osprey_archer: (books)
2017-07-19 08:18 am

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Pierrepont Noyes’ My Father’s House: An Oneida Childhood, which I liked very much; although of course I would, being fond of a) childhood memoirs (I tend to agree with C. S. Lewis that “I never read an autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not far the most interesting”), b) memoirs about cults (really anything about cults), and c) the nineteenth century.

But even if you are interested in only one of those things, this is an engaging book; much recommended. The one thing it will not give you is a clear description of the Oneida Community’s collapse: Noyes was ten at the time and found the whole thing ominous but fuzzy.

I also finished rereading A Wrinkle in Time. I’m glad I reread it because I no longer feel that vague gnawing sense that I just didn’t get it - but at the same time, it’s a bit sad to reread it and realize that I’m just never going to love that book the way that some people do.

What I’m Reading Now

Kidnapped! I only intended to begin it, but somehow I ended up halfway through the book already. It’s such a cracking good adventure yarn, it’s very hard to put down!

I have begun Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope! It’s early days yet, but I have high hopes that it will live up to the other books in the series - or at least the early books in the series; I hold a real grudge against Time Bike for being so dreadful that it stopped my exploration of the Hall Family Chronicles, even though I adored both The Diamond in the Window and The Fledgling. But fortunately the good books in the series are the kind that are just as good if you read them first as an adult.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Railway Children, which I also intended to read next last week, but I bought Noyes’ memoir at the museum and it simply had to take precedence, so… But this week I am quite determined! Railway Children or bust! Unless I find something simply irresistible in Amherst.
osprey_archer: (nature)
2017-07-18 04:41 pm

Herb Garden

Micky and I swept through Cornell today, first to the art museum, where we spent most of our time on the top floor with the Asian Art - they go all across Asia, which naturally takes up quite a bit of space and time, so we were tired out by the end and didn't stop long in the rest of the museum. Well, except for a beautiful display of Tiffany glass on the landing between the second & third floors.

And then we went to the Cornell Botanical Gardens today, although it was rather hot, and had an absolutely splendid time walking around their herb garden - which was separated into themed plots, "Culinary Herbs," "Herbs for Tea," "Healing Herbs," "Herbs from Literature," and so on and so forth. (Many of the herbs were of course in more than one plot.)

I had a brief but intense interest in healing herbs when I was a kid, so it was nice to be able to see all those herbs that I'd read about in the flesh, if you will.

And also to sniff the leaves of many, many different kinds of mint, and try to pick up the non-mint undertones that are supposed to be there - apple mint, chocolate mint (yes, that's it's own plant!), mint sage... But really they all smelled like mint to me.

***

After that, being rather hot and tired, we repaired to an ice cream shop and thence to Micky's house (where I have been TRYING to do my laundry, but I fear I have become the Bane of Washing Machines - I broke the one in my apartment not too long ago, did I tell you? Well, I don't think I did anything to break it, it just broke while I was using it, but still...

In any case I have been having trouble getting the machine to work. Nothing seems to be working this afternoon: I also attempted to write a bit more of the Adventures of Harriet and Troy and alas have come up against the rocky shoals of Peter Wimsey's inimitable voice. He never sounds like himself when I write him. i suppose I could just cut him out entirely and have Troy meet Harriet all on her own, but then Wimsey can't discomfit Alleyn by calling him by his old Eton nickname (which, I have decided, should be "Allers,"), which would be too bad...

Oh well, dear. This is all lots of fun to brainstorm about, but I really can't do Peter's voice justice, and on the whole it's really more ambitious than I think I want to write. Perhaps it's just better to accept that the brainstorming will be the final product - as tormenting as that may be. Surely it's better than having nothing at all?

***

On the bright side, Micky has introduced me to The Great British Bake-Off. In fact she is at least the third friend to recommend this to me, but the first one to take the necessary step of forcing me to sit down and watch an episode, and it is just as charming and delightful as everyone has always promised.
osprey_archer: (shoes)
2017-07-16 11:00 pm
Entry tags:

Ithaca

I am arrived in Ithaca! The one in New York, not the Greek island, although the Greek island would also be a splendid place to visit someday.

We had a splendid dinner at a restaurant called Rulloff's, which is named after a famous nineteenth century Ithaca murderer (or famous at the time, at least; I had not heard of him until I read his famous last words written up on a chalkboard on the wall in the restaurant), and possessed of excellent food. We had crepes for dessert - or at least, we ordered crepes; I am not sure the chef understood that crepes are in fact supposed to be thinner than ordinary pancakes. However, as the pancakes were topped with raspberry compote and Nutella creamed into mascarpone, of course we forgave them their trespasses and ate them up entire.

