus deprive the reading public of amazing discoveries. I am sure there is a reason, probably to do with shelf space and budget, but I think a library should have a huge variety of books. It shouldn't just be mainly books published in the last ten years. The sign on the bookshelf in the photo above encourages library patrons to ask for any book they can't find. The librarians will be happy to check in the thousands of books they have in the basement. "Thousands of books." Those words just gave me a shiver of joy.

These photos aren't the greatest. I snapped them on my phone when I stopped in at the library after an appointment. But they make me happy because that library of my childhood is still there. They may have added some modern touches and changed things around a bit but the essentials are the same. I walked in and took a deep breath of that old book smell and for a moment I was eight-year-old Jenny again ready to cart home a huge bag of books.

I wish this still was my local library but at least I know it is still the way I remember. Maybe there is another eight-year-old Jenny who is convinced she can read anything and who can never have enough books. I like to think so.

Mary Cheney Library
586 Main Street
Manchester, CT 06040

Book Review//Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner

Moonfleet is an old-fashioned adventure novel. It is the kind of book you picture a child of yesteryear devouring while sitting on the branch of a tree eating candy out of a brown paper bag, possibly falling out of the tree at the most exciting moments. Moonfleet was originally published in 1898 and apparently remained popular for many years. I never heard of it until I stumbled on a free Kindle copy ages ago. I put it on my Classics Club list and thought I would get around to it eventually. Which I did. It just took a while.

John Trenchard is an orphan who lives in the village of Moonfleet near the sea in the south of England. There is a legend in the village that tells of Colonel John "Blackbeard" Mahone who stole a diamond from King Charles I and took the knowledge of its location to his death. John gets locked in the crypt, finds the key to the treasure, gets involved with smugglers, has to escape and go into hiding, finds the treasure, loses the treasure, is imprisoned, escapes, is shipwrecked, and finally ends up back in the village of Moonfleet. Believe it or not, I left out a few adventures.

This is basically a rollicking tale of adventure and derring-do that reads like a movie playing in your head. I spent the whole time I was reading it thinking that it really should be made into a movie but I am not the first to think that. A movie was released in 1955 though many plot elements were changed. There was also a radio drama done by the BBC in 1963 and a BBC TV adaptation in 1964. There was another mini-series in 1984. So, it looks like the whole world knew about this book except for me.

Read it. It is a perfect escape into a world where adventure awaits around every corner and the escapades and trials you face somehow always bring you home, happy and ready to marry the love you left behind. Who doesn't need an escape like that occasionally?


Someday I am going to live in the middle of the countryside. I will be surrounded by open fields and grassy meadows. I will lean on a white rail fence and watch the horses. There will be a red barn in the distance and a dirt track leading to it.

The air will be cool and fresh, filled with the call of red-winged blackbirds and swallows swooping through the sky.  I will stroll through the meadows and down the dirt road. I will pick blackberries and wild blueberries and apples from the trees at the end of field, each in their own season.

Afternoons will be spent sitting on my porch and drinking iced tea and eating freshly baked pie and only my favorite people in the world will sit there with me. We will chat about books and the meaning of life and then we will sit in silence because that is what you can do with your favorite people.

The world will be quiet and slow and beautiful. It will be filled with all the time I need to appreciate what is around me. There will be wildflowers and grasses gone to seed and leaves of changing colors. There will be snow-covered hills and nights by the fire. There will be rainy days when I curl up on the porch with a book or two. Long walks and peaceful days and cosy nights will stretch in front of me.

I wish it all was mine.