Eclipsnic!

Aug. 21st, 2017 08:36 pm
osprey_archer: (cheers)
I am returned from my eclipsnic! Which is a portmanteau of eclipse + picnic, and involved eclipse cookies (chocolate cookies with white chips really, but "eclipse cookies" sounds better. I may change the name permanently in my brain), and pop rocks Oreos, and little individually sized bottles of champagne that Becky brought. We had a lovely time!

We did not have eclipse glasses, but Julie made us eclipse boxes which worked quite well enough, and also a woman stopped by the park halfway through the eclipse and called out, "Want to look through this welding helmet?"

So of course we did and it was splendid and none of us have gone blind, so that seems to have gone well enough.

The park came equipped with a Little Free Library (I would like to say this was serendipity, but in fact I looked into it before), which I raided - with great success! for I found Mary Downing Hahn’s Stepping on the Cracks. I liked Hahn's ghost stories when I was a kid. This one doesn’t look like it has any ghosts, but it’s about two best friends on the American homefront during World War II, which seems Relevant to My Interests.

And in return, I left The Railway Children, which I found in a Little Free Library in Ann Arbor. So it will continue to wend its way through the libraries of the world, like a ship upon the waves.
osprey_archer: (books)
You may know David Macauley for his books Cathedral - Castle - Pyramid - or The Way Things Work. But the book he won the Caldecott Medal for, in 1991, was Black and White.

In between the title and David Macauley's other books, I would have expected Black and White to be illustrated with stylishly meticulous black and white drawings. But in fact it is not; almost all of it is in full color, and the few pictures that are not are in a completely different style than the sort of precise architectural detail in Cathedral. (It always impresses me to see illustrators with this kind of versatility. I'm still impressed by Robert McCloskey's two Caldecott wins, with two totally different illustration styles.) They concern cows that have gotten loose and turned into a festival of blotches as they move across the landscape.

Rather than tell the story straight through, Black and White starts with four separate stories: a boy on a train, a pair of kids at home, an empty train station, and a thief climbing into a cow pen. Eventually these stories become interlocked, all part of the same slightly surreal tale. Nothing that happens is actually impossible. Cows do escape and get onto railway tracks (although perhaps not choir practice...). Bored commuters waiting on a late train might decide to make themselves newspaper hats to pass the time. A boy traveling alone for the first time might mistake newspaper confetti for snow.

But altogether it does have this odd liminal feel, as if the characters have somehow stepped into a liminal space at the edge of reality. And this is heightened by the way that the illustrations carry the story. You couldn't make sense of it if you just heard the text read out in an audiobook; the illustrations hold all the connecting information. And perhaps that is what makes it feel slightly surreal: the fact that the story is not told in words, as if perhaps it could not be contained in words.
osprey_archer: (food)
Look look! We have successfully grown two strawberries!

STRAWBERRIES!!!! )

And what's more, I actually managed to eat one of them before the squirrels got to it. That's the first one I've won all year. I think next year we need a better strawberry protection program...

But although we haven't had much luck getting to the strawberries, the tomatoes are BOUNTIFUL and delicious. My new favorite snack is melba toast with goat cheese and garden tomatoes on top; in fact just writing about it makes me want to go fix one right now. No matter how many I eat, I never make a dent in the sea of cherry tomatoes on the counter!

Other garden news: I think we've killed the poor basil plant. It was looking positively peaky in its pot, so I decided to transplant it - only to discover when I removed it that its roots had pretty much grown to fill the pot... I went ahead and transplanted it anyway, but it doesn't seem to be perking up. Perhaps it's time to get a new one?

The transplanted rosemary, on the other hand, seems to be doing all right, although it has not burst forth in bounteous rosemary stalks. My mother warned me that it's easy to love rosemary to death, so I am mostly resisting the urge to water it and hoping that this string of hot days don't parch it to death. I have chicken salad plans for you, rosemary! Stay strong!
osprey_archer: (Default)
I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a series of posts about the Little Colonel books. I’ve read so many books from the era, it could all go to such good use contextualizing everything that’s going on in the Little Colonel - the good and the "why the hell did you just write that???"

And also there’s all this pent-up squee about the Lloyd/Ida possibilities that just needs to go somewhere.