***

And I had another thought about Oneida, which I forgot to put in my post yesterday.

Our guide mentioned that over the years in Oneida, the community voted to stop using tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. Now on the one hand, these are all pretty normal nineteenth-century candidates for reform (the Mormons also banned, and IIRC still ban, all three).

But at the same time, hearing about this reminded me of the Rat Park experiments, which were studies in morphine addiction that took place back in the seventies. Rats in ordinary lab rat cages swiftly get addicted to morphine when they're offered the opportunity to take morphine-laced water. However, Bruce Alexander discovered that rats who lived in a less restricted environment - in a structure he called Rat Park, where they had toys and (more importantly) other rats to play with - barely used the morphine water at all.

And what occurred to me is that, for all its problems - which were after all severe enough to eventually break the community apart - Oneida was basically Human Park. Here you've got all these people hanging out together all the time, even doing a lot of their work in bees (think quilting bee, not spelling bee) so it will be more social and fun, constantly putting on entertainments for each other and playing croquet together and, of course, having lots of sex. Who needs cigarettes or beer or even tea when they've got infinite croquet?

...I mean, you'd still have to pull my tea out of my cold dead hands. But then I'm not living in Oneida, now am I.

***

Although it's also worth noting that living for five years in Oneida failed to dent future presidential assassin Charles Guiteau's delusions of grandeur even slightly, so clearly all the togetherness in the world is not a panacea.
osprey_archer: (shoes)
2017-07-15 05:23 pm
Entry tags:

Oneida Community

I discovered, FAR TOO LATE, that it is actually possible to stay in the old Oneida Community building: they have converted part of it into a hotel (and an even larger part of it into apartments). IF ONLY! But they seem to get booked up far in advance, so probably even if I had popped over to their website when the idea of a road trip first occurred to me in June, I still couldn't have stayed there.

Still. MAYBE SOMEDAY. Upstate New York is so beautiful - I've never been here before, but I love the mountains - and so full of history: I just happened to stumble upon L. Frank Baum's hometown today. They have an Oz museum, which I did not visit, but if I come back...

Mostly I spent the day visiting the Oneida Community Mansion House, where the three hundred odd members of the community lived from the 1860s to 1880, when the community broke up. (They were in the area since 1848, but it took them some time to gather the resources to build that stately brick house.) I took the guided tour, which was really wonderful - we had a thoughtful and well-informed docent, a former English teacher, who not only knew everything about the house but had read most of the books in the gift shop and helped me decide which one to buy. (I ended up with Pierrepont B. Noyes' memoir of his childhood at Oneida, which is delightful so far.)

The Oneida Community was a Christian perfectionist cult - perfectionist in the sense of "We can achieve sinless grace on earth!", not its modern meaning. They practiced:

1. Bible communism. Everyone in the community holds all goods in common; the community takes care of everyone and everyone does work for the community, and all kinds of work are held to be holy.

2. Complex marriage. All the men and women in the community are heterosexually married to each other. People at the time often figured that there was a constant orgy going on in the mansion, but in fact sexual contact had to be carefully negotiated, usually through an intermediary, and anyone had the right to say no. (Charles Guiteau, who later assassinated President Garfield, lived in the Oneida Community for five years and could not get laid.) You'd think women would be getting pregnant all the time, except the community also practiced

3. Male continence. Men were not to ejaculate during sex. This apparently worked really well - there were only forty pregnancies in the group's first twenty years of existence - possibly because incorrect ejaculation would come up during Mutual Criticism, which would be totally mortifying and also limit one's future sex partners.

4. Which brings us neatly to Mutual Criticism, during which people were allowed - nay, encouraged! - to tell you all your faults so you could try to correct them and thus approach nearer to spiritual perfection. This sounds excruciating, but Pierrepont Noyes, in his memoir, comments that "because members had the opportunity to criticize each other openly, Community life was singularly free from backbiting and scandalmongering," so perhaps it's a case of ripping off the bandaid all in one go rather than taking it up millimeter by excruciating millimeter.

And also everyone except John Humphrey Noyes, the founder, underwent Mutual Criticism, so any impulse toward harshness much have been tempered by the knowledge that the criticizer might soon by the criticized.

I have no idea if the Community owned this many portraits of Noyes when it was active, but now they are everywhere. It reminded me a bit of the omnipresent Lenins in the Soviet Union, although this comparison is unfair to Noyes: he seems to have been about as benevolent a patriarch as it is possible for any human being to be, spoken of with love and respect even after the community fell apart.

