Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym (1977)


One of the more well-known Pym volumes, this was the gentle read that I was looking for. This follows the intersecting lives of four late-middle-aged people who have worked together in an office for a few years. They’re around the same age, and when one of their loose group retires, it throws new dynamics into the mix. Two men, two women – and the only thing that they have in common with each other is working in the same office. However, even with such differences, the small group find that, when two of the group retire, they have more overlap than they realize.

So, this fairly straightforward narrative touches on several issues really: gender, aging, small group interaction, loneliness, friendship. And surely the title reflects the stage of life of this small group are in… As one of my friends describes Anita Brookner’s characters: “It’s very beige”… :-)

However, despite the beigeness, the story sucked me in and I read very quickly. (Partly because it’s a very short book – novella? – but also partly because the narrative is so well written, it’s a pleasure to read at the same time.)

For example, this description is perfect:

“…her hair straggled in elf locks…”

And then there’s this one… The set-up for the scene is that the characters are finishing their lunch at work one day…

“Jelly babies [the normal end of the meal] being in short supply, [he] offered a packet of licorice all-sorts and [the friend] selected a brown and black one.”

The level of detail was fascinating and was a great tool to reflect the importance of small things in these somewhat small lives that the characters live. (I also love Jelly Babies (UK sweetie) and it’s not often that they are mentioned in books!)

Another example – this time, another character is offering someone some dessert after a small disagreement at the table:

“Now, what about some ice cream?” he asked in a soothing tone, feeling that ice cream might act like oil on troubled waters and pacify the angry [friend] more effectively than any words of his…”

It was definitely the writing that made the book so very good. Pym was an expert at tiny nuances and this works as a perfect foil to showcase her characters and the minutiae (important though it is) of her characters’ lives.

Poignant and thoughtful, this was a good autumnal read.

Back from There Now…


So – Hi all. Back from holidays and now just getting resituated with work, laundry et al.(We’ve had fun.)

Had a fab time and once things are all back in place, I’ll get my posts going.

One rather major incident happened whilst I was away: my computer had a virus and ate EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY POSTS I had for the near future. :-( (And yes, I had the doc saved in multiple places.)

But anyway – did I miss anything good? (The favorite question of professors when their students miss class and then return.)


Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 53

Things on Cowboy's Head No. 53: Cowboy's having a "time for my stretchy pants" kind of day.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 53: Cowboy’s having a “time for my stretchy pants” kind of day.

Note: Cowboy Cat is on vacation this week (as evidenced by the above photo). Normal service will be resumed next week.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

The Haul at the Library Sale…

pile of books

It’s September which can mean different things for different people. For me, one of the numerous highlights of the season is the arrival of the Friends of the Library (FoL) book sale. <rubs hands with glee>

And this, my fellow literary friends, is what I managed to glean from among the fields of books that needed harvesting that weekend. Have a looksee and see if there are any that you would recommend that I start first.

  • The Map That Changed the World – Simon Winchester (NF – I like Winchester’s work so this looked a good one.)
  • A Social History of England – Asa Briggs (NF – I love social history)
  • The Story of English – McCrum, Cran, and MacNeil (NF – I love learning linguistic history)
  • Steroid Nation – Shaun Asseal (NF – just sounds interesting)
  • Their Noble Lordships: How to Tell a Duke from an Earl and other Mysteries Solved – Simon Winchester (NF – Above Winchester comment + generally interesting topic)
  • 1066 – The Year of the Conquest – David Howarth (NF – sounds like a good big-pic history of the time)
  • The Victorians – George Perry and Nicholas Mason (NF – Well, it’s Victorians. ‘Nuff said.)
  • Gothic Tales – Elizabeth Gaskell (loved Gaskell’s other work and good for Halloween-y reading)
  • Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym (nice gentle not-so-long read)
  • Herland and other stories – Charlotte Perkins Gilman (been looking for a hard cover of Herland for quite some time)
  • Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell (just want to see if I can get through this read this time around)
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy (love Hardy)
  • A Vacation and a Voice – Kate Chopin (based on fact that I loved her work, Awakening)
  • Getting Stoned with Savages – J. Maarten Troost (NF – good travel writer)
  • Coasting – Jonathon Raban (NF – already had this in hardback which was HUGE so got this little paperback to replace it)
  • Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir – Paul Monette (NF – In the early days, I was an HIV/AIDS Educator and am still fascinated with HIV/AIDS and its history)
  • Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village – Ronald Blythe (NF – I might have read this before, but was in the mood for some non-fiction about English rural life)
  • As Long as Life: The Memoirs of a Frontier Woman Doctor – Mary Canaga Rowland, M.D. (NF – I’m also really interested in pioneer life in the US)
  • Europe at Home: Family and Material Culture 1500-1800 – Rafaella Sarti (trans: Allan Cameron) (Again, looks like a good read on early social/domestic history… Yum yum.)

This little blowout has now convinced me to have a book-buying ban until after Thanksgiving. (Sort of haha here.) I’m serious though, and have even made a chart to track my progress (because that’s the sort of thing I do!)