Would anyone be interested?
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle, which is rather in the same vein as D. E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book, although less funny. Which I guess means it isn’t in quite the same vein after all, really. They both write about spinsters and quiet English country villages, but Stevenson is writing comedy and Pym has, to my mind, a slightly tragic vein to it: all these people living their quiet faintly claustrophobic lives where nothing ever changes and no one seems particularly happy, although they are perhaps contented with their discontent, if you will.

Possibly it’s meant to be funny. Certainly there’s some humor to the ironic bits where Belinda says something like “one didn’t want to be snobbish, but - ” followed inevitably by something quite snobbish. But the limitations of their lives, not just the outward limitations of circumstance but the inward limitations of timidity, or lack of education (Belinda thinks a number of times about her lack of a classical education), or simply lack of cleverness - anyway it all seemed faintly sad to me.

I also finished A Bride for Anna’s Papa, which is pretty mediocre, unfortunately. Anna has mixed feelings about her father’s new bride, which sounds interesting but never gathers much emotional force - and then bam, it’s the last chapter and there’s a big fire and suddenly Anna is reconciled to the fact that the bride is part of the family now. I realize that disasters can have this epiphany-forcing effect, but I would have liked some kind of emotional arc leading up to it.

What I’m Reading Now

The Motor Girls at Crystal Bay, which was published in 1914 and ne’er, so far as I can tell, saw the hand of an editor. The author keeps fumbling which characters are speaking to each other in a conversation. Oh dear. Why did you keep this one, my great-great-aunts?

And I have nearly finished From Billabong to London - which, coincidentally, was also published in 1914. As I write, the Billabong crew have just been stopped on the HIGH SEAS by a GERMAN WARSHIP, and Jim and Wally are about to be taken prisoner for their part in arresting a German spy. Will rescue arrive before the Germans drag them away into the darkness???

The next book is called Jim and Wally, so nothing too fatal can befall them, although I suppose it could concern Jim and Wally’s daring escape from a German prison camp. But really I think they are going to be saved in the nick of time by a dashing British destroyer.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Disaster Artist! The library came through for me and I am PRETTY EXCITED.
osprey_archer: (books)
...kids are always part of grown-up problems. Even when the grown-ups think they aren’t.

So Raine tells her grandfather in Sheila O’Connor’s Sparrow Road, thus summing up the theme of the book: you can’t protect your kids from the problems in their lives just by refusing to talk about them. The kids will notice those problems on their own - in Raine’s case, the problem of her missing father, who disappeared when she was a baby.

I really liked this book. The themes may be heavy, but the story itself is a summer idyll. Explorations of the vast old house at Sparrow Road, once an orphanage and now an artist’s colony. Getting to know the artists who live there: reading poetry with fragile Lilian, going to town for ice cream with exuberant Josie who makes her own patchwork dresses, rowing on the lake with Diego of the booming laugh. Raine begins to discover her own talents, too: inspired by the attic dormitory, she begins to write an orphan story of her own.

It does have one peculiar quality. Although Sparrow Road was published in 2012 and it’s never explicitly stated that it’s set any time but now, it feels like it’s set at least twenty years before. No one has a cell phone, no one’s ever heard of the internet, and Raine was born during her mother’s “hippie years.” When did people last have hippie years? 1975?

I think this time warp effect gives Sparrow Road some of its timeless idyll quality, so this isn’t a criticism so much as an observation. And, now that I think of it, a lot of the best children’s book writers write books set in their own childhood era. Laura Ingalls Wilder and Maud Hart Lovelace both wrote explicitly autobiographical books series; Anne of Green Gables, IIRC, is also set during L. M. Montgomery’s childhood years. (Perhaps also Emily of New Moon? I know Pat of Silver Bush is intended to be set when it was written, which just makes it seem more old-fashioned.)

Maybe I should start plotting a 1990s magnum opus. The characters occasionally get on the internet long enough to watch Hamster Dance, except then Mom wants to use the phone, so they dash outside again to ride their bikes down to the park to… uh, play pogs maybe?

In any case. Sparrow Road! A neglected gem.
osprey_archer: (art)
Ed Young's Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China won the Caldecott medal when I was young, so it was everywhere in my early years, and it terrified me. Not the story, mind you, I never got to that part - but the cover: all in red, except for the shadowy black wolf with its terrible hypnotic white eyes.