Although I do think the comparison does serve to show the limits of the Oneida community, as enticing as certain aspects of the experiment seem. (I for one like the idea of living in a mansion full of like-minded people with a well-stocked reading room and an endless round of entertainments: the Oneidans, no ascetics, played croquet, put on plays, read novels aloud to each other, and fielded a full orchestra.) Communes seem to need a charismatic leader to succeed - hence the mayfly nature of most nineteenth-century commune experiments - and there's no guarantee you'll get a benevolent Noyes rather than someone voraciously power-mad.
osprey_archer: (writing)
2017-07-14 09:04 am

The Amazing Adventures of Vane and Troy

I have to leave Lily Dale today, and feel rather as though I am being pushed out of paradise. It is so quiet here! So quiet – and so many flowers – and I’ve gotten such a lot of work done – 7,000 words on a new novel!

Which is perhaps too similar to The Time-Traveling Popcorn Ball in some ways, by the by, but perhaps that one was not quite ready for prime time yet, poor thing.

But there are no rooms at the inn, so I must be moving on. I’m heading up toward Oneida, I think. We shall see if I actually make it all the way to my stated destination this time…

***

Oh, and also – I hope you’re happy, you monsters:

“Lord Peter Wimsey was one of your schoolfriends?” Troy asked.

“A schoolmate, at least,” Alleyn said, after a slight hesitation. “We investigated a case together at school.”

Under other circumstances, Troy might have laughed, or pressed for details. But now she simply smoothed the letter in her hand and frowned down at it again. “And now he wants me to paint his wife, the suspected murderess.”

“Acquitted,” Alleyn reminded her. “Not all suspects are guilty, you know.”

“Of course,” Troy said. Her own days as a murder suspect rose in her mind. She pushed them ruthlessly back. “But no one seems to have impressed this on the press. A suspected murderess painting a suspected murderess – soon I will be painting nothing but pretty murderesses for their rich foolish fans. So many criminals have the most boring faces.”

As she spoke, a newspaper photograph from the Vane case floated up in her mind. The girl had looked almost ugly, with a sullen mouth and a strong, dark brow.

It was the brow that made Troy pause now. There might be something in that. One could not tell from a newspaper photograph.

“I suppose,” she acquiesced, “it will do no harm to meet her.”
osprey_archer: (shoes)
2017-07-13 10:42 am
Entry tags:

Lily Dale

A few years ago I read a book about Lily Dale, a small town - a hamlet, really - founded in western New York in the late nineteenth century as a center for Spiritualism. It is still around today, a bastion of slightly faded gentility: the white paint feeling, the dock sinking into the lake, but all the buildings bowered in daylilies and hydrangeas and black-eyed Susans.

I know this because I saw a sign for it as I was driving to Chautauqua a couple days ago, and skidded round the curve (well, not literally, but psychologically, if you will) in my haste to visit the place. It might make a nice afternoon, I thought.

I am still here. It's just so peaceful! And quiet! And full of flowers! The hotel has no telephones, television, air-conditioning, or internet (I'm eating a cinnamon roll in a WiFi equipped cafe right now), which appeals to a strange luddite part of my soul. Although perhaps not so strange, because the lack of any distractions means that I have gotten quite a bit of reading and writing done.

And speaking of writing - I think this town, suitably disguised of course, would make a fabulous setting for a book. Something with ghosts, naturally, or time travel, or not so much time travel as the layers of time shifting and overlapping each other, because time is an illusion - and never more so in a place that has become such a sink of spiritual energy. Everything that will happen, has already happened, and is still happening, all at the same time...
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-07-12 11:52 am

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I galloped through Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night, and enjoyed them so thoroughly that I lent them straightaway to Emma and therefore cannot quote from either of them, more’s the pity. Although in the case of Have His Carcase this is not such a problem, because it’s easy to discuss its virtues without reference to direct quotes: it has one of the most perfect twist endings to a mystery that I have ever read. Everything’s a horrible muddle up to the end, and then one little detail comes into focus – absolutely unexpected and yet perfectly foreshadowed – and all is illuminated.

Gaudy Night, though, could bear quoting, and extensive quoting, and I want to read it again and bookmark the relevant quotes about the contemplative life – the life of the mind vs. the life of the heart (insofar as they are set against each other) – the way that this thematic argument intertwines and somewhat obscures the mystery (at least to Harriet’s mind) and yet is integral to it.

…also, I want a story where Harriet Vane and Agatha Troy meet. They have so much in common! They’re both prickly artists, both pursued by detectives who are tragically awkward about love (although Alleyn at least has the dignity not to propose to Troy every five minutes), and both at one point in their lives murder suspects, although Troy only sipped of the cup that poor Harriet drank nearly to the dregs.

