Umm. Hi there. I’m back.

shiningWell, goodness gracious me. That was a rather long absence there. Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to leave you hanging…

Work has become slightly nutty which has led to me being tired and easily lured by the call of the Netflix sirens instead of settling into the adventures of the printed word. I bow my head in shame at such temptations, but I plan on being back on-line now. As an added (and slightly irrelevant) fact, it’s also been really really hot which can sap the energy right out of you.

Add to this the fact that we are also now the guardians of a new young dog and there’s been not much time for literary pursuits.

First things first, here’s the new addition to the family:

nova

She is a ten-month old German Shepherd who was living in horrible conditions when we got her. Thus, she has one or two issues that we are working with (such as some serious other-doggie-inflicted PTSD) which along with the typical puppy stuff has kept our hands full. Her name is Nova, and so we’re hoping to call her… wait for it…. Super Nova when she does something super-terrific. (It’s all baby steps right now.) Despite the challenges, she has a good heart and is slowly learning that we and the outside world are not out to kill her just yet. (She’s not yet convinced about the cats so she takes a very wide berth around them in general.) She is a sweetie so far.

For the television temptations (supported by the high Hunt_for_Wilderpeopletemps so you don’t want to go outside), we’re been sucked into Broadchurch, an excellent murder mystery BBC series, finished up Peaky Blinders, got caught up with Orange, started up with HBO’s new series, The Night of…, and watching John Oliver, Bill Maher and Samantha Bee have lots of fun with the craziness of both the political parties’ national meetings. I’m not sure about you, but I can only take so much political coverage as the whole thing stresses me out, to be honest. I’m hoping that this November’s elections don’t mirror the Brexit situation.

Oh, and saw a New Zealand-ish movie the other day called “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople” which was fun to watch and just an extremely nice change from the loud explosion-filled movies which seem to be the Hollywood trend over summers. (This has no explosions, no car chases, and no one dies whilst at the same time being a thoughtful, poignant and funny coming-of-age film.) Highly recommended if it comes your way.

And then reading? Oh yes, that. Well, I’ve been catching up with some magazine reading (way behind on my copies of The Atlantic) and even a book here or there. There’s been some (pretty dreadful) leadership book reading for work, just finished an enjoyable read of “Carol” by Patricia Highsmith (after really liking the movie of the same name), gave a presentation that combined some of my photography with suggestions of summer reading (Lizzy-style) for a large group in town, and then been floating around in the Lazy River at this place:

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This is actually our university pool complex and so we’re really lucky to have access to this whole place. (It’s part of the fitness center on campus which is where we work out all the time.)

So this summer so far has been a rather schizophrenic mix of lassitude at home and crazy workload at work, but you know what? It’s almost August and I’m back in the literary mix now. Hooray!

BTW, here is the book list that I developed from that photo/reading presentation in case you’re curious:

Summer Reading List

  • From Middle England: A Memory of the Thirties – Philip Oakes (1980) NF
  • The Haunted Bookshop – Christopher Morley (1919) – Project Gutenberg F
  • The Interrogative Mood: A Novel – Padget Powell (2009) F
  • A Bear Called Paddington (and rest of series) – Michael Bond (1958) F
  • The Thirty Nine Steps – John Buchan (1915) – Project Gutenberg F
  • 84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff (1970) NF?
  • Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth Century Britain – Lucy Lethbridge (2013) NF
  • Diaries of a Provincial Lady – E. M. Delafield (1930) – Project Gutenberg (Australia) F
  • Stoner – John Williams (1965) F
  • Anything by Miss Read (with two series: Thrush Green and the Fairacre novels) F
  • Ethel and Ernest: A True Story – Raymond Briggs (1998) NF/GN
  • The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly – Sun-mi Hwang/Chi-Young Kim (trans.) (2013) F
  • Diary of a Nobody – George Grossmith and Weedon Grossmith (1892) – Project Gutenberg F
  • Anything by Robert Lacey (non-fiction history about England et al.) NF
  • Remember, Remember (The Fifth of November): The History of Britain in Bite-Sized Chunks – Judy Parkinson (2008) NF
  • The Queen’s Houses – Alan Titchmarsh (2014) – BBC production NF
  • Anything by Mary Oliver (U.S. poet: nature, accessible, thoughtful) Poetry
  • Coasting: A Private Voyage – Jonathan Raban (1987) NF
  • Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England – Judith Flanders (2003) NF
  • Fortnight in September – R. C. Sheriff (1931) or August – Gerard Woodward (2001) F
  • A Gift from the Sea – Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1955) NF
  • Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey (2014) F
  • The Campaign for Domestic Happiness – Isabella Beeton (1861)  Project Gutenberg NF
  • Anything by Michael Dirda (books about books) NF
  • Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison – Piper Sherman (2013) NF/Memoir
    • Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing – Ted Conover (1999) Memoir NF
    • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander (2010) NF
  • Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (1959) NF/Memoir
  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque (1929) F
  • Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe (2013) NF/epistolary
  • Modern American Plays – Bennett Cerf (1961) Drama
  • American Notes for General Circulation – Charles Dickens (1842) NF
  • Any NF by Mary Roach (witty clever microhistories)
  • Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym (1977) (but all her stuff is good) F
  • All Creatures Great and Small – James Herriot (any are good but best in order) F
  • Mapp and Lucia series – E. F. Benson (1920’s/1930’s) Project Gutenberg (Australia) F
  • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – Alan Sillitoe (1959) F
  • Small Island – Andrea Levy (2004) F