It's probably just as well I never read it, even though the art style is beautiful, because many of the illustrations have that same terrifying effect. Like the bit where the three girls let the wolf into the house, because the wolf has convinced them that he's their grandmother, and the picture is simply the vast black shadow of a wolf splashed across the top of the page with the three girls looking tiny underneath...

I've heard a number of variations on the Red Riding Hood story, and in my recollection Red escapes in the end in all of them - but the illustrations created such a sense of menace that I began to worry this story would buck the trend. Especially as there are three sisters. Doubtless the wolf would be vanquished in the end, but he might still eat one of the sisters first.

(I hope you will not consider it a hopeless spoiler if I reassure you that he doesn't. In fact the sisters defeat him all on their own, no woodcutter in sight to help.)

And the illustrations truly are gorgeous. They never become wholly abstract, but there's definitely something expressionistic about them: lots of intense close-ups on the wolf's face, broad washes of color for the sky or the trees.

The first picture, which shows the mother leaving home to visit the actual grandmother - beneath a golden wash of dawn, with pale purple clouds above, and the ground still black with night, except for the golden gingko tree nestled against the house - well, that's just lovely. And there's a similarly lovely picture at the end of the book, bookending the story to show that peace has been restored.
osprey_archer: (Default)
It's been a couple months since I've been to the ArtCraft theater, but yesterday marked our triumphant return! We went to see Twelve Angry Men, which it turned out that most of our party had seen before, but after all it's not a hardship to see Twelve Angry Men again.

The politics have not worn all that well, admittedly. There's a certain smugness about some scenes, like you can feel the screenwriters patting themselves on the back for their liberalism - which, from the perspective of 2017, just makes their blind spots more glaringly obvious and oddly less forgivable. It's a movie about a jury of twelve white guys! No one in the movie thinks that jury composition might be a problem in any way. You are not as enlightened as you think so wipe that smug smirk off your face, director.

And there's also something off-putting about Henry Fonda's character, who doesn't actually start laying out his arguments for the defendant's possible innocence until after he calls for a second vote - and promises that, if the jury is still 11-1 for conviction, he'll switch his own vote to match. Maybe at least begin to lay out your argument before you make that promise, Henry Fonda.

But despite the smugness of it, the story-telling is top-notch. You've got twelve guys stuck in one room and the whole movie just stays there, and yet the pacing never flags. And all the guys - even though they don't even have names, just juror numbers - quickly develop into individual and interesting characters. It feels genuine when they change their minds and begin to vote "not guilty."

And there's a certain - faith in humanity, or naivete, or something, that is touching and painful when watching the movie in 2017. One of the jurors goes off on a racist rant about "those people," and one by one almost all the other jurors get up and turn their backs on him. "Listen to me! Listen," the ranter implores, and one of the other jurors says firmly, "I have. Now sit down and don't open your mouth again."

And he does. He goes and sits in the corner - literally in the corner! - and doesn't speak for the rest of the movie.

I once read an essay (I've long since forgotten where) that described this as the progressive's dream - that someday the racists, indeed the prejudiced in general, will just sit themselves down in the corner and shut up. Will, in fact, vote "not guilty" with the rest of the jury, shamed into group conformity if not actual repentance - rather than popping back up like an evil jack in the box to vote "guilty," determined the hang the jury if he can't make them hang the defendant.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

A couple of Unread Book Club books: G. Clifton Wisler’s Red Cap, which is far less emotionally moving than one might expect of a book set largely in Andersonville prison (the largest and deadliest Confederate prison in the American Civil War). Ah well. They can’t all be winners, I guess.

And also Ann Turner’s Elfsong, which sounds like it ought to be a thing I like: a girl who accidentally meets an elf while out searching for her lost cat, which the elf has enticed away to be his new mount, what could go wrong?

But I felt it was trying too hard to awaken a sense of wonder. The elves can hear the songs of all the things on earth, and pass this ability on to Maddy and her grandfather. And these are not just regular birdsong or the pleasant plash of a brook or whatever, but songs with words, so wherever you go you’ll be surrounded by baby mice singing

My place, mine
my turn, mine


or rocks rumbling

We were here before you.
We were a river of fire,
then a river of stone.


Which would be delightful and magical - I rather like the little poems - if you could make it stop. But it sounds like Maddy is going to surrounded by a constant inescapable din for the rest of her life and that sounds dreadful.