Perhaps Peter commissions Troy to paint Harriet’s portrait. (Harriet doubtless hates the idea, but acquiesces on the ground that if she must be painted by anyone, it might as well be Troy.) Murder, inevitably, ensues.

What I’m Reading Now

I spent most of yesterday reading C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life sitting either on a lakeside bench shaded by a weeping willow or in a white wicker rocker by the open window, and it has proven itself more than equal to both settings. I ought to write more about it; perhaps later.

And I’m about halfway through a reread of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and alas it is still no more than moderately pleasant. I had thought that perhaps I read it before I was ready for it, but maybe it simply was never going to be the L’Engle book for me. It just spells everything out, emotionally speaking – Meg meets Calvin and almost instantly there’s absolute trust and he’s pouring his heart out to her – and I guess I want more emotional tension between characters, never mind they’ve got cosmic evil to fight.

What I Plan to Read Next

Busman’s Honeymoon is next in queue!

And then, I think, I shall have a crack at E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. I am a little concerned that one Nesbit will lead to another – and with Nesbit there seem to be absolute piles of others for it to lead to – but after all there are worse things.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
2017-07-11 08:27 am
Entry tags:

Montreal!

I am returned from Montreal! Which was a delight! Emma and I took the train from Toronto and discovered that the entire street to the art museum is positively lined with statues for an art fair - I have some photos which I must post later; there were so tinselly metal trees that looked enormously like truffula trees.

Naturally we discovered this while walking to the art museum, which was also delightful. I wish we had more time there - I think you'd need at least two days to do it properly - we spent most of our time in the Canadian art building, on the grounds that one probably sees the best spread of Canadian art in Canada. And indeed, it had a lovely exhibit of modern Inuit art - in particular, a really lovely piece of a great glass sea creature rising up beneath the ice, a mermaid with much more fish to her than an everyday mermaid: arms melting into fins instead of becoming hands, the slits for gills across her breasts, tiny sharp teeth in her mouth as she gazed up at the men in a canoe far above.

Unfortunately the glare on the Plexiglass case meant I couldn't manage a good photo. Alas!

And there was a room below with the paintings hung salon-style (from the days when Canada had salon exhibitions), which is something I've seen before but always, always enjoy. Such a visual feast! If I could go back in time, I believe I would attend a salon opening somewhere - France would be most exciting but I don't speak the language (as a visit to Montreal cannot but drive home), so perhaps England. Or Canada, clearly.

And then we acquired a bottle of wine and a bag of croissants and hiked up the Parc du Mont Royal. We settled in the shade of an stately tree on the gentle green slopes around a small lake dotted with canoes and miniature sailboats. "Are they remote-controlled?" Emma asked. "They had them in Edwardian times, so they couldn't have been then," I said; but we never did find out if the modern ones are.

It was all very Sunday Afternoon in the Park. There were even a few parasols, a bright red one shading the ice cream cart that slowly perambulated the lake, and a little tiny one over a baby in a stroller.

I am a convert to the idea of wine in parks everywhere; the Montreal rule that the wine must be part of a picnic seems only sensible and likely to increase enjoyment in any case. In general I quite approved of what I saw of the city (wine in the parks, sculptures on the streets), although I remain puzzled by the massive staircases on the front of so many of the houses. They're very picturesque, of course - I bought no less than four postcards featuring their staircase glory - but they look like they would be such death traps in the winter.

Heading back to the United States today! Have not quite decided where I will go next. I am torn between Oneida (one-time home of President Garfield's assassin, Charles Guiteau! Who lived in a nineteenth-century group marriage cult where he couldn't get laid) and Seneca Falls, which seems like an awfully out-of-the-way place for the first women's rights convention, but there you are.

Chautauqua also beckoned me briefly - it was a great center for educational talks in the late nineteenth century - and there are of course the pleasures of hiking along the Finger Lakes... I have five days before I have another scheduled stop, so the possibilities simply multiply in all directions!
osprey_archer: (snapshots)
2017-07-07 09:02 am
Entry tags:

Many bookstores, Strong Poison

A most successful hunt through the bookstores yesterday! Although amusingly I got the most books at a bookstore I had not realized existed: I stopped in the library for a drink of water, and there was the Friends of the Library bookstore, and I found TWO books there, hooray!

I also found a copy of E. Nesbit's The Railway Children, which I have long intended to read, in a Little Free Library, which is the first time I have found something I really wanted in a Little Free Library and marks an epoch in my life.