Other suggestions from around the world:

  • An Unnecessary Woman – Rabih Alameddine F
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker F
  • Going Home to Nicodemus – Daniel Chu and Bill Shaw NF
  • Praisesong for the Widow – Paule Marshall F
  • Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates NF
  • We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie NF
  • March (two volumes) – John Lewis/Nate Powell NF/GN
  • Once Upon a Quinceañera – Julia Alvarez (2007) NF
  • Into the Beautiful North – Luis Alberto Urrea (2009) F
  • The Devil’s Highway – Luis Alberto Urrea (2004) NF
  • Sozaboy – Ken Sawo-Wiwa (1985) F
  • The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native Peoples in North America – Thomas King (2012) NF
  • Indian Horse – Richard Wagamese (2012) F
  • Anything by Atul Gwande NF/Medicine
  • Like One of the Family – Alice Childress (1956) F
  • So Long a Letter – Mariama Bâ F
  • Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit – Leslie Marmon Silko (1997) NF/Essays
  • Embers – Sandor Marai (1942) F
  • A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry (1995) F

 

Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home – Nina Stibbe (2013)

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Coming of age as I did in 1980’s England, I always look back with plenty of nostalgia at that time: few responsibilities, lots of free time, great fashion (!), fantastic music, the belief that the world was our oyster… I just loved the whole thing, and so when I found a book that was about that time by someone who’d been around the same age and was English, I leaped at it. Not only was this by a peer from that time and in England, she had been as lost (future-plan-wise) as I had been, it was funny, and then — delirious joy — it was epistolary to boot.

“Love, Nina” follows the true story of a new nanny who has been employed by the then-editor of the London Review of Books who lived smack in the middle of London. The family was small, but the foot traffic and visitors through the house whilst she was nannying was chockfull of literary and arty superstars: authors, screenwriters, and all manner of other creative types would regularly come for a cup of tea, and all recounted in a series of letters sent by author Nina Stibbes to her sister in Leicester.

Author Deborah Moggach (who was also a neighbor up the street from the family) described this read as “Adrian Mole meets Mary Poppins mashed up in literary London…” and I think this analogy hits the nail on the head. As the book is written from Nina’s own POV, the reader goes through some of what Nina experiences and thinks, and TBH, it was hilarious in places.

(Note: There were quite a lot of names of people who I had no idea who they were, but once you get used to this and realize that this lack of knowledge doesn’t actually affect the story in any big way, you can move along. Don’t fret about not knowing who these literati are. Just jump over the names you don’t know. The book is still really enjoyable.)

So, nothing heavy in this read, but it was a very funny nostalgic visit to UK in the 80’s. I really enjoyed this book, and gobbled it down over one weekend. Highly recommended for anyone who lived firsthand through that fabulous decade and who is looking for a good solid read that makes you snigger with recognition on a hot summer day.

(P.S. Don’t be put off by the cover art. The read is better than it looks.)

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 125

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 125: Cheese string bag.

 

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day five years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that 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.)

(Almost) Halfway 2016 Reading Summary…

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With June almost coming to a close, I thought what better time than now to see where I am with regard to reading stats for the year. As mentioned previously, I don’t live and die by stats, but it’s a fun way to see where the trends are going, bookshelf-wise.

Total number of books read by July:  21 (way less than usual due to life in general, but that’s ok.)

Fiction/Non-Fiction: 11 fiction / 15 non-fiction.

Reading more diversely: 12 POC authors. (43% of total. Not bad, but would like to move this up to 50% by the end of the year, just as a goal.)

Other: 7 plays, 1 short story collection, 1 graphic novel.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 15 library books and 10 owned books.