What I’m Reading Now

Sheila O’Conner’s Sparrow Road, which I plucked from a Little Free Library a few months back purely because the cover seemed promising - and I was right! So far it is atmospheric and mysterious and there are possible ghost orphans (I think they’re metaphorical rather than real ghosts but still) and I’m feeling it.

I’ve also begun Kate Seredy’s The Chestry Oak, which kicks off with a Hungarian prince in his castle listening to planes pass overhead during early World War II… and I can already tell this is going to be a tale of woe and disaster and I’m sort of dreading it honestly.

Also Isabel R. Marvin’s A Bride for Anna’s Papa, which gets points for being set in a Minnesota iron mining camp, just because I’ve never read a book set in such a place before. Have only just started this one. Will let you know how it goes!

What I Plan to Read Next

I need to decide what to read for this month’s reading challenge, “a book published before you were born.” The Chestry Oak fits the bill, but I was planning to read that anyway, so maybe I ought to branch out.

But on the other hand I may not get through it without the additional incentive of fulfilling my reading challenge. It will probably not be that harrowing, self, there is no reason to believe that this is Grave of the Fireflies: If It Were a Book Set in Hungary.
osprey_archer: (books)
Caldecott Monday returns in a blaze of glory! Well, I suppose "blaze" might be a bit of an overstatement, but I do like Karen Ackerman's Song and Dance Man very much - we had it when I was a child (I am in fact reading it out of my childhood copy) and I always liked the vibrant motion of the pictures where grandfather shows off his old vaudeville routines to his grandchildren.

It occurs to me that this book, in conjunction with the later books in the All of a Kind Family sequence, are probably responsible for my vague yet firmly held belief that vaudeville was Super Cool. Was it really? WHO KNOWS. The movies killed it and we shall ne'er see its like again.

Song and Dance Man is probably also responsible for that sense of nostalgia: it ends with Grandpa gazing up the stairs toward the attic where his tap shoes and his natty striped vests and his bowler hat all repose in an old theater trunk, not unhappy - he is after all surrounded by his beloved grandchildren - but wistful, perhaps, that it's not possible to slip back in time just for one night, and dance on the vaudeville stage just one more time.
osprey_archer: (books)
Charles J. Sykes' How the Right Lost Its Mind is a view of the Trump takeover of the right from within - Sykes used to be a right-wing talk-radio host in Wisconsin. (He does not actually say so, but the timing makes it look like he ceased to be a radio host in part because of his outspoken opposition to Trump.) It's super weird to read a book where someone says nice things about Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin whom the Wisconsin friends on my Facebook feed loathe.

However, it's an interesting book, and not just because it is from a different viewpoint than I usually read. Sykes' analysis of the world of right-wing talk radio is interesting - and reminds me in a strange funhouse mirror way of some of the uglier parts of Tumblr discourse: both right-wing radio and left-wing Tumblr create echo chamber environments where there is no percentage in trying to be the voice of reason, because it opens you up to the charge of being a traitor. How dare you get soft on our enemies! They are demons! POSSIBLY LITERALLY.

Both sides considered this an apocalyptic election. Large swathes of right were every bit as terrified of a Clinton presidency as sensible progressives were of Trump's. Which I sort of knew, but it seemed, hmm, performative in a sense? - and it's clear from Sykes' comments that many people on the right saw the left's terror of Trump as performative in the same way: we've been labeling Republican candidates as fascists since George W. Bush if not before (I'm starting with Bush because he's the first one I remember), so when an actualfax fascist ran for office it sounded like we were just singing the same old scare-mongering song.

(I remember a number of articles by left-leaning people where the authors attempted to clarify that, okay, they'd called candidates fascists before, but this time they really meant it, which doubtless undercut their credibility among anyone who was not already inclined to agree - and Sykes does a good job outlining how the right-wing media has taught its consumers to distrust anything that comes from outside of a right-wing media bubble, to the extent that it becomes impossible to fact-check.)