The Little Free Library! )

And eventually it grew too hot for traipsing from bookstore to bookstore, so I stopped at a cafe for a lemon bar and finished Strong Poison (v. much approve, have already started Have His Carcase, Peter has proposed to Harriet approximately five times including by telegram:

FOLLOWING RAZOR CLUE TO STAMFORD REFUSE RESEMBLE THRILLER HERO WHO HANGS ROUND HEROINE TO NEGLECT OF DUTY BUT WILL YOU MARRY ME - PETER

I feel that this persistence ought to be annoying but instead I find it weirdly charming.)

The cafe also had this delightful little door in the wall.

The fairy door )

I have always loved stories about tiny people who live in the walls. In fact when I was in kindergarten I invented a long one to amuse myself at school. The Paintwater Witches lived in the drains in the back of the classroom and used all the dirty paint water we poured down in their potions. Clearly the tiny people living in a cafe can expect far more gourmet fare!
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-07-06 08:42 am
Entry tags:

Strong Poison

I have begun Strong Poison, and it is fabulous! Peter Wimsey has just proposed to Harriet Vane at their very first meeting (while she is behind bars on a murder charge) and is adorably taken aback when she tells him he's #47. Everyone wants to marry a possible murderess!

A part of me wants to just stay in and read it all day, buuuut I am in Ann Arbor, Land of Bookstores, so I think I must sally forth to contemplate their offerings. After I've had my tea. During which I can surely read a couple more chapters.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-07-05 12:04 am

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Sun in the Sky, about which I felt pretty meh all the way through the end. I won the book as a prize, so a part of me doesn’t really want to part with it; but I also can’t really see myself reading it again, so there’s no reason to keep it.

I also read Theresa Tomlinson’s The Forestwife, which appeals to many parts of my id all at once and therefore filled me with great fondness. Rather than focusing on Maid Marian as the sole woman among the Merry Men, here Marian lives in a forest glade with an ever-growing band of outlaw women - although I think outlaw might give the wrong impression; they’re not robbing the rich to feed the poor, but feeding the poor with the fruits of the forest and healing them with their herb lore. Eventually they are joined by a band of renegade nuns.

As if this weren’t enough - loads of women working together! Herb lore! Renegade nuns! - there’s also a scene where Marian has to save Robert’s life by climbing into his bed to warm his fevered flesh with her own body heat. Yessss.

Spoilers )

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve been reading Albertus T. Dudley’s At the Home Plate, which I inherited from my great-great-uncle. In fact I have a whole set of A. T. Dudley’s books, given to different great-great-uncles over the years, as one aged out of the Dudley bracket and another grew into it.

This one is from 1910, and moderately amusing, although let me be real I was hoping for excessive wholesomeness a la William Heyliger, whose characters think things like “The patrol leader, [Don] thought, should be a fellow who was heart and soul in scouting - a fellow who could encourage, and urge, and lend a willing hand; not a fellow who wanted to drive and show authority."

THE SHEER BEAUTIFUL EARNESTNESS OF IT ALL. I have the feeling that Mr. Heyliger must have a deeply slashy novel somewhere in his immense oeuvre, if only I can find it.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’m heading out on my road trip today, so it’s TIME FOR DOROTHY SAYERS’ STRONG POISON!!! I hope I haven’t overhyped myself about it at this point.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
2017-07-03 06:54 pm
Entry tags:

Bruno & Boots Movie

YOU GUYS YOU GUYS YOU GUYS. I have just discovered that there are not one - not two - but THREE movies based on Gordon Korman's Bruno & Boots books! Which are about Bruno and Boots, two good-hearted, prank-pulling, (eminently slashable) boys at the Canadian boarding school MacDonald Hall, who are forever getting up to SHENANIGANS and occasionally endangering the school and also sometimes saving the school and dashing across the street to hang out with their female counterparts Cathy and Diana at Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School for Young Ladies.

There is a scene where Miss Scrimmage accidentally shoots her sign (were Bruno, Boots, Cathy, and Diana responsible? Of course they were responsible) and it afterward reads "Miss Scrimmage's Fishing School for Young Ladies."

As far as I know this scene has not been adopted for stage and screen, buuuut I only watched one of the three movies so far, SO THERE IS STILL HOPE. Although possibly not that much, as Miss Scrimmage in the movies is a crunchie granola type who probably doesn't shoot signs.

Now, personally I would have preferred it if the movies had more or less transmuted the books directly from page to screen because I am a purist like that and also because it might have restrained the filmmakers from being quite so anvilicious about how Change Is an Inevitable Part of Growing Up and Also a Good Thing Except When It Isn't.

But anviliciousness aside it's a quite enjoyable adaptation. In particular, they have a good handle on characters, particularly Bruno & Boots relationship (Bruno making madcap plans and Boots, dismayed, totally failing to restrain him in any way), Cathy and Bruno's Who Is the Best Prankmaster competitiveness, and headmaster Mr. Sturgeon's fundamental decency as a human being.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
2017-07-02 04:35 pm
Entry tags:

Happy birthday to me

It's my birthday! Happy birthday to me!