The tracking method for my "No Books" goal... I've been good so far. :-)

The tracking method for my “No Books” goal… I’ve been good so far. :-)

It looks as though I am set for the coming cooler months. Here’s to early dark nights and colder temps. Roll on winter!

September 2014 Reading Wrap-Up



This is somewhere where I don't live. :-)  I love the pic though.

This is somewhere where I don’t live. :-) I love the pic though.

I read the following titles (with links to blog posts about said book where there is one):

Indian Horse – Richard Wagamasee (F)

I See You Made an Effort – Annabelle Gurwitch (no blog post) (NF)

Video Night in Katmandu – Pico Iyer (NF)

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly – Sun-Mi Hwang (F)

Memory Wall – Anthony Doerr (brief post) (F)

Absolutely Typical – Victoria Mather and Sue MaCartney-Snape (no blog post) (NF Humour)

Significant part of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins…  (F) (post to come)

Best books by far: The Wagamasee and the Hwang (both fiction which is not usual for me).

Total number of books read in September: 6

Total number of pages read: 1397 pages (av.233)

Fiction/Non-Fiction: 3 F and 2 NF

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 1 library books and 5 owned books. No e-books this month (except if you count the ongoing read of Collins.)

And now for October – one thing is certain – scary reading will be in the list. :-)

Catch-Up Time…


This is one of those general catch-all blog posts to round up all the other parts of my life which have been happening at the same time as my reading. (And some of this will be reading-related, but I’m afraid it’s been a bit slow going lately.)

I’m reading a Victorian read – The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – which I am loving and seems perfect for this time of year. Each chapter is written from the perspective of one of the characters, and some of them are hilarious in how awful they are. (Not the actual writing itself, but how the characters each present themselves through telling their story.)

It all revolves around the disappearance of a huge diamond (the Moonstone of the title), and Collins has done a really good job of presenting those involved as they give their version of events. I think this could count as an epistolary novel in some ways, but whether it does or not, I am really enjoying it. Just a bit dense and not a book to fly through. It’s also 528 pages (which I’ve only just found out), but as I’m reading it on-line, I’m not too freaked out by that. (I have a history of slightly freaking out at large page numbers in books. See Scary Big Books (SBB) for details of a project that tried to address that.)

Tea in the garden circa 1905

Tea in the garden in some tropical clime. (Source: ??)

I’ve also been reading a coffee table non-fiction book called “Out in the Noonday Sun” by Valerie Pakenham. Having a title taken from the old Kipling verse – “Mad dogs and English men out in the noon day sun” – this book is a readable delve into the lives of those Edwardians (mostly men of course) who chose (or were forced) to join the diplomatic and other services to support and move forward the ongoing territorial “Scramble” for Africa, India and the East. (I say “were forced” to go because some of these men had done some bad behavior at their school or home (like debts, drinking, etc.) and their families pushed them into the foreign service to get rid of them mostly. If their hijinks continued, at least it wouldn’t make the London papers.)

So, again, this book is another slow reader, but mostly interesting. (It’s hard to understand how entitled a lot of these people were, but them were the times, I suppose.)

Outside reading, life has been very damp and wet which is remarkably unusual for this semi-arid region. It was cool and rainy for about three weeks and probably rained almost every day. People were calling our region the “Seattle of the South” because there was so much rain, and I really enjoyed the change from the summer heat. We even had a mushroom growing in the garden. (That wet.)

Credit: KCBD-TV.

Flooding in Lubbock, TX, recently. Credit: KCBD-TV.

Having been born and raised in England, I love rain, and so got to thinking about how the rain in UK and the rain here in Texas compare. I boiled it down to the idea that the rain in England is much more “polite” – it’s a gentle rain (with a bit of heavy in between) and sort of coughs and says “Excuse me, I’m going to rain all day if that’s all right with you…” Here in Texas, the rain is much more “rude”, if you will. It comes down hard (flooding is pretty common), it comes down loudly (hard and big rain drops), and it’s very in-your-face for the (mostly) short time that it’s falling. It seems quite rare that Texas gets a nice polite steady gentle rainfall compared to England. (Now the rain might be quite different in other parts of the state, but around here, I think this metaphor is pretty accurate.)

balloon-fiestaSpeaking of weather, I’m getting ready for a trip to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival taking my English mum along with me for the ride.  Looking forward to some lovely times and some fantastic photo-taking of the balloons. The colors can be fantastic in the mornings when the balloons first take off and at dusk when the balloons glow.

And, music-wise, I’m counting down to the upcoming Cher concert! I know – Cher’s old, blah blah blah – I get it. However, Cher is a consummate concert-giver and the last concert I saw her is definitely in my Top Five Favorite Concerts Ever. Her costumes (and the number of different ones) are amazing. Plus her voice is still spectacular. Looking forward to it.




Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 52

Things on Cowboy's Head. No. 51: Feathers.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No. 51: Feathers.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)