I'm dwelling upon this because it's the part that struck me, as a left-leaning person, as a sort of action plan for the future - do not call people fascists unless you really mean it! - but it's not a big part of the book. He holds the right squarely responsible for capitulating to Trump. There are a number of excellently scathing turns of phrase in this book, but here's one that strikes me as a real mic drop - an excerpt from a television interview Sykes did with Megyn Kelly before the election:

"I've cautioned my fellow conservatives, you embrace Donald Trump, you embrace it all. You embrace every slur, every insult, every outrage, every falsehood. You're going to spend the next six months defending, rationalizing, evading all that. And afterwards, you come back to women, to minorities, to young people and say, that wasn't us. That's not what we're about. The reality is, if you support him to be president of the United States, that is who you are, and you own it."
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I’ve finished another book from the Unread Book Club: Patricia Clapp’s Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth. On paper sounds like something I ought to like, a sort of Catherine, Called Birdy, but with Puritans, if you will.

But Constance lacks Catherine’s endearing prickliness and she spends a wearing amount of time gazing up at men through her lashes just to see them sputter and turn red. C’mon, Constance, if you’re going to flirt with someone for entertainment, at least pick someone who knows it’s a game.

What I’m Reading Now

[personal profile] littlerhymes sent me the next Billabong book, From Billabong to London! The Great War has begun, and because of Plot Contrivances not only Jim & Wally but also Norah and Mr. Linton will all be going to London. Hooray! I am excited to see England through their eyes.

It may not be for a while yet, though; I only just finished chapter three and they have not yet left Billabong, let alone Australia.

And I’m working on another Unread Book Club novel: G. Clifton Weaver’s Red Cap, which I’ve adopted as my new bedtime story, although it is becoming increasingly clear that it is a Horrors of War novel rather than a War Is an Adventure novel (children’s novels can go either way). This is not perhaps the best thing to go to sleep on. We shall see.

What I Plan to Read Next

Unread Book Club progress so far: I’ve read 28 books, and have ten left to go (including Red Cap. There are still five months left till the end of the year, so this seems quite doable!

I’m rather looking forward to Duncan Wall’s The Ordinary Acrobat: A Journey into the Wondrous World of the CIRCUS, Past and Present, which is a memoir of Wall’s own acrobat training as well as a circus history. If the memoir part doesn’t grow like kudzu and choke out the history, I think it should offer an interesting insider’s point of view.

July Movies

Aug. 1st, 2017 08:03 am
osprey_archer: (Default)
As I was on the road for most of July, I only saw two movies: the 2000 Railway Children, about which I already posted (v. charming, highly recommended if you like children’s movies), and LEGO Batman: The Movie.

This second was a mistake - not in the sense that it’s a bad movie, but in that it was not the movie I was attempting to get from Netflix. I wanted The LEGO Batman Movie, because my roommate Julie hasn’t seen it - but I got the other because, well, who knew there were two Lego Batman movies??? Someone in the marketing department should have put a bit more thought into the titles here.

LEGO Batman: The Movie was made in 2013. It is prescient in a “laugh because otherwise you’ll cry” sort of way: Lex Luthor, supervillain billionaire, is running for president. “Too real,” I commented to Julie, as he made his first appearance; but she pointed out that Luthor speaks in complete sentences and has a certain amount of dignity and gravitas so really it’s not topical at all. And, of course, this being a movie, we can rest secure in the knowledge that Batman and Superman will stop Luthor just in the nick of time.

It’s quite a different movie experience than The LEGO Batman Movie. It’s not nearly as funny, but then, it’s not trying to be; it’s a straight-up addition to its source material rather than a lovingly tongue-in-cheek send-up.
osprey_archer: (art)
The gift shop at Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst had a picture book about Dickinson, Michael Bedard’s Emily, which of course I absolutely had to buy because it was illustrated by one of my all-time favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney. So many of her books are about creation and imagination, of course she was the perfect choice to illustrate an Emily Dickinson book.

And indeed she was: her precise yet gently numinous drawings of flowers and landscapes are simply perfect for an Emily Dickinson book. The narrator is a child who lives across the street, and gazes at the house with its mysterious occupant with a brooding fascination, especially once she and her mother are invited to visit. (Not to see Emily, of course, just to play piano and chat with her sister.) So there are many pictures of the house, which you think might get dull, but each rendition is different (I particularly like the one of the house in moonlight, in the snow, and another where the narrator looks through the window at the house), and that repetition really dramatizes the fascination.