The main birthday festivities are occurring tomorrow (I'm making a yellow cake with vanilla buttercream & raspberry jam in the middle), but today I celebrated by treating myself to Carol Ryrie Brinks' Two Are Better Than One, which is absolutely as delightful as I hoped and I'm glad that I managed to hold off on it until today. (I've had it since June 30th and it has been DIFFICULT TO RESIST.) It's about FRIENDSHIP and IMAGINATION (the two friends in question write the kind of ludicrously epic novel about their dolls that you can only write when you're twelve or thirteen) and also GROWING UP, but not in that way where books about growing up sometimes seem like they're about renouncing everything you actually like in favor of things that grown-up persons are supposed to be interested in.

Cordy and Chrystal keep playing with their dolls as long as they want, never mind they're just a bit too old; and when they do lose interest (realizing with a start of guilt that they've forgotten the dolls for ages) they don't shamefacedly hide the dolls away, but give them a proper send-off with a great big doll wedding. I fully expect they will write ludicrous novels together all through high school, just for the fun of it.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
2017-07-01 02:53 pm
Entry tags:

The Beguiled

I saw The Beguiled yesterday and it stole my soul, oh my goodness. I’ve been looking forward to this movie ever since I saw the trailer and it DID NOT DISAPPOINT.

It is, as I have come to expect from a Sofia Coppola film, deliciously atmospheric. The large white house in the tangle of unkempt flowers. The vast old trees hung with Spanish moss. The mist rising in the early morning. The thunder of distant artillery fire.

The setting is a girls’ boarding school in Virginia in 1864. The slaves have all run away - so young Amy tells the wounded Union corporal she finds in the woods - and this is the only time we hear about slavery or race for the entire movie. Honestly I think it’s just as well; given that Coppola’s clearly not interested in the issue, getting it expeditiously out of the way is better than lukewarmly half-assing it.

But back to the story. (And there is a story, which is not something I especially expect from a Sofia Coppola film.) Amy helps the wounded corporal back to the school, where the headmistress Miss Martha - played by Nicole Kidman, who is FABULOUS, just the right combination of courteously cutting, gentle but stern, and would-literally-kill-you-if-necessary - takes him up to the music room to wash his wounds.

There is an EXTENDED scene where she washes him all over. (He is conveniently unconscious so as not to distract from the all-important washing.) The plot stops dead just so we can appreciate both the corporal’s excellent chest and Miss Martha’s reaction to it - deep breaths, splashing her face with water, standing up and walking away from him because, well, look at him. Look at him. A girl needs a breather.

But handsome as he is, the corporal is a threat - and the school is already beset by threats. The sound of distant artillery, the comment that marauding soldiers have already stolen the school’s chickens (and might plunder the vegetable garden if they get the change), the fact that Miss Martha posts a girl on the upper porch with a spyglass as look-out - this is a place besieged.

Nonetheless, it’s a good deal safer than the battlefield the corporal fled. Almost as soon as he wakes up, the corporal launches a charm offensive to convince everyone to let him stay rather than send him off to a prison camp. At least, that’s what I think he’s doing; it makes more sense than the idea that he’s actually trying to sow dissension, although certainly he ought to have considered that possibility when he commenced to flirt with Miss Martha, her assistant Edwina, and their oldest pupil Alicia.

But whether he intended it or not, he sows dissension indeed, and does not so much reap the whirlwind as become it. The movie is like an avalanche, slow-moving at first, and picking up speed and tension as it goes, until it’s barreling along full speed ahead and the threat of the distant artillery is as nothing compared to the furious soldier inside the house.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-28 03:57 pm

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

David Blaize, an early-nineteenth-century English boarding school story that is EXACTLY as slashy as everyone always promised me it was, God bless you all, absolutely everyone is in love with David and at least one boy swears that he has been saved from vice (read sodomy) by that love, which is probably the most Edwardian thing ever to Edwardian except perhaps the interminable cricket matches. You would think that at some point, in between all these school stories and Lagaan and Dil Bole Hadippa! I would begin to get a hang of what's happening, but no, I still have no idea.

But at this point I actually find the incomprehensibility part of the charm, along with the hero worship and the boys gazing starry-eyed at the members of the cricket eleven. And David Blaize has the added charm that it is also a voyage of intellectual discovery - David discovers Keats, and learns to find beauty in the text of what he previously considered endlessly tedious Greek translations.