DNF: 1.

e-books: 2.

Total number of pages read so far this year: 6,687 (av: 248 per book)

Here’s to more happy reading!

The Nether World – George Gissing (1889)

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The Nether World is a Victorian perspective on the underground world of those mired in poverty and for whom there is little to no way out of their precarious situations. It’s not a happy read at all, and in fact, it’s rather hard to keep going at times as the sheer grind of hopelessness and filth never ever ends. However, I imagine that this is a more realistic depiction of how life was for the Victorian underclass of London and other large cities. Dickens also covered these lives of the unlucky masses, but at least he would tip the scales every now and then with some levity. Gissing – not so much.

It’s also a tale of intrigue covering, as it does, the possibility of inherited wealth from an elderly man, but as immediate wealth tends to do, it leads to unhappiness for many of those who believe that they may be in line to receive it. The world that Gissing’s characters inhabit is unrelenting in its tough life for each of the characters; there is no future to look forward to, just the day-to-day needs of food, water, and a roof over your head, and despite how grinding these descriptions were, I think it was actually these pictures that pulls you as the reader into the lives of these unfortunate people. Most of the characters have not done anything to deserve these hard lives – it was just an unlucky twist of birth and geography that seems to have thrown the majority of the people into these situations.

Still, despite the oppressiveness of this lack of resources, families still stick together (not always happily), and most people work and continue to live their lives even if they do end up living at the bottom of the financial pile with few options to escape out of their worlds.

Gissing was a naturalistic writer (i.e. didn’t sugar-coat things and has a strong sense of location), and this is demonstrated by the way that the entire book is set in this dark poor world. No one escapes to the world of money. People dream of doing so, but their dreams end up thwarted, and I imagine that this POV echoes reality of the time: how does someone born into poverty escape it without getting money for education, useful work experience, knowing the right people? (Not so different from nowadays, one could argue…)

As a rather long book for me (404 pages), this title clearly falls into the Scary Big Book category but as I have learned to read huge-page-count projects on my ancient Kindle (as opposed to a physical copy), it wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as it might have been. (I tend to get rather intimidated by large page numbers – not by the content, just the numbers. Nutty, I know.) If I’m honest though, I must admit that the middle bit was rather b-o-r-i-n-g and the number of characters was a bit confusing at times. Uncertain whether to blame the author or me about that!

So – a rather glum read overall. I’ve read other Gissing’s (New Grub Street and The Odd Women), but I think I might be done with him now…

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 124

cowboy_cheerios_sculpture

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 124: Slightly strange hand-made Cheerios sculpture.:-)

 

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day five years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that 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.)

Six American Plays for Today – Bennet Cerf (1961)

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When I was at the library the other day (shocking, I know), I was searching for a copy of Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun.” I’m still trying to read classics every now and then, and (at the same time) fill in some holes in my ongoing Century of Books project (which now has its own page, btw), and so thought this would do the trick in several ways.

Additionally, I’ve been dying to go to a live community play here in town, but the choices have been slim pickings lately…

So, having difficulty finding a copy of the Hansberry play on the shelves, I got to taking down copies of other similar books that might have had the play contained inside, and thus, this rather old edition of “Six American Plays for Today” (when “today” was 50 years ago) leaped into my hands.

plays_index_revI don’t really have a really deep background in drama or plays, and so it’s almost guaranteed that almost any play that I pick up is going to be one with which I am unfamiliar (apart from the usual school syllabus ones). So, I opened this book and bingo, it had an unadulterated copy of the Hansberry play along with five other plays, none of which I’d ever heard about. Undaunted, I checked it out.

This was an interesting read in several ways, one of which was that a number of these plays are a product of their time (unsurprisingly). When this edition was released, “A Raisin in the Sun” had recently been published in 1959 at the height of the U. S. Civil Rights movement and the script has a very much “in the present moment” feel of it as it covers housing discrimination, racial relations, and other hard-hitting topics. (See review of “A Raisin in the Sun” here.)

The other plays were ones with which I was not familiar. I had heard of Tennessee Williams and his “A Streetcar Named Desire” but had not read any of his work (or this one, Camino Real), but the other playwrights were new to me. So, I just worked my way forward through the book, and had a fine time, really.

However, I have to say that in retrospect that these plays aren’t really that memorable apart from Dore Shary’s Sunrise at Campobello (about the life of FDR) and Lillian Helman’s Toys in the Attic (although upon reflection, I have no idea why it’s called that title…) Perhaps it would be a different experience to see these plays live in a stage setting. (I bet it would.)

Despite that rather pallid review, this made a nice change in pace…