And I just really liked the text of the book too, so much that it was hard to choose just one passage to quote. But here is one:

Downstairs, Mother played. Tomorrow she would visit the yellow house. I asked her and she said that I might go. It made me feel afraid.

Perhaps the lady in the yellow house is also afraid, I thought. That is why she hides herself. That is why she runs when strangers call. But why - you cannot say. Maybe people are a mystery, too, sometimes.


***

Next week, we’re getting back to the Caldecott books! Next up is the 1989 winner, Song and Dance Man.
osprey_archer: (books)
I finished reading A. T. Dudley’s At the Home Plate, which is one of a series of sports stories that I inherited from my great-great-uncles. (In fact I believe it’s the last of the series. I am not sure why I read it first.)

It’s moderately amusing if you’re interested in books from the early twentieth century, but in the end I think my great-great-aunts had better taste in literature: they received the Little Colonel series for their Christmas presents, and not only can I reliably tell all the characters apart (by no means an assured feat in A. T. Dudley), but I have strong feelings about many of them. My mother and I once got into a shipping argument about Lloyd’s eventual paramour, who is eminently suitable - I cannot argue that he’s not suitable - but it’s just so bloodless: she chooses him by gazing at him and totting up all his virtues that would make him a good husband.

But at the same time there is not really another contender - they have been knocked out by going on a gambling spree, falling in with Demon Alcohol, or being kind of controlling - and Lloyd’s vocation is clearly to be a great hostess and leader of society, for which one needs a husband, so there you are.

This idea of vocation is actually quite important in these books; the main characters discuss it seriously, and they end up with a wide range: Lloyd is a hostess, but there’s also an illustrator, a writer (Johnston’s readers seem to have identified her, semi-correctly, as a self-insert), a social worker, and a homemaker (which is a distinct calling from hostess: it implies less wider responsibility). I liked the range, and the fact that all these vocations are treated as fine and noble callings (not all women need to follow the same life path!), and the fact that many of them don’t get married and that’s just fine. In fact there are important single women throughout the books - and important married women - plenty of female mentors for these girls all round.

I could have written so much more about these books in my senior thesis had I but thought of it at the time.

I really think the Little Colonel series might have the same kind of continued popularity as the Anne of Green Gables books - except that they’re so darn racist. And not in the way where the author used a racial slur or two but the book would be fine if you cut a couple lines. The racism is baked into the premise: there are scenes and thematic points that revolve around it. The glowingly patriotic take on the Spanish-American War is irremovable.

It’s a crying shame that Johnston could be so thoughtful and compassionate about some things and so completely wrong on others, but so it goes, I suppose.
osprey_archer: (books)
I read David Gushee's Still Christian: Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism before I went on my road trip, and it has suffered a bit from the time lag before I wrote this review. I enjoyed it as I was reading it, but in retrospect the book's problems loom larger in my mind, although to be fair part of this is simply that it is not the book I was hoping for. I wanted more exploration of wider trends and on-the-ground conflicts within American evangelicalism, but it's really more a memoir about Gushee's life and career and only touches on those conflicts insofar as they affected that.

Also, Gushee is careful not to say anything too inflammatory about anyone. I also would hesitate to write a juicy tell-all memoir about my colleagues - just imagine how awkward that would make staff meetings - so I can't really fault him, but the book would be more interesting with more nitty-gritty detail about the key players and conflicts in the drama.

It's like reading someone vagueblogging a fandom wank. Name some names!
osprey_archer: (books)
I enjoyed Lucy Worsley's Jane Austen at Home so much that, rather than take advantage of DC's multitude of museums (they've got a postal service museum, you guys! A MUSEUM ABOUT MAIL), I spent a large proportion of my day in DC reading while ensconced in a cafe with a pot of Earl Gray tea at one hand and a chocolate croissant in the other.

It's just a very pleasant book. It's probably not the deepest study of Austen ever (I could have done with a bit more about the books themselves, although it is probably unfair to wish a biography were literary criticism), but it's light and engaging. And Worsley has a good eye for when Austen is being sarcastic in her letters, which (given that Austen seems to be have been sarcastic just about every other sentence) seems to trip people up.

Also, in Lyme Regis, Worsley actually stayed in the selfsame lodgings that Austen inhabited all those years ago. I'm so impressed by the way she melds the experience of being there now with what we know of those places in the past - so you get a very powerful evocation of what it might have been like ("powerfully evocative" does not always mean "accurate," I know, but it's nonetheless a pleasure to read.)