There is also a really splendid chapter where David and his friend-who-is-totally-in-love-with-him-even-though-David-is-tragically-straight, Maddox, go swimming in the sea and read poetry in the beach grass after. Just really lovely atmosphere.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m plugging along in Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Suns in the Sky, which I am very glad I did not read when I got it, because I would have been Very Displeased by the soppy romance of it all. Now that I am older I can appreciate a bit more what Bat-Ami is trying to do by focusing on the romance - they're bridging cultural divides and stuff! through love! - but it cannot be denied that I would be way more interested if the book either focused entirely on the refugee experience or was about young American Christina Cook's intense friendship (possibly romance? I'm not sure this wouldn't be over-egging the issue pudding in a book set in the 1940s) with a refugee girl.

What I Plan to Read Next

I am trying to resist the siren call of Dorothy Sayers until I've actually begun my road trip (July 5th! Just a week now!), so it's all a bit up in the air until then.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-26 04:21 pm

Caldecott Monday: Owl Moon

We owned a copy of Owl Moon when I was a child, and while I don't remember reading it much, I always loved the cover: a little girl and her father walking up a snowy hillside, silhouetted by the moon. It's a scene of absolute peace and joy and just looking at it gives me a feeling of contentment.

The story is very sweet, too: the little girl and her father are going out in the woods at night to go "owling," that is, looking for owls. Not to hunt them or anything, just to see them in the peaceful quiet darkness of the woods.

When you go owling
you don't need words
or warmth
or anything but hope.
That's what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shining
Owl Moon.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-25 06:25 pm
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Book Review: Death of a Busybody

I criticized Martin Edwards' The Golden Age of Murder when I first read it, but I must say it has been a productive book for me in leading me to new and interesting authors: first to E. M. Delafield, who isn't even a murder mystery author but nonetheless got caught up with those who were (now that sounds like the plot of a detective story in itself), and now with George Bellairs' Death of a Busybody.

I must say I feel that E. M. Delafield was the more successful find. Bellairs, eh; Death of a Busybody is a perfectly adequate English country village mystery, but I don't feel the urge to search out any more books by him.

And his detective, Inspector Littlejohn, has given me a new appreciation for the depth Ngaio Marsh gave to her Inspector Alleyn. Now you may object that Inspector Alleyn is not exactly over-endowed with personality himself, which may be accurate when compared to the eccentricities of for instance a Poirot -

Speaking of Poirot, I saw Wonder Woman recently and the new Orient Express was one of the previews and maybe I just imprinted too hard on David Suchet, IDK, but I'm not sure I approve of this new Poirot. Do we need a new Poirot? Why all the remakes all the time???

ANYWAY. The point I intended to get to is that Inspector Littlejohn has no discernible personality at all. While I prefer this detective's personal lives to remain second fiddle to their mysteries, lest they throttle their books like strangler figs, it turns out that there is indeed such a thing as too little personality in a detective, too. Littlejohn is little more than a conduit for exposition, and mostly indistinguishable from the other characters who act as conduits of exposition in this book, which makes the thing sadly forgettable even though I enjoyed it in a mild way as I read it.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-22 08:01 am
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Road Trip Books

The most important part of packing for a road trip, of course, is deciding which books you’re going to take along. As my road trip is too long to allow for taking books out of the library, I shall have to take a selection from the Unread Book Club already lined up on my shelves, which as you can imagine makes me feel most productive & efficient.

I’ve already made a few definite choices. Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane/Peter Whimsy quartet is coming: it will fulfill (indeed overfulfill) my next reading challenge, “three books by the same author,” and also I have meant to read these books for forever and expect them to be a treat which all in all makes them perfect for a vacation.

I’m also taking Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, because, aptly, I kidnapped it from the shelf of a friend and ought to get it back in a reasonably timely manner.

But I’m still happily contemplating my other choices. Should I, for instance, take along Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers? I feel like The Three Musketeers AND all those Sayers books might be a little too much.

On the other hand, one should never underestimate how much reading time one will have on holiday! And The Three Musketeers is just one big book to haul around, rather than a lot of little books, which is a point in its favor.

Other contenders:

Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope. I hesitate because perhaps I ought to let more time elapse after reading The Fragile Flag before reading another Langton book? Otherwise it might lead to unfair comparison.

Sheila O’Connor’s Sparrow Road. I found this in a Little Free Library and took it because I was enchanted at having a book from a Little Free Library. No idea if it’s any good. Has anyone read it?

Nancy Bond’s A String in the Harp. Children’s magical time travel fantasy! A genre that has fallen sadly out of fashion in late years, as has portal fantasy. Yes, I probably ought to give this one a go.