And she's so unobtrusive about the fact that she stayed in THE VERY ROOMS were Jane Austen stayed. I would be screaming it from the rooftops, and probably bore my readers with a lengthy description of the scones at the charming little seaside teashop on the beach - but Worsley just mentions it, I think in part to let her fellow Janeites know that staying in the very rooms hallowed by Jane herself is an option (I'm certainly intrigued!), and then gets swiftly back to her real subject: Jane.

I do have a couple reservations. One is that Worsley seems sometimes almost too insistent on the importance of Austen's relationships with other women - like admitting that Austen also had strong relationships with a few men (her father, one or two of her brothers) would undermine this - but I suspect this is a reaction against earlier biographies that did overemphasize her connections with men because of the cultural assumptions that relationships with men are always more important than relationships with women.

The other is that Worsley suggests that Austen might have been clinically depressed, which I found interesting but not quite convincing - although to be fair, I may just need more time to get used to it. I realize that one perhaps should not assume to much about an author's inner life based on their work, but Jane Austen through her novels has always struck me as one of the most balanced and level-headed and mentally healthy writers ever - to the point of being quite unsympathetic to the Mariannes of the world.

It certainly is a possible explanation for Austen's fallow period in Bath. And yes, the irritability and sadness and sense of helplessness in some of her letters might be symptoms too.

But on the other hand, who is not occasionally irritable and sad? And how can we call a sense of helplessness a symptom of anything when it was such a genuine reflection of her reality? Worsley makes it very clear that she was pretty much at the mercy of her male relatives - who fortunately seem to have been pretty decent chaps - but nonetheless they decided where she lived and who she'd live with (one brother saddled his female relations with his new bride) and how much money they'd have.

And when, through her writing, she does gain some financial independence, she pursues it gleefully, driving hard bargains with her publisher when her brother (who had been acting as her agent) becomes too ill to do so. The sense of helplessness disappears when she's no longer actually helplessness.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished The Railway Children! [personal profile] asakiyume had acquired a copy of the most recent movie for us to watch, which gave me extra impetus, but it was a real pleasure to read so I probably would have galloped through it anyway. Highly recommended if you like early twentieth-century children’s books.

Also highly recommended: the 2000 film version of The Railway Children, which is quite faithful to the book - it cuts a couple of scenes (and one of the cut scenes is the one tragically sexist scene in the book, which is otherwise so good about letting the girls be just as heroic as their brother) but doesn’t add much, which IMO is generally where adaptations go wrong, adding in scenes that don’t suit at all. The biggest addition, I think, is that the film draws out some of the stuff about class relations which is latent in the book - but it doesn’t become overbearing or anything; it’s still quite secondary to the fun adventures.

Also Jerry, by Jean Webster - who is most famous for writing Daddy-Long-Legs - and this is definitely a case where I can see why that’s the book she’s remembered for, although Jerry is not without charms. A young American man - and, as a side note, his name is Jerymn, which I have never seen before and would be inclined to take as a misspelling of Jermyn except Webster spells it that way every single time. Has anyone else run across this name? How do you pronounce it?

Anyway, Jerry - to give him his easily pronounceable nickname - Jerry is vacationing in a dull Italian country town when he meets a beautiful American girl. To get closer to her (and enliven his dull days), he masquerades as an Italian tour guide. She sees through him at once, but doesn’t let on, and the rest of the book consists of the two of them gleefully upping the ante of the masquerade.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m almost done with Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope, which sadly I think is not nearly as good as either The Fragile Flag or The Fledgling, although also not nearly as bad as The Time Bike. A good middling Langton! And I will continue to search for The Swing in the Summerhouse, which is about, I think, a magical swing, which I think is just perfect and delightful and I hope the book lives up to it.