Theresa Tomlinson’s The Forestwife. A Robin Hood retelling. Possibly a nitty-gritty retelling with plague and starving to death? Hmm.

Patricia Clapp’s Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth. Massachusetts is on my itinerary. Of course I ought to take this book along.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-21 08:14 am

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

”But you mustn’t say what you wished,” said Mr. Grant. “You don’t get it if you do.”

“Don’t you?” said Mrs. Brandon. “What did
you wish?”

“I can’t tell you,” said Mr. Grant; and truly; for his incoherent and jumbled wish had been entirely a prayer to be allowed to die some violent and heroic death while saving Mrs. Brandon from something or somebody, to have her holding his chill hand, and perhaps letting her cheek rest for a moment against his as his gallant spirit fled, all with a kind of unspoken understanding that he should not be really hurt and should somehow go on living very comfortably in spite of being heroically dead.


Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons is a joy and a delight if you like 1930s British novels in the vein of D. E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book or Stella Gibbons’ Nightingale Wood. It is perhaps less accessible than either of those two novels - I found myself stumbling repeatedly on who was who in the ever-growing cast of characters - but the passages about the exigencies of calf love, or the gruesome interest that people take in an impending death, are well-observed and very funny.

Two more books down in the Unread Book Club! I finished Scott O’Dell’s Sarah Bishop, which changes from a tale of historical fiction into a “surviving in the semi-wilderness” story like a darker “my whole family is dead” version of My Side of the Mountain. This is one of my favorite kinds of stories, so this caused a certain amount of seal-clapping. Yes, Sarah Bishop! You move into that cave and smoke fish for the winter and built your very own dugout canoe!

And also Natalie Kinsey-Warnock’s The Night the Bells Rang, which is, eh. Pretty mediocre. I kept thinking of other books that did the same thing better: Nekomah Creek for growing up & dealing with bullies, Miracles of Maple Hill for sugaring-off in Vermont (and if we take Vermont out of it, Little House in the Big Woods has an excellent sugaring-off too), Rascal for the end of World War I in small-town America.

What I’m Reading Now

Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, which is super dense. It’s so dense I’m not sure I’m going to read it, which is sad when I’ve had it on hold so long at the library, but it’s just exhausting.

I’ve also started Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Suns in the Sky, which I won as an honorable mention prize from Cricket Magazine in my youth and did not read because I was cranky about only being an honorable mention.

What I Plan to Read Next

I have begun the happy business of contemplating what I ought to take along to read on my road trip! My musings have grown so long that I am going to make them a separate post.

In the meantime, I am also musing about what book I ought to read for my next bedtime story, as I have just about exhausted my stock of Miss Read books. I meant to move on to James Herriot, but upon reflection that’s really too similar, both cozy English countryside quasi-memoirs, and perhaps I ought to read something quite different as a palate cleanser first. But what?

I’ve been contemplating a reread of A Wrinkle in Time. Perhaps this is my chance.
osprey_archer: (books)
2017-06-20 05:38 pm
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Book Review: The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball

I looooooooved Dori Jones Yang's The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang with such an all-consuming long that when, seven or eight years after I read it, I came to create a livejournal, I worked an allusion to the main character into the subtitle: Gina's name is pronounced Jinna in Chinese.

Never mind that unlike Jinna I was not an elective mute or Chinese or an immigrant schoolchild; we both made up long unending stories in our heads, and that was enough for me to identify till the cows come home.

So of course when Netgalley had Yang's new book, The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball, I snapped it up. I didn't expect it to appeal to me in quite the same soul-grabbing way, and it doesn't; our hero Leon - this is the Anglicized version of his name Woo Ka-Leong - is far more interested in trains and baseball than making up stories.

But it's still fun - a peek at an interesting period of history. Leon and his brother Ka-Sun (Anglicized to Carson) are part of the Chinese Educational Mission, an actual historical occurrence when the Chinese government sent 120 boys to the US to learn about American technology. Leon and his love of trains are a godsend for the program.

His older brother, on the other hand, is kind of a nightmare. All he ever wanted was to be a classical Chinese scholar, at which he is brilliant; but instead he's sent to America, where he discovers that he's way less brilliant at learning English, and the one-two punch to his identity is too much and he plunges into a depressive homesick spiral that he mostly takes out on poor Leon.

Eventuallyspoiler )

This part of the book is rather dark. However, it's balanced well by Leon's growing love of baseball and his friendships with his teammates (particularly another member of the Chinese Educational Mission, who arrived in the country a couple years before Leon and helps him understand the peculiarities of Americans). And all the boys in the mission get to go the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia! How cool is that? Okay, maybe it's only super cool if you share my obsession with World's Fairs, but I thought it was the bee's knees.