There are also a couple of post-Time Bike books in this series, but I am a little leery about reading them. Still, if I do run across them…

What I Plan to Read Next

My next reading challenge is coming up! It is “a book published before you were born,” and the only challenging part of this will be fixing on just one. The library has kindly purchased Kate Seredy’s The Chestry Oak for me (this is the first time I have made a purchase request at a library! I feel so powerful!), so perhaps that; but there is also the possibility of reading more Nesbit...
osprey_archer: (cheers)
Aaaaaaand home! Google maps said the drive from DC would take nine hours, so of course it took about twelve (Google maps also thinks it is possible to walk from DC to Indianapolis in eight days. Maybe if you are a solar-powered automaton who needs neither food nor sleep, and has anyone looked into whether Google is constructing these potential robot overlords?) but I made it and I have unpacked my things and put them away, except for my new books, for which I will need to find homes.

I did not intend to get this many new books. They crept up on me. Where else would I find a memoir about growing up in the Oneida Community? How could I possibly turn down a picture book about Emily Dickinson illustrated by Barbara Cooney, one of my very favorite illustrators ever? And of course there was The Railway Children just waiting for me in a Little Free Library...

But I think now that I have finished reading it, I ought to pass it on through another Little Free Library, so I don't need to tidy that one away, at least.

The garden is looking - well, honestly, the garden looks as if the tomatoes are planning an assault on the house; they have taken over everything, choking out the dill and overshadowing the poor lovely snapdragons. The basil, which is in a pot and thus safe from the tomato plants' depredations, looks sad and pallid, and probably needs a bigger pot and probably some compost, poor thing.

The rosemary, also in a pot, looks good, and I should get a rotisserie chicken and make chicken salad and have a picnic. On my travels I recollected how much I enjoy picnics, and also how much I used to enjoy taking day trips to whatever sites of interest there are in the area - I did this a lot in Minnesota - so clearly I ought to pack some picnics and drag my friends along for some sight-seeing.

I have gone through my mail and paid the bills and tidied away the bank statements and set my letters aside for future perusal ([personal profile] asakiyume, your letter arrived all right!). I will attempt to read them at a rate of one per night to spread the joy, although it will be hard not to read them all in one swift gulp. It's such a treat to have so many letters!

Must make a grocery list, but that can wait until tomorrow.

I did not get quite as much writing done as I hoped (but then one never does on a trip), but I have made some pretty good progress revising Sage, (still haven't figured out a title for it, though), although part of this progress has involved deciding I need to rewrite the first 10,000 words or so... so there's still quite a bit to be done.

Winding Up

Jul. 23rd, 2017 07:51 pm
osprey_archer: (shoes)
Somehow my six-and-a-half hour drive stretched to eight-and-a-half (I only stopped at Dunkin Donuts once, I swear!) but in the end I did make it to DC! Where Caitlin and I promptly made beer bread and ate it piping hot with brie (the only way to eat beer bread), and now we are going to watch The Great British Bake-Off. (The universe has been conspiring to get me to watch The Great British Bake-Off.)

But before this, I spent a wonderful few days with [personal profile] asakiyume! We baked scones with fresh-picked currants and slathered them with blood-orange marmalade, at which we looked askance at first - it is very brown-looking - but it is delicious, A++ highly recommended.

We also had much ice cream and - and! - visited Emily Dickinson's house, which is delightful and I highly recommend that too. They have Emily's writing desk, which is much smaller than I expected - really only the size of a bedside table - but it sits right by the window, overlooking the garden, in a room all done up with rose-covered wallpaper, and just seems really like the perfect place for Emily Dickinson to reside.

We went over to the graveyard, too - did you know that they carried Emily's coffin over the fields when she died, so that even her corpse could avoid the public gaze that she shunned in life? I thought that extremely thoughtful of the pallbearers. In any case, the grave is now the center of much public attention, and the top is covered in pencils and seashells - and the shells spill over onto Emily's sister Lavinia's grave, too. I'm not sure why (are sea shells particularly associated with either of them?), but it's nice that Lavinia is not neglected.

And we went to the reservoir and took a VERY LONG walk and had a picnic, and read aloud a chapter of The Railway Children (the most sexist chapter, sadly, which is too bad, because most of it is full of refreshingly equal-opportunity adventures) - the modern world could do with more reading aloud in it. I shall have to try to talk my roommate into it when I return.

Which will be on Tuesday! The trip is almost over! Tomorrow is the last hurrah - I'm going to the National Gallery (I always go to the National Gallery when I'm in DC) and perhaps one of the other Smithsonian Museums, although I'm not sure which one. I did Air & Space last time, which was delightful, but I think I ought to branch out.

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